Olivia with Jude after a birth experience she has described as ‘stressful and convoluted’
Four weeks ago, when I was just over 38 weeks pregnant, I went to my local hospital In Kingston-Upon-Thames, West London, and asked for a scan because I was concerned that the lack of amniotic fluid around my baby was putting him at risk of infection. In the most serious cases low amniotic fluid can cause a baby to be stillborn. Having tested positive for coronavirus only two weeks before and the fact I am a much older mum at the age of 48, I was understandably anxious about having a safe delivery. I had discussed having an induction with my consultant, although no date had been agreed.
The hospital, however, was too busy to scan me so I was sent to a nearby hospital instead. The sonographer there was busy and stressed and asked why I had come.
The scan still showed very low levels of amniotic fluid and that the baby hadn’t grown in nearly two weeks. Poor growth in the womb is another sign of low levels of amniotic fluid. A 37-week scan had predicted a birth weight of 9lbs but the baby was only now measuring around 7lbs.
I was immediately sent back to Kingston where I discussed induction with a doctor.
My due date was Friday, January 29, but it was decided to bring it forward by a week. Feeling incredibly apprehensive, I was booked in for my induction at 11am on Friday, January 22.
On the actual day, my partner Perry dropped me at the hospital before dashing home to help my other two daughters, who are 14 and 11, with their home schooling.
This meant I had no one at my side and the antenatal ward was so busy I had to share a room with another mum-to-be, who was also being induced.
Olivia was unable to see a sonographer who were too stressed
It was not ideal. My baby’s heartbeat was observed and after I was examined by a midwife, I was told that they might not need to induce me after all, as nature was taking its course.
The next step was to wait until a delivery suite became available. Feeling vulnerable and lonely, I went up to the main desk manned by the midwives.
But it was hard to get anyone’s proper attention as they were distracted going from one room to the next trying to look after other anxious mums.
Finally, I managed to find a midwife and asked if I could see a doctor.
By now it was 4pm on Friday afternoon but still no one came to see me. In the evening I was finally seen after waiting in the induction room for nearly 12 hours, and the mother in the bed next to me starting to go into the early stages of labour.
The doctor told me that they were exceptionally busy but I was told I would be taken to the labour ward imminently.
A midwife then came to monitor the baby’s heartbeat again at around 11pm and I was assured I would be woken at around 3am when a delivery suite became available. All the while, visions of something happening to my unborn baby kept flashing through my mind. It was terrifying.
However, nothing happened all night and at 5am I woke up feeling extremely anxious only to be told by a midwife that an emergency delivery had happened overnight, delaying my progress.
I considered myself an emergency and no longer wanted to wait in line.
Olivia tested positive for Covid-19 at 36 weeks
I emailed my consultant from my bed. She didn’t reply but within an hour a midwife came in and said there was a delivery suite available. Was this coincidence or had my consultant, who was on duty that day, said something?
By now it was 11am on Saturday morning and I had already been in hospital for 24 hours with no signs of labour starting.
Feeling tired and weary, my partner was at least by my side and allowed to be with me for the labour. My lovely midwife told me there was no need to put me on an Oxytocin drip to start the labour and a doctor would come in and break my waters. I waited and waited but no one came in the next couple of hours.
A doctor finally arrived and attempted to break my waters but my contractions didn’t start. I was left for another two hours before a different doctor came in and tried to break my waters. It didn’t work and an hour later, she came back for another attempt, which proved to be successful.
My contractions then started and became intense very quickly. Having had very little sleep, and not coping well with just the gas and air for the pain, I decided to opt for an epidural.
But no sooner had an anaesthetist arrived to administer it, than she was called away again. Apparently, there was an emergency and an unprecedented number of Caesarean operations that night with two theatres open.
By now, I was in fully established labour and for the next two hours various midwives and staff came and went.
Olivia was nervous about having a safe delivery after testing positive
Close to midnight on Saturday evening, a senior doctor came in who seemed impatient that I hadn’t given birth. She started talking about how she would need to intervene by performing an episiotomy and using forceps to get the baby out.
Having had Covid, I worried my breathing was a little shallow and I didn’t have the strength to have a natural delivery, but deep down I knew this was my best option given how stretched the staff seemed.
My midwife was very encouraging and insisted I’d be able to do it on my own. After concentrating all my efforts to push for another hour or so, baby Jude made his arrival into the world at 1am on Sunday, January 24. I felt so relieved that I had avoided a forceps delivery and a C-section.
But relief soon turned to panic as he was having difficulty breathing on his own and needed respiratory support.
The midwife insisted Olivia would be able to have a natural birth
Before I knew it, he was being whisked off to the neonatal intensive care ward where he was diagnosed with “wet lungs” – a respiratory disorder in a new-born caused by extra amniotic fluid in the lungs.
The waiting started again, this time more than five hours with only one visit from a senior paediatrician who said that we could not see our son.
Although I was desperate to go and see him, the fact that I hadn’t been Covid-free for 28 days meant I couldn’t go into the neonatal ward because there were so many vulnerable babies in there.
He told us they would need to do a chest X-ray to view the baby’s lungs for fluid and he would prescribe antibiotics in case of any potential infection.
Meanwhile, we had been left on the labour ward where we had to wait another couple of hours for a midwife to check my blood pressure and oxygen levels because she had been called away to help with another delivery. It was clear just how stretched the staff were.
Finally, seven hours after the birth we were reunited with our son and I was transferred to a transitional ward for babies who have some kind of illness or heart defect.
Chatting to the midwives, many were clearly exhausted having to work longer hours, covering extra shifts around the clock, and spending more time on call to compensate for increasing numbers of staff taking time off work after getting coronavirus.
Indeed, a recent survey undertaken by the Royal College of Midwives showed that they are often unable to find the time to even go to the toilet on long, demanding shifts and are working unpaid overtime.
I had to stay in a further two nights so midwives could monitor my baby and, despite the chaotic scenes that I experienced there is no doubting they are remarkable women and do not get the credit they deserve.
Midwives protest for better working conditions
Next month, it will be a year since the UK went into lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak. And while the medics on the frontline worked tirelessly to protect the nation, maternity teams up and down the country have played an equally important role.
The harsh reality is that if you are a pregnant woman right now and you are about to go into hospital to have your baby, everything is an unknown and everything is a worry.
I feel so fortunate that my son is here safe and well in this brave new world, but if I hadn’t been so persistent then I believe things could have worked out very differently.
Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are proud of the outstanding care we provide here at Kingston Hospital.
“It is sometimes necessary to prioritise the needs of our patients, if urgent cases come into the Maternity Unit, but the safety of all mothers and their babies is the absolute priority of our maternity team. We are delighted to hear about the safe arrival of this baby and wish the family all the best.”
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