Emma Connolly asked some West Cork women to share what it was like being pregnant during the pandemic, with strict restrictions in place
‘The first time my fiancé heard our baby’s heartbeat was through a muffled recording from my 32 week check-up.’
That was just one of the many experiences that left Beth O’Regan feeling ‘cheated’ out of some of the joy of her third pregnancy.
She gave birth to baby Greyson last September in CUMH, and says the entire experience was in ‘stark contrast’ to her other two pregnancies.
‘In lots of ways we felt cheated of those precious first moments that I had to experience on my own. There were no trips to buy that first babygro after the 12-week mark; no celebratory meal after the anomaly scan. You could say that I was lucky; lucky that I had been afforded the wonderful experience, not once, but twice before. But I did not feel lucky. I felt alone. I felt like my partner of almost 13 years was not valued as a necessary component of my pregnancy through the eyes of the Irish government,’ said Beth.
The first time Mike (O’Driscoll) was in CUMH during the pregnancy was just before Beth went to theatre to give birth.
He was allowed to remain with her for one hour in recovery.
‘It felt short, inadequate. It was strange for him – finally meeting this tiny person – having been denied the journey with me. It was extremely emotional for us,’ said Beth.
She recalled how in the weeks coming up to the delivery date, they became obsessed with the news to see if they would ease restrictions in time for the couple to enjoy a ‘normal’ delivery.
‘But that wasn’t to be. The day before our son was born, wet pubs reopened - it seemed comical that you could ‘wet’ the baby’s head but not visit your baby.’
Beth is originally from Carlow and her parents have missed out on seeing their new grandson.
‘I am lucky to have wonderful in-laws, but again, we can’t see them, so it’s very tough. I have two older children; Maia (6) and in senior infants and Joshua (3) and in pre-school. It is hard to fill the void that they feel being away from their routines and friends. I am lucky that my fiancé now works from home. It is something I am so thankful for.’
She also praised her PHN and GP for their great support.
‘Lockdown has certainly taught me what is most important in life – family and friends. I am thankful that I am healthy and that Covid has not affected anyone I know. I have my gorgeous baby and he has no idea that he is a very special Covid baby. It will certainly be a very interesting story to tell him when he is older.’
‘Being pregnant and having a baby during Covid has meant a lot of missed experiences, but perhaps somewhat controversially I also think it provided some good experiences.’
So says Louise Gleeson, who is married to Gavin Coakley and who gave birth to baby Cara in CUMH in early June.
‘The pandemic really dominated the last three months of my pregnancy. I started working from home in early March thinking it might last for a week or two, and I never went back into the office before finishing up and going on maternity leave in May.
‘We were lucky that my husband had been to a good few scans before the ban on partners attending was brought in. But it was still very difficult for him to be missing that opportunity to see the baby. I think the scans are almost more important for the men to experience, we have the baby moving inside us all the time after all,’ said Louise.
She remembers how lots of their family had to make do with seeing baby Cara for the first time through the car window in the car park of Wilton Shopping Centre the day they left the hospital.
‘That was a surreal experience,’ she remembered.
‘The ability of family to spend time with Cara has been dictated by restrictions and living more than an hour from my own family has further added to the barriers to spending time together. The most heart breaking aspect of the whole pandemic for me, has been the numerous times my daughter has gotten comfortable with family, only to be locked down again and for her to forget them all over again.’
More positively, she found the time in their bubble helpful.
‘Many people have told me stories of endless streams of visitors in the weeks after bringing their baby home. Every morning they had to get themselves, the baby and the house ready for inspection. Of course we would have loved if our family could come to visit, but we had a real baby bubble going on.
‘Although being pregnant and having a baby during a worldwide pandemic had its many drawbacks, having a baby to focus on during the worldwide pandemic makes me feel luckier than most.’
Catherine Biggs Hurley,
‘When Covid kicked in I was hearing difficult stories of friends labouring on their own in hospital so I was determined to have my baby at home, as I had planned all along.’
And that’s exactly what happened for Catherine Biggs, married to councilllor (Ind) and former county mayor Declan Hurley.
Just after midnight on May 22nd, she remembers how the pangs of labour woke her and as she stood her waters broke.
‘My due date was the day before and I remember feeling so grateful this was happening naturally so I didn’t have to go into hospital for an induction.’
‘At 7am we called the midwife, she arrived and quickly informed Declan he wouldn’t be milking cows that morning as the baby was nearly there. By lunchtime, Declan delivered our little boy and placed him in my arms all under the watchful eye of our amazing midwife, Deirdre O’Leary. That evening I remember sitting in my own bed with this new little person and Declan beside me, feeling a great sense of achievement but also feeling relieved that we didn’t have to go to hospital during such uncertain times.’
Soon after, restrictions slowly lifted and the family of three had a relaxed summer of beach visits and lots of picnics on the farm.
Catherine had been studying full-time for her degree in fine art in the Crawford up to when Conan was born, and had planned to defer the following year. But as restrictions and lockdowns loomed on the horizon, heading into September she chose to return to college.
