Lockdown with a newborn - mums open up about challenges and unexpected joys of welcoming new life during the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has changed all of our lives, but families with newborns have been hit particularly hard.
From fears over picking up the virus in hospital to not being able to see loved ones when they return home, mums have faced huge challenges when giving birth during the crisis.
Here we speak to new mums about their life changing experiences in the most unexpected circumstances.
Highs and lows
For single mum Cortney Harding from South Shields, welcoming son Quinn Edward Kesteris-Graham into the world during the pandemic has brought both incredible highs and crushing lows.
Weighing 9lb 6oz, Quinn was born by planned caesarean section at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle at 2.10pm on March 20.
Cortney, 26, who is also mum to Zachary Kesteris-Graham, three, said: “It is really daunting knowing that you are going it alone.
“But there is a difference between being alone and then having no support system.
“With no nursery, not being able to see family members and then having a newborn, initially, it was really quite horrendous but things have settled down.”
Although Cortney’s mum Sharron Harding was there for the birth, Cortney said she had to leave as soon as Quinn was born, meaning that she was alone until she was able to go home the following day.
But she said the lockdown restrictions led to a beautiful moment of solidarity among the mothers on the ward.
“Usually after you have a baby, the curtains are shut and no one speaks to each other, but what was unreal was that everyone on the ward kept their curtains open and we ended up supporting each other,” Cortney said.
“As much as it was odd, and far from ideal, it was lovely.”
Fears of hospital and visitors
Like many mothers, Cortney felt the anxiety of going into hospital during the pandemic for fear of picking up the virus.
Since returning home, Cortney has been shielding with her two children and has only recently started seeing family members from a safe distance.
She is now able to rely on the support of her mum who has started working from home, but Cortney said there was a six week period where she had no support at all.
She chose not to have a health visitor for fear of her children picking up the virus.
Since then, Cortney has taken Quinn to the GP for his six to eight-week check-up, but said the experience was vastly different from when she had son Zachary – with staff minimising contact in order to follow safety procedures.
“I can’t imagine the anxiety for a first time mam,” she said.
“It’s like a bad dream. When I first came home I kept waking up and thinking, ‘this hasn’t happened.’
“I have had no health checks for myself yet, I am just hoping for the best.”
For Sunderland mum Lana Stoker, 32, the idea of having a baby in hospital during the pandemic was actually more frightening than the experience itself.
Lana and partner Christopher Patterson, 31, welcomed their daughter Hope into the world 16 days early, on May 4, weighing 8lb 3oz.
Mum Lana gave birth at Sunderland Royal Hospital and dad Christopher was able to be there by Lana's side to see their daughter being born.
Lana, who is also mum to Oliver Patterson, six, and Jack Patterson, four, couldn’t praise the midwives at the hospital enough for their support and reassurance.
“I had to come into the hospital on my own and as soon as I arrived, I had to wash my hands with soap and water,” she said.
”It was a busy day at the unit, but staff made sure everyone was metres apart.
“All the midwives had their gowns and masks on, but were saying; ‘you can’t see us smiling, but we are smiling at you.’”
After being examined and told Lana was in active labour, Christopher was allowed to be there for the birth, but was unable to leave the room once he arrived as part of the hospital’s Covid-19 guidelines.
Lana stayed overnight in the hospital and when discharged the following day, midwives helped her to the reception where Christopher was waiting outside to collect her.
“Hope was my third baby so I wasn’t as anxious as new mums would be.” Lana said.
“To expectant mums, I’d just say that it’s not as scary as you think. The support is there.”
Garden fence meetings
One of the biggest challenges of having a newborn during lockdown is being unable to see friends and family.
As restrictions are eased, Lana’s family members have caught a glimpse of baby Hope over the garden fence, but are still unable to hold her or meet her properly.
“My mum is struggling with not being able to cuddle Hope,” Lana said.
“No one has held her other than me and her dad. It has been really difficult.”
But with the challenges of lockdown also come the blessings in disguise, as dad Christopher, who works in maintenance, has been put on furlough, meaning he has been able to enjoy quality time with the baby.
