Having an Intensive Care Baby During Quarantine – Our Little Quaratinee
At the end of April 2020, I gave birth to our first child at 2:41am, having been in active labour for a grand total of 55 minutes!! Our baby boy was born 6 weeks and 4 days early due to unexplained complications in my pregnancy and stayed in the NICU for 2 weeks (we are incredibly lucky it wasn’t longer!) – and for the remainder of this article he will be referred to as Edge.
I want to start this by saying this NOT an attack on the NHS and all the incredible work they have done since the pandemic started, but I’m not going to lie and say it was easy, even though they did everything they could to make it easier. So I just want to say a massive thank you to the wonderful nurses that looked after Edge when I couldn’t be there, and for being so kind and understanding. A friendly face makes all the difference, and the nurses on the NICU ward along with the other parents were exactly what I needed some days.
Let’s start at the beginning, a very good place to start
When I was 5 months pregnant I was unfortunately made redundant (a shop closure, not due to my pregnancy), so I had to find another job that would take a pregnant lady – spoiler alert: basically no-one – until a hotel agreed to hire me to be a housekeeper on a 0-hour basis. They gave me full-time work and I was really enjoying it for 3 weeks, until 16th March 2020. The UK got thrown into lockdown, the hotel closed, and I was furloughed for the remainder of my pregnancy.
Sunshine and daisies
I was lucky enough at the start of lockdown to not have anyone in my family affected by it, and with sciatica and back, hip, and knee problems, I wasn’t going to argue against getting to relax until the baby arrived. So I spent 4 weeks enjoying the lovely weather, baking, starting my writer’s journey, and cuddling my dog. I was even lucky enough to get to have my husband home with me because the schools had closed and he was mainly working from home. We had a sunny (if not slightly different to what we had planned) wedding anniversary with a picnic on the lawn, and plenty of time to decorate the living room with the paint we have put to one side since we’d moved in 4 months prior. Then the little man decided he was going to make an early appearance!
Houston, we have a problem.
Around 2 weeks before Edge was born, he decided he wanted to mix things up a bit, so I ended up in the hospital for 2 days with him having a low heart rate and refusing to move (the lazy toad). They told me there was a very real chance he would be delivered at 29 weeks, to which I panicked. They gave me steroids to help strengthen his lungs and prepared me for surgery, but then out of the blue, he picked up and they sent me home on the proviso that I lower my sugar intake to be on the safe side.
A few days later, I went for an additional checkup; he was measuring too small, wasn’t moving much, and there was too much fluid, this generally had the maternity doctor and nursing staff a little bit flummoxed. Skip to me having been in the hospital for 3 days, being told he may be delivered early (yet again) and then having an extra scan – only to be told that the last one was wrong and that he was fine – so home I went.
6 days later, we’re sitting on the sofa about to watch a cookery program when my waters break, my heart going a million miles an hour we head to the hospital to be told that I’m going into labour almost 7 weeks early.
And so it begins….
When we got to the hospital my husband was immediately turned around and told to go straight back out again. Due to Covid restrictions, he wasn’t allowed to stay with me during the early stages of my contractions and was only allowed back in when I went to the delivery suite (again, not an attack on the NHS, simply a fact of the time).
5 hours of me trying to sleep, taking a Covid test, listening to “Papa Don’t Preach” on the radio, texting my husband, and reading “The Hidden Power of F*cking Up” later, and the contractions finally start –and boy do they start! I went from 2cm to 9cm in 35 minutes, in which time I was just about able to call my husband and tell him to come quickly because I was heading to the delivery suite, waddle over to my room (I refused a wheelchair and regretted it half-way – Billy don’t be a hero!), and learn how to use the gas and air to dull the pain.
My husband arrived roughly 15 minutes before I started pushing, and then our little bean made his arrival a short but agonising 12 minutes later! A perfect tiny little thing, weighing 4lb 3oz, covered in goop and making the most beautiful sound.
2 hours later…
The 2 hours that followed his birth were both amazing and strange. We had 10 minutes with Edge before he needed to be taken away to the NICU. He was breathing on his own, but struggling a bit and had severe jaundice, so needed to go into the incubator.
