Finding out you're expecting a baby is normally the most exciting time for a couple. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things for mums and dads to be, with restrictions on partners attending pregnancy scans and early labour. In many parts of the UK, parent and baby groups aren't currently running.
According to new research by NHS-recommended support app Peanut, around three-quarters of pregnant women say they feel extremely alone and unsupported in pregnancy due to face-to-face resources such as NCT classes being cancelled.
To help, Peanut has launched a new app feature called Bump Buddies, which is enabling mums-to-be to connect and build friendships with women who have the same due date, as well as share advice.
HELLO! spoke to first-time mum, Kate Taylor, 25 from Coventry who shares three-month-old daughter Sofia with her fiancé Rob, about her personal experience of pregnancy and birth during the pandemic…
Kate and Rob when they were expecting baby Sofia
"I found out I was pregnant in late November 2019 and both my partner Rob and I were over the moon. We were looking forward to sharing the experience with family and friends and being able to go and visit them and take little trips away just Rob and I – but that didn't happen.
Fortunately, I had managed to get a private scan before places shut down, which Rob came to – we paid for it privately – so it was amazing that he found out the sex of the baby with me. We were expecting a baby girl.
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First-time mum Kate with her fiance Rob
Pregnancy in lockdown…
I was still working up until the point where the pandemic hit, but because I was pregnant, I was one of the first people to be furloughed. I wasn't used to sitting around at home. I was bored, but on the plus side, it gave me time to get things ready for Sofia's arrival.
My 20-week scan was in May. It was lovely to see my baby, but it's my fiancé's baby as well and I had to do it without him. It was such a shame we'd missed out on such a big milestone.
He was waiting outside the hospital. It was so hard for him when I came out with the pictures and he was like 'I wish I could have seen it'. He'd sent some many messages saying: 'Is everything ok? Are there any problems?'
It's hard on us as mothers but it's so much harder on the partners because they're helpless. We get upset and they can't do anything.
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I didn't do any ante-natal classes. I was given a leaflet for some online classes but they said they'd finished doing them, so I literally had nothing. The most research I did was watching One Born Every Minute!
As a first time mother, you think, what do I expect? My midwife suggested I researched online for information. It's one thing reading about it and it's another thing going to speak to somebody. I wanted to know how I could prepare and what labour was like. What were the different birth options? The different types of pain relief?
I asked my mum for advice but things have changed a lot since she had me. My fiancé was incredible, bless him. He said, 'Things are going to be fine, you'll be ok.' He was my rock through the whole of the furlough because I was so lonely.
I felt nervous more than anything. The thought of the unknown – I'm about to have a baby and there's a pandemic going on. What if I give birth and she gets ill? You don't want anyone who could potentially have COVID to go near her; you want to shelter them as much as you can.
Kate was blooming in her pregnancy but found it a lonely time
Early labour alone…
I remember I said to Rob I hadn't felt her move that day, which was unusual for her. I felt something wasn't quite right so I rang the labour ward and they told me to come in.
I went in at 11am, but Rob couldn't come with me. They monitored my baby's heartbeat and said I needed to prepare for possibly being induced that day. I thought, 'Oh my god, I'm not prepared, I haven't got my hospital bag'. I started panicking, I wasn't ready to give birth.
I was then moved to the maternity ward and induced with a pessary. I was 39 weeks with reduced movements so it was on the safer side to give birth in case of any complications – she'd be better cared for outside of the womb.
I started panicking about going into labour, saying to Rob on the phone, 'I can't do it, I can't do it' and obviously, he can't do anything because he's at home! It was so horrible for him to hear me crying and being so scared because you've got no one there. I was in a ward with two other ladies and I think they'd been there a while as they had pictures up on the wall.
I thought, I just have to grit my teeth and do this. When they induced me I went into hypertension, so I started having too many contractions but wasn't dilating – I was in excruciating pain. I was sobbing on the phone to Rob. All they could give me at that time was paracetamol.
I asked him if he could bring me my hospital bag and I told the people on the ward I'd have to go downstairs and get it. They said, 'Ok then'. So there's me, 39 weeks pregnant – and I was massive at this point – waddling down to the hospital doors. Poor Rob, he was in the car outside.
As you can imagine, as a man, to see your partner waddling towards you, tears streaming down their face saying 'Please don't leave, don't go'… He said: 'I can't come in, they won't let me'. He felt awful.
