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Giving birth during a pandemic: one mother’s incredible story

Photography by Shannon Radford, The Official Photographers

Giving birth during a pandemic: one mother’s incredible story

When Catherine Smith found out she was pregnant with her second child, she never imagined she’d be giving birth during a global pandemic. She definitely didn’t expect it to happen at home, with her husband delivering their baby.

Giving birth during a pandemic: one mother’s incredible story

Photography by Shannon Radford,

On 18 March, the day Cat’s daughter Manawanui was born, New Zealand had recorded 20 total cases of COVID-19. The country was not yet in lockdown, but events were being cancelled, travel restrictions were being put in place and Kiwis overseas were being urged to return home.

“The days before going into labour, I had a few moments of fear creep in,” says Cat. “Not so long ago the coronavirus was just a flu in another country, but within a matter of days, we were having more and more cases being confirmed in our own country and I was clearly wrong in thinking it was “just a flu”. I almost felt selfish bringing a baby into such an uncertain environment.”

“But when I noticed these feelings of fear creep in, I would just try to bring myself back to reality and remind myself that while we can’t control everything, there’s so much we can control and still do to help us through this situation and that we’re in New Zealand.”

On the evening of 17 March, Cat began feeling mild cramps and noticed smalled spotting. “I was excited about the idea that I might meet my baby girl soon,” she says. By 2:45 am, her waters had broken. By now, the cramping was coming in stronger and more frequent. “I was 39 weeks and 5 days and knew today was definitely going to be the day,” she says.

Photography by Shannon Radford, The Official Photographers

Cat’s plan was to have her baby at a birth centre with her midwife and birth photographer. “I decided to text my midwife and birth photographer to let them know things were happening just in case they were up.”

While her contractions were frequent, they were still very mild and weren’t consistent in length so Cat decided to get back into bed and try to get some sleep.

“I lay on my side and just drifted in and out of sleep, constantly rubbing my belly knowing this could be the last time feeling life in my womb (we had decided that we’re potentially only going to have two children),” she recalls.

“Around 6:30 am, as my husband and son woke I noticed things had just begun to pick up slightly, so my breathing had started getting a lot heavier through the waves,” she says.

By 7 am, her contractions had intensified so she called her midwife. “We agreed to wait and check in again at 8 am to see if my contractions would build to one minute in length within that time,” she says.

Photography by Shannon Radford, The Official Photographers

Her contractions kept building quickly, so by 7:50 am, she decided to head straight to the birth centre and told her midwife and photographer to meet her there.

Cat’s husband quickly got their bags and went to go lock up the dog. Just a few minutes later, the midwife called her to let her know the birth centre had enforced a new rule that morning due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Only one visitor was permitted to attend my birth. So my husband could come, but my photographer and mother-in-law wouldn’t be able to. The one thing I regretted about my first birth was not having it photographed. So I quickly decided to stay home.”

Cat had already discussed the idea of a home birth if necessary with her midwife. But they had decided to birth at the birth centre as they had gas available and it was closer to the hospital should anything go wrong.

“In that moment though, I had absolutely no fear about the idea of a home birth. Almost as if my intuition kicked in. My full birth team would be with me and that’s all I wanted in that moment,” she says.

Suddenly, a contraction brought her to her knees and she gripped tight onto the doorpost in the kitchen as she felt a pressure in her bottom.

Photography by Shannon Radford, The Official Photographers

“My contractions were only about 45 seconds though, surely I wasn’t that close? I asked my husband to quickly set up some rubbish bags and towels over by our bay window.”

She felt another contraction. And another. “That was three contractions in with this pressure, but that one felt baby was close, and I needed my midwife.”

It was 8 am, less than 5 minutes had passed since she spoke to her midwife.

She called her again to see how far away she was. Her midwife was stuck in traffic but on her way and told them to call back if the baby starts to come.

“Just as he was about to hang up, I was halfway through another contraction and I could feel my whole vulva bulge, my daughter’s head was pushing against my hands. “She’s coming, I can feel her head,” I told my husband.” Putting the phone on speaker, their midwife talked Cat’s husband through the delivery.

Photography by Shannon Radford, The Official Photographers

“As the next contraction rolled in, I pushed with it. My husband and I caught her together and guided her between and legs and into my arms. I did it.”

“8:07 am. One hour or so of established labour and my daughter was in my arms.”

A few minutes later, her birth photographer arrived, followed by her mother-in-law and midwife.

“I was a little guttered my baby girl wanted to come out too fast for the photographer, but delivering our girl together on our own was such a surreal moment, that it almost felt too good to be true,” says Cat.

“It wasn’t the birth I had imagined I would have all pregnancy, but it was perfect.”

Photography by Shannon Radford, The Official Photographers

When Manawanui was less than a week old, the country went into alert level 4. For Cat, the lockdown restrictions have been a bit of a blessing in disguise.

“To be honest, it’s been great timing for us for most things! I’m currently on maternity leave so I don’t have to stress too much about my job security, and my husband who isn’t an essential worker has been able to stay home and help the transition from one demanding toddler to one demanding toddler and a newborn go more smoothly,” she explains.

Certain things have been tough, though. “Most of our family still haven’t met Manawanui, even though she’s now seven weeks old. Now that my husband and mother-in-law are back at work through level 3, it can feel isolating at times being at home with kids and not being able to go see anyone.”

“But in the grand scheme, it’s such a small amount of time. And we’re utilising social media as much as possible to stay connected.”


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