Birthing in times of Covid War
Going back many months ago, we have planned for a nice series of photographs with our then to-be ambassador, KIKI, showcasing the various aspects of our Angel Babybox. Life doesn’t always go as planned and always hits you when you least expect it. Now, we want to share what I have been through, a COVID 19 birth , the fears and the strength we all have innately within ourselves, to encourage other pregnant women in the same situation.
My name is Sharon and I am the co-founder of the Angel Babybox, other than an entrepreneur, I am an ophthalmologist working for the NHS. A blessing, I fell pregnant at what some would have considered a geriatric age of 35 but a common statistic amongst career women. Medically, I have explored in my head the numerous scenarios that may happen with my labour and dutifully did all the necessary to Ensure an easier delivery- I exercised through my pregnancy, ate the necessary vitamins, perineum massages etc. What I did not ever want was an emergency caesarean. My little one was initially measured to be rather big but not out of the curve and I was convinced by my obstetrician to try normal vaginal delivery with epidural. Hence, my husband and I prepared our minimalist nursery, only with the ABB and a bouncer . I naively (being a first time mom) prepared minimal milk powder, well thinking all will be smooth with a waterfall supply of breast milk. We prepared truffles and champagne to bring to the hospital to celebrate her birth. My parents were due to arrive in the UK soon to see their first grandchild. Our labor bag was packed with 3 days maximum worth of pampers and clothes, and I thought I was being excessive.
At the 36th week of my pregnancy, Covid was by then on the rise in Italy. It was still relatively calm in the UK, other than Chinatown, which was deadly quiet, life was as per normal, the pubs were full, the Parks were full of children’s laughter. However, in my household, my husband came home midday with a dreadful fever. He was spiking a high temperature of 38 degrees . It just went higher. By day 5, he was having dry cough and 39.4 degrees. We called 111, waited 9 hours and told to ring 999. We have felt bad putting stress on an already stressed out system and when the ambulance came, his parameters , ie, his blood pressure was still relatively stable and he was told to isolate. However, his condition worsened. By day 9 of fever, we felt we had to chance it and bring him to AnE. At A n E, before entering, he was told to go home to self isolate. We tried the private sector but no one was taking a patient with fever and respiratory symptoms in. Essentially, we were stuck. Heavily pregnant and a medic, I had insisted for him to get seen. His oxygen levels dropped slightly to 93% his pulse rate was above 100. A swab was then taken but he was allowed home to isolate. It was dreadful seeing him in such pain. It was by then probably too late for me to isolate and I spent hours a day disinfecting the house, surfaces and used up nearly a large bottle of dettol every 2 days in preparation of a clean environment for the little one. The paracetamols I prepared for pain relief after labor was finished within a matter of days, and as we have all experienced, things like disinfectants and paracetamols are as rare and precious as diamond in such times.
19th March-It was day 11 since the fever, and I had a night of contractions and trickle. I went to labor ward and have told the nurses about my husband. Unfortunately , we also found out for some reason, the swab taken has leaked and destroyed and they could not confirm his diagnosis. I was then put into isolation in the labor ward. When I arrived at the hospital, I was told to stay outside and 2 midwives gloved and masked came out and took me into the labor ward’s isolation room. I had a dedicated midwife (bless them as they took the risk to care for me and my baby and were ever so kind and patient). Every individual that entered my room were geared in PPE- which was face mask, face shield, apron and double gloving. I was not in labor as yet- 39+1 week pregnant. However, on consultation with my obstetrician, it was decided that I should be induced whilst I remained asymptomatic. Hence, labor started.
I was all alone.
It all came as a shock that I did not even have remaining capacity to cry. The situation in UK by then has become so intense, there was talk of lockdown and military coming into london. My parents were due to board their flight in a few hours and I hurried on the phone to convince them not to come. There was much more healthcare security in Singapore.
Labor pains were so intense, I just lay down and images of TV shows and the numerous youtube deliveries of husbands holding their wife whilst in pain just fleeted past as I held on tightly to the pillow. There was only pethidine as COVID 19 patient could not have the nitrous oxide gas. It must have been 430am , the consultant anaesthetist was called in for my early epidural. Once again, they have been so kind and have apologised for dressing in full gear which really they should not need to as they really should protect themselves. I was given a leaflet on what to expect with the epidural as the anesthetist was apparently not allowed to speak with me as part of the protocol.
The epidural worked miracles.
