Trigger warning: some of these stories may contain content that is distressing to read regarding mental health or baby loss

My experience of being pregnant during pandemic has been one of drama, extremes and uncertainty. When Covid-19 emerged we were living and working in Kenya.

We had a long struggle to get pregnant with number two – two miserable years of miscarriages, heartbreak, hope and multiple commutes to Jo’burg for IVF.

In March 2020, I was at the end of the first trimester and fairly anxious about my ‘precious’ pregnancy. All pregnancies are precious, but when they’ve been so long in the making, they feel even more so. We were given 72hrs to pack 5 bags and prepare for a massive evacuation. The UK government pulled all families from overseas postings back into the UK over a matter of days.

We arrived into lockdown in the UK. It was sad and stressful not to be able to take my husband to scans. On 14th September, my husband went to Bristol to get our stuff out of storage and to get the house ready. On Sept 15th my waters went and I ended up going into Derriford hospital. My husband arrived just in time for our son Sebi’s arrival, born 3 weeks early. Sebi needed a stint in NICU to start with. Luckily, he was not that ill but we had to stay in a few days.

Despite all the dramas we were the lucky ones. My heart goes out to those couples who were meant to be doing IVF when lockdown hit and who had to watch precious months pass without being able to fulfil their dream of having a child. That must have been extremely hard, knowing time is of the essence and not knowing if or when they’d be able to continue their treatment. I really felt for all those in that situation (and still do).

My second child was born in October 2020. After a quick birth with my first I was expecting another quick labour and was hoping to go into the midwife led unit at the hospital. However, after a few hours of labouring at home he suddenly decided to make an entrance. I gave birth on our utility floor before the ambulance arrived. Thankfully my husband caught him! All was fine and after a few hours we were left alone with our new son Richard. My toddler slept through the whole thing!

Richard’s grandparents managed to visit but then we went into lockdown again. I had to look after two children with just my husband who was working full-time. He was working from home and has had a lot more time with them then he would have but I really missed the company of other mums. There was no one to talk to and make you realise it’s normal to find it really hard work.

During the next lockdown my mood really started to suffer and I struggled to have the confidence to look after them both. I felt like a failure. Everyone congratulates you and says how easy a quick birth is but the reality is that it’s very scary as you are on your own with no medical support. The home birth meant I was back to being my toddler’s mum straight away, rather than recovering from labour and trying to bond with my new baby.

Thankfully, with a supportive husband and support from the PANDAS phone line I’m starting to feel more like myself again and having fun looking after them. I don’t think I would have got so low if I’d had the chance to interact with other parents and had extended family support which Covid-19 denied me.

I gave birth to my baby girl 4 days after WHO declared Covid a global pandemic and 8 days before the first national lockdown. When my little girl was born on March 15th 2020, it was when the country was in utter panic. Everyone was stocking up on supplies, supermarkets where bare. I was in incredible pain after the birth and I kept being told by midwives to take pain killers, but I couldn’t get any! We then read online, 3 days after I gave birth that an anaesthetist at my birth had tested positive for Covid. I had been with an anaesthetist for about an hour when I gave birth. I hadn’t been feeling well. The panic set in. I called the health visitor, asked what I should do. How do I protect the baby if I have Covid? Testing wasn’t widely available then. Was I ill from the birth, mastitis or did I have Covid? The health visitor didn’t really know what to advise, it was so unknown to everyone then. She advised maybe to pump and get my husband to feed her with a bottle, but if I introduced a bottle so early she would drop the breast. She then advised maybe have the baby sleep in a separate room, but this then puts the baby at greater risk of SIDS. At this point I was hysterical. I went with my mother’s instinct and decided to keep the baby in my room but keep it ventilated as best as I could, I wore a scarf around my face when I was feeding her. I separated us from my husband and my 3 year old little boy to protect them but it was just awful.

When our son was 5 days old, I developed a temperature. Maternity triage suspected a post-natal infection. Pre-pandemic treatment would have involved a trip to the GP. Instead, I was sent to A&E. I sat there with my newborn strapped to my chest and sobbed for an hour and a half into my mask. At a time when I was desperately in need of someone to put their arm around me, I was alone. 5 months on, it still brings me to tears.

On the 22nd March, 2020, Mother’s Day, I called my local hospital as I hadn’t felt much movement from my baby in the 24 hours prior. I was asked to go in for monitoring, alone. I did this and after a couple of hours I was told I could go home but that I would have to return the next evening, the 23rd March, at 6pm, to be induced.

The midwife on the 22nd advised me that as my mother works in a children’s nursery, she was too high risk to look after my eldest son in order to let my husband be present at the birth. She was not allowed to attend the hospital either. As a result, on the 23rd March, my husband, with my son in the car, drove me to hospital. He dropped me off in the car park and I carried my bags to the labour ward, alone.

The induction procedure began at around 6:45 and at 8pm I was bouncing on the birthing ball listening to the Prime Minister announce the first uk wide lockdown. 4 hours later, my contractions started to come thick and fast and by 2:16am my son, Alex, was born. This was a scary time as, due to the speed of my labour (2cm to Alex arriving in 20 mins) his heart rate dropped significantly and there were at least six medical professionals in the room.

