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Coronavirus: Meet Northern Ireland's lockdown bundles of joy


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Safe at home: Shannon Boyce, Colin Hinton, and baby Harry

Safe at home: Shannon Boyce, Colin Hinton, and baby Harry

Safe at home: Shannon Boyce, Colin Hinton, and baby Harry

Having a baby is one of life's biggest challenges at the best of times, but coronavirus has made it all the more complicated. Claire O'Boyle talks to two local couples about their unusual experiences.

‘After two miscarriages we were so happy and excited... but the virus changed everything near the end’

Shannon Boyce and partner Colin Hinton had their first son, Harry, on March 31, just a week into lockdown. The first-time parents, who live in Bangor, hoped Shannon's mum could be with them during the birth at the Ulster Hospital, but in the end that wasn't to be.

Shannon (22) says: "As we got closer to my due date of April 6, the more nervous I became. We were keeping an eye on the news and things were getting more and more unclear.

"Right through my pregnancy we'd planned that I'd have Colin and my mum in with me for support because I'm so close to my mum.

"I'd had two miscarriages before getting pregnant with Harry, so she'd missed out on becoming a grandmother both of those times and I really wanted her to be with me.

"The closer it came, though, the clearer it became that it just wasn't going to happen and we even worried for a while that Colin might not be able to come with me."

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Shannon and Colin

Shannon and Colin

Shannon and Colin

In the end, though, Colin (29) was allowed to support nursery assistant Shannon as she went through labour almost a week early. In the end, she needed a Caesarean section.

"It was really tough," says Shannon. "Labour started on the Saturday and it wasn't until the Tuesday morning that Harry was finally born. Having Colin there was such a comfort. I don't know how I'd have done it if I was on my own."

However, it wasn't long after the birth that new dad Colin, who is already back at work in food production, was sent home from the hospital - and he didn't see his partner or baby son for another three days.

"That was hard," says Shannon. "I think he was only allowed to stay for an hour after Harry arrived and then he was gone. After that it was just me and Harry. It was exhausting and I was feeding the baby myself, so it was difficult figuring it all out when normally I should have had my mum there to visit and Colin there to help me.

"But it was fine really. It passed in a bit of a blur and the midwives were amazing. They really helped me through it all because they must have known how strange it was to be completely on my own with the baby."

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Cute as a button: Harry at home

Cute as a button: Harry at home

Cute as a button: Harry at home

One of the toughest parts of becoming a new mum during lockdown, says Shannon, is not being able to introduce her son to her wider family circle.

"It's been really hard on the family," she says. "We've done lots of FaceTime and things like that, but I just want him to be able to meet his grandparents properly. I have little brothers and sisters who are dying to meet him, too."

Despite the challenges, the couple have carved out a routine for their family since taking Harry home.

"It's been good," says Shannon. "He is so good, he's a great wee sleeper and I've figured out the feeding, so I'm much more comfortable with it all.

"Colin is a key worker and he went back to work on April 20, so I'm doing my best to get into a routine to keep me and Harry right.

"Now that I'm recovering a bit more from the C-section, I'm able to move around more easily than I was at the start and we're getting out for a walk every day.

"I've also got myself a list of what to do every day, so we're up and dressed first thing, we're doing tummy time and mat time and I'm giving him his bath and story at 8pm to get him into the bedtime routine. That definitely helps.

"Having no visitors isn't great, though, because I'm on my own so much. Even when people have sent presents, I've had to spray the boxes down before taking them in the house. That's when reality hits.

"I had three midwife visits in the first week, with one from the health visitor and now I just text her if I need anything. He's due another visit at six weeks.

"There have been really difficult parts right through this, but there have been good things, too.

"The midwives were brilliant, and they did everything they could to make us feel at ease. It's been hard to be away from everyone, but with coronavirus out there, we know we're staying safe by staying home.

"We have a big garden, so we'll spend more time out there with the nice weather. It's fine and we couldn't have asked for a better baby. Harry is amazing."

Colin says: "We're doing fine and Shannon has been fantastic. Compared to her I'm sleeping quite well because she's doing all the feeding, but I do get up with her, so I can change and burp him, so the burden isn't all on her.

"Getting sent home without them was really hard. I was here running about the house cleaning it over and over again.

"It was clean before we went to the hospital in the first place, but I spent three days just trying to fill my time until they got home.

"It was brilliant getting them back because until then I'd felt a bit helpless, right from the run-up to it. For a while, we weren't even sure I'd be there.

"After having two miscarriages, we were so happy and excited about having the baby, but all the coronavirus stuff really changed it all towards the end.

"I felt I really needed to reassure Shannon because naturally she was so nervous and she'd wanted her mum with us, but she was great.

"It's hard that the grandparents haven't got a cuddle with him yet, but both sets of parents have managed to see him through the car window. My mum was in tears looking in.

