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(illustration: Miriama Grace-Smith)
(illustration: Miriama Grace-Smith)

PartnersJuly 29, 2020

Born in lockdown: Stories of mothers giving birth during Covid-19

(illustration: Miriama Grace-Smith)
(illustration: Miriama Grace-Smith)

It’s estimated about 6700 babies were born in New Zealand during alert levels four and three. Emily Writes spoke to new mothers around the country to find out what that experience was like.

Preparing to give birth is a moment of intimidating uncertainty. Under Covid-19’s isolation and restrictions, as mothers around the country approached their due dates, that stress and apprehension deepened.

As lockdown took effect, the rules around giving birth kept changing; some rules were confusing and differed between DHBs. There were fears around access to drugs and epidurals, and limitations around visitors and having partners and supporters while labouring and after the birth. There was also the hope for the future – even in the middle of a pandemic – that only newborns can bring.

These stories from women around New Zealand are shared with love and gratitude. They’re stories of loneliness and isolation, of resilience and bravery, of the strength of mothers doing the most amazing feat under the most difficult circumstance.

Kieran gave birth on 27 March, 2020 at Palmerston North Hospital

He was my fifth baby. We have a four-year-old, a three-year-old, and a 15-month-old at home so we were pretty stressed going into lockdown because we couldn’t find someone to share our bubble with to watch the other children when I was in hospital. This would mean my husband couldn’t be with me when I gave birth. I was also in the high risk population too which added to the stress. 

When I went into labour at 2am I woke my husband and he threw the kids into the car to make the mad rush to the hospital. As you could imagine the car was full of screaming, yelling, tears, and demands for food and bottles. It’s 15 minutes to the hospital but it felt like three hours. 

In between hugs goodbye and grabbing bags we were busy filling out paperwork to be allowed into the hospital. There I was on all fours groaning like a drunk hyena in the car park while the kids screamed in the car demanding to come with me while my husband was trying to sign our lives away so I could enter the building. 

I crawled into the building and as my husband left with the screaming kids, knowing he would miss the birth of his baby, for the first time. 

I made it to the ward half crawling half and wall walking – the effort to find a wheelchair that had been Covid-sterlised was too much of a mission. 

When I got to the room, fully dilated, my waters broken, with one push I gave birth to a gorgeous boy. Then I was alone, no smiles of joy with my husband. There was no one to share the moment with. 

My husband came back about six hours later and collected us. I think not being able to be there at the birth slowed his bonding with our new baby. After he was born that loneliness continued – with my family and friends prohibited from coming to see us I felt very isolated. 

27/03/2020 (Photo: supplied).

Mychelle gave birth on 29 March, 2020 at Auckland Hospital

My waters broke on the first day of level four lockdown. He wasn’t due for another eight and a half weeks. My husband I rushed to Auckland hospital in the middle of the night

The next 48 hours were key. We needed to speed up his lung development with two steroid injections 24 hours apart. Keeping him in for another two days became our focus and I was given drugs to suppress my labour. 

When we were transferred to the maternity ward, my husband Tom and I were no longer allowed to be together. So he went home and I waited. When I spoke to him at 7pm everything was calm, and I told him to get a good night’s sleep – I didn’t realise he’d have a heavy whisky and a sleeping pill. 

When I started having full on contractions at midnight he slept through all my calls. A friend had to break the level four rules and boost to our house and wake him up. He made it to the hospital in time for my contractions to come under control and be sent home again.

Around 7pm on the second night my contractions started ramping up again and got stronger through the evening. I knew it was time. Around midnight they crescendoed. Tom got there at 12.05. Jack arrived at 12.38. 

We’d managed to keep him in for 47 of the 48 hours. Jack went straight into an incubator and on to oxygen and was wheeled off into NICU. Tom went with him, then he was sent home again. 

