When I was asked to write something of my experience giving birth in the midst of a global pandemic, my first thoughts were to wait until it was a better time. A time with more balance physically, having a newborn and a 6 year old in lockdown at home, and more balance emotionally, when things had ‘settled down’, so I could try to process all of this in a measured way.
As I was awake in the night after feeding my new baby again, I had the realisation that maybe there was no better time to write, and that actually, there may not be ‘balance’ for some time, in any form. Everything has been shaken, for everyone, and I’m not sure balance is something we’re aiming for now anyway. I think we’re all just really aiming for survival.
“With this universal anxiety forming the backdrop of new motherhood, managing my own sense of wellbeing and safeguarding my mental health has been a challenge.”
The term ‘Coronacoaster’ has been doing the rounds on social media recently; describing the highs of the surprisingly good weather, having time to re-evaluate and create, and the joy of the sourdough loaf success, combined with the lows of legitimate fears around personal health, a sense of despair and feeling out of control, and the uncertainty of the future and what life will look like once we emerge from this world-changing time. With this universal anxiety forming the backdrop of new motherhood, managing my own sense of wellbeing and safeguarding my mental health has been a challenge.
I feel very fortunate to have had the birth that I did; it was safe, there were no complications, and both baby and I were well. More than that, we found things to laugh about, moments to treasure, and I have a positive birth story to share even in this time, which is something I’ve found myself feeling quite emotional about on reflection, as I know this isn’t everyone’s experience.
We had planned a home birth. It felt a little out of character for me to consider, but as we already had a child at home, we wanted to be ready for the coveted ‘quick second-time birth’. This of course didn’t happen, but we prepared for birth at home incase we found ourselves in labour in the middle of the night with kiddo number one tucked up in bed!
“It felt like a massive responsibility to manage the needs of my two children in the midst of all that was happening.”
I was due on March 21st, and on the week leading up to this, the spread of Covid-19 gathered momentum. The UK was socially isolating and we had all been told to stay at home.
At first, this felt like a necessary and precautionary measure, and so it was a nice opportunity to put my feet up at almost 40 weeks pregnant and await our new arrival! However, the sobering reality of this awful virus and how our lives needed to change in order to protect us from it started to dawn on me.
Our daughter’s school closed the day before my due date, in an effort to keep the children and their teachers safe. Something I of course agreed with, but I felt panicked; my second daughter was still inside me, about to make her entrance any day, and I was thrown the curveball of unexpectedly homeschooling my first, at what seemed like a moment’s notice. It felt like a massive responsibility to manage the needs of my two children in the midst of all that was happening.
“I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed, and a greater sense of anxiety and panic generated within me from both rational and irrational thoughts, and I hadn’t even gone into labour yet.”
Social distancing meant that family could no longer help us with our new baby when she arrived, be that with childcare, errands or sticking the kettle on, and they wouldn’t be able to visit us. Non-essential clinics and provisions were being stripped back in our local area, and so there would be less accessibility to practical help and support with the health of our newborn, and for myself as a new mother. I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed, and a greater sense of anxiety and panic generated within me from both rational and irrational thoughts, and I hadn’t even gone into labour yet.
I was glad to have prepared a home birth, as I was feeling more uncomfortable about the idea of going into hospital – measures were being put in place to restrict visitors and birth partners, and some women were even having to birth alone.
Giving birth in a pandemic was beginning to feel like quite a scary reality. This was definitely not the maternity leave I had imagined when I had set my vacation responder on my work email. I must admit, I had a little cry. To think that we were about to be housebound in a two-up-two-down terrace, homeschooling, sleep deprived, socially isolated, and juggling the constant needs of a newborn with the constant needs (just for snacks alone) of a six year old, with no sense of when this would end felt huge.
I started having contractions two days before my due date. I had been on a local hypnobirthing course (not as weird as it sounds, and no hypnosis involved!), and my husband and I had completed the Positive Birth Company’s digital hypnobirthing pack together, which we found would be a great resource to draw from both for the birth and for managing my anxieties.
“Unfortunately, when the midwife came out to see me in labour, she told us that due to staff shortages, there were not enough midwives on shift to safely have a baby at home.”
We excitedly filled the birth pool, which filled our entire living room, lit candles, and watched episodes of Parks and Recreation, to help induce the happy hormones! After almost two days of contractions, our little girl arrived; although not as we had expected! Unfortunately, when the midwife came out to see me in labour, she told us that due to staff shortages, there were not enough midwives on shift to safely have a baby at home. She was the only midwife working in the community that night, and all women who were in labour were being sent into hospital.
