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Giving birth during Covid-19: One expat mum shares her story

15:25 11/05/2020

Johanna Tilly was in the final stage of her second pregnancy when the country went into lockdown. The yoga teacher, doula and coach, originally from Germany, had been preparing for a natural birth at the new Chirec Delta hospital in Auderghem.

Confinement meant many cancellations although her gynaecologist appointments were maintained. “It was strange, he was wearing a huge mask and you didn’t see anyone else around,” she says.

Then 36 weeks into her pregnancy, Johanna was diagnosed with obstetric cholestasis. The liver condition causes a build-up of bile acids that is potentially harmful to the baby. “It’s weird because a completely normal pregnancy then became a high-risk pregnancy. Naturally, I was worried about how it would be to give birth during lockdown, but I also felt lucky to know how to manage a birth due to my work,” she says.

Johanna was induced at 37 weeks and went through a long labour without the usual support of a physiotherapist. “The hospital wanted only the necessary staff there, so it was really my husband and I. Every few hours, the midwife would come in. This was fine for us though. We were laughing and I was calmly breathing through contractions”

While Johanna and her South African husband speak English together, she is fluent in French; an asset as most of the hospital staff didn’t speak English.

Her training as a hypnobirthing teacher earlier in the year also proved invaluable. “It was helpful that I knew how to handle a birth without much support as you have more contractions when induced. I was so glad to use all my knowledge.”

Baby Aili

Finally, after a 16-hour labour, her daughter Aili was born, 3kg in weight and 48cm in length. “It was lucky that even though three weeks early, she was completely healthy and didn’t have to go to neo-natal. The hospital staff were very surprised that it was a calm, natural delivery as inductions tend to lead to more medical interventions, says Johanna.

They spent three days at hospital. “It was strange, we were told not to leave the room and we couldn’t have any visitors, not even my son. There were very few staff, so during the day I would see only the people who came to bring our meals and once a day the pediatrician and the midwife. My husband couldn’t stay very long as he had to get back to our son.”

I asked why no one was coming to see us and they said: “Well, you had a completely natural delivery, you didn’t tear and your baby is healthy so we can’t come, we have so many emergencies,” says Johanna.

Family life as four
Johanna and her husband Diederick have been living in Belgium for almost five years. On bringing their daughter Aili home, they settled into family life under lockdown. 

With many midwives no longer making home visits, they were fortunate to have one who called in once a week. But the usual hearing and sight tests were not being carried out unless there was a family history of problems.

Aili at four weeks with Liam

“With his school closed, my son has adjusted very well to his new sister. It’s a blessing to have so much time together as a new family of four, but of course we are sad to not have been able to introduce Aili to other family members and friends yet,” says Johanna.

Yoga, hypnobirthing and postnatal teaching and coaching
While her husband works from home for now - and helps with childcare - Johanna is slowly resuming her professional activities, which range from giving private language classes to preparing students for entry to Cambridge University, pre- and postnatal workshops and yoga teaching.

“Especially now with Covid-19, it’s become my mission to help as many mums as possible have an informed, confident, beautiful birth and all the knowledge needed for an as easy as possible postpartum period. There’s nothing better than hearing a beautiful birth story from my workshop participants”, she says proudly, adding: “We never know what will happen during a birth, so it’s important to be mentally prepared. I try to support couples – currently online -  with my hypnobirthing and pre- and postnatal yoga classes and postpartum workshops.”

Johanna Tilly (left) pre- and post-natal yoga classes

In addition to pregnant women, “my passion”, she teaches children, teens and adults yoga for stress and anxiety management. “I used to work in schools and noticed how stressed teachers and students are. I like to teach yoga for everyone, in offices as well as schools, private homes or from my home studio,” she says.

For all her classes, Johanna is adapting to online teaching. “There are a lot of challenges with lockdown, but also opportunities, because you can reinvent yourself. I’m hoping to keep a lot of my teaching online, especially now with two children at home.”


Written by Sarah Crew



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