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Born into a new world: Welcoming life in the midst of a pandemic

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“Just look at you, you’re looking so much better.”

These were the cheery words which my community midwife uttered, as I opened the door with my newborn in my arms.

I was properly dressed for the first time in three weeks, and even managed a smile as she bustled in with her colleague.

It felt like we had known one another forever, a small tribe of women who shared a deep intimacy – yet I can’t even remember their names, only that they enabled me to get to grips with early motherhood.

I requested extended visits following a traumatic birth, for first-time motherhood did not come easy.

Just as my son gained weight and started opening his eyes, I too transformed into a much happier parent under their care.

There was the health visitor, who did regular weigh-ins and gave advice on routine.

The fellow mother, who ran a support group and gave expert guidance in using baby carriers.

The playgroup leader, who gave me a hug when my son projectile vomited across the hall.

There was a flurry of helpers in those early days, for it really does take a village to raise a child. So what must life be like for parents on lockdown?

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcoming a son with his fiancee Carrie Symonds, the reality of parenthood during a pandemic has come to the forefront.

The support network which so many parents rely upon has been stripped away in the face of Covid-19, but what has been left in its wake?

If you’ve just had a baby and are still in hospital, you won’t be able to receive any visitors – be that on the ward or at home.

Grandparents can only see the new arrival via FaceTime, or look through a window pane at tiny hands which they can’t yet hold.

And if you’re pregnant, you could be having midwife appointments on the telephone, and must attend all your scans alone.

Thousands of dads who would once have returned to work following the standard two weeks’ paternity leave may find they are able to spend more precious time with their baby though.

We spoke to parents, parents-to-be and those who are taking care of new families across the region, to find out the reality of having a baby in the midst of coronavirus.

The plus side is that I get to cuddle my daughter all day, but it can get very lonely.

For Louise Christie, the birth of her daughter Kinnarah was long awaited.

Louise Christie with husband David and baby Kinnarah, shortly after birth

Louise already knew more than most about labour, due to her job as a theatre nurse on Aberdeen maternity ward. But nothing could have prepared her for giving birth just five days before the country went into lockdown.

David is now back to work, meaning Louise is completely on her own.

“I went for induction and we were given Covid updates throughout,” she said.

“I was first told I could have two birthing partners, but no visitors. That was OK, because I had my mum and my husband.

“Just as my waters got broken, I was told I could only have one person at the birth. So my mum had to leave.

“I was really quite gutted because I wanted that extra bit of support.”

Baby Kinnarah was born at 1.30am, and the pair were sent home to Hazlehead the same day.

“We were really lucky in that our families came round prior to lockdown, so they got to meet her at least,” said Louise.

“I had all these plans for baby groups and meeting up with my friends, as quite a few of us have had babies at the same time.

Baby Kinnarah, who was born five days before lockdown

“I assumed we’d swap tips and tricks, and my mum would be round every day. We’d be able to talk about how difficult it is together.

“You can send messages online of course, but it’s not quite the same.

“My health visitor has only been round once.

“The plus side is that I get to cuddle my daughter all day, but it can get very lonely.”

Expectant mum Caroline Cumming cannot fault the care she has received in the run-up to the birth of her second child.

The assistant accountant lives in Westhill with her husband, Paul, and the couple’s two-and-a-half-year-old son Logan.

They are due to welcome a little girl on May 21.

“I get a phone call the night before any routine midwife appointment, to double check how I am feeling and if I am exhibiting any Covid symptoms,” said Caroline.

“My last appointment was a bit strange, it was the first time my midwife had to be in full PPE (personal protective equipment) in order to see me.

“Initially, it was a touch intimidating.

“The building where I go for my midwife appointments is pretty much abandoned.

Caroline Cumming with her son, Logan.

“It is so unusual to see what is normally a busy medical centre to have practically nobody going around, just lots of signs telling you not to enter unless you have spoken to a member of staff first.

Seeing everyone doing their absolute utmost to keep things as normal as possible given the difficult circumstances they are now in is very uplifting and reinforces in my mind that we will get through this and things will eventually return to normal.

“The standard of care I have experienced has not dropped in the slightest. In fact, it might even have increased due to the new standard of care being applied by the medical profession.

“Seeing everyone doing their absolute utmost to keep things as normal as possible given the difficult circumstances they are now in is very uplifting and reinforces in my mind that we will get through this and things will eventually return to normal.”

