The average pregnancy already feels as though it lasts for a lifetime. In reality, 40 weeks isn’t really a long time when you consider parenting as a whole timeframe.
When you’re placed on lockdown and pregnant however, that’s a different story.
Since March 2020, women have been finding out that they’re pregnant, experiencing an entire pandemic pregnancy from start to finish, and are now finding themselves with a newborn in lockdown.
In theory this sounds great. Expectant mums may find themselves at home without having to commute, getting maximum rest before their new arrival.
It’s turning out to be a whole new level of pregnancy stress for a lot of mums-to-be though.
Pregnant women are being asked to attend scans alone, juggle home working with homeschooling, and even going into labour without their birthing partner.
We’ve asked a few mums who have become pandemic parents to share their experiences with us.
This is what you can really expect in a pandemic pregnancy
Keeping the pregnancy under wraps
Typically, mothers are cautious to tell people about their pregnancy within the first trimester. The initial 12 weeks of any pregnancy has the highest risk of complications. Therefore, most are kept quiet until the first scan.
Gemma, who was expecting her second child, told us that the usual worries about hiding nausea, avoiding alcohol and generally wanting to keep the pregnancy secret disappeared during lockdown.
“It was much easier to keep pregnancy to ourselves for longer, which was kind of nice.”
She went on to explain that the pregnancy didn’t have the same level of excitement however, as she was only really able to share her news virtually.
Attending scans alone
We all dream about the first time that we get to see our little ones on the big screen. In a perfect world, the first antenatal scan is full of love where both partners ‘meet’ their baby.
For parents in a pandemic however, it’s a rather more terrifying time.
Expectant mums are being asked to attend appointments alone, due to the risk of Covid-19. That means that partners are not able to see those first glimpses of the baby, missing out on the experience completely. What’s more, if the scan sadly ends with bad news, they are not there to support their partners.
Katie from London, a first time mum, explained that she had to attend all routine scans without her husband, but also three further episodes of reduced movement.
“Each appointment was horrible. I didn’t know what to expect or what they might find. The staff didn’t chat because of all of the PPE, and the room was silent. I was so scared that it was going to be bad news.”
No face-to-face antenatal
When it comes to preparing for baby, antenatal and NCT classes are what most couples look forward to.
It’s the chance to learn all about what to expect during labour and birth, but also to make the group of baby friends that will hopefully form part of the support network during the early years.
For couples becoming parents in the pandemic, this is another thing that they miss out on.
Antenatal provision is switching to online sessions, which just doesn’t give the interaction of meeting in-person.
Amy from Milton Keynes, a first time mum-to-be, has found this particularly difficult.
“I am new to the area and I’d really hoped to meet my mum gang through NCT classes. It’s really hard to get a feel for people on Zoom, and I feel like we’ve not bonded the same way that we might have done if we could get to know each other at meetings. The positive however is that I’m having more contact with friends in other parts of the country. I hope that in the summer, I can make more friends locally.”
Anxiety about planning for the baby
Another key milestone when preparing for a baby is choosing and buying all of the right equipment. With shops closed but also anxiety around Covid-19, parents-to-be are worried about physically shopping for baby equipment, and are risking online purchases.
To try to ease this worry, brands are adapting to offer virtual shopping services.
Kerry from Cloud Nine Baby in Hitchin, Herts, is one retailer who has set up a personal online shopping service for this reason.
“Pregnant women are worried about exposing themselves to more risk of catching Covid, but still want to be sure about their purchase decisions when planning for a new baby. A pushchair and the nursery furniture are expensive items to buy, and not being able to touch and try them first is leading to higher levels of stress. We know that mums are finding it particularly hard.”
Maternity leave at home
For a lot of women, the maternity break is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Unfortunately, pandemic mums are going from home working into maternity leave with no real change.
Instagram Mum, Hannah described how she spent her lockdown maternity.
“I gave birth on 24th April 2020, so I have had a lockdown since. I’m a first time mum and my husband is a key worker. I’m back at work full time now, so all my maternity was on my own.”
Maternity leave goes quickly as it is. We only get those first few months with our new little people once, and it’s especially memorable for first babies.
Mums who are returning to work are therefore having to leave their baby who has never been held by anyone other than Mum or Dad. Or if they’ve been unable to even find or afford childcare, they are having to extend their leave, unpaid.
Midwife appointments on the telephone
In some cases, midwifery appointments are happening as normal, whereas they are being held over the phone in other areas.
Sophie, expecting her second child, told us of the difference between pregnant women in different post codes.
“The strangest thing for me is not having any face-to-face midwife appointments yet. My first one is next week at 28 weeks. That meant not hearing the baby’s heartbeat around the 16 week usual midwife appointment as this was on the phone, but my friend just over the border has continued to have appointments with her midwife team.”
Socialising and introducing a baby to groups and activities is well documented to be beneficial to both mums and babies.
Baby classes have become another casualty of Covid-19.
And those who have been able to attend explained that they were actually more stressful than fun.
“You are allocated an area for your baby, and only allowed to use your own equipment. So there was no socialising with other families, and mums with older babies were finding it really hard to contain them to their space!”
Charles, an expectant dad from London also gave us insight to what it’s like to be pregnant, seeing no family or friends.
“I feel like we are hibernating away, forming some weird cocoon and won’t be seen until we are transformed outside the other end! It’s rubbish.”
Whole pregnancies are happening without anyone else even noticing. Likewise the early days of introducing babies to family members can’t happen either.
Alex from Cornwall told us that she’d still not met her nephew after 8 months.
Reading this, it’s obvious that having a baby in a pandemic has transformed the pregnancy journey for many.
There are however some positives to end on.
Ordinarily, the partner may only be entitled to take one or two weeks of paternity leave. They may also be working long hours out of the home, or travelling for business.
Lockdown and home working has given a lot of families this time back.
Abbey, a first time mum, did mention that as a big plus of lockdown.
“My partner has been at home a lot more than he ever would have been. So whilst I miss my family and friends, and all of the times we have missed out on, I am grateful for that. We’ve spent our time in a bubble of three, being able to share the load a bit as he’s not having to get up quite so early for work. It’s nice to have someone to have lunch with too.”
Katie mentioned that although she felt lonely and scared in the hospital after her cesarean, the other mums on the ward were really kind and helpful.
Charles also told us that not having to commute has meant that his wife has been less stressed and tired, and he’s been there for her to support her.
“We are also part of the lucky group who have kept our jobs and can work from home. It has meant that we have been able to save a lot of money that would have been spent on travel or going out, which we know will come in use as we prepare for the baby’s arrival.”
This is an unprecedented time, and sadly services are taking time to catch up. Therefore, the negatives are outweighing the positives at the moment.
Hopefully this time is nearing an end now though so that pandemic parents can start to live a ‘normal’ experience very soon.
Good luck, pandemic mamas. You’re the real superheroes.