Again, I felt a pang of disappointment. Another curveball, and with it came another wave of panic. It was all feeling so out of my control, but I had to trust that this was the best thing for me and my baby, and it really was. As it turned out, being a professional singer and vocal coach meant that I had quite the lung capacity, and in labour I reached some significant decibels, which I’m pretty sure my neighbours would’ve been thankful to have been spared in the middle of the night! That was definitely one benefit of having my baby in hospital!
“Again, I felt a pang of disappointment. Another curveball, and with it came another wave of panic.”
The hospital environment and labour ward was eerily quiet. There was no one in reception, in the corridors, in the lift. We saw no one except for the wonderful team of midwives we met during our short stay. There was just one midwife looking after triage, and again one midwife with us on delivery. With there being such a small team, the delivery suite was actually calm and peaceful, and we had time alone to use our hypnobirthing tools such as centred breathing techniques, gentle music, essential oils and lots of chocolate to help manage labour!
I was thankful to have given birth with my husband present, as our little one came presently on her due date, two days before the nationwide lockdown. Friends of mine since have had much more emotionally challenging births since measures have tightened, meaning some women sadly are finding themselves without birth partners in labour, and potentially at the point of birth; one friend of mine even gave birth with her husband self isolating while watching on Skype!
“I cannot help but feel immense pride for my fellow new mothers and the amazing health care professionals who are working incredibly hard to ensure we are able to birth safely and without fear.”
I’ve been overcome by the awe and admiration I have for women; the women giving birth, and the women (and men!) delivering births. It’s no mean feat in any ‘normal’ scenario to birth a baby, whichever way they enter the world, but in this never-before-experienced time of unknowns, and with a universal health threat amongst us, I cannot help but feel immense pride for my fellow new mothers and the amazing health care professionals who are working incredibly hard to ensure we are able to birth safely and without fear.
My huge thanks and appreciation goes out to the team at Stepping Hill Hospital, NHS community midwives, infant feeding time, and our health visitor that supported my pregnancy, birth and early days brilliantly; I think of you each time we stand at our door and clap, thank you!
“Like I said, for me, this time has mainly been about survival, and keeping our collective heads above water, while still trying to find something to laugh about as we do!”
Having a baby in lockdown in the middle of a world-wide health crisis has bought its challenges, and sometimes it’s felt like we’re feeling our way in the dark, much like everyone else I’m sure. Some days are better than others, largely affected by the hours of sleep we’ve managed to bank over the day, the amount of (often cold) coffee we’ve drank, and the moments of daylight and fresh air we’ve been able to breathe in.
Like I said, for me, this time has mainly been about survival, and keeping our collective heads above water, while still trying to find something to laugh about as we do! As I’m settling into week seven of lockdown-baby-homeschool life, I am moving towards managing just a little more than the minimum requirements of the everyday.
Even if not, I’m trying to practice giving myself permission to let it go, accept where we are and what crazy times we’re living in, and try again tomorrow. After all, being in lockdown, no one will know if I’m still in my pyjamas. Again!
My 8 Top Tips for Mums
Give yourself a break
No one has done this before. You’ve never experienced this before. There are no ‘how to’ guides that will help you to seamlessly navigate this unique moment in time. What you can manage right now might not be what you could manage pre-lockdown, or pre-pregnancy/baby, or both! You are doing the best you can, and whatever that looks like today, that is enough.
Don’t compare yourself to friends or celebrities, it’s never helpful. Release your sense of expectation on this time and on yourself, and take one day at a time – and if a whole day seems too overwhelming, break the day down to one feed at a time, or an hour at a time. Whatever you can manage today is ok, you are doing a great job!
Mind your language
By that, I mean the negative self talk! I’ve caught myself thinking and saying things that are simply destructive, negative and shaming of myself, my capacity, and my mothering.
If you can identify with this, try to catch these trains of thought/speech as they happen, and stop them in their tracks! You would never talk to a friend like that, and you would never let your partner or a friend talk to you like that, so even in the exhaustion and exasperation, try to be kind to yourself! What can you celebrate about yourself and your mothering today?
Talk it out
Whether it’s by text, posting in one of the many whatsapp groups you might find yourself in now(!), phonecall or facetime, make sure you keep talking.
These are big emotions we’re encountering, big physical and hormonal changes postpartum that we’re experiencing, and big circumstantial changes we’re adapting to, and sometimes that feeling of overwhelm can take over and take us under.