The birth was the first and last time the three of us were together at the same time for a month. That was the hardest part of the four weeks Jack was in hospital. Tom and I would have sneaky meetings in the hospital hallways as we swapped shifts.

The rules kept changing as the hospital figured out how things were working. I was initially told I could go and visit Jack whenever I wanted. But one night when I went to see him at 10pm there was a new 9pm visiting curfew. I just burst into tears and begged to see my baby. The nurses saw how desperately I needed to be with him and let me into the ward. 

I went home after three days. Jack was in NICU for another nine days. Then he had three weeks in North Shore Hospital but still we were only allowed to visit him on our own. 

Every day we tried to find positives to hold on to. Yes he was early but he was a good size and he was healthy. We kept being told to brace ourselves for him going backwards but he never did. 

It was such a stressful period for all the nurses and doctors too. They put up with some horrible shit. They had to handle a lot of frustration from scared new parents.

Jack came home on Anzac Day. It was very exciting. But even though he was home we couldn’t show him off; we were told to keep him locked away until his due date. It’s already strange thinking back to our experience, such a short time ago, and remembering how different the world was at that moment. 

Jack born 29/03/2020 (Photo: supplied).

Jade gave birth on 23 April, 2020 at home

Spencer is my second child, and second boy. I had him at home in the lounge during the last week of level four lockdown. I live 30 minutes away from the hospital so, knowing from experience that I could have a quick labour, I decided to home birth. I didn’t want to risk the drive and I also wanted my husband Darren around – which might not be possible at a hospital during lockdown.

On the morning of 23rd April I felt some little niggles but nothing too crazy. As my first was an induction I had no idea what the natural start of labour would feel like. At around 4.30pm it felt like the niggles were rather consistent so we hurried our toddler’s bedtime routine and gave him an early night. Darren started to fill up the pool and I called my midwife. When she arrived I was shocked to be told I was already at 8cm!

My other midwife arrived shortly after and they let me do my thing. The fact that we were in lockdown didn’t even cross my mind. Darren spent my contractions filling up the pool with the jug and pots on the stove as our hot water decided to stop working that night – great timing.

I felt so empowered working my way through my birth and contractions by myself, in the lounge with the fire on; it seems incredible to say it, but the whole birthing experience was calming. I had no drugs or pain relief and in that moment I had no fear. I knew I would bring my baby into this world OK.

When I felt the need to push I hopped in the pool and less than 15 minutes later I brought Spencer into the world, all by myself. There was so rush or hurry to get anything done, we sat in the pool until we were ready to hop out, the midwives cleaned everything up and Darren made us all a cup of tea while I made some special FaceTime calls to my family who live in the UK. My midwife had videoed the moment Spencer arrived, which was one of the greatest gifts I could receive as I could send the video to my mum in the UK. It allowed her to be part of the experience in some way, even if she couldn’t be there in person.

My experience of giving birth during lockdown was nothing but positive. It was amazing to have that special time as a family, with no interruptions. I feel like I recovered better physically and mentally during those precious first few weeks and I would only ever home birth now. (Hopefully with working hot water!)

Spencer born 23/04/20 (Photo: supplied)

Libby gave birth on 21 April, 2020 at Wellington Hospital

Wilbur is baby number three for us. Watching the announcement that we were heading into lockdown, and realising the full weight of that, was a lot to process. My mum was due to come stay and help wrangle the older kids while we all settled in and got to know each other. I cried a lot knowing that couldn’t happen.

The weekend before I gave birth I was already two days overdue and my husband woke up with a snotty nose. As much as we both wanted to keep our heads in the sand and assume it was hayfever or some seasonal nothingness, we realised that we were going to have to have him tested. If I went into labour that night, we knew he wouldn’t be able to come.

Thankfully the test was negative and he was symptom-free when I went into labour. The birth itself felt no different to my other experiences at the hospital, other than the screening questions on arrival at the delivery suite. We had a delightful water birth and Wilbur was here a few hours after we arrived. 

