When you’re expecting a new baby there are always so many thoughts and feelings to come to terms with.
From the excitement of wondering who your new baby will grow up to be to the constant worry about their health and happiness – however precious the time may be there will always be plenty of challenges and concerns to navigate.
And that’s without a global pandemic.
Across the country coronavirus has completely changed how maternity wards operate and the way new parents meet and look after their new babies.
Expectant mothers have had to deal with antenatal appointments alone and partners have been allowed only limited time at their bedsides during labour.
As their babies have grown parents and babies alike have missed out on baby classes that are often a lifeline for new parents looking for some reassurance.
So how has the last year and a bit really been for new and expectant parents?
We’ve spoken to new and expectant parents to see what it’s like to bring a new human into the world during a coronavirus pandemic.
Sally’s baby story
Birth date: End of January 2020
Sally Fritche, 34, gave birth to her youngest daughter, Rosie, just six weeks before the start of lockdown in March 2020.
It was her second child after her daughter Ellie who was two years old at the time.
Sally, who is from Sketty, said she felt lucky in many ways during and after her pregnancy but that it didn’t mean it had always been easy.
“My youngest was six weeks old when Covid kicked off so it was a bit of a tough time to say the least,” she said.
“I tell myself that it could have been worse because I didn’t have it as tough as some other people. But it doesn’t really matter who you are or what your situation is – it’s been tough for everyone.
“For me I was at a time where your hormones are going crazy. You still have the anxiety of ‘Is my baby growing okay?’ and things like that where you’d like other mums to point it out to you and say they’re going through the same thing.”
Sally said one of the things that hit her the hardest was the lack of baby groups, which had previously been a lifeline for her when her daughter Ellie was younger.
“The lack of baby groups hit me really, really hard,” she said.
“With my eldest I was at baby groups every couple of days and I made a lovely group of friends. And you’d go there and you’d realise that you’re not the only one in this routine of no sleep and crying babies. You realise you’re normal and that everything will be okay.
“So this time round I felt really lonely and isolated. I’m not an anxious person but the anxiety I had just from not knowing if my baby was developing as she should have been, nobody there to say it was normal.
“Baby groups are about routine – it’s about getting out of the house and talking to other mums. I’m just sitting at home and felt like I was on a treadmill of housework. You see all these people who are doing wonderful lockdown transformations and I’m just at home watching it getting worse – it’s not through lack of trying. With two young kids it’s hard to keep on top of.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child and at the time where I really needed that village I couldn’t even go to my mum’s house.”
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Sally said even previous parenthood experience couldn’t prepare her and others for having a new baby in a global pandemic.
She said: “I miss those times where I could go to my mum’s house and she could say: ‘Sit down, have a cuppa, and I’ll look after the baby and toddler for a bit’. It has been really, really hard – and I’m one of the lucky ones.
“I haven’t suffered any horrible losses because of coronavirus, I haven’t lost my job, my husband”hasn’t lost his job, so I try and always think it could have been worse for me.
“But when you’re in the thick of lockdown and wake up every morning thinking ‘How am I going to entertain these children?’ it is hard. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse that we haven’t had to do any home schooling.
“With my previous baby my sense of purpose was so much better – I was going to classes every couple of days.
“People have coped with much worse circumstances and I don’t think there’s been enough support out there for mums or pregnant women. It’s amazing how some baby groups have adapted to be online and that’s been really important to get me off the treadmill of housework.”
Sarah’s birth story
Birth date: March 3, 2020
First-time mum Sarah Trueman said she was relieved to have given birth to baby George weeks before lockdown hit, meaning she wasn’t alone during labour.
However after that things got harder for the 28-year-old from Llantwit Fardre as she battled with postnatal depression during the pandemic.
She said: “My baby was supposed to be born on March 24 just as we went into lockdown but luckily he was born three weeks early. Being a first-time mum and knowing that others had to give birth alone, I was really grateful.
“My son had jaundice and it meant my mother-in-law was able to come down for the first two weeks while we were back and forth to the hospital.”
Sarah said she believed the disruption caused by Covid caused both her mental and physical health to suffer after she gave birth.
“My midwifery care stopped as soon as lockdown started and I contracted a few infections because I didn’t have great medical care. They couldn’t do health visits either and I was back and forth to the hospital not knowing what was going on.
“My husband was working from home after paternity leave and he as the sort of job where he’s at his desk doing video calls working from home so I was having to look after and try and keep George quiet.
“I didn’t have any help from any family when lockdown hit as we were all told to stay home.”
She said her postnatal depression started to develop as she struggled to recover after each local and national lockdown.