Identify some ‘safe people’ in your life; people who you can share with, without judgement, who are able to listen – without advice giving, unless you want it of course! Talking it out to a safe and trusted listener can release the pressure valve just a little, and might just the breather you need.
Walk it out
Get outside when you feel ready, and when you can. The ‘feed, change, sleep, repeat’ cycle in the early baby weeks can feel like groundhog day, and living in lockdown can increase this sense of monotony.
When you’re able, try to walk the block with someone in your household, or stick your headphones on and take the baby for a lap around your local green space. Venturing outside and off the sofa even just to the garden, sitting out on the balcony, or let’s face it opening a window(!) will do a world of good.
Remember the basics
It might sound obvious, but eating, drinking, and sleeping are paramount right now. Dehydration can lead to headaches and constipation, hunger will affect your mood, and even though sleep might be in short supply, rest is essential for your recovery mentally and physically.
If you have family at home and you find it difficult to keep on top of the basics, ask them to gently remind you, or better still, bring you snacks and drinks during the day, and get a stockpile of treats for the night – particularly if you’re breastfeeding. After all, you’ll be doing them a favour – they’ll be glad of something to do in lockdown!
Find five minutes
Allow yourself a minimum of five minutes a day alone. Just five. If you can find more time, then great, but set yourself a manageable amount of time that’s fair and realistic to do something just for you.
Maybe listen to a song off your favourite album, or read a couple of pages of a book, or watch one half of a tv show – and don’t feel guilty about it! I’ve tried to give myself a few moments before bed to read or listen to a meditation to help me detach from the day, and this has really helped. Your family will manage, and you will be able to manage better for it.
It’s not all bad
Feelings of anxiety, overwhelm and panic can often settle in deep, and you may find yourself accepting a sense that ‘this is the way it is now’. You might not be able to see a way through or imagine life moving on from this time.
Try to balance these thoughts by finding things that you can appreciate, things that are positive, things that you are grateful for. Again, this isn’t to compare yourself to someone else, or an opportunity to feel guilty for the things you do have, but when those thoughts come, try to intercept them with something that will disrupt the flow.
You could try making a list of two or three things you can say are good about your day today, however small. If you have other children, get them involved too! Try it at meal times or before bed, and see what good things you can reflect on. You could even think of one thing a day and write it down – pop it in an old jar or tupperware, then empty it and read them back at the end of the week!
Keep reminding yourself that ‘this too shall pass’, and celebrate at the end of each day that you made it through!
Pay it forward
If you feel able, why not pay some kindness forward. Sometimes shifting yourself out a funk happens when you do something for someone else, I know this helps me when I have the capacity. It could be as simple as sending a text, or ordering a small gift or card online to someone you know struggling. A simple act of kindness will really brighten someone else’s day, and I’m sure give you the warm fuzzy feels too!
– The Positive Birth Company – Follow on socials for tips and resources for a positive, confident birth experience. Their YouTube channel has lots of workshops (breastfeeding/postnatal advice/relaxation) and at the moment they are doing lots of live videos in the evening on YouTube/Instagram to share expert knowledge in this area. I would highly recommend both their hypnobirthing digital pack and postpartum pack, featuring healthcare professionals supporting your recovery after birth. I did both and they are excellent resources, which massively helped my preparation for birth and beyond, even the second time!
– Anna Mathur, Psychotherapist – Follow on social media for content and helpful tips on how to manage anxiety. Her book ‘Mind Over Mother’ is being released on the 14th May. She also has a podcast, The Therapy Edit, which are 10 minute episodes supporting and encouraging mental wellbeing.
– Meditation Apps to try:
- Headspace (Mindfulness/Meditation)
- Calm (Mindfulness and breathing)
- Soultime (Christian meditation/bible reflections)
- Abide (Christian meditation/bible reflections)
About the Author: Hannah Smikle
Hannah Smikle is a professional vocalist and voice coach, and has worked for over 12 years in the music industry. She runs her own studio in Greater Manchester where she works with singers, aspiring artists, and international touring musicians – coaching, recording, and training in vocal health. Hannah is passionate about mental health, and during her career studied counselling to extend her skillset as a coach. She has since written two personal development and wellbeing programmes to be used in community settings; using creativity, music, meditation and self-awareness tools to promote positive holistic health.
You can stay in touch with Hannah here:
- Website: www.vocalperformancecoaching.com
- Instagram: @vocalperformancecoaching
- Facebook: @vocalperformancecoaching