ITU nurse Janey Burr woke up on the due date for her third baby with COVID-19 symptoms. She recounts her journey of giving birth on the day Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown – one year on.
17 March 2020 was my due date for baby number three.
As both pregnancies with my boys had gone long overdue, I had been doing everything possible to get this baby moving.
But instead of waking up with any imminent signs of labour instead, I woke in the middle of the night short of breath, sweaty and really hot. I literally woke up and just thought “s***, this is horrendous timing”.
Regardless of being a nurse, COVID-19 had been a hot topic for everyone for ages. Both my husband Pete and I were really worried. We were backwards and forwards on hold with 111 and the midwives, and as I felt worse and got increasingly short of breath I was sent to A&E.
It was really weird taking in my labour overnight bag and being dropped off by Pete and the boys but I felt so horrendous I was just glad not to be at home anymore.
Each time I was asked “when are you due?” and I said “today” I could see the nurse or doctor do a double-take.
I had COVID swabs, a chest X-ray and blood tests taken. I was diagnosed with sepsis and community-acquired pneumonia as the COVID swabs came back negative. I couldn’t believe it – as the global pandemic unfolded I had somehow managed to get pneumonia.
The nurses and doctors were brilliant and I was incredibly well looked after. But my aim then was to try and keep the baby in place to recover from pneumonia before going into labour.
Flora had other ideas though and after a few days at home, my waters broke.
Setting the tone for her first year of life she pretty calmly arrived on the morning of 23 March and I had 24 hours of more amazing hospital care with her so that we could both be kept an eye on.
Hearing Boris Johnson do his lockdown speech was really surreal and I couldn’t really process what he was saying.
Getting home with a newborn and suddenly no childcare for the boys felt like a massive “oh no”. But the sun was shining, the boys spent most of their time stripping their clothes off and grubbing around in the garden, Pete was on paternity leave and Flora was ridiculously chilled. She had non-stop slobber and affection, and non-stop entertainment.
The usual merry-go-round of family and friends meeting her was not possible and in a way, although it was sad not to have those initial early introductions, it didn’t matter.
In a non-pandemic year, Flora would have gone swimming from around 10 weeks old and been subject to millions of coffee and cake meet-ups with other mums and babies.
Instead, she’s learnt to deal with the boys tipping water all over her in the bath and having food shovelled into her mouth or snatched out of her hand depending on what we were eating.
The cycle of lockdowns and releases made some days and weeks feel like forever and yet suddenly she’s been smiling her way through a whole year of life.
As the second wave hit over Christmas, and pressure on the hospitals grew, I was aware of how fortunate I’d been over the last nine months. Chatting it through with Pete, it seemed like the right thing for me to go back to work. Pete took time off each week to look after Flora as she hadn’t started at nursery and we couldn’t call in the usual grandparent suspects.
I started back in ITU the second week of January and it was a different world.
I stayed down in London for three nights a week whilst I did long days in the unit. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before, completely and utterly exhausting and just so tragic, every single day.
I was blown away by how amazing all the ITU staff and everyone in the hospital was. Everyone did everything possible to provide the best care they could in such horrendous circumstances. And they’d been doing it for nearly a year, and they continue to do it.
As the second wave has eased things have changed for us. Flora is settled happily into nursery, the boys are in school/nursery and life is a bit more normal. I’ve started doing some vaccine shifts which is the opposite end of the spectrum to ITU, full of joy and optimism but staffed by similarly hard-working, caring, dedicated staff.
It feels like I’ve come full circle from being a patient a year ago.
Flora has started walking and continues to beam and laugh her way through life and we as a family feel so, so fortunate to be where we are now.
It is impossible not to be aware of how different this past year has been for so many people.
We all deserve a public enquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic so that lessons can be learnt for our and our children’s futures.