Becca and Rich’s story of becoming parents in a pandemic

When Becca was 36 weeks pregnant, Covid-19 restrictions came into place. Her husband Rich had underlining health conditions and as a result was unable to attend his daughter, Elodie’s, birth. The couple share their story of how they supported one another through the experience and continue to focus on their mental health and wellbeing.

Covid-19 restrictions at 36 weeks pregnant 

I was 36 weeks pregnant when Covid-19 restrictions were put in place. My husband, Rich, who has an underlining health condition, was classed as high risk if were to contract the virus. This meant he was unable to attend my final scan. With the support and advice of NHS professionals, we made the decision for Rich not to attend the birth. There was so much uncertainty over the forever changing guidance, and we didn’t think it was worth taking the risk of him contracting it.  

I didn’t have the easiest of pregnancies, I suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum which resulted in hospital admissions for fluids and iron infusions. I felt lonely and I became preoccupied about dying during childbirth. I had other anxieties about having another c-section, after experiencing complications during my previous birth. These anxieties started to consume my thoughts, I had a panic attack and was experiencing clinical symptoms of anxiety. 

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Rich felt guilty and helpless that he couldn’t ease my anxieties about the birth. This is when we realised that I needed to start talking and seeking support.

As a psychiatric nurse, at times you feel you should be superhuman and immune to experiencing mental health difficulties. Always the supporter, rather the person who needs the support. I decided to connect online with fellow mums-to-be, connecting via social media gave a sense of togetherness. I downloaded the calm app, used mindfulness and breathing techniques to work through it. I started to structure my day and keep myself distracted with my children. I got to a place where my anxiety levels were manageable. 

The staff used my phone to FaceTime Rich 

We had made the decision not to tell our family and friends when my c-section had been arranged for. At the time we didn’t want anyone to worry. Rich’s Dad had Covid-19 and his symptoms were worsening. The negative media coverage was unsettling and constant changing of guidelines. 

The morning of my c-section, Rich felt helpless. He was concerned about my anxiety levels and had his own worries about myself or Elodie contracting the virus. I knew that the birth was important to him and that my two young sons would occupy most of his attention when I went into hospital. So I felt it was important he had someone to talk to during the day. I contacted two of our friends and asked them to ring him throughout the morning, just to check in. 

The birth couldn’t have been more different to I had imagined. The environment and the staff wearing full PPE initially felt very intimidating, but the maternity staff were able to put me at ease. They were so attentive, caring and informative. Each step of the way, they were reassuring and put my anxieties about complications at ease. When I was in theatre, the staff used my phone to FaceTime Rich. Rich tells me that he felt overwhelmed with emotion but grateful he was able to talk to me and the health professionals. He said this provided him with emotional support and making him feel somewhat present during the experience. 

Becca on facetime to Rich after Elodie's birth

Bringing Elodie home and managing our mental health and wellbeing 

The day I came home with Elodie was filled with a mix of emotions and it wasn’t easy. Rich felt relieved that we were home and cherished the moment he met his daughter. However, Rich’s Dad had deteriorated and was being admitted to ICU. Rich felt he had lost his dad, we were missing our friends and family and their physical support, we struggled with sleep deprivation and felt guilty that our sons didn’t have our full attention. 

It was important for us to continuously check in on each other’s emotional wellbeing during this time. Rich used his faith and family to share his internal struggles. We used a holistic approach to manage the stress and anxiety of the pandemic. We stayed socially connected with friends and family and structured the children’s day for learning, physical activity and free time.

We incorporated mindfulness into our day to day structure. Rich found it helpful sometimes to go outside and spend some time focusing on what he was grateful. Lockdown was a unique time for our family to spend quality time together, we wanted it to be as stress free as possible. 

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Rich and I are a team. We took it day by day and felt incredibly grateful to be safe and have each other. It was been a bittersweet time.

Rich has always been very much the modern-day dad. When we are both working, our parenting has been 50/50. But under usual circumstances Rich would have returned to work after two weeks paternity leave. Conditions of lockdown can initially seem a bleak prospect for new parents, but Rich got to spend quality time with his daughter, which enabled them to strengthen their connection. We think it’s important to share our experience of Covid-19 perinatal mental health, in the hope it can put someone at ease, and bring some comfort.