Partner of transgender father tells of miracle world-first COVID birth
Partner of transgender father tells of miracle world-first COVID birth

In her words: Partner tells of miracle COVID birth

I was the fifteenth case of COVID-19 in Queensland.

I contracted the virus while on a trip to the UK for my grandmother's funeral and infected my partner, who was nine months pregnant, on my return.

My partner birthed his baby while in quarantine, making medical history as the first birth to COVID-positive parents outside of China and the first unassisted COVID birth in the world.

We're a rainbow family: I'm a queer solo parent by choice and I conceived my child on my own using a friend as the sperm donor. My partner is a transgendered man who birthed both of his children using an anonymous donor. He had his first child with his now deceased partner, and the second baby he had as a solo parent himself.

So we were always going to be the unconventional family in the birthing ward, but we never anticipated quite how much of a stir we would cause.

I had absolutely no idea I had coronavirus when I came down with a fever two days after arriving home.

It just felt like a normal, nasty, influenza, and by the time I went to see my doctor I didn't have a temperature anymore so he also assumed I was fine. It turns out I wasn't, but we didn't realise this until a week later when my partner's four year old woke up with a high fever.

He started hallucinating badly and his body was jerking around strangely, so we took him to our local regional hospital where he suddenly became limp and unresponsive. They rushed him to resuscitation and then put our whole family into isolation as being suspected of having coronavirus.

By the following day my partner and I were confirmed COVID cases, though interestingly my partner's child never tested positive. However there are reports of cases in the States where children test negative but exhibit toxic shock symptoms after being in contact with the virus, so despite the hospital dismissing it, we assume the two things were connected.

 

Holly Zwalf and her partner Maaike, a 43-year-old from regional Queensland.
Holly Zwalf and her partner Maaike, a 43-year-old from regional Queensland.

In those early days of the virus anyone who contracted COVID was legally required to quarantine in hospital, so my partner and I were held in separate rooms, along with our respective four year olds, for nine days.

We weren't allowed to leave our rooms, even to visit each other. By this point my partner was a couple of days off his due date. There was a lot of concern regarding the birth because back then the data on COVID-19, pregnancy, and birth was very sparse, and we were treading in uncharted waters.

In China they had been conducting mandatory Caesareans, removing the infant at birth, and denying the parent the chance to breast/chestfeed to reduce the risk of infection.

To add to the worry my partner has cystic fibrosis, so there were huge concerns that the virus would get into his lungs and he'd be too sick to manage labour. However, together with a panel of infectious diseases experts and midwives we decided to attempt a non-caesarean birth and chest-feeding with a mask on, and everyone had agreed that I would be allowed to be present at the birth and that the baby would not need to be removed.

Thankfully the baby was born healthy and never contracted COVID-19, so the birth was deemed a success.

However the enforced isolation and lack of mental health support provided while in the hospital had a severe negative impact on both us and our children. One of our children in particular, who has special needs, became very distressed very quickly when he realised he wasn't able to leave his room. He started hurting himself, threatening to kill the doctors, and behaving in a destructive way, jumping off furniture and unplugging all of the equipment.

It was a deeply distressing situation but we were given no support, and for some reason it took five days for the doctors to recognise that he wasn't coping and release him from hospital into a friend's care.

By then the damage was already done. When the laws regarding mandatory hospital quarantine were finally changed and we were all allowed to finish our quarantine at home, our family started to fall apart.

My partner and I live separately, one and a half hours' drive from each other in regional Queensland, so we'd requested to quarantine at my house so that we could all continue to be together. We hadn't considered just how much the trauma had affected us all.

There was a lot of unresolved fear, anger, and sadness, and in order to keep everyone safe we eventually had to get permission for my partner and his kids to quarantine in their own home.

 

Holly Zwalf and her partner with their miracle baby.
Holly Zwalf and her partner with their miracle baby.

 

Living so far apart always has its challenges, though we normally spend weekends together and also try to have a regular sleepover midweek.

However with the COVID quarantine restrictions and the lockdown the distance between us meant that for a few months we were barely able to see each other. I missed out on crucial time with the newborn, and my partner had no company or support in those early, exhausting weeks with a new baby.

This, coupled with the post-COVID stigma we experienced from our small local community, meant that our recovery was worse than the virus itself. It's taken us nearly six months to get back to the place we were at before our lives fell apart, and thankfully, other than the nightmares about doctors and needles that still haunt one of our kids, things finally feel like they're pretty much back to normal now.

My partner and I very much in love but for a variety of reasons we're unable to change our living situation for the foreseeable future, so for now we plan to continue to live separately, while prioritising as much time together as we're able.

There are many drawbacks to living as we do, but it does mean we both have the time and space to focus on our careers, our children, extended family, and other friendships. Families come in all colours, shapes, and sizes, and all different types of living situations too. Love makes a family, and there's definitely plenty of that in our hearts.

Originally published as In her words: Partner tells of miracle COVID birth


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