On 23 March 2020, at 22 weeks pregnant with twins — my first babies, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Later that day, Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement wasn’t really a surprise. I’d already switched to working from home, clearing my office the previous week with a view that I wouldn’t return until after my maternity leave.
I gradually realized that my Easter trip to Cornwall, in the south of England, to see my family would have to be canceled. I hadn’t seen any of them since Christmas when we’d told them our pregnancy news.
I never really had the tearful pregnancy hormones, and the first pregnancy tears came when I realized I was unlikely to see any of my family throughout my entire pregnancy.
Day-to-day living in lockdown went quite smoothly for me. My husband and I could both easily work from home, the crisis didn’t put either of our jobs at risk, and we have a garden to get outdoors easily.
In fact, switching to homeworking made it easier for me to continue working through my pregnancy — the 1-hour plus each-way commute was taking its toll on my pregnant body. And it saved me from attempting to socialize, which I was too tired to manage!
But the coronavirus crisis did significantly add to the worries of pregnancy. As a 40-year-old pregnant woman with twins, now diagnosed with gestational diabetes and anemia, later also with a low platelet count, my pregnancy was high risk.
I knew that this combination of factors — mainly the fact it was twins — made it significantly more likely that my babies would arrive early and need special care. As I couldn’t meet twin parents and expectant parents in person, I engaged in some social media groups for support and information.
This was useful for finding out about the experiences of other twin parents and getting useful, practical advice on how to prepare for twin parenthood. But I found there was a negative side too.
Through these groups, I saw many stories of parents to premature twins born during the pandemic. The struggle of premature birth and babies in neonatal intensive care (NICU) was exacerbated by many hospitals sending the father away as soon as the babies were born and not letting them back on the ward.
Some hospitals limited parent visits to babies in NICU to just 1 hour for one parent per day. These stories made me scared that if my babies arrived early or unwell, I’d be alone without my husband Steve, while my access to my babies could also be restricted.
I regularly raised these concerns at my midwife appointments. My midwife told me not to worry about these things but could offer no assurances to me.
I did what I could to avoid seeing the things that I found upsetting — stories of neonatal struggles, photos of parents in masks for first moments with new babies, and first meetings with grandparents being a quick glimpse through a closed window. This helped a little but did not remove the worries.
1 year of COVID-19: Video summary
I continued working until 33 weeks, which is quite late for a twin pregnancy. My twin girls, Alana and Emily, were born exactly 1 week later. I was admitted to the hospital when my waters broke unexpectedly.
Steve wasn’t allowed to join me until they induced labor 2 days later. I accepted being on my own for that part, deciding to pick my battles, and it was far more important to me that he could be with us after the birth.
I was at St George’s Hospital, London. The care was brilliant throughout the induction and birth process, making me feel confident that I was in good hands.
After a long labor and a while of pushing without Alana progressing very far, her birth was assisted with forceps. She was small, at 4 pounds 1 ounce, but healthy and perfect! We had a quick cuddle with her before I had to push again.
But Emily wasn’t moving towards the birth canal, and her heartbeat began to weaken, so I needed an emergency cesarean delivery. She wasn’t breathing when she was born, so she was resuscitated then immediately rushed to NICU for breathing support, pausing just for a few seconds for us to see her.
Despite being small and arriving at just 34 weeks, we had no health concerns with Alana. She and I were admitted onto a high dependency ward — the high dependency being for my recovery from the birth. As we had a private room on this ward, Steve was allowed to stay with us.
The NICU ward allowed us to visit Emily as much as we wanted. After 24 hours, Emily was able to breathe independently but still needed feeding support.
Forty-eight hours after the birth, my recovery was going well enough that they moved me to the normal maternity ward — a shared room. And as such, my husband was sent home.
A neonatal nurse then came to do a heel prick blood sugar test on Alana, which babies need every 6 hours for the first few days when the mother has gestational diabetes, leaving me consoling my crying newborn baby as the midwife came to check on me.
I broke down in tears. Probably unrelated and more due to a room becoming available and premature twins being high priority, I was moved to a private room a couple of hours later.
Once in the private room, Steve was allowed to join me, so long as he stayed in the room and wasn’t seen by others on the ward, and he could only visit in the daytime. Just after he set off home for the night, Emily was discharged from special care and brought to me on the ward.
While I was glad to have her with me and that she was strong enough to be on the normal ward, I was daunted to face a night with two of them alone, after we’d had two of us plus a midwife for one baby for the previous two nights.
Recovering from a cesarean section and forceps delivery, I needed my husband or a midwife to pass the babies to me for their feeds, settle one while I fed the other, and share the tasks of changing and comforting them.
As they were premature, they took a long time to feed and needed to be fed at least every 3 hours. So I constantly pressed the midwife support bell to get the support that my husband could have more appropriately provided.
They later decided that Steve could stay overnight, and on the final night, insisted that he stayed because they didn’t have the staff to support me without him.
This is the crux of why I took issue with the rules on partners staying on the maternity ward. In cases of multiple births, premature babies, or any other reason for an extended maternity stay, the partner’s presence can take the pressure off the midwives and reduce the amount of close contact they need to make with the mother.
This would surely help the maternity ward reduce their COVID-19 risks and cope with the reduced staffing arising from the disease. Taking away parents’ ability to support each other at this most vulnerable moment for no real gain — in fact, more likely a detriment — in managing COVID-19 risks and staffing demands was incomprehensible to me.
And it was much worse for many mothers at different hospitals and earlier in that first lockdown.
Our babies arrived as lockdown eased through summer 2020. We stayed with my parents-in-law for the first month and then continued to have regular support from them and my mother, who lives closer to us than the rest of my immediate family in Cornwall.
We managed to go to Cornwall to introduce the twins to my family in August, and we hope to go again in April just before returning to work.
We have missed out on engaging in parent and baby groups and classes in person — they’ve all been online, and I would have liked to have seen more of our friends and family in the 9 months since our babies were born.
But this pandemic has been tough for everyone. I would have found the social isolation a lot tougher before children. We’d already signed up for a year or so of social isolation as new parents! And I think I would have found motherhood through the pandemic a lot tougher if my children were older.
They’re too young for me to worry about how social isolation affects their social development and mental health, and I don’t have the stress and burden of homeschooling them.
It has been a strange time to bring new babies into the world! I’m hopeful things will be more normal before they’re old enough to remember.