Born in exceptional times – what’s it like being pregnant during the coronavirus outbreak?
Pregnancy is always a nervous time for expectant mothers. But even more so now, with the coronavirus pandemic bringing new restrictions on everyday life and hospitals.
Tiina, 37, was just about to go on maternity leave as the coronavirus pandemic hit Finland. She’d been pregnant with her second child without any problems until March, and the family was excitedly looking forward to its newest addition. However, the virus brought some concern and uncertainty to the wait.
“I couldn’t find any reliable information on how the disease affects pregnant women and children. It was difficult to know how strictly you should isolate yourself from other people and how much you should fear getting infected.”
Tiina didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks and decided to work from home for the last week before her maternity leave. The following week, the Finnish government ordered schools and kindergartens to close and office workers to work from home. Tiina’s plans for a relaxing maternity leave, with lots of time to rest and prepare for the baby’s arrival, quickly changed to busy weeks with her two-year-old firstborn.
Can you get the coronavirus from a maternity clinic?
In both the clinic and health centre, everything was taken care of just as it should be.
After the start of her maternity leave, Tiina still had a few more visits to the maternity clinic and doctor ahead of her. Uncertainty about health care practices and the spread of the epidemic were worrying her. Would it be safe to go to the health centre? What if there were coronavirus patients there, too? Could the visit pose a risk to her and her baby’s health?
The maternity clinic assured her that the virus was being taken into account in all practices and that it was safe to come there. As she walked into the health centre, Tiina was surprised to find that there were almost no other patients in the waiting room. Before she could even get past the door, a nurse dressed in protective gear came to ask her what she’d come there for. The nursing staff took great care of hygiene, Tiina was immediately given hand sanitiser and there was plenty of room in the waiting areas. All additional visits to the health centre had been cancelled and respiratory patients had been directed elsewhere.
“There was nothing to worry about. In both the clinic and health centre, everything was taken care of just as it should be.”
The restrictions ensured that support persons don’t pose an infection risk to other pregnant women, mothers or newborns.
The restrictions were necessary, but caused some concern
As Tiina’s childbirth approached, the pandemic continued to spread in Finland and university hospitals imposed new birth restrictions. In early April, hospitals decided that the mother’s partner would no longer be allowed to attend prenatal hospital visits or visit the ward to see the baby. The restrictions ensured that support persons don’t pose an infection risk to other pregnant women, mothers or newborns. Luckily for Tiina, it was already her second childbirth, so she knew what to expect. The restrictions concerning support persons didn’t affect her much either, since her husband had to care for the older child at home anyway.
“I’m sure being alone for a long time in the labour ward or postnatal ward can be a much bigger deal for first-time mothers.”
Tiina did have some concerns about giving birth, however. In the late stages of her pregnancy, restrictions changed quickly, and different hospitals had different guidelines for mothers. She was a bit nervous about how things would go. If you weren’t allowed to visit the hospital, how could you get all your things there? Since there were no longer any family rooms, could she end up sharing a room with a stranger? What if it was a coronavirus patient who hadn’t displayed any symptoms?
The birth went so quickly that I didn’t even have the chance to worry about anything.
Tiina’s water broke and she went into rapid labour
Tiina’s pregnancy continued at home beyond the due date. Then one day she noticed that her water, or amniotic fluid, was seeping out. Amniotic fluid protects the fetus and has an important role in the baby’s development. Amniotic fluid is kept inside the uterus by the fetal membrane, which usually only tears at childbirth.
Tiina knew that it was normal for the water to break after the 37th week of pregnancy, meaning the fetus was in no acute distress. However, a torn fetal membrane creates a risk of infection in the uterus, so she immediately decided to call the Women’s Hospital’s emergency service. They told Tiina to keep an eye on the situation and call back if the water continued to seep out. When the symptoms continued the next day, Tiina was called into the emergency room.
Once there, Tiina was given an Actim PROM test, which confirmed that amniotic fluid was seeping out of her womb. The purpose of the test is to quickly confirm the correct diagnosis so that the doctor can decide on the correct treatment. Everything happened quickly after that. The doctor decided to start the delivery, and Tiina was transferred to the delivery ward, where the fetal membrane was punctured. The birth took just a few hours.
“The birth went by so quickly that I didn’t even have the chance to worry about anything.”
Tiina’s husband got to participate in the birth and they were allowed to spend a few hours together with the baby in the delivery room. Their concerns about practical arrangements proved to be unfounded. All the mothers had their own rooms, and safe distances and hygiene were maintained well.
“I was able to trust that everything would go as it should. I think it’s good that visits to hospitals are restricted, so that you can focus on giving birth in peace and have no additional risks of infection. Of course, I get that it’s difficult for many mothers to not have a support person by their side throughout the process.”
Exceptional times let you focus on your baby
After the birth, Tiina’s newborn had to be monitored for infection due to the water breaking early. Tiina and the baby were moved to the Family Nest Hotel in Helsinki for a day, where the whole family is usually welcome. Now, it was just for mothers and babies. Nurses are on duty day and night to monitor the babies’ health.
“I could focus on my baby there in peace and in good conscience, and I didn’t have to tend to guests or be social. Although, it was a bit sad that I could only show the baby to its grandparents and our firstborn by video call.”
Tiina is now carrying on with her daily life at home with her baby. Her husband was initially on paternity leave for a few weeks and is now working from home. Their firstborn is enthusiastically taking care of the newborn and has gone back to kindergarten before the summer.
“We’re doing really great. We’re at home with the baby, and the summer holidays are about to start. We’re learning and getting used to living as a family of four.”
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