When we first started hearing about the Coronavirus in China in late 2019/early 2020 little did we know that we would be forced to live a life of lockdown from March. Many people were furloughed from their jobs, businesses including my newborn photography business were forced to close their doors. Pubs, clubs, hotels, gyms and swimming pools were all closed and the only time we could leave the house was for emergencies, essential grocery shopping and exercise. Hospitals cancelled all non urgent appointments and many pregnant woman were forced to attend hospital, ultra sound and midwife appointments alone. The challenges that these women have faced have been huge and cause many to feel anxious and alone at a time when they need support and reassurance.
The hospital maternity wards and midwives have all done an incredible job of helping and supporting these women through this challenging time. I have also created an amazing support group for women who are pregnant or have just given birth. Originally it was to offer support during the covid-19 pandemic but it has been going so well that it has been decided to keep the group going on a permanent basis. I asked the ladies in the group if anyone would be willing to share their birth story to help other Mums who are facing the same challenges as they get closer to the birth of their baby. Rachael was kind enough to share her story which you can read below.
At my 12 week screening in Dorchester Hospital back in January I was told my baby had a 1:6 chance of having Down Syndrome. Due to having a miscarriage last year we didn't want to go for any invasive testing that could endanger our baby's life so we decided to have an NIPT test. The results came back over 99% chance our baby girl had Down Syndrome. We decided to just accept she did have it and carried on with the pregnancy as planned. We were placed under consultant care and had a very detailed scan at 20 weeks to check the baby's heart. Everything came back clear and so our next scan was booked for 28 weeks.
The 28 week scan actually happened at 30 weeks which fell into May this year while we were in lockdown.
My partner was not allowed to accompany me into hospital at this point so I went in alone. At this scan the consultant picked up signs that my placenta was beginning to fail and requested that I return in 2 weeks time.
At 32 weeks I faced another scan alone. This one upset me because we had been to the supermarket together on our way to Dorchester hospital but we could not check on our baby's welfare as a couple! It didn't seem fair.
Our little girls growth had slowed right down and so I was asked to return in another 2 weeks but if I felt the baby's movements were slowing or the pattern changed I was told to come to hospital immediately.
The 2 weeks passed and it was soon time for my next scan. I was 34 weeks. Again my partner had to wait outside while the consultant checked our girl. There was increased pressure in the cord and the baby had not grown. I was sent up to the maternity ward for some tracing and steroid injections. My partner was called in so the screening midwife could explain to him what was happening in the corridor outside of the maternity unit. After my trace I was told they would like to perform a planned C-Section on the Wednesday (this was Monday) I returned home after my injection and had to return to the maternity unit the following day (alone again) for another trace and steroid injection. I was also shown around the Special Care Baby Unit. I was pleased to find out both parents could be with the baby on this unit.
On Wednesday morning we arrived at the hospital ready for the C-Section. I was taken into my room to get prepared while my partner waited outside in the corridor yet again. He was called in as we walked to theatre and once he was gowned up we could finally be together to welcome our baby.
Little Etta arrived at 10.24am on the 17th June weighing 4lb 1oz. She was absolutely beautiful and had the loudest cry! The Down Syndrome markers were easy to spot as soon as we saw her - a blood test confirmed her T21 diagnosis the following day. We were able to spend time with her while I was being stitched up and then she was taken to SCBU. We were taken back to my room for recovery and my partner was allowed to stay with me for 24 hours, only leaving the ward to visit our baby in SCBU.
Once I was able to stand we could visit our little girl and spend time as a family.
The following day we were hoping to be discharged to the parents room on SCBU. However Etta had vomited green bile overnight and the drs were concerned she had either a blockage in her intestine or her intestines were not connected. She was transferred by ambulance to Southampton NICU while we followed in the car. When we arrived we waited in yet another corridor to find out what would happen to our baby and if we could stay with her.
The surgical team established Etta' s intestines were in fact connected and they began to clear her blockage with regular bowel washouts. I was offered a bed on the maternity ward but my partner had to go home and commute each day. He was not allowed onto my ward and we could only visit our baby one at a time.
Etta was in Southampton NICU for 12 days. Her dad would drive up to see her in the evening and sleep on an air bed in his van overnight so he could see her the following morning before heading home. This meant he only had to travel once per day. Due to the pandemic he could not get accommodation close to the hospital and Ronald MacDonald house were only able to take a limited number of families due to social distancing.
I was very lucky to have a bed in the hospital for the duration of Ettas stay and I am very grateful to Southampton for allowing me to stay. However it was very difficult to operate as a family. I could only see her dad in the car park or parents room. Again there was a limit on numbers allowed in the parents room at one time due to social distancing so that wasn't always an option. We could only see Etta one at a time and no other visitors were allowed. So Etta’s sisters and the rest of our families could only see her via FaceTime. We also had to have weekly covid tests.
Wearing a mask constantly around Etta, not being able to hold her for the first 6 days and the general stress and loneliness have not helped my milk supply either. At one point it didn't feel like I had a baby, it felt more like having some sort of pet in a box that I could occasionally stroke!
It is suspected Etta has Hirschsprungs disease which is a condition where some of the nerves are missing from a section of her bowel. She will need a biopsy once she's over 5lb in weight to confirm this. There is an operation for Hirschsprungs if she does in fact have the condition. Southampton have trained me to perform her bowel washouts myself so I can continue her care at home. We were transferred back to Dorchester where my partner and myself could stay in a family room with Etta for 4 nights before coming home yesterday.
All of the staff in both Southampton and Dorchester have been amazing, this is just as hard for them as it is for us. The pandemic has changed the way they can carry out their work and yet none of them complain, they are all a real credit to the NHS.
Thank you so much to Rachel for sharing her story and photos. I know that stories like Rachels will definitely help to reassure other expectant parents. I also would like to take this opportunity to pass my get well wishes to little baby Etta.
Get in touch now if you have a pandemic birth story that you would like featured on my blog.