‘As lectures went online it meant two days on campus per week. Conan was four-months-old and only for the help of my incredible mother and Declan’s family, I never would have managed it.’
Catherine isn’t from the area and had been looking forward to joining the local mother and baby groups and connecting with other mothers, but that never happened.
‘That side of lockdown is tough but I am looking forward to the future when we can meet and socialise and I’ll be even more appreciative of it. I have noticed, though, as a first timer, that not having other babies to compare Conan with has had its positives as I feel no pressure for him to be any other way than exactly how he is.’
‘I found being pregnant during a global pandemic a horrifically lonely experience. And as long as the lockdown measures continue, I fear other expecting mothers will go through what I and thousands of other women nationwide had to endure despite the astounding efforts of the midwifes and other medical professionals.’
That’s according to Mairead Sullivan who gave birth to her third child, Liam, in September during Level 3 restrictions.
Mairead, who has a popular Instagram page called ‘thegetoutmommy’ admits that being pregnant during a pandemic was ‘really challenging without the normal external supports.’
An early years professional by trade, the Ballincollig woman is currently a stay at home mum while her sons, Cian (6), Eoin (3), and now Liam are still young.
She excitedly announced she was expecting at eight weeks, and what followed was an eventful start to the pregnancy.
‘Lockdown 1 hit in the midst of the first trimester exhaustion and what should probably have been an easier pregnancy with school to distract the older two in the mornings became all-out chaos as they were starved for interaction while stuck home 24/7. Meanwhile, hyperemesis rendered me fairly useless. I couldn’t even open the fridge without feeling sick and some days I’d resort to lying on the floor with nausea while the boys played beside me.’
Her husband Jonathan moved back to his home place of Ballylickey, to care for his father Dessie, who became ill quite suddenly and was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer shortly afterwards. He sadly passed away at the end of August, just weeks before Liam arrived.
Being pregnant during a pandemic itself also brought its own worries for Mairead: ‘There were little to no statistics on the risk factors to pregnant women and back in early 2020 there was no information about the possibility of vertical transmission in utero. That fear was always in the back of my mind and certainly aided the need to keep to ourselves even more.’
Mairead, who is pretty resilient, admits it was a terrifying time and hospital restrictions made the pregnancy a very isolated affair.
She described arriving to the hospital in labour as bittersweet: ‘Jonathan brought me to the main door, relayed the relevant details to the midwife and then had to leave. The midwives and staff were all amazing and tried in every way to support me but it’s simply not the same as having a partner who knows by looking at you that something is amiss. It was definitely a frightening experience without him,’ she said.
‘The lack of that intimate support lends itself to unnecessary stress and panic. I appreciate why it’s a necessity but it’s still exceptionally difficult to comprehend when you’re in the throes of labour, already worrying about this new baby and unnecessarily fretting about whether your partner will be left in in time, if at all. Liam was born at 9pm, and Jonathan was left in just after 8pm, there was very little time to spare and it felt like a bit of a whirlwind.’
Now that Liam is nearly six months old, Mairead is aware he’s missed out on so many things – such as meeting relatives and friends and even attending everyday things like mom and baby classes.
‘I feel especially sorry for first time mums. Some of my closest network of friends are people I met through my other babies and new moms have been robbed of that experience.’
As Dee McElligott’s pregnancy progressed, she became increasingly anxious and frustrated at the prospect of going to scans on her own.
Having had a miscarriage in 2018, she knew how important it was to have her husband Bradley with her when they were told “sorry, there is no heartbeat.”
‘I could cry into his arms and not have to reach for a stranger. I can’t imagine how hard it has been for women going through it on their own, while their partner waits outside.
‘Knowing Bradley couldn’t be present to help me throughout labour and the chance he could miss our baby’s birth, we decided at a very early stage of my pregnancy that I would have apply for a home birth. However, I still needed to attend the scans on my own, which was both a lonely and frightening experience, for something that should have been one of the most exciting times in our lives.’
Last year 330 mothers booked a home birth service, of which 99.5% said they would recommend the service to family and friends, describing it is the ‘HSE’s best kept secret’. Dee said her home birth was the most amazing experience she’s had and cannot speak highly enough about her midwife Elke.
She gave birth to her baby girl Féda in front of the fire, in her husband’s arms: ‘Shortly after, her siblings Wren and Cuan arrived home, I ate cheese toasties and slept in my own bed. It was bliss.’
Not surprisingly, she says it has been chaotic since, as they’d be in crèche and playschool.
‘Not being able to take them anywhere or to meet their friends to run off steam was hard. I miss people calling over and meeting my little girl. However, we have the best of neighbours and friends who have dropped dinners to the door.’
From Kerry, Dee said she was lucky though that her mum came to help for a week when Féda was born: ‘She would have stayed longer but felt uneasy about leaving my 85-year-old father at home alone during Level 5 restrictions. It’s heartbreaking knowing my parents wont meet her for a long time again, babies change so fast in the first year.’
Taking Féda home to Kerry to meet her family is what she’s most looking forward to when restrictions are lifted.