Pregnancy in times of lockdown: overcoming fears and keeping on going
The lockdown has brought many difficulties and experiences to the lives of pregnant Ukrainian women
The lockdown has brought many difficulties and experiences to the lives of pregnant Ukrainian women, changing their daily routines and working practices and reducing their access to health care services.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the COVID-19 pandemic could prevent the provision of vital medical services to pregnant women and newborns, thus creating additional risks for them. According to UNICEF global estimates, about 116,000,000 children will be born around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mothers and newborns are facing harsh realities – these include global measures in response to COVID-19 in their countries, such as the lockdown and curfew, overcrowded health care facilities responding to the pandemic, shortages of supplies and lack of equipment, and the lack of sufficient skilled health care workers to support childbirth in the contexts where health care professionals – including delivery nurses – are tasked with the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Three pregnant women shared their stories of preparing for their important and exciting events during the lockdown. And although they have different pregnancies, different professions and live in different regions of Ukraine, all three have faced similar problems – difficulties getting their partners let into the delivery room, difficulties having ultrasounds done and partial restrictions of physical activity.
Yulia. Getting used to the new world
“When I got pregnant that was one world, but when I give birth it will be a completely different world. In the last three months of the lockdown, our ordinary world has changed so much. And we need to get used to it,” says Yulia from Kharkiv, who is now seven months pregnant.
Yulia is carefully following all the precautions to avoid contracting the virus: she switched to working remotely, refuses to go shopping and has minimized social contacts.
During the lockdown, Yulia used to go out with two or three sanitizers, gloves and medical masks, but she could not get used to the lack of everyday activities and constant anxiety when she attends health care facilities. “Every visit to a public hospital is an additional stress. I am frightened by the negligence of others, queues, non-observance of distance and unsanitary conditions,” said the Kharkiv woman, who is pregnant with her second child.
When comparing her previous pregnancy with the current one, Yulia notes that she is now much more anxious about access to health care than earlier.
“At the beginning of the lockdown, I was not able to take the tests I needed and have an ultrasound as planned. And now I have am afraid that the maternity clinic could close if, for example, a second spike of the epidemic starts,” said the woman who is raising an 8-year-old son.
Support from her family helps her cope with stress. “We try more often to go for walks in a park where there are fewer people. My son and husband play football or ride bicycles. And I’m there as a supported at this stage,” smiles Yulia, adding that relaxing with her husband and son lifts her spirits.
For women, the ban on partner childbirth, which is now being enforced in a number of maternity clinics in Kharkiv, was one of the main disappointments during the pandemic. “When I was giving birth to my son, my husband helped me a lot. The childbirth was very painful, I lost consciousness several times. And the only thing I heard was my husband’s voice,” Yulia recalls.
In its turn, UNICEF in Ukraine is calling on physicians to ensure the possibility of partner childbirth, which is extremely important for women. Because having a loved one present is key for the mother to feel supported.
Yulia’s husband knows that in the maternity clinics in their city, it is recommended that partners are tested for COVID-19, and he is ready to do so to be let into the delivery room. In the meantime, the family hopes that the lockdown will be eased by the time of birth.
“I would like my child to be born into a world where human life is truly valued. Where all people feel that they are needed and valued, not only by their family members, but also by the government and the society in which they live,” says Yulia who is preparing to have a little girl in her family.
Valia. The expecting mother must stay strong
Valia, a mother-to-be, walks 11,000 to 15,000 steps every day in the parks and streets of Uzhhorod, avoiding the city centre and busy places. Valia has always taken a responsible approach to exercising and her health, but now – during her lockdown pregnancy – it is more important than ever. And now, in addition to a water bottle, active Valia always carries a medical mask with her on walks.
“Due to the lockdown and self-isolation, I had to reduce my activity and training by 20-30 per cent because gyms and parks were closed. But during pregnancy, it is very important to keep going. Everyone, and especially expectant mothers, should walk at least 5,000 steps a day, and aim for 10,000 steps,” says Valia, who works as a fitness trainer.
Her daily personal exercises and the work she now does in video tutorials help Valia not only to feel good, but also to cope with the excitement of the pandemic.
“We have to stay strong. When we give birth to a new little life, we must manage it. To do this, the hands must be strong, the back must be healthy,” says Valia who due to the lockdown replaced her favourite exercises in the pool with stretching, strength training and hiking.
“You don’t have to set any records. But you need to pay attention to yourself and your future baby. Give yourself at least five minutes a day to breathe, and spend at least an hour outdoors,” says Valia.
At the beginning of pregnancy, Valia and her husband planned for the baby to be born in Kyiv and that it would be a partner birth. But due to the pandemic, the maternity clinic and the city had to be changed.
“I could get higher quality medical services in Kyiv, but the long road during the lockdown makes me scared. So, I decided to give birth in my home city, in Uzhgorod. It turns out there is only one maternity clinic in my city. So I have no choice,” she says.
Many maternity clinics in Ukraine are restricting partner births due to the pandemic, and doctors have not yet given Valia a clear answer about whether her husband will be able to support her during the delivery.
And although Valia has a birth plan and is in contact with her doctor, she is trying not to look too far ahead and guess how this important event will go for her.
“Pregnancy is a time when every woman wants to relax a little, get a good level of health care and respect. I can’t say that I can count on it now. And for sure, the lockdown adds stress. In those three months, all my plans fell through, so I stopped building them,” she says.
Because of the pandemic, Valia waited a long time before she was able to get her first ultrasound at the clinic.
In the meantime, she hopes that the lockdown restrictions will end soon, and the period of self-isolation will teach people to be kind to each other.
“I would like the pandemic to teach people to give each other opportunities to breathe, both literally and figuratively, to respect other people’s personal space,” highlights Valia, who is now five months pregnant. “Our world is shaped by people, and I would like my child to be born in a world of good and responsible people.”
Anastasia. Overcoming fear of the unknown
Anastasia from Kyiv has been keeping transparent bags at home for several weeks. She keeps the things for her future child there. The bags are waiting for the exciting day when Nastia and her husband will go to the maternity clinic.
“I was lucky that back in March, before the lockdown, I managed to choose a maternity clinic. And I am lucky that there are paid-for rooms there, where I can take my husband for a partnership birth. Because in the general rooms, because of the pandemic, the husbands can’t even visit women in labour,” says Nastia, who is now nine months pregnant.
The lockdown restrictions also affected Nastia and her husband when receiving health care services. Nastia had to go to an important ultrasound alone. “Husbands could not go to the hospital. It was very nice to watch the future fathers, crowding at the door of the clinic and looking very anxiously every time the door opens,” she recalls.
Nastia is upset that because of the pandemic she was unable to visit her grandmother, who lives in another region of Ukraine.
“The lockdown has put paid to many of my plans. For example, I dreamed of going to the Carpathians for three or four days for the May holidays and of just having long walks so that I wouldn’t miss the spring,” says Nastia. During the period of self-isolation, she also misses meeting her friends.
One of the main problems at the beginning of the lockdown for Nastia was the insufficient level of information about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on pregnant women and newborns.
“Uncertainty breeds fear,” she says.
Nastia is inspired to overcome the difficulties and worries of self-isolation by her beloved job as a teacher, her loved ones and her positive outlook on life, which she hopes her daughter will also have. I want my child to grow up in a world where there are more things that you admire than you want to criticize,” the expectant mother smiles.
To provide qualified care for every mother and newborn, as well as to prevent and treat complications during pregnancy and childbirth during the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF is calling for immediate investment in the training of health workers and the provision of necessary medicines.