Before I got pregnant, I did not pay much attention to people sharing their birth stories and photos of their first few intimate moments in theatre. It seemed like it was too much information and, honestly, a bit gross until the baby is born. I even made sure I didn’t select Obstetrics as one of the departments I practiced in when I was a Junior Doctor, for that matter and opted for Paediatrics instead. But then I did get pregnant last year, and now I was the patient instead of the Doctor. I devoured these stories and would gaze at my phone, watching one birth video after another, asking all the mothers I knew about their birth stories and my colleagues at the hospitals about their experiences at the birth unit.
Suddenly you’ve now joined the club where new mums are eager to share their own story and it only seems fair to share my own, too, after having enjoyed listening to others. I have my maternity notes and journal (something which I would highly recommend keeping during pregnancy and birth) in front of me, and I’ve been trying to piece together my own birth story. In spite of the fact that it has been just over a month since given birth, I can still remember the start of my labour, the conversations with the midwives, the cesarean and my baby girl’s first cry, although, everything felt like a blur at that time.
My story actually started from day one of pregnancy. It was my first pregnancy and our parents’ first grandchild. Our home was filled with joy and excitement after our announcement, but my instant elation came down to terror when we were informed that we were in lockdown and that I could not meet or invite anyone. Listening to our friends, families and midwives, it was uplifting to hear about the advances in pain relief and birthing techniques since the past twenty years, the increase in awareness of medical interventions and the vast resources available for pregnant mums. But we were also filled with the scary ones like possible complications of assisted delivery and cesarean, the side effects of pain relief medication, and pain and blood loss during birth, all of which, to be frank, felt like they completely buried the good thoughts and made me worry of what I am walking into. My kind-hearted husband sat beside me and said, you know what, let’s just get a cesarean booked instead.
Given the lockdown, it was also encouraging to hear positive comments about the supportive midwives during the pandemic, the government advice given to pregnant mothers on COVID and the precautions taken at the hospitals. However, we were also informed of visiting hours being reduced to an hour a day, only one birthing partner being allowed during established labour, the increase in the risk of COVID transmission during pregnancy and the occasional story of how some mothers gave birth without a birthing partner at all. I retreated back to my shade and felt completely deflated. Who would have ever thought that COVID would cause such a huge impact on pregnancy and birth? My mind swirled with a mixture of happiness, gratitude, fear and confusion.
Desperate to feel other than panic, I googled ‘giving birth at lockdown,’ and the first thing that popped up was NHS Start4Life on pregnancy and birth care, including advice on healthy eating, COVID precautions and coping strategies for mental well-being during the pandemic. My husband and I instantly signed up for their weekly newsletter and found them to be brilliantly easy to read and informative about everything you need to know about pregnancy and birth. We even signed up to all the virtual antenatal classes, which were educational and presented me with all the options, their benefits and risks to help me make informed decisions for my birth plan and highlighted the importance of consenting to medical procedures. With great online resources combined with antenatal classes, a lovely and caring community midwife and a strong and supportive network of family and friends, I felt like everything was falling into place again.
Looking back, I realized that it was also the best decision to start my maternity leave as early as I could. On busy days at work, I would get so distracted that I used to feel like I did not spare much time to bond with my baby girl or was too tired to do so at the end of the day. I felt like I had time to just reflect on my thoughts and bond with her at my own pace when I was on leave. I even recommenced painting after many years, started writing a pregnancy journal, finished knitting a baby blanket and shoes and much more. Given the social distancing, everyone was working from home, so I was also being pampered well by my husband and my parents and happy to admit, it was bliss. Having your own time helped me physically, mentally and spiritually, something which I think is important to have during pregnancy given our fast-paced culture, so for all the working mums-to-be, I would definitely recommend starting your leave early, too if possible.
By the end of pregnancy, I still wanted to keep my baby girl all to myself inside me. I was ready for the birth, but I was dreading the after. I was bombarded with comments like ‘You’ve been pregnant forever; it’s our turn now to spend time with the baby!’, ‘get ready for the sleepless nights and endless nappy changes’ and ‘You won’t have time for yourself anymore, so make the most of it now’. I was convinced I would not be able to bond with the baby when she arrived. When I moved to my parents’ home closer to the due date, I spent time with my mother to talk it all through, my fears and concerns. I felt like my whole world lifted from my shoulder and I finally whispered to my bump ‘I’m ready for you now my baby girl. Let me know when you are too Love’. Uncharacteristically I then went back to tidying my bedroom.
On a lazy Sunday morning on 25th April, I was in my 41st week of gestation my contractions conveniently started after breakfast. I managed to bear them for a few hours until they worsened. My husband called the triage and I was admitted for assessment, but to my dismay, I was not in established labour yet, so was sent back home. I tried to welcome the contractions using breathing techniques, paracetamol, a TENS machine and a hot shower as advised, but when the waves of the pain reached its peak, it surpassed all my efforts by evening. I remember an affirmation I read a few weeks before ‘Every contraction brings you closer to your baby’, but then everything changed.
I crawled into the car agonizingly slowly and complained all the way to go slow as a snail’s pace to the hospital that night. Once admitted, my midwife kindly allowed my husband to stay with me and offered me all kinds of pain relief intermittently, including oral tablets, intra-muscular injections, gas and air and epidural. Most of which I had previously declined in my birth plan but was now desperate to try them all. They all helped me to some degree until the epidural was finally in after four painful attempts, and then it completely wiped out my labour pains. I was even able to take a short nap after and woke up to a sunny morning in time for the doctors’ ward rounds. I did not give consent to assisted delivery due to the risks associated and personal reasons, so my Obstetric Consultant had advised cesarean, although, in hindsight, it would have been nice to discuss and finalize this before I went into labour as an elective procedure. You can discuss the benefits and risks of having an elective birth with your midwife and Obstetrician if you are interested as part of your birth plan beforehand.
Gratefully, I had an uneventful surgery, and the moment we heard our baby’s first cry, it was music to our ears, and we felt complete as a family. All this time, not leaving my side, my husband was also incredibly calming me, reassuring me and coaching me.
Once in the postnatal ward, the thought of my husband then returning home due to the COVID restrictions did worry me about how I would manage on my own with my baby, but the midwives were caring and supportive. I was in my own personal bubble, and it was the best bonding time with my sweetheart with no interruptions. When we were discharged the day after, all I wanted is my Mum. When she scooped up my princess into her arms, we finally shared a special mother-to-mother moment in person. Since then, she supported us in taking care of our little girl day and night whenever I wanted to take a break, and I could not be more grateful to her. I hope that one day I can be that sort of parent to my little girl, Alekhya.
In retrospect, I feel extremely proud of myself to go through the pregnancy and birth despite the COVID lockdown and the scary birth stories. I feel happy to reframe my birth as something positive in the end and thankful for all the support from my husband, parents, friends and midwives. For all the soon-to-be mums, whether in lockdown or not, don’t be afraid of the scary stories and make the best use of all the available resources to help with your decision-making to frame your birth positively too.