"I'm happy to know that Harry and Shannon are cocooned in the house while all this is going on. I'm really careful going out to work that nothing comes back home with me.

"The first thing that we'll do when the restrictions are lifted is to take him to meet everyone properly.

"We've got a book for him to chart memories and things which we've already started filling up. It will be some story for him when he's older to realise he was born in the middle of all of this."

‘It’s been quite surreal... our parents have had to take a look at their new grandson through the window’

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New mum: Charlotte Hunter and son Struan in hospital

New mum: Charlotte Hunter and son Struan in hospital

New mum: Charlotte Hunter and son Struan in hospital

Teacher Charlotte Hunter had her third son, Struan, on April 2. Her husband Billy, a civil servant, wasn't able to be there for the birth because he'd developed a cough in the weeks before her due date.

"I think I'd had some weird sense of foreboding about what would happen," says Charlotte, also mum to Ruairidh (8) and two-year-old Findlay.

"I had talked about it in jest a few times beforehand, that I'd end up giving birth on my own with midwives dressed in bio-suits. I wasn't far wrong."

With her due date approaching, Billy, Ruairidh and Findlay all developed coughs in mid-March. Toddler Findlay had a fever, too.

While plans had been in place for a scheduled Caesarean on March 31, that plan was shelved after Charlotte was exposed to possible Covid-19.

She was taken in to be induced instead on April 1.

"None of us were tested before I went in to be induced," she says.

"That morning, I got the test and was induced in the meantime. Billy couldn't even take me to the hospital, so my dad had to drive me over.

"Of course, he couldn't come in with me - he couldn't even give me a hug goodbye - so it was very surreal."

Charlotte, who also had her baby at the Ulster Hospital, recalls how when her labour began, midwives were dressed in gloves, masks and gowns, but by the time the baby was arriving, they were wearing full PPE gear.

Struan was born at 6.40am on April 2, weighing 9lbs 15.5oz.

"It was quite surreal and it just shows how caught up I was in what was happening," she recalls.

"It was such a strange experience. Having been through it twice before, I was actually able to cope okay. I watched films on my laptop in the early hours of labour to distract myself and they let me out of the hospital 12 or 13 hours after Struan was born."

In fact, it was just two hours before she left the maternity wing that the result of her Covid-19 test came back. It was negative.

"We don't actually know if any of us had it," says Charlotte (36). "But it was all about keeping other people safe, which is understandable. It was far from ideal, but we coped and the midwives were absolutely phenomenal. I'm so grateful to them because they are selflessly putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.

"It was such a relief for me to get a negative result, not just for myself and my family, but also to know I couldn't have passed it to any of them."

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Changed routine: Billy and sons Findlay, Struan and Ruairidh

Changed routine: Billy and sons Findlay, Struan and Ruairidh

Changed routine: Billy and sons Findlay, Struan and Ruairidh

With lockdown firmly in place, the whole family, complete with its newest addition, is adjusting to a new routine.

"One of the hardest parts has been dealing with the older two," says Charlotte, from Bangor. "They're really missing out on their routine and having the usual support from school for Ruairidh and the child-minder for Findlay. We're all piled in without that social outlet and interest for them.

"When it comes to the third, the routines and lives of the older two are so well-established, we'd imagined that Struan would just slot in and they'd carry on more or less as normal, but it's been hugely disruptive for it all to happen at once.

"There's no opportunity for me to lie down and rest when the baby is sleeping to catch up on sleep missed in the night. I'd imagined it would work like that with the other two at school or with the child-minder. When I'm not holding Struan, I'm trying to do school work with Ruairidh or playing with Findlay, so it's a lot to balance.

"We're missing the grandparents, too, who are usually a huge help to us. My parents live nearby and they've been able to take a look at him through the window, but the other boys are missing them a lot, too.

"But Billy is working from home, which has been great, and we know it won't last forever.

"We're lucky to have our three boys and it'll be something to tell them all about when they're older."

Billy (36) says: "When we realised I wasn't going to be there for the birth, it was disappointing. Then when she actually went into hospital, I was so distracted looking after the two boys that I was able to keep calmer than I might have. The little one didn't really understand what was happening, so that was what I focused on.

"But getting (Charlotte and Struan) home was a massive relief. With everything going on with coronavirus, it was good to get them out of hospital.

"Since they came home, we've tried to stay home as much as we can. My parents drove over to drop off some groceries - although that may have been a pretext to get a look at the baby through the window.

"I've been working from home, which has been great and means I'm not out for the full day, which I was when the other boys were small.

"It's not easy, but then it's not easy for anyone right now. We're still managing to have fun and keep our spirits up. Everyone is home safe and healthy, so that's the main thing."

Belfast Telegraph