Claire and Keely had their little boy Rowan 26 weeks into Keely’s pregnancy. He was born just before lockdown started. To say their journey was tough is an understatement. The couple who are based in Manchester, were a few days into a break in Scotland when Keely started to feel unwell. When they headed to The Princess Royal Maternity Hospital in Glasgow, to get Keely checked out they didn’t quite expect things to go the way they did.
Straight away Keely was told there was no fluid around her baby and she was admitted to the labour ward. Obviously, a massive shock for the couple, they were terrified. They were told it was only matter of time before their baby had to be born. Keely remained on the labour ward. Claire was staying at the hospital with her 3 nights later when she started to feel unwell. The following morning she made a trip to see an emergency Dr and straight away was diagnosed with mumps. By this time the team caring for Keely had decided it was safer for their baby to be born and they had started to induce her. Claire was told she had to leave the hospital and would not be able to stay for the birth of their baby. This was extremely traumatic for Claire and Keely, they were devastated. Claire left the hospital with absolutely no idea what she should do. She then got a call from infection control to say she could return to the hospital for the birth. But she had to wear PPE and would not be able to stand anywhere near Keely or see the baby. She would have to leave straight after the birth.
Rowan was delivered after a short labour weighing 900g. Keely was able to have skin-to-skin with him before he was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Claire had to leave and isolate for 7 days. Leaving Keely recovering from the birth and the two of them stressed and anxious about their little boy. Claire stayed in the hotel for 2 days and then had to drive back to Manchester for 5 days, away from Keely and Rowan. It was heartbreaking.
After her 7 days Claire was allowed back into the hospital and drove back to Scotland to be with Keely and Rowan. By this point a global pandemic had been declared and Claire and Keely were noticing significant changes to hospital policy. The shops and restaurants around the hospital had started to close and there were changes within the hospital, it was unnerving.
They had been told that Rowan was stable enough to be transferred to Oldham, their nearest neonatal unit in Manchester. They were relieved that Rowan would be in a hospital closer to home but they were anxious about him being moved. They had got to know the staff in Glasgow and they felt safe there. They were told they had to wait for the neonatal transport team to come from Manchester to collect Rowan and take him to Oldham.
The transfer was straightforward but Claire and Keely were not able to travel with Rowan and they were anxious and emotional on the drive back to Manchester.
The day after Rowan arrived at Oldham NICU new restrictions were put in place in response to COVID-19. It meant that no visitors were allowed in the hospital. It also meant that only one parent could be present with their baby on the neonatal units.
This was another blow for Claire and Keely and it had a huge impact on them. They had been able to support each other on NICU and spend time together caring for Rowan. This was taken away and they had to split their day. One of them would go to NICU in the morning and spend time with Rowan. The other would come home and they would swap. They saw little of each other and it was stressful.They found it particularly hard to relay medical information to each other. They would be separately given information by the Dr that they found hard to explain to the other, it became confusing and they were frustrated.
It was isolating being on NICU alone. There was no parent sitting room so very few opportunities to chat to other parents. The usual support networks parents are able to build with their peers on NICU were discouraged to ensure social distancing.
Rowan was doing great but he suddenly became really unwell. The Drs made the decision to put him on the ventilator. This was hugely traumatic for Claire and Keely. Claire was on the unit with Rowan when the decision was made and she was scared. Keely was at home anxiously waiting for news of Rowan. Claire and Keely needed each other and they both needed to be with their very sick little boy. It was a really low point for them and it had a massive impact on their levels of stress and anxiety. Rowas was very sick and they describe this as the worst time. Quite often receiving bad news from the Dr about Rowan’s condition. This was the time they really needed to be able to be together on the unit, they needed to be able to support each other to process what was going on.
Rowan started to improve and Claire and Keely started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He started to hit more of his milestones. His first time in clothes, the first time in a cot, his first bath. They are all huge amazing milestones. But it is very bittersweet when parents have to experience them separately.
Rowan grew stronger and finally the day came when they could take him and start their life as a family of 3. Rowan is now very happy to be home now with his two mummies. He is on home oxygen but is doing really well and getting bigger by the day. Lockdown had a huge impact on their NICU journey. Intensifying what is already a stressful experience. Keely and Claire are hopeful that going forward things may get easier for parents who become parents during the COVID-19 crisis.