It’s approaching a year now since my daughter was born, but the memory of her early arrival and six weeks in hospital remains painfully fresh and raw.
I have not been able to shake the suspicion that she was born early because of Covid-19. Now, new research published by The Independent linking 600 cases of premature births to Covid infection in mothers supports my suspicion.
Until last December, my pregnancy had been textbook: nausea in the first trimester followed by a surge of energy in the second. I felt great as we approached Christmas. I was taking extra precautions to avoid getting Covid, but like many in the UK my ability to isolate was limited. I had to work and therefore my son had to go to nursery.
I didn’t stress about it. At the time, pregnant women had been told that the risk from Covid infection was not big. The main issue, I was told, was if I got seriously unwell and needed to be ventilated – something deemed unlikely given my age and low BMI.
Then came the email from nursery. My son’s primary carer had tested positive for Covid and we all needed to isolate. We fell like dominoes. First my son, then my husband, finally me; each one of us more unwell than the last.
I burned a fever on and off for two weeks, though my lungs seemed relatively unaffected. As for my bump: within days of being symptomatic my baby’s movements changed distinctly. Before I became unwell, she moved frequently. Soon, her regular somersaults gave way to hours of no obvious movement.
I was delirious with fever and exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep. Instead, I found myself in a constant cycle of eating sugary food and drinking cold water, lying still, pacing around, all in the vain hope of getting a kick.
Then my bump stopped growing and – in a final act of what felt like cruelty – started to shrink. I was immediately referred for a scan, which revealed that my placenta was no longer working.
Pumped full of steroids to help her lungs, and magnesium to protect her brain, my daughter was born under emergency C-section at the end of January. She was nine weeks early and weighed just one kilogram. I barely saw her in the rush to get her to the neonatal ward, and didn’t get to hold her properly for days.
It was later revealed that my placenta was full of clots. The doctors asked me if I had a history of clots in my family. No. Did I have any other forms of blood disease in my family? No. What about TB? No.
I said I had read that Covid had been known to make blood sticky and cause clots, and that I had also read of other women with Covid whose pregnancies had ended early due to placental issues. Could there be a link? Maybe, they replied.
Today, thanks to studies like the one just published in The Independent, this information coming to light is a relief, on some level. Maybe some pregnant women who can effectively shield will do so. Maybe the issues surrounding low levels of vaccine uptake in pregnant women will be addressed.
At the same time, it’s upsetting to receive this information after the event. My daughter’s start to life was one of monitors and brain scans; of needles and blood transfusions. Of endless uncertainty, fear and tears. Even today, months on, doctors’ appointments feature prominently in her diary.
Yet we are the lucky ones. In the intensive care unit back in January, a man stood vigil by his baby’s incubator. The child’s mother was downstairs in a coma due to Covid and the baby had been born at just 25 weeks – without its mother even being awake. The nurses discussed with him if he should tell her. Would she hear? And if she did, would knowing her baby was out make her happy, sad or distressed?
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Outside that room, the neonatal ward was dotted with isolation incubators; ready and waiting for babies who actively test positive for Covid-19 at the point of birth. A standard incubator is isolating enough, let alone one in the middle of a pandemic.
This is just what you see. The news is now full of stories of those who don’t make it to the ward, the babies who die before they take their first breath and the mothers who pass away before holding their child.
I know I am “lucky”, but I still felt sick when I read about it. Could I have done more to protect myself and my baby? Given what I was told about the virus last year, I don’t think I I would have acted any differently.
Armed with this new knowledge? I definitely would.
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