It was such a difficult experience to go through alone.

At about 4pm on the 24th March, Alex and I were discharged and my husband and our eldest son came to pick us up from the car park; they were not allowed in the hospital.

My husband and I had mixed emotions when our fertility doctor confirmed the pregnancy on February 4th, 2020. This miracle pregnancy occurred naturally on our own after several failed fertility treatments. We were worried about losing the pregnancy and we were terrified about covid 19. The high-risk doctor recommended cerclage to help keep shut my cervix. The scary part was we did not have any help or support and my husband was not allowed to attend most of the prenatal checks. I had cerclage and continued a weekly appointment with the perinatologist until I delivered my baby girl via C-Section in October. We had an emergency c-section after a three-day failed induction. My life has not been the same since having my baby with limited support and declining mental health. I have suffered postpartum depression and anxiety and I feel like I am on the edge daily. I am in counselling and I take medication but the social connection piece is missing. I have not had a single friend or family visit me due to fear of covid.

I gave birth to my first child Olwen in October. The pandemic hit a week or two after we found out we were going to have a baby. My partner couldnt attend any of the scans and I had to be induced and spend a week in hospital on my own. I felt really resilient at the time as I just had to grit my teeth and get through it. After she was born I just wanted to escape from the hospital so we could be a family together and not just for two hours a day. The first four months of her life have involved two lockdowns, one started the day after she left hospital. It’s been so much bleaker than I imagined – particularly through winter and my usually positive outlook has needed constant tending to!

I found out I was pregnant during the first lockdown. It was an extremely worrying time. Never did we imagine we’d still be in lockdown when the baby was due in 2021! All my early appointments were by telephone and I attended all my scans alone. Luckily everything was fine, but it was upsetting for my husband. Most frustrating was later in the year when the NHS issued guidance stating partners were allowed to attend appointments but my trust chose to ignore it. There were points in my pregnancy that restaurants and pubs were open but whenever I’d ask if my husband could attend an appointment, I received a rude response as if I wasn’t taking the pandemic seriously. I left one appointment in tears as I had received worrying news about the baby’s measurements on my own.

Lawrence was born in February 2021. My husband had to leave when I went to the postnatal ward and only return during visiting hours (6pm-8pm). It was so distressing and made no sense as we both received negative Covid tests during labour so sending him back and forth surely increased the chance of him bringing Covid into the hospital. I strongly believe that trusts should look at this policy.

I am fortunate that Lawrence was born healthy and without complications. On the postnatal ward I heard a woman crying out in pain and longing for her partner. Partners should be allowed to stay after the birth, especially after a c-section. Since my birth I have had no health visitor appointments face-to-face or any clinics. Things are reopening in society, so why can’t clinics?

Being pregnant throughout a global pandemic was tough on my mental health. However, I am so lucky things are now reopening whilst my baby is so young.

Not only was I becoming a new mother, my partner was becoming a new dad. He suffers terrible with mental health, mainly depression and anxiety, and him learning I was pregnant was the happiest I’ve seen him in years. However he too couldn’t attend appointments, was only allowed to visit one scan, and had to sit it out. I gave birth in a birthing centre, and he was present during labour but was asked to leave afterwards. Being alone with the occasional check in was a bit scary, and although the midwives were lovely and gave great advice, it didn’t feel quite right. And I think now that being a mum now is daunting in these times, but also it has kind of affected how a new family is created… It feels somewhat empty as well in regard to the building up towards the birth. You hear of classes you can go to in order to help prepare, the swimming aerobics for pregnant women, the chitter chatter of new mums coming together with tea, gender reveals, even having a massive baby shower with the girls. Lots of women didn’t get those this time around.

Theodore was born on 13th November 2020 at 38 weeks via forceps delivery at Lewisham Hospital. My anxiety had been through the roof for two weeks prior. My waters broke at 37 + 5 in the early hours and although contractions started, they stopped and I needed to be induced. My cervix was very slow to dilate, so I was glad that I had asked for an epidural early on. Theo had turned back to back and had his head tilted and the consultants knew delivery was likely to be via forceps as he was too far down the birth canal to do a C-Section safely. Delivery was pretty brutal, the episiotomy extended to a 3B tear and I had a manual placenta extraction. However the consultant team were amazing and because of their excellent care, I have healed well.

In a way, I was fortunate that I had such severe anxiety, because the perinatal mental health team ensured that my husband was with me the few days that we were in hospital. The midwives were incredible and I honestly think that my experience would have been traumatising had I not been allowed to have my husband by my side. My heart goes out to all of those brave women who endured such difficult times alone.

Covid has had silver linings – we were given more space than we would have had in normal circumstances from visitors so we got to settle in as a family, but it would have been lovely to introduce Theo to more people. As a FTM, I don’t know any different so we have just had to survive as best we can, but I will be interested to see how a normal pregnancy and birth experience are next time!