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Pregnant Teacher in the Covid-19 Pandemic

We all know being pregnant is stressful and can come with many challenges: the constant anxiety; the morning sickness (which can last all day, everyday); the tiredness; the swollen feet and ankles and all the other symptoms that you might not know until you experience them. Imagine having these symptoms whilst being a teacher in the middle of a pandemic. I decided to write this when I couldn’t sleep after a night feed; to thank the supportive people around me and to share the anxiety and stress women are feeling during their antenatal appointments as partners are not permitted to attend.

I found out I was pregnant on my birthday in January – it truly was the best present! We spoke about having another baby but being a Year 6 teacher, it never seemed like the right time. As many teachers know, leaving children whilst preparing them for their SATS tests is rather disruptive and the thought would often leave me feeling guilty. But when we found out we were having another baby, we were truly elated. One of the first people I told was my headteacher – I knew he would be supportive and I also needed to tell him why I was constantly leaving my classroom!  

Not long after the first few weeks, I was severely sick: morning sickness lasted all day. I was asked to go to the nearest out-of-hours hospital several times in order to see a doctor to try and ease it. The days became long and draining but I continued to attend work. It wasn’t easy – looking after a class of ‘little grown-ups,’ with a smile whilst feeling hormonal and exhausted. Preparing lessons, marking books, being on duty, ensuring observations went well became extremely tiring. But I continued…after all, I had done this all before!

A couple of months later, the news of the pandemic broke. Anxiety hit the roof! I was worried about my unborn baby being infected. Though much was unknown then – we now know that COVID-19 can be linked to abnormalities in the placenta impacting the oxygen and nutrient delivery to the fetus. As a teacher, you are prone to catch everything –  it is the place for germs! In normal circumstances, I have caught everything – even chicken pox more than once! Despite feeling anxious, we all tried to ‘keep calm and carry on.’ We knew we were putting ourselves and our families at risk, but we continued because that’s what teachers do – we do what is right for the school.

The prime minister soon announced that pregnant women were in the vulnerable category. Fortunately, my headteacher closed my class for my protection before the national lockdown. The day after, I sent a message to my class – I was worried about how they may be feeling. I had left them with many unanswered questions – they had so many about the pandemic and the future and for the first time – I didn’t know.  A couple of days later, the lockdown was announced and schools were closed.

In March, I had my first scan. It was a beautiful moment seeing my baby. He was awake – thumbs up, waving and swallowing. It was meant to be a family moment – my son Reuben, meeting his baby sibling for the first time. However, we were told that children were forbidden to enter the room – after all they were ‘super spreaders!’ It was a huge disappointment for us not sharing the moment together. But the sonographer was so thoughtful she typed his name on the scan picture and it made Reuben’s day!

Baby Scan

The pregnancy symptoms began to worsen: I suffered from severe sickness; my feet and ankles swell. For many months, I suffered from blockage in my nose and ears – I then had tinnitus. The constant ringing in my ears became a nuisance and I was having sleepless nights. As a school, we decided to continue to set work, send and reply to emails and then eventually have virtual class ‘check-ins.’ I wish I could have done more but it was not easy: keeping up with virtual life, being pregnant and also being a parent. We all very quickly adapted to the government’s expectations but remote teaching and learning was not what we signed up for.

At the same time, I began to home-school my six-year-old boy – keeping up with his school tasks, virtual class meetings and emails was also stressful. I often suffer from stress headaches and soon after they began again. But I plodded along. After all, I was lucky to be doing everything in the comfort of my own home.

 A few weeks later, Year six children were allowed to attend school. Still concerned about my welfare and to ensure my baby was kept safe, I was asked to stay home. I managed to set work that my headteacher delivered and was extremely thankful. It did not change that I also felt a huge amount of guilt and frustration not being able to do my job. The term eventually came to an end and the summer began.

The summer holidays were a chance to spend time with my son: we loved it – seeing ‘mummy’s tummy grow,’ baking, playing tennis etc.

‘Mummy’s Tummy’

We spent time developing the areas of learning he loved: science and art. We built rockets and did explosions and he drew like never before (he truly does have an impressive art book). During this time, we made the most of having time together but my pregnancy symptoms continued to get worse. I was coming close to my third trimester and concerns of having gestational thrombocytopenia began. I had to attend several appointments to check my platelet count – you can imagine – anything that is an issue – severe or not – is a concern. I was due for my next scan and again…my husband and son were not allowed to enter the hospital and pregnancy became an isolated experience. As I looked around the room, the buzz and joy of pregnancy was replaced by anxiety and loneliness. Alone, pregnant women were scattered around the room – 2 metres apart with masks on. The family laughter and excitement was filled with silence.

It upset me that my husband was not allowed to see his baby – he didn’t until the day he was born. It upset me that my son was not able to share the experience and see his baby brother.  Despite being our second pregnancy, I felt that I still needed emotional and mental support. Pregnancy is unpredictable and things can go wrong – no one should experience this on their own.

Towards the end of summer, I decided to stay home and start my maternity at the beginning of September. I carried differently second time round and often struggled to walk. I was coming to the end of my pregnancy but was still severely sick and was still in and out of the hospital. With the threat of Covid, I decided not to return to work until my maternity was over. My new little man, Fabian, decided to enter the world a week early and I was thankful that my partner was able to be there during the entire delivery. My pregnancy and my maternity may not have been what I planned. But I love being home with my sons – it gives me time to be a full-time mum and be able to do all the things a working mum doesn’t have time for. I love how Fabian is beginning to babble; how he talks to the television; how he gets so excited about being on his Nemo play mat and how he holds my hair with his tiny hands so that he can fall asleep. I also absolutely love how I can spend the evening teaching Reuben so that he can have a ‘big brain,’ and we love having Sunday morning breakfast at Costa when restrictions are eased.

I want to thank so many people – of course, my partner and my little boy who have always been there. But the midwives at the JR hospital were truly awesome. After having such a hard pregnancy, they made my labour as comfortable as possible. I might not have had all my appointments but my midwife Zoey at the Cotswold Birth Centre was truly amazing – she made me feel at ease throughout my pregnancy and I knew I could call her anytime I needed her.

The biggest thanks goes to my headteacher. Every step of the way through my pregnancy and even now on my maternity, he has been supportive, protective and makes me feel truly valued. Words can not express how thankful I truly am for protecting my baby during these unprecedented times. It is the little things that I am thankful for: making fresh lemon water to ease my sickness; bringing me breakfast (whether I am pregnant or not) but most of all asking whether I am ok. I often feel like I am not the same person after being isolated for so long but every step of the way, he has helped me mentally – more than he knows. His kindness, humility and caring nature bought me back to the classroom and he truly is an exceptional leader. Thank you.

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The author

Sheetal is an experienced education leader in the Primary education sector. She has worked in a variety of settings in London in different leadership roles and has completed programmes such as the National Qualification for Headship. She has been responsible for many curriculum areas including English, RSE and Assessment and is currently working as an Assistant Headteacher in a secondary school and is interested in becoming involved in Further Education. As well as promoting diversity, equality and mental health, she has always been invested and successful at driving school improvement, curriculum design and achieving the best pupil outcomes through Carol Dweck’s growth mindset approach. She now lives and teaches in Oxfordshire.

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