For dental nurse Linsey MacMillan, welcoming her second daughter into the world has been a surreal experience. She is currently home-schooling six-year-old Isabella while looking after Emilie Rose, who was born on April 18 at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

“We almost didn’t make it, I waited a bit too long,” said Linsey, who lives with her partner Marc in Lochardil.

“We were told to wait as long as possible, because they didn’t want people coming in and out of the labour ward.

Linsey MacMillan has been unable to show off newborn Emilie to family

“So when I arrived, Marc could only drop me off at the door.

“I had to walk down the corridor carrying the bags, whilst having contractions.

“It was only once they realised I was definitely in labour that Marc was allowed in.

“Emilie was born about an hour and a half after I arrived on labour suite.

“Marc got sent home about 30 minutes after I gave birth.”

Linsey at least has the support of Marc, who would normally be working offshore.

“He doesn’t go away again until June because of Covid,” she said.

“It’s a worry financially, but it’s also lovely having him here. He is head chef and bottle maker.

It has been a completely different experience second time round. It almost feels like it hasn’t happened, because we haven’t been able to show off our baby to visitors.

“It has been a completely different experience second time round. It almost feels like it hasn’t happened, because we haven’t been able to show off our baby to visitors.

“A few people have been able to look through the living room window, but my family are in Aberdeen.

“We make do with video calls, but I miss asking fellow mums about things.”

Linsey’s mum, Karen, who lives in Newburgh, has felt helpless following the birth.

Alongside not being able to visit her fourth grandchild, Karen has also sadly lost her father during lockdown.

“It has been horrendous, it really has,” she said.

“I don’t want to say to Linsey how much I want to hold my new granddaughter, or how much I want to give her a hug as well.

“We’re all trying to keep it together.

“We got a picture on the day Emelie was born, and we’ve managed to do a Zoom call once.

“Linsey is coping so well, considering she has also lost her grandfather.

“I had planned to go and stay around the time of the birth. So when we finally do get to see each other, it will be a very emotional reunion.”

It would seem support in the early days really is crucial, particularly when it comes to promoting good mental health.

Mum-of-one Linsey Singers has been running online support sessions for fellow mums, after experiencing severe post-natal depression following the birth of her son, Jack, who is now three.

She co-founded Let’s All Talk North East Mums (Latnem) earlier this year.

Linsey Singers with her son, Jack

The free peer-support group normally meets for coffee and cake every Monday in Inverurie.

“What we are finding is that new mums are reaching out to us,” she said.

“It is the loneliness. A lot of your support comes from meeting your chums for coffee or going to toddler groups.

“You share problems and ask questions.

“Our new mums aren’t getting seen. Granny isn’t popping in and asking if you’re OK.

“It can be really hard to gauge your own mental health. You aren’t seeing your GP, who may know you well.

“Many classes are still taking place online though.

“It’s hard to join an online community versus getting welcomed into a room.

“Our local health visitors are reaching out to mums on the phone. Home-Start have been fabulous; any mums they would go and visit once a week for two hours are now getting phone calls with their volunteers. There is lots of support, but in a different format.

We hope to come back all guns blazing as soon as possible, we don’t want mums to slip through the net.

“We hope to come back all guns blazing as soon as possible, we don’t want mums to slip through the net.”

Parents are normally seen by a health visitor when their baby is between 10 and 14 days old.

From weighing a newborn to checking the tummy button is healing properly, these checks can be invaluable.

Lisa Lawrie is service manager and lead health visitor for Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership.

She wants parents to know that health visitors are still doing their rounds, albeit with the protection of PPE.

“We are still here, and we know how anxious a time this can be for parents,” she said.

“Where we feel it is necessary, we can offer a home visit.

“We can also do appointments by telephone, FaceTime or Near Me, which is a video consulting service.

“All health visitors have an iPad, and we can offer a great deal of flexibility with our approach.

“The infant-feeding team and peer supporters are also still on hand.

“Of course there will be negatives for lockdown, we don’t think it’s a bed of roses. But it is also giving mums and dads, whatever the family dynamic is, the chance to really get to know their baby.

“It’s enabling families to spend time together full stop, whether you have a newborn, a toddler or an older child.

Fellow health visitor and team leader Sian Edwards has been making visits wearing PPE.

“Of course it is difficult, because you forget that people can’t see you smile,” she said.

“And a smile can be such a reassuring thing, I often tell parents that I’m smiling because they wouldn’t know otherwise.

