‘My parents still haven’t met my baby’: Becoming a mum in the pandemic

In the run-up to Easter 2020, Melissa Darby felt constantly sick. Around two weeks before, the country had gone into its first national lockdown on 23 March, and daily press conferences told us how many people had contracted and died from the novel coronavirus that had upturned our lives. But it wasn’t the news alone alone that was unsettling Darby. The 31-year-old also noticed that smells felt unusually overpowering. At the suggestion of her mother, she took a pregnancy test on Good Friday. When it came back positive, she started crying.

“It was the height of the panic at the very beginning when we didn’t know [who] was going to survive,” she tells The Independent from the home she shares with her husband Jack in south London. “No one wanted to go to hospitals and they were filling up and it was a really scary time.”

In an effort to minimise Covid risk, Darby planned for a home birth. However, the day she went into labour in December, her local midwife home birth team was short-staffed, so she had no choice but to go to hospital. Due to Covid restrictions, Jack had to stay in the lobby until her labour was advanced. Everyone has faced difficulties during the pandemic but, for new parents, particularly mothers, there have been a multitude of unprecedented barriers to face. These include, but are not limited to, restrictions on partners attending scans and being present during labour; not being able to have partners stay to help following the birth; not being allowed to introduce their new baby to grandparents, friends and family (pictures of people meeting through windows have gone viral throughout the year); and postnatal support groups and midwife services being on pause or moved online.

For Darby, the biggest issue was not having her partner present throughout the labour. Up until 16 December 2020, NHS trusts could decide on a postcode-by-postcode basis whether or not partners were allowed to be present throughout the birthing process, and only permit them to accompany the mother during “established labour”, once they were four centimetres dilated. Darby ended up having an emergency delivery in theatre after a problem with her baby’s heartbeat. “Everyone [was] in face masks,” she says. “You’re scared already and there were 15 people in there. It was all a bit of a whirlwind of an experience.” For Madeleine Fogg, the worst obstacle was being unable to have her husband in hospital after the birth – despite she and her daughter, Skylar, having to stay in for four days due to an infection. The 29-year-old says that this meant he couldn’t see his daughter, now five months old, again until she came home. “That was the worst bit,” she says. “She was literally feeding every hour or so. I wasn’t sleeping, it was just the most overwhelming four days I think I’ve ever experienced – just solely on my own. “I felt so sad that my husband couldn’t be there and see our baby”

Madeleine Fogg
“I felt so sad that my husband couldn’t be there and see our baby,” she added. Her frustration was compounded by her not feeling that unwell – due to a course of antibiotics – but having to wait to be discharged before she could leave the hospital and have her husband’s help.

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