So after having a short 10 minutes with our beautiful boy, he had to be taken away, which left us on our own. In all the time I’d spent in the hospital so far, this was the only time my husband was allowed to be with me. We sat, we laughed, and we were absolutely exhausted. He helped me to bathe, I had my post-birth buttered toast breakfast with a cup of tea, which was the best thing I had tasted in my life, and I was told I needed to leave the delivery suite to make room for future labours.
What sucked about having to leave that room and go to the ward was that my husband had to go home. Once out of the delivery suite, the strict Covid lockdown rules were re-implemented and he had to leave the building immediately, with no dilly-dallying, then I was taken away to the recovery ward, where they were kind enough to put me in a private room. I could not have been happier to be in my own, rather than in a shared ward full of women who had their babies by their side .
The hard part for him
So for my husband, this was exactly what he was dreading about having a baby during the lockdown (not to mention having a NICU baby that arrived almost 7 weeks early). He went to see our son whilst I was in the delivery suite being tended to and got to spend a magical 45 minutes soaking in all that he could of our baby, watching him sleep under the jaundice lamp and holding his hand. But when I got sent to the ward, and he got sent home, the reality of the next 3 days set in.
He later told me he had spent most of Edge’s birthday crying and hugging our dog because he was stuck at home, without his wife, his son, or his family to support him (this was WAY before support bubbles were even thought of).
I was in the hospital for 3 days, and he was only allowed to visit Edge, not me. When he DID visit our son, he could be there as long as he wanted but couldn’t return afterward, and couldn’t be there at the same time as me. We tried to cross each other as one left the ward and the other entered, but were quickly told that one couldn’t enter until the other one left. Again, this is not an attack on the ward, but the reality of the situation.
My 3 days in the hospital
So on the day out son was born, after my hubby left, I went straight to hold Edge for the first time since he’d been born 6 hours prior. As soon as I got there I just cried, I couldn’t believe he was finally here, albeit a little bit early, but I also couldn’t believe that I didn’t have my other half next to me to hold him together.
Everyone kept asking me how excited I was to finally have my son after I announced his birth, and it was hard to explain the sensation. It was wonderful, magical, lonely, sad, stressful, and the best day of my life all rolled into one. You try and make sense of that because I certainly couldn’t!
For the 3 days I was in the hospital I spent 60% of my time sat in my room watching Tony Robinson’s “Worst Jobs in History” or “Time Team” waiting for my husband to be done with our son, then the rest of my time was spent with Edge. It’s a strange sensation to both miss your other half tremendously and yet want them to leave at the same time. I was able to “bump into him” by the lift on my way to the NICU on the third day and it made everything feel better for a short while.
Not wanting to leave my baby…
By the third day, I had gotten into a routine of waking up, running up to Edge to feed him, heading back to the ward for breakfast, going back up and spending all my time with him until my hubby arrived, then waiting in my room until he left so that I could be with Edge until midnight, until I was told to leave, which turned my world on its head a bit.
I knew a girl who had been able to stay in the hospital for 2 weeks with her son the month prior to me being there and had assumed that I would do the same, being in the hospital meant unlimited access to Edge so long as I was there. But halfway through the day whilst I was eating my lunch a nurse came in to tell me that this was the day I’d be leaving – well that wasn’t a good thing to say to a very hormonal woman. The news that my access to my son would be limited sent me into an anxiety tailspin and the nurse wasn’t able to get a clear reading of my blood pressure because it had spiked, so the issue was dropped and I was told I could stay.
A few hours later, once I had perked up, the nurse came back and did a new blood test, which gave a perfect reading. She then proceeded to tell me once again that I would be discharged by the end of the day. Of course, I had a new meltdown, rang my husband crying, and insisted I didn’t want to leave, but that I also wanted to come home because I missed him and that I was so conflicted I had no idea what to do with myself. Bless his heart, he did everything he could to help me calm down, including rationalising the reasons for me coming home and coming up with a visit schedule so that I could see Edge for a good amount of time each day.
Over the following hours, I accepted that I would have to leave and went up to the ward to say goodbye to Edge before I went home. My husband was in the ward at the time but I don’t think the nurses had the heart to turn me away when they knew I was leaving, so they let us have 5 minutes with Edge, with me sobbing uncontrollably over his incubator, before mentioning that one of us had to leave – so we left together (but not before my other half suggested taking the only family photo we would be able to have for up to 6 weeks, so I put on a smile and we snapped a quick selfie).