“He has been enjoying the bonding time as he never got the chance with the other two, “ Lana said.
“We named her Hope as we thought it was fitting with everything we are going through.”
More time for Dads
For new mum Sarah Henderson and partner Roy Goggins, from South Shields, the Government’s furlough scheme also came as an unexpected blessing.
Roy, 41, was put on furlough from his job as an electrician, so he was able to spend six weeks at home following the arrival of their son, Parker Goggins, on March 29.
Sarah, 35, said: “Roy is back to work now, but we were quite fortunate as he was off for the first six weeks when Parker was born.
“You never usually get that time at the beginning.”
And mum Sarah was full of praise for the team at Sunderland Royal who delivered Parker at 3.03pm on March 29, weighing 7lb 8oz.
“I was anxious going into the hospital as it was my first baby,” Sarah said.
“I wanted to have him at South Shields hospital, but had to go to Sunderland Royal to be induced. The team were amazing.
“My partner couldn’t be with me until I went to the birthing suite, so he was able to be in the room for the labour.
“The experience wasn’t that bad – I was more concerned about contracting the virus because the nurses and doctors were around more people.”
But, like many parents, Sarah said coming home with a newborn during lockdown has been challenging when it comes to not being able to have extended family support.
Sarah and Roy waited six weeks before any family members saw Parker for the first time – but even then it was at a safe distance.
“The whole birthing experience was pleasant. It was just afterwards, not having that support, not having people come around to help,” Sarah said.
“Not having family support has been the toughest [aspect].”
Families meeting babies through a window
Mum Laura Robson, 30, delivered her daughter, Charlotte Allen-Carr, by planned caesarean section at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Charlotte arrived into the world at 9.37am on May 20, weighing 6lb 13oz, and mum Laura and dad Keith Allen-Carr were pleased with the support they received from the team of doctors and nurses given the difficult circumstances.
Laura, who is also mum to son Thomas Allen-Carr, five, said: “My experience was really good.
“From going in, I was really nervous because of the virus, but the staff were brilliant.
“The midwives were really good and my midwife, Sydney Graves, was checking on me every 30 minutes."
Returning to their home in Seaham, the family were able to spend more time together than expected when dad Keith was put on furlough for two months.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” Laura added.
“It was nice to have the extra family time, though it has been hard not seeing other family members.
“We had to show my grandmother the baby through the window, when normally we would have had visitors in the house.”
“Facetime is not the same”
Mum Jamie Lea Jarvis, 23, from Sunderland, gave birth to twins, Barry and Charlie Green, at Sunderland Royal on Tuesday, March 17, just a few days before lockdown began.
Barry was born at 5.30am, weighing 5lb 1oz, and Charlie arrived minutes later at 5.48am, weighing 4lb 13oz.
Although both babies were healthy, Jamie found the experience of being in hospital when the Covid-19 safety measures were in place a ‘scary’ experience.
“I was anxious going into the hospital because of the virus and was just praying that nothing bad happened,” Jamie said.
“If my children had caught it, it would have been my worst nightmare.”
The family were able to return home two days later, but like others across the county, they have been unable to see relatives under the restrictions.
Jamie, who is also mum to Phoebe Green, two, and is a guardian for her sister Lily Jarvis, eight, said that her partner Mason Green, 27, has continued to work in his key role for parcel company UPS.
Having just the support of her grandmother to rely on to look after four children has proved challenging for Jamie, who is keen to see her extended family and friends.
“It’s just been horrendous not being able to see relatives,” she said.
“I have the help of my nanna, but no one else can see the children and FaceTime is just not the same.
“People just want to be able to cuddle them.”
Trust – “We are here and open for business”
The Trust said it has been working hard to reassure mums-to-be across South Tyneside and Sunderland that their midwives are still there for them during this difficult time.
Sheila Ford, head of midwifery at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our teams are doing a fantastic job under extremely challenging circumstances.
“Expectant parents can be absolutely reassured that our maternity units at both South Tyneside District Hospital and Sunderland Royal Hospital are very much ‘open for business’.
“We are here and we are ready to look after mums and babies.”
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