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You probably didn’t anticipate giving birth in the midst of a global health crisis. Right now, you may be feeling anxious about catching the virus, nervous about changes to your birth plan and scared about the possibility of labouring without your birthing partner. All the while, there’s uncertainty about how the situation may develop.
It’s tough, but Siobhan Miller, founder of The Positive Birth Company, says it is still possible to have a positive pregnancy and birth experience amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Often anxiety and panic comes from a period of feeling out of being control, so I try to help women take control of what they can and let go of what they can’t,” she tells HuffPost UK. Here’s how to do it:
Accept the unpredictability of birth
Over a fifth of local midwife-led maternity units had been closed, with more than a third of areas also either stopping or restricting home births, according to the Royal College of Midwives. Those numbers may increase as the NHS shifts from usual protocols in its best attempts to tackle the virus.
Miller says she’s heard from many women who are upset because their birth plans have had to change. But recognising that birth plans are never set in stone may help you accept what is happening.
“I think it’s important to remember that actually, even if this wasn’t going on, there’s a chance that you might not get exactly wanted anyway. There’s lots of variables,” she says.
“You might have been planning a home birth, but even before coronavirus was a thing, there’s always a chance that you wouldn’t be able to have a home birth because the midwife isn’t available, or things might not have progressed in the way that you’d hoped.
“Or you might have your heart set on a birth centre water birth, but then you get to the birth centre and there aren’t any pools available. All of those things can happen on a regular day anyway.”
Trying to have an open mind about how you give birth is key during any pregnancy, but particularly important in this ever-changing situation, she adds.
To reclaim some sense of control, Miller recommends thinking about your preferences for different birth scenarios – a home birth, a water birth, a hospital birth and a caesarian birth – writing these down, then giving the list to your midwife or doctor.
“Having only one plan where you’re mentally thinking ‘I didn’t get what I planned’ or ‘things are going wrong’, all feels very negative,” Miller says. “By writing a list, even though you can’t be certain exactly how things are going to go (and that’s the case whenever), you’ve enabled yourself to have some control over how things might go in each different setting.”
Attend antenatal classes – but get creative
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has advised pregnant women to attend antenatal care appointments during the outbreak, but some appointments may now be conducted by telephone or using videoconferencing, so you should consult your midwife about any changes to scheduled sessions.
Louise Broadbridge, an NHS midwife, points out that the Covid-19 situation has had a larger knock-on effect on group classes.
“The vast majority of couples look forward to their planned antenatal classes. These classes offer and opportunity to gain information about labour and birth as well as connect and forge strong friendships with others having a baby at the same time,” she tells HuffPost UK. “But as the coronavirus has taken hold these classes, worldwide, have been cancelled, leaving a big gap in knowledge and preparation.”
To fill those crucial gaps and provide couples with a sense of community, Broadbridge has been providing free, digital antenatal classes. The two-and-a-half hour sessions allow women and their partners to ask any questions, plus connect with other parents-to-be. You can book your class space online.
If you’re unable to attend one of Broadbridge’s classes, she advises searching for other digital sessions being held by midwives in your own area.
Create a restful birth place
You might not be giving birth where you’d imagined, but working through a “five senses checklist” will help to make any location feel more personal, says Miller.
“How you feel is a space is influenced by your senses, what you can smell, what you can see, what you can hear,” she says. “All of those factors contribute to whether or not you feel comfortable and relaxed, or whether you feel anxious or scared.”
If you’re facing the prospect of a hospital birth instead of a home birth, Miller recommends taking a blanket or throw from home, which you can place over hospital sheets to make them feel less clinical. Other packing ideas include pillow cases, battery powered tea lights, your favourite snacks, an eye mask, a room spray and a small speaker, so you can drown out the background hospital noise in your room with calming sounds.
“I tell birth partners that this is a job that they can take charge of,” says Miller. “Midwives are really supportive of people doing these things as well.”
Make a plan if you’re giving birth alone
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has reassured women that birth partners are not being banned from maternity wards. However, some women are reporting hearing different regulations from their healthcare providers and an online petition has been launched to protect women’s rights to a birthing partner.
Officially, only birthing partners showing symptoms of Covid-19 will be prevented from entering maternity wards, but Miller points out “a lot of women are still facing the very real possibility of having to give birth alone”.
“Even if your birth partner doesn’t have any symptoms, if you’re a second, third time or fourth time mum, you normally rely on somebody else to look after your children so that your partner and can be with you during labour and birth,” she says. “But because everyone’s in lockdown, you’ve now got a problem where women are having to go into birth without their partner because their partner is having to stay at home with their children.”
If you’re facing the prospect of giving birth alone, Miller says small tasks like packing your hospital bag together with your partner may help you feel less isolated. Your partner might want to add a note into your bag for you to read later, or record a series of voice messages on your phone.
Thanks to technology, you may even be able to set up a phone and video call your partner during labour and birth.
Miller also recommends downloading the Freya birth app, which costs £2.99 and is designed to guide women through birth. You press a “surge” button whenever you’re having a surge (or contraction) and Freya’s clam voice counts you through your breathing. You press the app again when the surge has finished and it helps you to keep track of your progress, helping you to know when it’s time to call a midwife. In between surges, the app plays guided meditations, or can be synched up with your Spotify to play your own music.
“Obviously it will never replace a physical birth partner, but I think it’s the next best thing,” says Miller. And she recommends “skin to skin” contact as soon as you return home to help baby and parent bond, providing your partner is well.
Embrace the solitude after birth
Some parents are making the difficult decision to isolate from one another or their other children when it’s time to bring the baby home from the hospital. Diversity star Ashley Banjo wrote about his experience of this on Instagram, revealing he and wife Francesca are taking extra precautions to ensure the rest of the family don’t get ill after she gave birth in a busy, central London hospital.
There’s no doubt this will be hard, but utilising technology will help the family to feel connected – and provide a way to introduce those eager grandparents to your latest arrival. Miller recommends taking time to appreciate the solitude, too.
“One of the biggest problems that women face outside of this coronavirus time, is that they get inundated with visitors after they’ve had their baby,” she says.
“Every midwife says you should be spending two weeks at home resting; you shouldn’t be entertaining. Once you go home with your baby you should spend one week in bed and one week on the sofa and really try to rest, but so many women don’t do that – and it can leave them very run down.”
Instead of lamenting lost time with grandparents, try to appreciate this happy moment in your cocoon, with those you live with.
“You can embrace this time without the pressure to keep the house clean and tidy and put on food and tea for people who are coming,” says Miller. “Try to find the positives in the situation.”