The major difference came afterwards. I had some tearing and needed to stay overnight in hospital, and my husband wasn’t allowed to come to the ward. So I was wheeled off to my room, still largely immobile after a spinal block, for the repair. 

That was a really vulnerable experience. But our lead midwife was wonderful and I never felt that that care was at all compromised or different because of lockdown. 

We were lucky that neither my husband or I have been impacted financially by Covid. If anything, it was an absolute blessing in disguise for our little whānau. Lockdown meant we had the first two weeks with just us – I didn’t have to clean up, have a shower, wash my hair, or entertain anyone at all. We had the loveliest slow pace as we all got to know each other. Honestly if I have another baby, I’d want to do it exactly like this.

Wilbie born 21/04/2020 (Photo: supplied).

Cheree gave birth on 1 April, 2020 at Whangarei Hospital

I had a panic attack a few days before I gave birth to my son. I woke to an email from my amazing midwife explaining the most recent updates from the DHB – limited midwife contact, one support person at hospital, no midwife or support person for C-sections, potentially limited access to epidurals. After nine long months of fears, worries and pain, this was my breaking point. 

When I could see through the Covid-tainted fog again, I understood the need to prepare us for the worst and that things were changing by the minute. I was lucky that our experience was the opposite of what I was braced for. My waters broke at 6am on the 31st March, 17 days early. Contractions started at 7pm, I was at the hospital by 10.30pm, epidural at 11.30pm and Ted Patrick Morrison arrived at 2.40am. His April Fools Day birthday felt fitting.

Other than having to answer a few questions before entering the hospital and the addition of PPE, my experience at Whangarei Hospital felt basically no different. It was quiet, the lack of visitors noticeable but the atmosphere was calm. The most surreal moment was driving to the hospital on deserted roads, with roadside signage proclaiming KEEP CALM, BE KIND. It felt apocalyptic, like a bad blockbuster movie.

There was a shared sense of camaraderie from the moment I stepped foot into the hospital. We were all slightly bewildered, a bit dazed but determined to make this bizarre situation into something positive. Ted arrived into a happy, safe and relaxed bubble, and I can’t thank my midwife and the hospital staff enough for that.

I’m under no illusions – I was incredibly lucky. It was a great birth, he feeds easily and we had no complications. The hardest part was not being able to share our boy with those who loved him. It helped knowing that this was a collective experience with our ‘team of five million’. Everyone was dealing with sacrifices and this was ours.

Now Ted hates the car seat – one downside of not leaving the house for six weeks!

Ted born 01/04/2020 (Photo: supplied)

Liz gave birth on 5 June, 2020 at Auckland City Hospital

I’m pretty lucky we’d moved into level two when I gave birth so a lot of the restrictions had lifted. During lockdown there were a lot of rumours and changing rules. It was really stressful trying to work out what would apply to me. 

I was lucky that I was able to continue to have my obstetrician appointments in person unlike those who were forced to have their consultations over the phone. But my partner wasn’t allowed to attend with me and I feel that this robbed him of the experience of seeing our baby grow. He also was allowed to attend the birth plan appointment at 36 weeks while we were in level four. We booked a caesarean for my chunky, breech baby.

On the morning of June 5 we went to Auckland City Hospital as instructed. My partner had to sign in at the hospital as a visitor. Everything ran like clockwork. I stayed one night at the hospital and I was only allowed one visitor at a time out of two nominated people. Anyone under 16 wasn’t allowed to visit so my firstborn met his new brother over FaceTime. 

After hospital I transferred to Birthcare where I had a “shared room” all to myself because of social distancing procedures. They had the same visiting rules as the hospital and my eldest still couldn’t visit us. When I left Birthcare three days later, the country was in level one. As families united it felt like a piece of normality had returned.  

Owen born 05/06/2020 (Photo: supplied).

