UNICEF estimates that over 116 million births are expected in the 9 months since the COVID-19 pandemic was recognised. Mothers-to-be in the US have been warned to expect some “harsh realities” including:
- Lockdowns and strict curfews
- Overwhelmed hospitals and health centres
- Supply and equipment shortages
- A lack of skilled birth attendants as health workers and midwives are redeployed to treat COVID- patients.
But has this been the case in South Africa?
“While I can’t speak for public hospitals or private maternity clinics, my experience at a private hospital in Johannesburg wasn’t nearly as stressful as I thought it would be,” says entrepreneur and mom of four, Danielle Strehler, who recently gave birth to her fourth son via a scheduled C-section.
Although Danielle endured a complicated pregnancy which caused her to go into pre-term labour four weeks before her due date, she still had a somewhat positive pregnancy and birth experience, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, moms-to-be are still navigating uncharted waters with their families and healthcare providers at this time, which can cause a lot of stress and anxiety.
Danielle spoke to us about her biggest COVID-19 fears leading up to D-day, as well as how she found the birth experience itself and hospital stay, compared to her other two pregnancies. (She also has a 5-year-old son, and 3-year-old twin boys).
My hospital experience
“My hospital stay began a lot earlier than expected as I went into pre-term labour at 34 weeks and had to stay in hospital for 12 days so that the doctors could try and stop my contractions and make sure my son and I were safe. This happened as we moved to level 4 lockdown in SA, which meant I spent most of the time in hospital alone. My husband wasn’t allowed to stay and could only drop off essentials every few days. I also couldn’t have any visitors, which wasn’t easy as I felt I really needed my mom. However, I managed to catch up on some much-needed rest in hospital, which was great.
At 36 weeks, I had to go back to hospital as my contractions had started again, but luckily, I could go home within five days. I ended up giving birth on my expected due date at 38 weeks.
Even though I felt somewhat isolated from my other three sons, my husband and my family, my overall experience in hospital before, during and after giving birth was positive. I was told that the maternity section had reduced their staff numbers, and that the hospital itself was only operating at 30% capacity as all non-essential procedures had been put on hold. However, I noticed no difference in terms of the care and support I received. I had excellent nurses and a very hands-on obstetrician who made sure to check in on me daily.
I had to have a COVID-19 test when I was first admitted to hospital at 34 weeks, then again 48 hours before my scheduled C-section. I got my results just before going into theatre to have my son. Had the results been positive, I might have had a scarier experience, but thankfully my results came back negative and we could proceed as normal.
Meeting my son…
On the morning of my C-section, my husband Nic could come with me to the hospital and stay for the whole day, which was wonderful. I believe that both public and private hospitals have their own curfews and lockdown procedures in place, and some don’t allow partners/husbands to stay for more than an hour post-birth. So, I was grateful to have my husband stay for the whole day, which gave us uninterrupted time to bond as a family.
The C-section went smoothly and before I knew it, I was holding my little boy. All the doctors were wearing masks (as normal), and my husband and I had to as well, except we could take them off for the family photo shortly after birth. We followed normal hygiene procedures once we were back in the room and continued to do so for the duration of my stay.
I was a little sad that no immediate family members (including my three older sons) were allowed to visit or meet my new baby, but at the same time, it allowed me the quiet time to rest and recuperate before going home.
My fears on COVID-19
As I went into preterm labour 4 weeks before my due date and was in and out of hospital more than once, I was a little concerned that I would be exposed to the coronavirus, which would, of course complicate things even more. I didn’t want to put my unborn baby at any risk of contracting the virus as there was already a chance he’d be born premature and have immature lungs, which would present breathing problems.
Throughout my pregnancy, we avoided going out as much as possible and asked our nanny to live in for the duration of the lockdown. We were all strict about washing hands, using sanitiser, and disinfecting our groceries before packing them away.
Although I experienced some anxiety and had more than a few sleepless nights, I was confident that we were doing all we could to stay safe and avoid contracting the virus, and so, I tried to stay calm and let my fears go.
It turns out I picked up a lung infection shortly after giving birth, and experienced shortness of breath, headaches and abdominal pain, but that was due to the lung infection and a fatty liver caused by pregnancy, and had nothing to do with the coronavirus.
Now that my son is a few weeks old and I’m finally feeling better, I can reflect on my birth experience and marvel at the fact that I had my son safely amid a global pandemic and we made it,” says Danielle.
Danielle’s advice to expectant moms giving birth soon:
- If you need to have a COVID-19 test, ask for a throat swab rather than a nasal swab as it’s a lot less painful and invasive. (With the nasal swab, it feels as though you’re having your sinus cavity scraped, which is really uncomfortable).
- Know that your husband/partner will only see you on the day of the birth and then again when he fetches you. Some hospitals do allow partners to stay for the full time, but they have to stay put, and that’s not always possible with other children.
- Pack plenty of snacks and juices to take with you. When I had my son, the restaurant and kiosks were closed, so I couldn’t order anything or grab some snacks. Although many kiosks are open now, it’s a good idea to bring your own snacks from home, too.
- Before arriving at the hospital, pack your hospital bag smartly so that you know where things are. This is really helpful if you’ve had a spinal block or epidural and can’t move much. The nurses will be able to get you what you need if you know where everything is.
- Have zero expectations with visitor -, they simply can’t visit in this time. Use Face Time or WhatsApp video calls to introduce your new baby to family and friends.
- Pack extra masks with you in case you need to keep them on throughout the duration of your hospital stay.
- There’s a chance you may go home a day earlier. I was allowed to because the hospital staff didn’t want to run the risk of me or my son contracting the virus. Once you’re home, be diligent with self-care and pain medication to avoid any complications.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .