What it’s like giving birth in an NHS hospital at the height of a pandemic

Anonymous author
·4 min read
NHS - Getty
NHS - Getty

It felt like the worst possible time to be having a baby. In the weeks leading up to the date for my planned Caesarean section, I watched in horror as the Covid infection rate soared higher and higher. Every new report seemed to bring even worse news: the virus was everywhere now, and London hospitals were struggling to cope with the growing number of coronavirus patients.

There was absolutely nothing I could do. My baby was coming this week, whatever the headlines said, and I’d need to be in a London hospital whether I liked it or not.

In the days leading up to the delivery, there were a number of worrying “what-ifs”. What if I tested positive for Covid beforehand? We couldn’t have asked my husband’s parents to care for our toddler while we were in hospital. My husband would have had to stay home to do this, and I would have been on my own in hospital, a prospect that filled me with dread.

What if I caught the virus while in hospital? What if my new baby caught it? How would I cope looking after a newborn and toddler if I had coronavirus? As any mother will tell you, having a baby in normal times brings with it enough little worries. Going into hospital I felt, quite frankly, terrified.

Luckily my obligatory pre-birth Covid test came back negative. (We had played it even safer than usual in the 14 days prior to my C-section). The procedure itself went smoothly and did not take very long, and my baby daughter arrived safely. The medics who delivered her were wearing masks and head coverings, but weren’t in full personal protective equipment.

During my pre-surgery checks, the lead obstetrician’s mask kept slipping down, leaving his nose uncovered, which was unnerving. Lying there helpless on the bed, all I could do was hope and assume that none of the staff in the room were carrying the virus.

I felt fortunate that my husband was allowed to be with me throughout. He could even have stayed overnight on the maternity ward if he’d wanted to, but we decided against that, preferring to minimise his exposure. The ward itself, after all, couldn’t be completely Covid-secure. All the new mothers had been tested, and anyone with Covid would be put in a side room, away from the rest of us. But the fathers didn’t have to be tested, and although they were asked to keep their masks on the whole time, it was doubtful anyone was wearing one when sitting in their partner’s cubicle for hours, eating, drinking and chatting. Although there were sturdy partitions between all the beds, there was only a curtain in front of each one, keeping germs at bay. I wondered how easy it would be for them to spread if a father across the ward was infected.

But having a newborn baby doesn’t leave you much time to focus on anything else. Once I was on the ward, I devoted most of my attention to the feeding and sleeping patterns of my new daughter. The maternity services felt very separate from what was going on elsewhere in the hospital and I didn’t sit there feeling frightened. I only had to share bathrooms with women who’d tested negative.

I was discharged after one night – another great mercy – and have now been at home for two days. It’s too soon to know if I did catch Covid in hospital, but I’m hugely relieved to have left.

Bringing a baby home without the usual visits from family and friends to look forward to does feel a little bit sad. But I think sometimes new mothers feel under pressure to see lots of people in the first few weeks, and to take their baby out and about. In a way it will be nice to have the excuse to just stay home and do nothing while we get to know our new daughter, and help our toddler adjust.

In a few weeks’ time, I imagine I’ll start to feel differently: I will really start to miss the support of other new mums, as well as relatives and friends. This maternity leave will be nothing like my first one. But at least my baby is healthy, safe and back home. For these key things, and the NHS staff responsible, I can only feel grateful.

As told to Rosa Silverman

Have you given birth during the pandemic? Share your experience with us by emailing yourstory@telegraph.co.uk