Alison gave birth on 6 April, 2020 in Waitakere Hospital, Auckland

It was a really hard experience and I had to go through it largely alone. Because of gestational diabetes and hypertension I needed to be induced at 37 weeks and five days. I was in a single room, by myself. I had no support person until I was in active labour. Then I was in labour for three days, as the induction failed to progress. After a difficult labour, I had to have an emergency caesarean; my support person had to leave immediately afterwards. Even when my baby was unwell and in the Specialist Care Baby Unit (SCBU), I still wasn’t allowed anyone with me.

I know the midwives were doing the best they could under awful circumstances, but I still felt incredibly isolated and alone.

Social media helped a lot. Being able to keep in touch with friends and family during the induction and the three long weeks with Thomas in SCBU helped me feel less alone. But I know I have a degree of PTSD over the delivery and newborn period which I will need to deal with at some point.

Rosie gave birth on 27 April, 2020 at Southland Hospital

We spent lockdown worrying about the birth and whether my husband would be able to be there. As the baby was tracking quite large there was fear I would need a caesarean we were told he would not be allowed to be in the theatre. It was all pretty terrifying and everyone in our Facebook due date group was being told different things because each DHB had their own policy. The lockdown really amplified the tedium of the last couple of weeks. 

While I was due on May 6 it was looking like I was going to be induced while we were at level four. We had to choose to burst our bubble and let a friend come to stay with our son Radley so that my husband could go with me to hospital to make our birth plan. My midwife memorably said to me, while I was wringing my hands about this transgression we were going to commit against the team of five million, “Well, the police could look after him when they come to arrest us.”

I went into labour naturally and we went into hospital at 8pm that night. We just had to be screened and then it was really just business as usual apart from a bit of extra PPE for the midwife. I felt really supported during birth and postpartum mainly because I had an awesome midwife who visited us every couple of days which helped us not feel so isolated. Our families both live in Dunedin and we are in Invercargill so we had a long wait to see them. 

While that was hard it was also quite lovely in its own way because we were in our own little bubble with our newborn and no one to distract us, apart from the three-year-old who had been existing on pure uncut screentime for five weeks!

I will definitely look back on our lockdown time fondly, even though that seems absurd and is coming from a privileged, secure position. But it made a special time of my life even more memorable.

Abby gave birth on 1 May 2020, at home

I was due late April with Dante and planned to start my maternity leave on April 1 and enjoy some rest before number three arrived. I was working with two other pregnant women due just before me. As Covid-19 started to affect New Zealand to say we were anxious was an understatement. We didn’t know just how at risk it made us or our babies. 

When lockdown happened there was just this huge sense of relief that I could hide away without risking anything. Starting my maternity leave with two busy toddlers at home with no daycare though was not what I had envisioned. Luckily I had my husband home too so we spent most days walking our preschoolers on their bikes willing this baby to come. Without lockdown my husband would have never had any time off at home ahead of our baby’s birth so it was a blessing in disguise for our family. 

I felt very blessed to have the incredible midwife I did. She continued all our appointments and plans for my first home birth. I kept trying to naturally encourage this baby out but he wasn’t as keen as my other two were so the days went on. Two false starts later and finally I woke on the night of the 1 May as my contractions started. 

I spent most of my labour bouncing on a Swiss ball with a TENS machine. It was such a relief to not have to make the drive to the hospital or deal with the formalities required of a hospital birth, especially under Covid conditions. I just did my own thing. 

In the last stage I climbed into the birth pool waiting and Dante was born at 10.56am in two pushes. Dante was 4.3kg and a crazy 62cm long. 

Staying inside our bubble and my other two children getting to immediately meet baby and all being together was priceless. Having all our home comforts made us feel safe and at ease. There was a lot of cleanup though for my poor husband but he handled it like a trooper. 

I think the hardest thing about the whole experience was handling it all with our two preschoolers home 24/7 through lockdown without my Mum or friends I had for support with my other two babies. But it was all worth it.

Keep going!