‘I am an NHS midwife in the coronavirus crisis. New mothers are scared – the focus has moved to Covid-19’

'After a 13-hour shift we come home exhausted, dehydrated, with a sore throat from the mask, and feeling like we haven’t done our essential work': a midwife tells Lawrence Ostlere about the realities of life on the ward during the pandemic

Tuesday 05 May 2020 10:30
Midwives face whole new challenges in the coronavirus pandemic
Midwives face whole new challenges in the coronavirus pandemic

The Independent’s ‘Dispatches from the Covid-19 frontline’ is an interview series detailing the reality behind the headlines as told by the nation’s vital key workers. This midwife, who chose not to be named, is working in the north of England. She tells Lawrence Ostlere what it’s like to work in a maternity ward right now.

Right now, during this crisis, work is strange. Weird. The things that we normally take for granted as midwives are so much harder.

One of the biggest parts of our job is building a relationship with the woman and her partner – we have to do this very quickly because we are going to be part of one of the most intimate and important experiences of their lives only a very short time after meeting them.

But doing this behind a mask has created a whole new challenge. They can’t see us smile. They can’t see our faces. It’s much more difficult to reassure them that everything they are going through is OK and normal when they can’t see our facial expressions.

Our work has become very hot and sweaty as to go within two metres of any woman we have to wear a mask, plastic apron, gloves and in many cases, goggles or plastic shield. It makes things much slower for us.

Every time we answer a buzzer (and that is a lot in each shift), we have to put on PPE. Every time we want to take medication in, we have to put on PPE. Every time we want to adjust a monitor, we have to put on PPE. It’s slow, hot and exhausting. You can feel the goggles and face mask for hours and hours after finishing work.

We also don’t know who is Covid-positive and who isn’t, as we have only begun testing all admissions this week, and results take hours. It means that we don’t know if we are going to inadvertently take it back to our families.

At the end of every shift I change my clothes before leaving work and put them in a tote bag inside a plastic bag. When I get home I take my shoes off outside the door where they won’t be touched. I put the outer plastic bags that have covered my bags in the bin so that I’m taking nothing into the house that may have touched the hospital. I then have to sneak past the children without being detected, strip off and shower before they can know that I am home.

This is after a 13-hour shift, where we may or may not have had a break, or even something to drink. We come home exhausted, dehydrated, with a sore throat from the mask, and feeling like we haven’t even done the essential parts of our work, which is to be there for women; the focus has moved from them to Covid-19.

The women on the maternity ward right now are scared. They have mostly been isolating before coming to have their baby and it has become so much more complicated for them. Who do they leave older children with? What happens if they want a homebirth? Often grandparents look after older children, but those who are over 70 are at risk, so this is removing much of the normal childcare during childbirth.

Most hospitals are only allowing one birth partner instead of two and that birth partner can only attend on labour ward, not the antenatal and postnatal wards (meaning they have to leave once the baby is born). Women are attending for induction alone and this can take days sometimes.

They then get to phone their partners to come in to be with them in labour, but some women labour very quickly and partners don’t always make it. Then only a couple of hours after birth, the partners have to leave. It’s often their baby too, but they don’t get to spend any more time with it.

Sometimes there are complications, like an emergency caesarean section or a big blood loss and sometimes this means women have to stay in hospital for a few days. Partners cannot visit the ward and this means that they cannot see their baby for a significant length of time. Partners are not allowed on the Special Care Baby Unit. Babies can be there for weeks. The implications of this are huge.

In this situation I think we will see a big rise in the rates of postnatal depression, or even puerperal psychosis, which is very scary..."

It’s a scary time for a new family. Many women rely on their mums being there in labour and then to come to their house and help them afterwards. This can’t now happen so women are at home on their own with a new baby that they don’t know what to do with.

Many community midwife appointments and health visitor appointments are now done by telephone, which can have a big impact on breastfeeding support, but also very importantly, the mental health of the new mum.

In this situation I think we will see a big rise in the rates of postnatal depression, or even puerperal psychosis, which is very scary. There are women in domestic abuse situations where they are now stuck at home with a new baby in an abusive relationship.

I fear for these women. The safeguarding implications are huge. I wouldn't want to be pregnant right now.

If you are in an abusive situation and need help you can contact the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247.

Are you a key worker happy to share your story? Get in touch by emailing Indylifestyle@assocnews.co.uk

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