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‘I had my baby during lockdown at a government hospital and it was such a positive experience’

My baby, Ava, was born on the 9th of July at Rahima Moosa hospital. I’ve lived a very sheltered, middle-class existence, and rarely go to the doctor. I couldn’t have had a more positive experience, and when I held her soft, curled up little body in my arms, I knew I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else.

But when I knew I would be giving birth in a state hospital, I was scared. I had looked online and scoured the internet for a positive story. I didn’t find any. There were a couple of good reviews amongst dark tales of rude staff and horrible memories. I was scared. I was high risk at 46. What if we didn’t get good care?

Nicci Attfield

At 46-years-old Nicci Attfield had a high-risk pregnancy
Image: Jacques Damhuis

I first went to Rahima Moosa at 33 weeks. The hospital felt neglected on the outside, but inside it had everything you need. It’s the way pregnant women often feel, and the way I felt when I walked through the doors. The clinic opens at 7am, and many women are waiting in the queue at that time. You don’t get cozy waiting rooms or impatient clients who won’t wait an hour at Rahima Moosa. Most of the women were looking at their phones or messaging their friends. Some spoke to one another about COVID. “We used to be scared of crime.” one says “But now we have to be scared of COVID as well. I didn’t want to come for antenatal care because I was scared of the pandemic. I should have come sooner.”

ALSO SEE: Coronavirus and pregnancy: should you be concerned?

New patients are called by a nurse. Nurses test blood pressure and urine. Time with the doctors is precious. Facebook tells that the nurses are impatient. Instead, they were hard-working, caring and tired. Staff were working during a COVID crisis, trying to protect themselves and their patients. It’s hard to screen for COVID with pregnant patients. “Do you have a shortage of breath? Are you tired? Have you been to a hospital in the last two weeks?” Yes. yes, and yes.

ALSO SEE: 3 things doctors look for in your urine during pregnancy

I liked my team of doctors. Dr Masakuma arranged for a series of blood tests. I ended up being positive for ANA (autoimmune) and Gestational Diabetes. I was given a glucometer and referred to a dietician called Tuli. I went for a Non-Stress Tests twice a week. I also had regular scans to check on the little one.

I realised how high risk I was when the NST nurse said “I’m holding the probe over her tummy. I’m not taking any chances.” and the doctor replied, “You’ve read her file.” I was high, high risk. At 37 weeks Dr Wise booked me in for observation and an elective caesarean. The caesarean ended up being an emergency because my baby’s heart rate was shown to be beating very fast during a morning Non-Stress Test. Dr Wise responded instantly. I was booked for an emergency caesarean and Ava was born at 10.52 am, just over an hour later.

AVA

Nicci had an emergency C-section at 37 weeks at Rahima Moosa hospital.
Image: Jacques Damhuis

I was anxious. My first child was born exhausted. She didn’t cry when she was born. The staff at the theatre had been stressed. This time was totally different. The wonderful anaesthetist was able to guide me through the process, explaining what would happen, step-by-step. I was lucky enough to get Dr Masakuma for the operation. The team spoke through everything that was happening and I felt calm and confident. At one point I did feel nauseous and the anaesthetist explained that my blood pressure had dropped but she had already given me some medicine to put it right.

Ava was born pink and cried from the start. “Isn’t it a lovely sound?” the anaesthetist asked. The paediatrician reassured me all was well. Ava went into an incubator and I was stitched up. I went into the recovery ward and my gorgeous baby was kept safe, pink and warm. We travelled to ward 12, for high-risk patients. The nurses were kind and comforting. They helped me to breastfeed and told me they were giving me an injection for the pain. “I am not in pain,” I said. The nurse explained with both sincerity and regret that if I didn’t have the injection, I soon would be. I liked ward 12. It was quiet and filled with kind women who were looking after their babies. I looked at my curled-up infant as she slept, at her wispy strawberry blonde hair and her tiny little hands. I was high on oxytocin. Completely in love.

A nurse from ward 7, my old ward, came to check on Ava and me to make sure we were well. You don’t get much more caring than that. That night, I, and many of the other mothers, stayed awake gazing at our babies and holding them in our arms. We were alone, giving birth during the lockdown. We would have liked to have our partners there. My partner, Jacques, had been worried about me, had to wait a long time to find out that we were both fine. I don’t know how you wait, on your own, with no knowledge of what’s going on, to find out the results of an emergency caesarean. My doctor told him the operation had turned out well and there were no complications. He sent me a message to say it was the best day of his life.

Jacques got to see Rahima Moosa at a later date after Ava was diagnosed with a heart murmur at her 6-week check-up. Dr Wise helped to arrange for her to be seen by the cardiologist, Dr Henson, and our paediatrician, Dr Li, wrote a letter of referral. Once again, we were treated with such compassion and consideration by the staff at the hospital. We saw Nurse Loraine and some of the NST nurses. “As long as everything is okay.” One of them said. “This is what makes us happy.” Wherever you go, you can’t beat that.

Baby Ava

Ava was diagnosed with a heart murmur at her 6-week check-up. Image: Jacques Damhuis

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