'He had to stare at his little girl through a window' - Leeds mums share experience of giving birth in Covid-19 pandemic

Every day for five days, Andrew Bennett would travel from Whinmoor to Leeds General Infirmary to see his new baby daughter through a pane of glass.

Sunday, 10th May 2020, 11:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 10:34 am

Under the strict Covid-19 rules, no visitors are allowed on the post-natal wards and for Andrew - who still hadn't held baby Isabelle as she had been whisked straight to HDU after her birth on April 19 - it was his only chance to be close to her.

It wasn't until five days after she was born that Isabelle was well enough to go home, so in the meantime, new mum Natalie McGrogan, 31, would take her to the ward's entrance door to see her dad.

She said: "The last time Andrew had seen her, she had an oxygen mask and tubes coming out, which was not very nice to see. So he would come down every day and that's how he saw her - with him staring at his little girl through a window."

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Natalie McGrogan, Andrew Bennett and baby Isabelle

Natalie had also wanted her mum to be present at the birth but with only one birthing partner allowed now - and that's generally only in active labour - they were forced to improvise.

"We Facetimed her. They provided us with a ledge to put the phone on. My mum is a big support system for me and it helped to know she was there, at least in some way, for the birth. It was the best of a bad situation," she said.

But as hard as it was for the new parents, Natalie was quick to praise the staff at the hospital for creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere despite the challenging circumstances.

She said: "The face masks were a little bit daunting. There's only so much expression you can get from someone's eyes but they did a fantastic job to put you at ease. I've said to my friends, I wouldn't have realised there was a virus in that hospital. They all just went about it as if it was normal business. They were doing as much as they could to make sure you weren't affected by it."

Charlotte Burton, 24, with baby Rory Alexander.

Her gratitude was echoed by fellow new mum Charlotte Burton, 24, who gave birth to Rory Alexander on April 13, also at LGI.

Despite Covid-19 causing her dream birth plans to come "crashing down", she said she still had an "incredible experience" on the labour ward at LGI. She had originally hoped to give birth in Leeds' midwife-led unit, the Lotus Suite, but that has been closed temporarily - although there are plans to re-open it soon.

Charlotte praised the midwives, saying: "All staff had full PPE equipment which made me feel more at ease", adding: "Due to the labour ward being quiet that day - not sure why - I never had to transfer from the delivery suite post-birth. We were able to stay in the room until we were discharged later that day - which I was over the moon about. The hours went by so quickly, it didn’t feel like I’d been there for eight hours."

For Sophie Hamari, 32, of Farnley, the new rules came into force mid-way through her stay at St James' Hospital, after the birth of her twins Isla and Oscar on March 21.

The Hamari twins: Isla, left, and Oscar, right.

Isla had to be taken straight to neonatal intensive care (NICU) because of fluid on her lungs and suspected meningitis but Sophie was taken to the post-natal ward with Oscar.

While dad Steven, 33, was initially able to stay with Isla on NICU, the day she was brought up to be reunited with Sophie, March 24, was also the day the rules changed - and that was the last they would see of Steven until their discharge four days later.

Sophie said: "My husband had to leave immediately. I was devastated as we had only just been reunited as a whole family. It felt so unfair that my husband was not allowed to see and bond with his new children but we understood why it was happening."

She also paid tribute to the staff, who she said "could not have been more supportive and helpful", adding: "Inside the confines of the ward I was very much sheltered from what was going on in the outside world".

Mum Sophie Hamari with twins Oscar and Isla

Midwife Jenny Gill, delivery suite co-ordinator at Leeds hospitals, said they are working hard to keep things as normal as they can.

"We're trying as much as possible to make it as special as can be. There's no-one in pregnancy who hasn't had a level of anxiety, whether it's their first or fifth baby. And all that is heightened now.

"But I think when they come in, they can see everything is ok. The feedback we have had is really positive. People have been saying that they've come into hospital and have actually forgotten about the whole pandemic while they've been here. They have been reassured that we have the appropriate PPE on; it makes them feel safe."

She said continuing to build a rapport with the women while wearing the PPE mask seems to be the main issue staff are facing but she stressed morale on the wards was high.

"My colleagues and I were talking yesterday and saying how happy we are to be able to come to work, and really grateful that we can still work as normal. People shouldn't be afraid. If they feel anxious, they can ring up and speak to someone. It might be a small query that someone can answer and they will feel better. No query is too small - just ring in and ask," she said.

She said the number of women being allowed to go home earlier than normal has increased, so as not to be in hospital any longer than necessary.

Midwife Jenny Gill, delivery suite co-ordinator for Leeds hospitals.

Jenny said: "We're trying to maximise going home after delivery so they can just get back to family life. If we can get women home early we will. But if they need medical care or if they choose to - whether for breastfeeding support - we make the stay as nice as we can."

Once discharged, midwives are still carrying out the routine baby checks - either over the phone or visiting mums in their homes.

The major change for community midwifery has been during early pregnancy, carrying out some of the antenatal appointments over the phone rather than in-person - such as the traditional 90-minute booking appointment, at around six to 10 weeks pregnant, and the appointments at 16 weeks and 25 weeks.

But Cate Wetton, community midwife team leader in Leeds, said: "It's been really well received. Women really appreciate not having to leave their homes for appointments.

"People have had time to take stock, as we have as professionals. We have adapted the way we offer the services. Safety is always of paramount concern, along with the women. To shape the service that keeps them safe but along with the care that is so vital in pregnancy. "

She stressed that help is available 24/7 should any women feel they need it - both pre- and post-birth.

Cate said: "We are always here and we would always see them. We really would hope that they wouldn't consider delaying care or asking for help if they thought that they needed it. We know Covid is here but we wouldn't want that to override the need to come into hospital for care."

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