“I live in Rhondda Cynon Taff so we also had a few local lockdowns in between the national ones.
“After every lockdown I just realised I was coping less and less – I was finding it harder to pick myself back up after every one.
“It got worse and worse – it was postnatal depression but I didn’t realise at the time.”
This wasn’t helped by the fact that she contracted a series of infections while her son had jaundice.
She said: “After he was home a midwife turned up to weigh him and said he had jaundice so I had go back to the hospital. He had to do 14 hours under this UV light and he was tiny and I had to do it on my own so I had no sleep and had just given birth. We ended up doing it about three times when hospitals were hit with Covid and it was a really scary time. It was all a bit of a nightmare but it turned out that he had breastfeeding jaundice.
“Then in between that I started to feel unwell and it turned out I had mastitis (blocked milk duct) – that was my first infection and I was put on antibiotics.
“Then I was hit with infections down there – I was fainting and my husband took me into the doctors. I was told I needed to go to hospital but with everything going on and I was breastfeeding I was told to take antibiotics and drink fluids.
“I thought I was fine but then one of my stitches from my episiotomy didn’t heal properly and that was like raw skin so I couldn’t walk. It was finally four months after that when I was fully healed.
“I think if I could have had proper medical care through the pandemic it wouldn’t have been so bad. We had no midwife visits like you were supposed to and most times I was speaking to doctors over video. I was speaking on the phone to my health visitor and couldn’t always get through when I needed to and only one parent was allowed at the hospital when you needed to go in with your child.”
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Meanwhile she said the presence of the virus caused her to become agoraphobic as she feared going out and catching the virus and then passing it onto baby George.
“I was just staying in. Then around October, November time I was actually able to go outside and a friend asked me to meet her in town,” she said.
“A stranger came and started chatting to us and was getting too close to my baby and not wearing a mask so I told him to back off and ended up crying for the rest of the day. That’s when I spoke to my health visitor and got diagnosed as having postnatal depression. I’d gone from March to November struggling.”
At the height of Sarah’s postnatal depression she said she started cognitive behavioural therapy – a type of counselling – and got some routine back in her life. Thankfully it made the world of difference for her.
“In November it got really bad in terms of my depression and I started CBT, which I’ve just finished now,” she said.
“Comparing my notes at the start when it was horrendous and I was getting intrusive thoughts to now I’ve made so much progress and am doing a lot better.
“I started the Body Shop At Home which gave me some focus and just a self-care routine. I went back to work early because I love my job and my son is now in nursery and those things combined have all made a huge difference – I feel so much happier in myself now.”
Giorgia’s baby story
Birth date: April 3, 2020
Giorgia Rescigno, 27, gave birth to her daughter Faye in early April last year when the virus was rife in the community.
The new mum from the Gower said the experience of being in hospital at that time was nerve-racking.
The lack of baby groups and other outlets for new parents during lockdown inspired her to create an online space with the aim of bringing them all together.
She said: “I gave birth in April so right at the start of lockdown when I didn’t really know what was going on. I got induced so was in hospital for three days on my own which was a bit nerve-racking. My partner, Adam, was there for the birth and just made it on time.
“And it is hard for them as well – he had to leave an hour after I gave birth and obviously we didn’t go home with him that day. So that was a bit horrible – all he wanted to do was hold the baby and be with us.
“I was in hospital for about a day after giving birth so it wasn’t too bad but for all that time I was just on my own.”
Giorgia said she stayed positive despite having a new baby in the pandemic but empathises with others who aren’t able to do that.
“We have been bubbling with my mum and I’m so grateful for that because some people haven’t even been able to do that,” she said.
“I’ve obviously been in lockdown since I gave birth and I tried to stay as positive personally as I could.
“Having a baby for me was amazing – it brought me so much joy and I’m so lucky to have had a happy and healthy baby. But I think of those people who aren’t in that situation and aren’t able to get the same family support as me. I wonder how they got support and got through it.”
Giorgia said she also started making YouTube videos about motherhood in the pandemic, which helped her and her viewers alike.
She said: “When I first gave birth I felt like Superwoman – I was doing lots and coping well, I don’t know how I did it. Then things got a bit harder and I took a bit of a break. I used to post YouTube videos so I started that again. The first one I posted was about becoming a parent during a pandemic.”
She said that when she felt a little bit lost near the start of the pandemic she also decided to create a Facebook group in her local area to bring new parents together.
In a matter of months nearly 400 new parents in the area had joined the group, showing that Giorgia certainly wasn’t alone.