I was heartbroken going back in there without him. The hardest point is labour and you need your partner there for support. A lot of women including myself weren't able to have that until you're in fully-fledged labour, which is defined as more than 5cms dilated. Because I was in hypertension, I was only 2cm.
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They told me they were moving me to the labour ward. I'd had the contractions all afternoon in the hospital by myself. I was on the phone to my mum, my sister, Rob and crying from the pain. They said I could ring Rob to come. This is what I'd been waiting for.
There was some confusion though as the lady in the labour ward said they weren't ready for me yet – I'd have to go back upstairs! I said, 'But I've told my partner and he's coming here – does he have to go home?' They said yeah, he won't be allowed in. I burst into tears and said, 'No, I need him here'. I was about to call him again but they told me I could stay there and have my partner there. I was like, thank god!
Rob arrived and I literally just leapt onto him as much as a pregnant woman can! I was in tears and he was hugging me. I've never been hugged so tightly and felt so happy to see him. It had been such a long day. I was in pain, I was tired, emotional. I needed him there for support and I'd finally got him here.
They broke my waters and gave me gas and air and some pethidine. The delivery was fine – I kept hallucinating through the whole thing. I was so exhausted I actually fell asleep between contractions!
New dad Rob with his daughter Sofia
I gave birth at 4.11am. It was incredible meeting Sofia. The moment she was placed on my chest and it was done, everything else just melted away. It was just me, her and Rob and that was it. I'll never forget the moment.
Adorable Sofia as a newborn
Luckily after the birth I was moved down to a private room and Rob was able to stay with me until I was discharged about 12pm. Being able to go home with both of them was the best thing.
Back at home, Rob took three days off initially then had staggered paternity leave. We had my mum and sister come round to meet Sofia when she was three days old and they all wore masks. At that point, in July, it seemed like COVID was dropping. After that, my mum came and helped me in the half term.
I remember there were some things, like how Sofia's umbilical cord was healing, I didn't know if it looked normal. I had to look to Rob and my mum for reassurance. A health visitor came to my house twice after her birth.
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Mum, dad and baby happy at home
Finding a support network…
I haven't found any mum and baby classes that are going in my area right now, so I've been making the best of what I have. Every day Rob has off, we always go out together with Sofia, go for a walk. He knows how lonely I get. On a bad day, I'll call Rob at work. He does everything he can to support me and cheer me up and that does help.
I was upset my pregnancy wasn't what I expected. It was incredible, but I didn't get to experience what pregnant women and new mums do. My family tried to make everything as normal as possible which was so lovely. The antenatal groups would have been vital for me knowing what to do and a support network. I'd have loved to take Sofia swimming but everything's closed.
Little Sofia looking cute in her buggy
I was looking around for people in the same situation as me and that's when I came across Peanut. The Bump Buddies feature is amazing – it's a group for new mums and current mums and it's like a community. You can ask any question. You can search for things, like if your baby has problems with nappy rash, people will suggest creams.
I've spoken to quite a few new mums – just to know I have someone to talk to in the same situation as me is just amazing. You can build friendships with people.
On the current hospital rules…
I think that, because your partner is in your support bubble, the whole idea that they shouldn't be able to be there at the start of the labour process should be scrapped. Women should have that support there, whether it be their partner or birthing partner. It makes it so much harder knowing you're on your own.
The whole idea of a birthing partner is having someone there to calm you down, telling you everything is going to be ok – in person, not just over the phone. I feel so bad for other mothers who have had to do the same thing.
Partners should be able to stay with women at scans, through the labour process and stay with them after birth until they go home. Women need to have that feeling of safety there during birth – a lot of people have a fear of hospitals.
It's so important for your wellbeing to have someone there to hold your hand and say, 'You're doing great, you've got this'. It's also unfair for the people on the other end of the phone who can't be there.
Mum and daughter at home together
The new lockdown…
I think the new lockdown announcement is extremely scary, if I’m honest - you just don’t know when it’s going to end. It’s especially worrying for pregnant women and us new mums - we’re going to have to keep away from family and friends again, and we'll lose our vital support network. I'm thankful we have Peanut and FaceTime which will be a godsend, but in-person interaction can’t be substituted or replaced.
With everyone panic-buying I’m extremely worried there won’t be any baby formula left - it may sound silly but it's added anxiety on top of everything else. I'm trying to think positively, though, and enjoy my time with Sofia. If my fiancé is furloughed again, he will at least be at home for support, but I can’t help being incredibly worried about the future and how this will affect us all."
To download and sign-up to the Peanut app for free visit: peanut-app.io/