“It was my worst nightmare coming true – having to have my baby on my own,” - This was how 37-year-old York woman Laura described the day she was told she would have to have her baby delivered by Caesarean section, without her loved ones by her side.
Back in March 2021, at 34 weeks pregnant, unvaccinated Laura initially thought she had just a “bad cold”. Her boyfriend Ed, also became ill and they soon realised they both had Covid. Around six days later Laura’s condition started to really deteriorate.
“I suffer with asthma and became more and more short of breath, all I wanted to do was to sleep. I nose-dived around six days after testing positive and went from having what seemed like just a bad cold, to being hospitalised due to my oxygen levels dropping so low,” she said.
“After a couple of hours of being assessed in hospital, they said they needed to deliver the baby…”
Laura, 37, hadn’t been offered a Covid vaccination at the time as it was very early days in the vaccination programme.
She explained that being heavily pregnant and having asthma, put extra pressure on her lungs and made her more vulnerable to the virus.
“The hospital staff were amazing. I had all the top specialists round me and, although they were wearing facemasks, I could see the warmth and love in their eyes.
“Because I was pregnant, I couldn’t have the particular Covid drugs needed as they weren’t licenced to be used in pregnancy. They kept topping my oxygen levels up which wasn’t having the impact they’d hoped, my blood oxygen levels still kept decreasing, the next step would be to go on a ventilator which they were aiming to avoid.
It was heart-breaking for the couple that they couldn’t be together for the birth of their Son who was eventually delivered just a few hours later.
“It was my worst nightmare coming true that I had to do it on my own. But I had to get through it as I had no choice,” she said.
Ed, still poorly with Covid, was isolating at their home in York and was powerless to help.
He said: “I rang and spoke to the lead consultant. She advised that they needed to deliver the baby that evening to try reduce the pressure on Laura’s chest. Having to self-isolate at home, I received no further updates until 11pm when I was sent a photo of my son taken by one of the nurses before Laura was sent to the high dependency unit”
The hospital told the couple Laura was the first pregnant woman who had been admitted for Covid reasons. It was still very early days in the vaccination programme and the vaccine wasn’t being offered to Laura’s age group at that time.
With Laura still dangerously ill with Covid, their baby was delivered by Caesarean Section at 9.44pm by the team at York Hospital. Within seconds, baby was whisked to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) and placed in an incubator. His covid test came through as negative which was a great relief to the family.
That was the last time Laura saw her baby for seven days. She was taken to the high dependency unit (HDU) to receive ongoing treatment and spent the next days in isolation to be free of the virus.
“I stroked his forehead with one finger for just a few seconds before he was taken away,” she explained. “After HDU, I was taken to the Covid ward. I never saw the maternity wards. I was on lots of drugs and remained on oxygen for a few days, but over time, I slowly improved, just sleeping most of the time.
Ed was finally able to see his son three days after his birth, Face Timing Laura from the SCBU.
Eventually he was able to take Laura and Baby home, although Laura was still very weak from her illness. Even now, eight months later, she is having to take stronger medication for her asthma and feels very tired some days.
She was delighted to be offered her Covid vaccination in May and the couple are now both fully jabbed. Laura now wants to encourage all pregnant women to seriously consider taking up the vaccine.
“When you’re pregnant your body is under so much pressure and strain. You are much more vulnerable to the virus. I would have been keen to get the jab, had it been offered then, but it was such early days in the vaccination programme. They didn’t really have enough data then, but there’s so much more information now. It’s just not worth the risk and there are so many pregnant women ending up like me, it’s frightening.
“My message to people is ‘Don’t dismiss it’.
“I know every pregnant woman has anxiety about what they are putting into their bodies– I remember flapping about having an Ovaltine! I was constantly Googling and obsessed about it. But I was so vulnerable, especially with my asthma.
“So please think hard about it, as the risks are so high. For me the benefits massively outweigh the risks. I look at the number of pregnant women since who have been seriously ill in hospital – I am one of those statistics and it could have been so much worse.”
Special Covid vaccination clinics for pregnant women in York
Nimbuscare is now attending hospital antenatal clinics to offer pregnant women a COVID-19 vaccination and discuss with them the importance of protecting themselves and their unborn child.
The new service is the latest example of innovative, collaborative working between Nimbuscare, an ‘at-scale’ primary care provider made up of 11-member GP practices across York, and York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs York and Scarborough Hospitals.
Nimbuscare’s Chief Executive Madeline Ruff explained: “Our team have found that many of the pregnant women who’ve visited the York Vaccination Centre at Askham Bar initially have a few questions about the vaccine. However, we’ve also found that, if our clinicians spend just a few minutes chatting about their concerns and answering their questions, most women then feel sufficiently reassured about the benefits to go on and have a vaccination.”
Madeline continued: “By having our teams attend antenatal clinics at the hospital, we hope to prevent more pregnant women from ending up seriously ill in hospital with COVID-19. We’re very grateful to York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for supporting and working with us on this initiative, which we hope will help to reduce the number of hospital admissions locally.”
Debbie Scott, Maternity Matron for York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We know that getting the vaccine is the best way to protect you and your baby against COVID-19. It really is that simple. Hundreds of thousands of pregnant women worldwide have been vaccinated, safely and effectively protecting themselves against COVID and dramatically reducing their risk of serious illness or harm to their baby.
"It's an ideal opportunity at the antenatal clinics to ask questions, get the answer you need and to get the jab.”
Since the start of the clinics the Nimbuscare team has vaccinated more than 100 pregnant women.