The weeks that followed…
So in terms of baby visitation, none of his family were allowed to see him except for his parents. So the grandparents, aunties, and uncles were on video chat constantly during our visits to see how we and the baby were doing. The restrictions also meant that now myself and Edge’s dad could only visit him once a day, and one at a time. I didn’t want to leave him longer than we absolutely had to, so we visited him in shifts. I would go and do his morning feeds from 6am – 12pm, come home, have lunch with my other half and discuss how Edge had been, followed by the hubby going to him 1pm – 9pm.
We started the schedule by passing each other outside the hospital as one left and the other arrived, and I would be there until 11pm and cry when I had to leave, but we realised it wasn’t doing either of us any good and we needed to trust that the nurses would take care of him whilst we took at least a couple of hours to ourselves.
The two weeks he was in the hospital we wanted nothing more than to have him home. Unfortunately, Edge’s Dad missed his first bath because it was done whilst I was there, and he was absolutely gutted, but extremely fortunately, nothing else too major was missed. We celebrated my 27th Birthday on that ward, with a beautiful personalised card that the nursing staff made for me by putting gorgeous baby blue footprints on the front. They had pretended they needed to take him for a blood test and did the card whilst they were out of the room, it put the biggest smile on my face.
Considering we were told he could in the hospital until mid-June, we couldn’t believe our luck when they told us he could come home in the middle of May! We couldn’t bring him home quick enough. When we introduced our son to our dog, as we expected, she treated him like a disappointing bag of shopping. Though he is now 11 months old and she is finally starting to see the fun in having a baby brother.
The Baby Zoo
So because the lockdown was still in full effect when our son was brought home, no one was allowed in or out of our house to visit their new grandson/nephew, so the only way we could think for people to see him was to create a baby zoo. We have a bay window in our house that allowed us to lay him in his bassinette in full view of our visitors without risking his health, and then we would be on the phone with the people outside so that we could hear everything they were saying.
Understandably is absolutely killed our parents to not get to hold their new grandson, and it wasn’t until he was over 2 months old that they got to hold him for the first time. But it wasn’t a simple case of handing him over. It had to be outside, where they would first be required to go and wash their hands and forearms, don a pair of latex gloves, and put on a mask before they could take him from us. They were wonderful moments every single time a grandparent got to hold him, and every single one of them cried.
During our time at home with our baby boy in lockdown, he was only able to see the health visitor a handful of times, with full PPE at all times, and has only been able to have online checkup appointment with the NICU due to the hospital restricting physical consultations unless it is absolutely necessary.
But lucky for us, our little magic bean has grown big and strong. He has his first tooth, he’s learning his first word, he can roll, and jump, and can almost stand. But we still don’t know what the future holds. The vaccine is rolling out, so hopefully, his great grandparents will get to see him soon, but his 1st birthday is in less than a month, and with a baby shower, and christening to make up for too, we genuinely have no idea how to plan that special day.
I guess it all comes back to the old idiom “take things one day at a time.”, so we’re just gonna have to see where the road takes us.
What we learned:
- Nothing is more important than family.
- We got dropped in the deep end of parenting with no support bubble (it hadn’t been created yet), so we had to take on a sink or swim attitude which taught us a lot.
- When offered a wheelchair in the labour ward – take it!
- The NHS is working so hard to protect everyone, even if it means splitting up families. It’s hard to understand, but trust that it’s for the best.
- Labour is difficult, but you realise how strong you are for your baby when you have to go it alone for the majority of the experience.
- Lockdown had its drawbacks, but it gave me and my husband time to be a family with our newborn that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, we could at least support each other.
- Our dog is as ignorant as the day she was born, and probably won’t truly notice our son until he’s at least another year older.
One thing I will say is that I don’t want to forget 2020. So many people want to pretend it never existed and I can understand why. But for me, it’s just not an option. 2020 brought us the baby we had wanted for so long, and it was so hard, but that child is every bit as wonderful as we had hoped. He looks like his dad, with my nose, he’s cheeky, funny, happy and healthy, and he was given to us in 2020.
Having a baby during quarantine was every bit as difficult as I had expected and dreaded it to be, but we can’t change how he entered the world, we can only influence how he sees it, and with so many loving family members and a year to make up for, he’s got a hell of a childhood ahead of him.