“A new arrival is still such an exciting thing.

“What we’re really noticing is that dads who would be heading back to work, perhaps with apprehension, are getting to spend so much more time with their newborn.

“Using technology to see families has been a learning curve, but the support will always be there.”

For Kimberley Birnie, the pandemic has given her the chance to rethink her approach to birth.

Kimberley Birnie is 37 weeks pregnant and opting for a home birth

Already mum to two-year-old Bobby, she is expecting her second child in May.

Having assumed she would give birth in hospital, she has since opted to have a home birth.

“I never thought of having a home birth before,” said Kimberley.

“But with everything going on, I think it would be safer for my son, husband and the baby if we are all at home together.

“I’m actually really excited about it now.

“My midwife was incredibly supportive about it, and that made a huge difference.”

Alongside expectant parents, there are also those who already have young children at home.

Deborah Baulch is used to having her hands full, with 15-month-old twins Oscar and Dylan.

She has found lockdown to be particularly challenging, because the family do not have access to a garden at their home, in the Rosemount area of Aberdeen.

“We used to do a few classes a week and they are either cancelled or online,” said Deborah.

“The boys miss watching other kids do things, and as a result I feel that they are not developing as fast as I expected them to at this age.

“Not going for walks or coffees with mum friends, and not being able to see my nephew each week for play dates is horrible.”

Deborah’s husband, Matthew, who is a geologist, is currently working from home during lockdown.

Deborah Baulch with Oscar, left, and Dylan, right.

As a result, he has been able to witness some priceless moments.

“It’s been nice having Matthew work from home as he’s now here for every meal with the boys,” said Deborah.

“He was also able to witness both their first steps.

“We don’t have any garden or outdoor space, so it really is a struggle to find things to do with them everyday, and they are starting to get bored just getting pushed around in the buggy daily.”

For Cally Buchan, lockdown has enabled her to bond with her newborn baby and adjust to life as a family of four.

Cally Buchan with  her newborn son

The 29-year-old, who lives in Inverurie, welcomed her second son on March 31.

Having lost twins through a miscarriage in 2018, Cally believes her anxiety surrounding pregnancy was already high.

“When lockdown came into place we all know it happened very quickly,” she said.

“At this point, I was weeks away from giving birth, and my mind was in overdrive.

“The anxiety was horrendous.

“I was having severe anxiety attacks and really struggled to think at all positively or even realistically at times.

“I was lucky my mum decided to come and self isolate with us, so I would have someone there for my son when I went into labour.

“Going to hospital to give birth was something that really filled me with fear, in case we picked something up there.

“However, the staff were ever so vigilant and I didn’t once feel worried during my stay.

“Not having visitors meant I didn’t feel the need to be looking anything remotely like a human being just hours after giving birth.

“I didn’t have to chat away to visitors for ages when really all I wanted to do was sleep.

“Life on lockdown with a newborn has its advantages as well as its negatives.

Cally with her children

“I haven’t had the pressure of speed-tidying the house for the arrival of lots of visitors, or rushing to and from playgroup dropping my eldest son off.

“I am much more relaxed this time round, and I do believe a big part of that is because I haven’t had to think of anything other than my new little family of four.

“However, I know for the grandparents and aunties and my close friends it has been hard for them.

“They have completely missed out on the newborn stage; they can never rewind to these precious early days.

Maternity leave is a precious time in your life, I do feel it has been taken away from me and I’m missing out on doing all those newborn things.

“Maternity leave is a precious time in your life, I do feel it has been taken away from me and I’m missing out on doing all those newborn things.

“Baby-massage classes, meeting up with other mummies and newborns, newborn photo shoots, showing your baby off to friends, family and colleagues.

“All this has been stolen and we will never get that back.

“However, in the grand scheme of things it’s a small price to pay, as long as we all stay healthy during this terrifying time.”

  • NCT Breastfeeding Drop In Group on Facebook, with meetings via Zoom and support from breastfeeding councillors •
  • Latnem peer support group; Let’s All Talk North East Mums via Facebook for online mental health support groups
  • The Fourth Trimester Group Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire via Facebook for signposting and general support
  • NCT Aberdeen Bump Club via Facebook for new and expectant mums
  • for help and support surrounding perinatal illness
  • Your baby’s movements are an important sign of their wellbeing. If you notice a change in your baby’s movements, you should contact your maternity unit immediately, even during the Covid-19 pandemic