CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

My miracle baby feels like a timebomb

Nothing comes close to human contact, a cuppa and a cuddle says Emma Woolf

01 May, 2020

Emma Woolf

FOR every pregnant woman the 20-week scan is a milestone: for me it was the day the UK went into lockdown.

I knew pregnancy would be a challenge, but I never imagined I’d be doing this in the midst of a global pandemic. This new reality, of social distancing, lockdown and self-isolation, is bewildering for all of us. For many the concerns are practical: paying the mortgage, putting food on the table, home-schooling the kids; above all avoiding the killer virus.

We’re fearful for vulnerable relatives, uncertain about the future and impatient for lockdown to end. I feel all that too – and being pregnant only heightens those emotions.

After years of trying, this miracle baby now feels like a timebomb. I’m due to give birth in July and watching the news I wonder whether the NHS will be back to normal by that time. Virtually all my routine medical check-ups have been transferred to telephone appointments, although my midwives have been supportive via text, and I can still enter the heavily guarded hospital for antenatal scans.

I’m not suggesting maternity care is falling below standard, but women’s options are becoming increasingly limited. The Royal College of Midwives acknow­ledges that services that will be reduced due to the outbreak, and many trusts now only provide face-to-face postnatal support when it is “absolutely essential”.

With huge pressures on the NHS during this time, and one in five midwife posts unfilled, it seems that long-cherished right to choose one’s birth may be yet another casualty of Covid-19. Friends planning a home birth have been told this is no longer possible, water births are out, due to fears of infection, and the natural birthing units attached to many hospitals are closed.

At present, one birthing partner is permitted at the delivery (as long as they have no symptoms of cough or cold) but no family or children are allowed to visit the maternity wards. Even after emergency surgery most partners are not allowed to stay overnight. Antenatal courses are being offered online but, as any pregnant woman knows, the point of those classes is to make contact with other mothers-to-be, and build up a support network of friends in your area.

Strangely though, it’s the little things which matter more. All the stages of this pregnancy I won’t be able to share, no gossipy coffees with girlfriends as they share their birth stories, no shopping for maternity wear or baby clothes, no antenatal classes. The “babymoon” week in the sun I’d booked, which won’t happen now.

The “mum-to-be” pampering voucher from my colleagues which will never be used. No one to come round and decorate the nursery with me, no baby shower. Most of my friends will never see me with a bump.

In the midst of coronavirus, cancelled surgeries, delayed chemotherapy, and many personal tragedies, large and small, my woes are utterly trivial. But there is still a sense of loss.

Then there are the practicalities: pregnant women are classed as “vulnerable” but you don’t get special privileges. For me, good nutrition hasn’t been a problem, most days my local supermarket has plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, but I’ve spoken to new parents at the start of the outbreak who were struggling to buy nappies and baby formula.

The practicalities can be tough, and the emotional aspects even tougher. All mums-to-be have ups and downs: hormonal fluctuations and mood swings are normal in any pregnancy. I’m lucky enough to have people I can “connect with” over Skype and FaceTime and WhatsApp and Zoom – but when you disconnect you’re still alone.

Sometimes I just need a hug or a back rub, reassurance from a friend that everything’s going to be ok. For all the digital connection, nothing comes close to human contact, a cuppa and a cuddle.

Since social distancing and self-isolation became the new normal my baby has started kicking. Like other milestones on this journey, I haven’t been able to share it with anyone. For now, I’m hoping that the country emerges from this crisis soon, and I emerge with a healthy baby.

Emma Woolf is a writer and journalist. Follow her on Twitter @EJWoolf and www.emmawoolf.com

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