Giorgia said: “It was hard at times so one day I created Facebook group South and West Wales New Mums during Coronavirus because I was just sat there thinking ‘I can’t be the only one wanting to connect with other parents’. I just didn’t have anyone else in the same position who I could talk to.
“I saw that lots of people were supporting each other on breastfeeding groups and other specific groups like that but I wanted to make a more broad group for mums and parents in the area to share what they have been going through more generally on a day-to-day basis. I hoped that maybe one day we would be able to meet up when we’re out of all this.
“It was so nice – people introducing themselves, saying where they were, saying how their baby was getting on. People still post their questions and worries and whatnot.”
Kimberley’s birth story
Birth date: September 29, 2020
First-time mum Kimberley Davies spent the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic pregnant.
The 29-year-old from Ammanford said she had a tough time during pregnancy and found it emotionally difficult to go into hospital appointments alone.
And, to make matters even harder, an infection meant she was stuck in hospital for an extra week after giving birth due to an infection.
“I was sick all through pregnancy and so couldn’t really do much regardless of lockdown,” she said.
“On March 23 last year I had to go into shielding because because pregnant women were thought to be high-risk at the time.
“From that point I had to go and do all my scans myself which wasn’t easy, especially as a first-time mum. The first time I turned up I burst into tears and basically refused to go inside the hospital because I was so terrified – I had no idea what to expect.
“After that experience we had a private scan so my husband could come in, see the baby, and ask questions as I was finding it difficult as a first-time mum.”
But Kimberley said that on two more occasions throughout her pregnancy she had to go into hospital. She said it was difficult for both herself and her husband who had to stay outside in the car not knowing what was happening inside.
“My husband was allowed in with me during the labour but after I gave birth I was in the hospital for a week on my own with the baby because I had an infection and the baby caught it. I wasn’t mentally coping with it,” she said.
“I was crying constantly – I had a newborn and wasn’t sleeping, I was in pain because of the stitches.
“I was a first-time mum and wanted to do everything myself but I had no idea how things were supposed to be. I was in pain and waking up every five minutes.
“If we drive near the hospital now I get anxious as though I’m going back there. It can be really difficult for mothers to be there alone.”
Kimberley said things did improve when she got home as she was able to have support looking after her new baby from her husband and mother.
However she said some aspects of new motherhood had been difficult in the pandemic.
“It’s still hard now because I don’t see anyone else. I go for walks by myself – I’m basically seeing four walls seven days a week,” she said.
“My baby hasn’t had any interaction with other babies at all as she would have had without the pandemic. I booked onto some baby classes before Christmas but those all had to be cancelled when lockdown restrictions were tightened.
“It’s just me, my husband, and I see my mum for extra support and if I didn’t have them I don’t know where I’d be to be honest.”
The health board perspective
Like everyone else health boards and their maternity unity across the country were thrown into the pandemic in March 2020 and ever since have been subject to strict Covid restrictions.
As it currently stands:
Melanie Llewelyn, interim deputy head of midwifery at Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB), said: “We are fully understanding of how difficult it has been for expectant mothers and families during this pandemic. Maternity services have had to follow Welsh Government (WG) guidelines regarding birthing partners visiting and hospital appointments.
“Within SBUHB women in labour have always been able to have one birthing partner to support. During antenatal appointments birthing partners have been able to attend for the dating and anomaly scans since this guidance came from WG.
“We appreciate and sympathise how lonely and vulnerable women have felt when they have had to be admitted to the maternity unit and not being able to have anyone present. However the staff within our maternity services have endeavoured to provide women with as much support as possible.
“As a service we act within an immediate response to any directive from WG regarding any changes we can make to our current position.”
A spokesman for Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board said: “We understand how difficult the pandemic has been for pregnant and new mums in our care, with restrictions around hospital visiting and home visits being particularly challenging on top of the very normal anxieties around expecting and having a baby. We understand that partners are essential to the wellbeing of our patients and babies and, wherever we can, we will support you to be with your loved one.
“We need to balance this with prioritising everyone’s safety including that of mums, partners, babies and our wider communities. This means we have had to put in place measures that try to support families as much as we can while protecting them during the pandemic to keep everyone safe and minimise the spread of Covid-19.
“Due to the risks around Covid-19 we have had to limit neonatal visiting to one parent or carer at a time. In terms of health visiting national restrictions were placed on the service and face-to-face visiting has been limited but essential services have been maintained.
“We understand that this has impacted on the experiences received by families and we hope to pilot some live Facebook sessions to support families in the near future.
“As always we would urge anyone experiencing difficulty to speak with their midwife or health visitor.”