"I was petrified that I would give birth extremely early, with no one by my side" - Rachael's story

Rachael gave birth prematurely to her son, Joshua, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, she tells her story and how the difficult restrictions affected her and her family.

Our story started back in October 2016, when my waters broke unexpectedly while I was 31 weeks pregnant with our first child. I eventually gave birth to our son, Jack, at 31 weeks and 6 days, weighing 3lb140z. This was our first experience with neonatal care, with Jack spending just over five weeks in hospital and being discharged with no health complications. Jack is now a happy, healthy four year old boy.

Fast forward to the start of this year when I fell pregnant again and was due on the 17th September 2020. Even before I was pregnant, I was always concerned that if I was to have another child I would have them prematurely. However, as there was no reason as to why Jack came early, I was reassured by my midwife that this pregnancy could be completely different. The midwife was right: this pregnancy was completely different for a number of reasons.

I had started bleeding from around 7 weeks and this continued the whole way through my pregnancy, although not uncommon, each time I was admitted to hospital to be monitored.

Being admitted to hospital, especially with bleeding when pregnant can be extremely scary, and on top of this the world was dealing with a pandemic. This meant for me that I was spending my time on a maternity ward without my partner or any family members. My cervix was checked regularly to make sure it wasn’t shortening, as this could be a sign of premature labour - if this was the case, they could put a stitch in to prolong the pregnancy.

As you can imagine, this was very upsetting and extremely stressful for both myself and my family. I was petrified that I would give birth extremely early, with no one by my side.

On top of that I had the worry of my son: he was unable to visit me on the many occasions that I spent in hospital and we had limited childcare for him, as at that time there had been a complete ban on household mixing.

Not only did I have the worry of my unborn child and my son at home, but I was also very concerned about catching the virus. I spent from the April to June staying in and out of hospital and it wasn’t until I got to 26 weeks that I went to our local hospital with my usual bleeding to find out I was 1 to 2cm dilated.

Being told you are going to preterm labour whilst on your own has to be one of the scariest times of my life.

My partner was waiting for me in the hospital carpark on standby for updates. Unbeknown to me, our local hospital didn’t take premature babies until 32 weeks, which meant I had to be moved to the nearest available hospital.

After ringing around hospitals for what seemed like forever, they managed to find a hospital that could take both myself and the baby, once they had been born. But this hospital was over an hour’s drive away. They allowed my partner in to see me before I was taken by ambulance on my own to the hospital.

I was so happy to see him and I needed that reassurance from a loved one that everything would be ok. I then stayed in hospital for several days being monitored. I was allowed one visitor for two hours a day and a time slot was allocated.

Having a son at home, my partner still trying to work, and with him visiting me with an hour’s drive each way, was not the easiest. I was so lonely being so far from home, not knowing if my baby would arrive soon, and on top of that thinking of the complications that may follow from such a premature birth.

I was eventually discharged and I managed to make it to 28 weeks. Yet again, I was transferred to another hospital, by ambulance, on my own and this time 45 minutes from home.

Due to my history, my partner was allowed to stay with me and on the 28th June, I gave birth to our son, Joshua, by emergency C-section, weighing 2lb10oz.

Joshua spent the next few weeks in the hospital I gave birth in and was eventually transferred back to our local hospital. To begin with, only one parent could visit, so my partner would drive for 45 minutes. One of us would wait in the car whilst the other went in to be with our son.

As you can imagine, this is not how we expected to spend our first few weeks with a newborn. When Joshua was transferred to our local hospital, both parents were allowed to visit together. A weight felt like it had been lifted, having to wait 3 weeks to see my partner hold our son was emotional.

Having to go through this during a pandemic has been so tough; my son had to wait over seven weeks to meet his little brother. Grandparents, aunts, uncles have had to wait even longer to see our son. We have had to try and juggle childcare, which has been extremely challenging given the restrictions on people mixing.

Having to attend the hospital appointments on my own and being told bad news whilst being alone was so scary for both myself and my partner, who was having to sit in the hospital car park waiting to find out if I would be coming home or would be admitted again, or worse case, transferred to another hospital.

Having to wear the face mask when meeting our son for the first time was very bizarre and for him not to see our faces, or anyone’s else’s, in full for several weeks of his life was a very strange feeling.

Joshua required two blood transfusions, but after 56 days in hospital, he was finally discharged. Joshua has now settled into family life and Jack is the proudest big brother.

We are enjoying life as a family of four and we cannot thank everyone enough for the care both our sons have received. We are truly grateful and count our blessings every day.

If this year has taught us anything it is that we are stronger than we think and we will get through this together!