I Gave Birth Alone Because Of Covid

'I wish I could have seen that film stretched over her face, surprising and delighting the midwife. I wish my husband could have seen it.'

Gave birth alone covid

by Amy Swales |

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The day my daughter was born, the first national lockdown was announced. She emerged from hospital slightly yellow, five days old already. The two of us taxied home together through a ghost town, her under a rain cover, me in the disposable mask bought for £2.50 from our local pharmacy, queuing up for one per customer. Our driver was distraught, desperate for fares but terrified of passengers. We tried to comfort each other.

A few weeks after the day my daughter was born, a Björk tracks swings around on the playlist. I stop what I’m doing in the kitchen, shake my head, no I can’t, turn it off. “Did you listen to it during the actual birth?” asks my husband, because he wasn’t there.

Two weeks before her due date, one day after deciding I would go it alone, I am blue-lighted to hospital after some bleeding, no proper goodbyes, and stay until our daughter arrives, within minutes filling her tiny belly with milk and her cheeks with colour. I video call her daddy and brother. I video call my mum. I take a picture of us together, her tucked into me, sated, asleep, and I burst into tears, and I stare at her, and I talk to her. The things we can do. The things we do.

We made the decision during those weeks of mounting anxiety and conflicting information: was it a thing or wasn’t it? Was it deadly or bad flu? Herd immunity or lockdown? Were hospitals safe? We cancelled trips, started isolating, made and remade childcare plans for our two-year-old son. Would my mum, travelling 200 miles from Yorkshire, get trapped in London? Were we risking her, or anyone who looked after him? Were we risking him, us, our newborn, because nobody had long enough to isolate?

I didn’t sleep for days, going to sit on the sofa in the early hours cradling my huge stomach and nuzzling the dog. The moment we decided I would go in alone, it was something we were in control of, a way to keep our little unit as safe as possible. The day after I sped off in an ambulance.

The day before my daughter is born, they decide to induce me and I’m moved to a ward. The woman across from me brings water, chats comfortingly. I wait until she’s out of sight to wipe the jug with the hand foam at the end of my bed. Friends bring the car seat I forgot in the rush, I feel ungrateful rejecting the offer of company and wiping everything they’ve touched.

There isn’t a free bed for the induction. My waters break early the next morning anyway, creaking out of me with each contraction. When I’m introduced to different members of staff, I explain I’m on my own, and they radiate warmth and support as if we’ve known each other for years.

The day my daughter is born, my phone fills up with voice notes. I breathlessly ask for cheerleading between blinding, weighted contractions. My friends, my son, my husband. Long digital memories. What an odd thing to have.

We listened to Björk in bed together at university, and I listen to her as the waves crash in, roll me over, move our baby through my body.

I listen as long as I can, All is Full of Love carrying me to the beginning of the end, then I take over, headphones off, throat sore with effort.

The midwife leaves us for a while, and when she returns asks if I’ve showered. No, I say, I had nobody to give her to.

It’s only then, at the end, when I’m not in control of any of it, I start to cry, really cry, because it’s happening and it’s not fair, and I tell the midwife I can’t do it, it won’t fit, I’m going to break. Then there she is, I find out we have a daughter. Our girl. Our caul baby. I wish I could have seen that film stretched over her face, surprising and delighting the midwife. I wish my husband could have seen it. Superstition says she’s lucky. I forgot to pack her a hat.

The midwife leaves us for a while, and when she returns asks if I’ve showered. No, I say, I had nobody to give her to. She wraps her up like a tiny doll and walks back and forth as I eat my sandwich and drink my tea. On the ward, I’m told I can leave her in the cot while I shower. I lock a door between us, wash as quickly as my body allows, then hop out of the bathroom still wet, paper towel on the door handle, convinced I heard her cry. She’s still asleep.

The rules change day to day. When I arrive at hospital, partners are still allowed overnight. One coughs a lot, another doesn’t believe in hand-washing, another requests masks from midwives who tell him they can’t get any themselves. Two days later they’re no longer snoring all night in chairs next to their newborns. We start to talk. The woman across from me struggles with the blooming pain of breastfeeding; I give her my unopened balm then panic when she uses it straightaway – had I washed my hands, was it clean? I think about her for weeks.

I’m still in hospital on day three, when the baby blues come in with the milk. I am terrified of everything and feel like there’s no way to stay safe. The midwives try and find me a private room, they root for us to be signed off, they bring me tea and coffee I’m a little afraid to touch and I add sugar even though I don’t take it.

Five days after the day my daughter was born, we go home. A midwife I hadn’t met before firmly insists I can’t go downstairs on my own, with my camping rucksack and now occupied car seat, “No, that’s not what we do”. It’s been six days since I saw my husband, six days since I held my son, separated for longer than 24 hours for the first time in his life.

In a few weeks, it will be a year since the day my daughter was born on the cresting first wave of a pandemic. A year of fear, distance, tragedy. A terrible year, and my baby’s whole life. In spring we may well have some hope, with vaccines and falling numbers and tentative reopening. In spring we’ll have a one-year-old, maybe walking, almost talking. A babyhood over, missing family and rhyme times and weigh-ins. There’s hope and there’s grief.

It hurts that she’s met her grandparents just a handful of times. That she’s never sat and cooed with another baby. She’s been held up to computer screens since she was born. Her first photo album is a roll call of the lounge and the park. We didn’t enter a shop for months, didn’t leave the two-mile radius around our flat. Playgrounds had swings tied up and locked gates. She was dazed the first time I took her to a supermarket, cried the first time we got on the Tube.

For much of the year, most of the ways people cope with two without childcare have been torpedoed: the moments of relief, release, that would have sustained us have evaporated. Afternoons with friends, relatives – coffee and other kids and spare hands. Our local community playgroups, where he could play safely and I could feed her in the corner. The song and story sessions at the library. The soft play centres. The museums. Anywhere she could be put down, rather than being constantly strapped to me as I push her brother’s pram from one park to the next.

One day we will celebrate the missed times, meet the people she has yet to meet.

Activities offer connections, small talk and big talk. Support. We grasp at those bonds in parks and playgrounds as we gel our kids’ hands and cringe if they sneeze. We try to help our children process their anger and confusion.

It’s not the worst story of these times, but I hurt for them both. We’re a little unseen, us pandemic parents. I wonder how many of us, how many of our Covid babies, are falling through the cracks. I’m not yet convinced I haven’t.

My daughter has been weighed twice in her life – the same amount of times I’ve been asked if I’m doing OK, post-partum. A 10-minute phone call ticked the boxes on her developmental review; the last time she was checked in person she was eight weeks old. At least she’s our second, we shrug.

Our second, our girl, our pandemic baby.

One day we will celebrate the missed times, meet the people she has yet to meet. One day I will listen to the voice notes.

The day my daughter was born was the start of an historic year, a terrible year, but it’s her year, her very first, and full of firsts – smiling, waving, crawling, clapping. A year of people who posted us Calpol and left groceries and maternity pads at the door. A year of giggling with her brother, of open-mouthed baby kisses, of the things she can do.

We didn’t miss it, Alba.

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