On March 12, 2020, the Czech government adopted crisis measures banning entry into the Czech Republic and travel to high-risk countries. These resolutions and other limitations on travel have had a profound effect on foreigners living in the Czech Republic, preventing studies, complicating long-distance relationships and creating particular challenges for expats giving birth abroad.

In March, the Czech government also banned the presence of a companion (parent, doula, family member or midwife) during childbirth. In addition to fears of contracting Covid during pregnancy – which experts say can lead to premature labor – many women have had to face important pregnancy appointments and labor on their own. For foreigners who do not speak Czech, the circumstances have led to increased psychological stress before, during and after pregnancy.

According to a report by Aperio, a Czech organization that offers prenatal classes and publishes a maternity guide, Covid has radically changed the way people give birth in Czech hospitals.

“In general, fewer expectant parents have attended antenatal classes and one-time prenatal appointments at the hospital due to government lockdown restrictions,” said Miloslava Kramná, coordinator of the Aperio Maternity Guide. .

Additional data shows that ambulatory childbirth (leaving hospital within 72 hours of birth) was experienced by 13% of women, up 5% from 2019, and a further increase occurred in 2021. their homes due to the pandemic and a limited number of hospital visits, ”Kramná said.

While the wider impact of childbirth under such restrictions is not yet known, we spoke to three women, foreigners living in Prague who gave birth in a Czech hospital during the height of the epidemic.

Here, their stories of surviving unfavorable conditions to deliver healthy babies, now celebrating their first year of life.

These stories have been condensed for length and clarity.

“It was an extremely traumatic experience”

Chelsea Phillips gave birth in Prague, Podoli, in May 2020

As someone with anxiety issues who likes to be over-prepared for even the slightest run, not knowing was the biggest source of stress. The rules regarding authorized partners at birth were changing from day to day. My primary prenatal doctor’s rules were different for each of my appointments. I already felt isolated and overwhelmed as a first-time parent and a stranger giving birth in a country where my language proficiency is very poor, and I have no family and few friends to whom to count.

No in-person prenatal classes were offered due to Covid. I was not even allowed to go to the hospital where I was due to give birth, due to the restrictions.

Fortunately, my husband was allowed to attend the delivery, but he had to leave immediately afterwards and was not allowed to visit me at any time during my stay. It was probably the hardest part of the whole pregnancy.

My delivery was not entirely smooth and being alone, not being allowed to leave the hallway where my room was, and not being able to communicate with the vast majority of people around me was an extremely traumatic experience.

At one point I had to be rushed to hospital in an ambulance, and even the paramedics didn’t know where to take me. We sat in the ambulance outside my apartment for almost 30 minutes as they called to find a safe place to treat me. When I finally ended up in a hospital, I was in a secluded hallway with long-term patients because they didn’t want me on any ward where Covid might be prevalent.

There were minor inconveniences like wearing a mask during dates, and there were some dates where my husband was not allowed to show up. None of this seemed like a big deal to me, and I appreciated the caution my health care providers were taking. There was never anyone I could turn to for real answers because no one knew what the next day would look like.

“I started having panic attacks for the first time.”

Olha Zhabska gave birth in Neratovice, in January 2021

My pregnancy took place in 4 countries: Indonesia, Ukraine, Montenegro and the Czech Republic. Surprisingly, there were no problems with movement and travel.

I was afraid that I would have to give birth masked and that my husband would not be allowed to come with me. It started giving me panic attacks for the first time.

I spent 4 days in the hospital and felt incredibly lonely. I only saw my husband many times through the glass door. I am a vegetarian, and although there was vegetarian food in the hospital, it was really horrible. It was mostly white bread, margarine, and the like. So my husband traveled by train with a transfer every day to bring me my usual food.

At the hospital, they did not want to allow my husband to come with me, but we argued that I did not understand Czech at all and that I would not understand what they were saying to me. So for this reason alone he was allowed to enter the second phase of labor. Of course, I was happy with it.

Also, I am very sad that it was not possible to give birth with my doula. I missed her terribly during childbirth. I believe a woman needs the support of another woman in childbirth, who is 100% on her side.

“My husband was not there when I found out the sex of the baby”

Kate King Davis gave birth in Prague, Krč in May 2021

When I realized I was pregnant, the city was still open and businesses were functioning. I quickly got nervous because October is the time when Covid cases and deaths started to increase dramatically. My biggest concern with being pregnant during the pandemic was catching Сovid. I had read that it could lead to complications and premature deliveries, so I was afraid for the health of the baby.

Another minor challenge was that all stores were closed. I really struggled to buy maternity clothes and nursing bras. The stores finally opened when I was 8 months pregnant, but it seemed unnecessary to buy maternity clothes at that time.

Fortunately, my husband was able to attend our first ultrasound, but then in mid-October, we entered another lockdown, and that’s when it all changed.

For me, the hardest part of being pregnant while in lockdown was going to all of the antenatal appointments on my own. Unfortunately, my husband was unable to be there during the ultrasounds when I found out the sex of the baby or to watch her grow up during the pregnancy.

At my last prenatal appointment, they decided to start induction that day. My husband had to bring my suitcase to the hospital, but he was not allowed to see me due to the restrictions. He had to drop my suitcase and a nurse brought it to me. It was very sad for me, I could have used a hug.

I was grateful that he could be present for active labor and delivery, but was asked to leave two hours after delivery. Due to his working hours, he only saw his daughter for 90 minutes more in the first four days. As a new mother, I struggled the first few days to balance my needs and those of the baby. The hospital staff were supportive and kind, but I just wanted my partner to be there.

Childbirth in the Czech Republic in 2021

Chelsea Phillips, one of the women mentioned in this article, is a Prague-based photographer who documented her maternity stay in May 2020 at Podolí Hospital in Prague in a moving photo essay. You can see her full set of “Life in the Time of the Crown” photos at Clondon.me/blog/birth.