20th march - I started spiking temperatures which was not resolving with intravenous paracetamol. At approximately noon, I have been woken up by numerous footsteps outside my room with groups of various people. I wondered what happened. It was a while later, a doctor came in and said she needed to chat with me. She told me my results came back ‘COVID POSITIVE’ and meetings have been convened with 6 other obstetricians and Doctors to discuss my management plans. From then on, I had a midwife who set beside me 24-7 to watch that I do not take a turn for the worst. I was very scared, it was a helpless feeling, even as a medic, a surgeon, one by which we have spent years training to be calm even at the face of complications, I felt that there was no control. There was also no one to turn to. By 5pm, my temperature was getting worse and fetal heart rate going up to 180. The same doctor came back, instinctively, I said to her ‘ C-section?’. She said yes. They have discussed and in view of my fever, which they think is COVID related and it was better to have the baby out. Labor lasted less than 9 hours.
That was my never imagined WORST CASE scenario. I rang my husband who was half comatosed at home.
The hospital needed to put in protocols and disinfection well in place and it was approximately 730pm before I was pushed into the theatre. To lighten the mood, I could only say, ‘ please make sure I am not on the front pages of the newspapers as the second women in UK to have given birth with COVID tomorrow‘. I was the first case in the hospital and certainly the mood was intense. As I was pushed into the theatre, standing outside were at least 20 staff who were just given a briefing. In my anxiety and fears, I could remember seeing them waving and giving me words of encouragement.
The surgery was quick, the epidural was removed and I was given spinal anesthesia and the canope was up. I felt movements and ruffling within me and shortly, a strong cry. She was born. A warrior princess.
APGAR 10 , hence the initial preparation of possible ICU was not required.
She similarly had a swab for covid.
I was allowed to room in with my little one- the protocol being to mask up and glove up whilst feeding. I was worried if I will then pass the virus to her if she had not had it.
12 hour post birth, I was standing up, the urinary catheter was removed . I gingerly tried to shower and freshen up. It was painful. I have not prepared for a c section whats more an emergency c section, and having to care for a completely new born all on my own.
Day 1 of her birth , she was sleepy and I thought, maybe motherhood was not that hard- i felt like ‘ duck to water’ but little did I know…
Everyone puts on the best photos and cutest images on social media about their little one. sorry KIKI, you might just be so embarrassed when you grow up, but when your mom is not producing any milk, and your little cuteness just became a fiery temper. 2am in the night with a close to 2 hours worth of continuous crying banshi, a wound that is in so much pain, and having to bend in and out to take you out of the cot for feeding. At that point in time, forget about how in good times, women were asking for support, confinement nannies, partners, help, I was asking to even survive- alone. I had to bite through the pain, pick the little one up, soothe her, something I had zero experience with. I was in fact looking at the hospital cot, and thinking to myself, as the founder and CEO of a luxury baby product, it did not actually matter what cot materials was used, and what niceties the cot had. To soften the plastic edges, i laced it with towels. whatever works!
In fact, whilst we drum on about safe sleeping habits and still it is critical and very very important, it was not hard to see why parents cosleep!
To add some drama to the situation, the medical team came back and said ‘for some reason, they did not understand how I was tested positive, but they have then rechecked and both I and baby are COVID NEGATIVE’.
My husband , given his history was not allowed in the ward, neither can any other friends in view of the current situation. unfortunately, I developed post operative infection and KIKI- jaundice. She was uncomfortable and hated the phototherapy and the mask she needed to have on. I was ill again with high temperatures and was in alot of pain. It was just the two of us , yes there were midwives in the ward who were over stretched and trying their best, but essentially, it was the two of us. My family and friends were very supportive- daily words of support and encouragement made a huge difference. Friends were sending in pampers and baby wipes as it was getting sold out in london and some supermarkets were restricting even baby formulas. Being on adrenaline at 150%, I figured my body skipped postnatal blues altogether.
After being in the hospital for nearly 10 days, we are back in the comfort of our own home and hopefully things will now normalise. Birth certification has stopped til end june- she cannot apply for her passport nor visit any relatives nor celebrate her first month as we initially planned, but these all pale in comparison in times of war.
She is now comfortably sleeping in the bare minimum we have prepared for our nursery, just an ABB- but what I learnt- with a newborn, we do not actually need alot. Patience, Love and courage is all we need.
Now- alot of women will be facing extra-ordinary times facing births alone. We all have the inner courage that we never knew we ever had- but yes we will overcome and at the end of this trying time- there is this little bundle of joy- and we will be able to then share in years to come, their truly amazing birth journey.
Thank you to all the Doctors , midwives , families and friends that stood by us ..
The Angel BabyBox Family
Founder and CEO / Ambassador of ABB
Sharon and Kiki