Lauren McMenemy in conversation with
Helen is pregnant with her first child. She previously had breast cancer, and conceived only after coming off her medication and undergoing IVF. All the elements were seemingly against her even before the pandemic came along, but Helen is the most courageous woman I know, and she pushes onwards. We speak by the ubiquitous Zoom, her in Berkshire and me not too far away in south London.
Note 1: March-May
“Being pregnant, following cancer, and finding out your son has a heart condition, is all scary enough. But put a pandemic on top? Every time you worry about one thing, it’s linked to another. Will he survive the surgery? Will there be a surgeon well enough to operate?”
“I’d never really thought about how seeing facial expressions enables us to interpret the clinicians’ tone of voice. In hospital waiting rooms you stand on an X, all the chairs are removed – it’s a bit like the beginning of an apocalyptic movie. Day to day life isn’t that different, but when I go to the hospital, the reality of what’s going on in the world hits you in the face.”
“There are days I feel angry and incredibly tired. It all got to me around the time I started to hear they might not allow partners at births. It’s one thing Craig not being at the birth, but if our son didn’t make it through surgery then Craig would never have met him…”
Note 2: May-July
When we speak for the second time, Helen is seven months’ pregnant and has just been told she will be induced on 14 July. Her bump is obvious as she sits in bed, casually dressed in jersey dungarees.
“I haven’t left the house apart from hospital appointments for six weeks now. I was going out for walks but stopped when people wouldn’t keep a two-metre distance.
“I’m sad that I haven’t got to share the pregnancy experience with my friends and family. One day I’ll emerge with a baby and it’ll be like I was never pregnant.
Physically the bump is starting to get heavier, but I still can’t believe there’s an actual human in there. I haven’t quite seen a full foot come out, but sometimes he runs a foot or hand all the way up my stomach – it’s lovely and strange at the same time. And of course, you worry when he’s quiet but spicy food seems to get him moving.
In some ways it’s good to have an induction date to aim for as there’s an element of control. But people keep talking about a second wave. Seeing the images of people crowded on beaches makes me really angry. Craig’s often the only one at the supermarket wearing a mask. People just don’t think it will happen to them. But the thing you think won’t happen has now happened to me multiple times, so…”
Note 3: July-August
When we speak for the final time for this project, Helen is nestling an eight-week-old son, who they’ve named Isaac. He gurgles contentedly as we chat, though his arrival in the world was less than smooth…
“We had our temperature taken, sanitised our hands, and put on masks before getting to the hospital’s induction room. Overnight, I was put on a ward with other women who, like me, were still waiting on their Covid test results. I’d gotten so paranoid, but now I was sharing bathrooms with people, sharing a ward. I had to let go of the fear of touching things.
After I’d been in labour for 40 hours they took me for an emergency C-section. They got him out and I heard him cry, but then they took him away. We didn’t find out until later that he was having breathing difficulties.
We were told he was in intensive care on a ventilator, which was terrifying. They moved him to the children’s cardiac ward two days later. Surgery was pushed back by ten days, and I was told Craig had to leave straight away and wouldn’t be allowed back until the surgery. I got hysterical. They let him back as an exception, but I felt guilty. He was incredible throughout; it made such a difference. That’s why it’s so important partners are allowed.
A few days later, we were moved to a different hospital for the surgery. They used to do 2-3 surgeries per day, but because of Covid, could now only do one and delays were an issue. The most important thing is our son is here and he’s doing really well post-surgery. Covid babies are arriving into a very strange world, and we do wonder what we’ve brought him into. But then, every generation has something to make them think that.”