Having a baby can be scary, but having a lockdown birth comes with its own set of anxieties. Even in “normal” circumstances so much is out of your control. In these strange times, there is even more uncertainty. One of my friends, Lauren May, gave birth during lockdown. She bravely shares her birth story with us and how she is coping as a new mom in isolation.
Pregnant in isolation
“On 11 March before SA went into self-isolation we had our 39-week check-up at the hospital. We arrived to discover the hospital had already put safety measures in place for COVID-19. Before we could enter we had to answer questions about whether we had been overseas recently. Or had contact with anyone who had. And whether we had any flu symptoms. As we had answered ‘no’ to all three questions they sanitised our hands, gave us a safety check sticker to wear and we were allowed to proceed with our appointment,” explains Lauren.
“There were also already signs in place explaining how visiting hours had changed due to COVID-19. This was a shock to both Troye (my husband) and I. And a big realisation that our birth experience was going to be different to what we had envisioned. A few days later the president announced self-isolation measures were to be adhered to. I managed to keep negativity and apprehension at bay with a daily walk and a sea swim as we were still allowed to do such things,” says Lauren.
Planning a lockdown birth
“We didn’t have a set birth date, but my expected due date was 24 March and we had planned to wait patiently for the baby to decide when to make its grand entrance. On 23 March, the day before I was due, SA lockdown measures were announced. Even though I knew it was coming, it still came as quite a shock. And I sobbed,” says Lauren.
“The next morning I was still a wreck and I kept bursting into tears. I read online about how other countries already under lockdown were handling birth. Even though the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended that birth partners should still be allowed with the labouring mother, certain hospitals around the world weren’t allowing this. I was devastated as we didn’t know where South Africa stood yet on the matter and rules were changing daily,” says Lauren.
“My next appointment was scheduled for Friday 27 March (during lockdown) and I kept trying to remain positive. But, my anxiety got the better of me, and I went in to see my gynae on Thursday the 26th.” Lockdown began on that Thursday at midnight. “My blood pressure was through the roof. I could feel it. I was an anxious wreck. We decided, as I was already overdue, to induce that night while my husband was still allowed to be with me and be present at the birth.”
“We arrived back at an empty hospital parking lot that night at 10pm. It was very eerie. We went through admissions and had to sign a COVID-19 form too. I was induced on Thursday at midnight (as lockdown began).” says Lauren.
“At 5am on Friday morning, I was two-centimetres dilated with very mild contractions. When our obstetrician arrived at 7am I was still only 2cm so we decided to break my water. The contractions then went from mild to intense very quickly. When our doctor checked again after three hours, I had only gone to three centimetres! So, we decided to go for the epidural,” explains Lauren.
“We started the procedure at 10h50, finished around 11h10, and by 11h40 I had jumped to eight centimetres. I got to 10cm at 2pm and we attempted to birth. But the baby had not made its way down. We tried again at 3pm. I was giving massive pushes, but the baby was exhausted and its heart rate dropped quickly. The nurses acted fast and came in to help push on my stomach, with our doctor having to use a suction clamp on our baby’s head,” Lauren shares. Her and Troye’s baby boy was born that Friday.
“The reason why I’m sharing so much is because, even if you think you are prepared, you need to be prepared for things to be different. While it’s important to have a birth plan, you need to be flexible in letting some things go. Call it a wish list rather than a plan. Also, you need to trust that your doctors and nurses have done this hundreds of times and be open to their advice,” suggests Lauren. “All the staff working with us were incredible.”
Being a new mom under lockdown
“We were not allowed any visitors. No grandparents could meet their grandchild — and still can’t. No friends could pop in with a bottle of bubbles or bring a frozen lasagne to our home. Or put the baby to sleep so you can both finally have a shower,” says Lauren. I can only imagine her sadness in not being able to share this experience with family and have the physical support of loved ones.
“I was fortunate that Troye was allowed to stay with me in the hospital. Since then, our birth regulations have changed and birth partners are only allowed to stay for one hour post-birth. This thought makes me so sad. We were so lucky. And I am so grateful,” says Lauren. When it came to any COVID-19 fears, Lauren says that her doctor, the nurses and the hospital all managed the possibility of infection reassuringly. She and Troye had their baby at the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital.
Lauren’s advice for coping under lockdown
“This is not at all how I imagined my maternity to be. Being a first-time mom in this unusual circumstance has been both tough and a blessing. It’s been hard not being able to see family — especially our moms — and friends.” But, she says they have video calls daily. And, if needed, phone or video calls with her doc and their son’s paediatrician.
“We attended antenatal classes at Thula Baby Centre and I have a WhatsApp group chat with 15 other moms in the same situation as me. Troye has a dad’s group chat too. Both have been invaluable in coping,” she explains.
“Before COVID-19, my dream plan was to be able to walk to our fave spot down the road with the baby in the pram and share a cheese board and a delicious glass of wine with my husband. I thought I would be walking on the promenade daily. And introducing our child to friends at a braai and seeing our families hug and kiss our baby. To stay sane, I wear my baby in a carrier and bop around the house baking something. I have dance parties with my hubby too. We are taking loads of pics too! I try to sleep when my baby sleeps. I read books and I try to stay offline, especially with regards to the news. We are focusing on living in the present, day by day,” says Lauren.
Lauren is an actor, personal trainer and SWEAT1000 instructor in Cape Town.