With the pandemic putting the NHS, its doctors and nursing staff under greater pressure than at arguably any point during its 72-year history, hospitals are currently a place most people are trying hard to avoid. For those facing the realities of childbirth, however, this is often not an option.
As with many expectant parents who have found themselves conceiving over the past 18 months, the realities of appointments, check-ups and childbirth have come with an added complication – Covid. Following in the footsteps of W’s hit series Delivering Babies, the latest instalment, Emma Willis: Delivering Babies In 2020, tackles these issues head on.
A brand new take on pregnancy, childbirth and the plethora of postpartum issues affecting parents-to-be, the series is centred around the highs and lows of prospective parenthood in the midst of the pandemic. “I suppose the difference with this one is we could see people all across the country,” says The Voice and Big Brother presenter, Emma Willis, 44, of the featured families. “So we’re obviously based in Essex but we had people from all over Great Britain, which was lovely.
“It was really nice to connect with people, talk to people, learn about people’s stories and find out how the pandemic, which was quite new to all of us at the time, was affecting pregnancy and childbirth.
The logistics during lockdown
As the name would suggest, the series, presented by Willis, addresses a range of subjects linked to childbirth – from the daunting prospect of giving birth alone due to hospital restrictions, through to increased postpartum isolation that comes as a result of lockdown measures.
Following on from Delivering Babies which followed Willis as she trained to become a qualified maternity care assistant (MCA), the new series sees the presenter helping parents-to-be as they bring a new life into the world.
“We did everything remotely via Zoom from my house, and then when restrictions lifted, we very carefully went and met them in a place that they felt comfortable,” recalls Willis of the production. “Last year messed with all of us in some way shape or form, so to be able to connect with other people and to be given an insight and the privilege of going on that little adventure with them, it’s a pretty big one.
“What we found most of the time with people was that [loneliness] wasn’t their main concern. And I think you can see that in the footage as well. Yes, the thought of it is absolutely terrifying, but you know, the hospitals, maternity wards are doing fantastic work there and doing everything they can to keep people safe. So hopefully that will be reassuring to anyone that’s kind of going in.”
The need for empathy
Given her experience as both a parent and a qualified MCA, Willis is perfectly positioned to talk with both first-time mothers-to-be and parents who have already tackled the joys and stresses of childbirth first hand.
“It’s always an honour to witness and if I really kind of think about it and put myself in their position, I wouldn’t have handled being pregnant in a pandemic very well at all,” she says. “I could barely handle being a mum of three and not pregnant, let alone, you know, your body changing and possible other things happening as well as pregnancy; having to go into hospital regularly, being in that environment – which was an environment that none of us really wanted to go near.”
“I say that time, but we’re still in that time, aren’t we?” continues Willis pensively. “So it was a real insight actually. Obviously, a maternity ward is very different to a Covid ward, but there were a lot of changes on maternity as well, it was not the same experience you’d have had six months previously, so it’s a fantastic insight to kind of see what was happening.”
The emotional toll
“I think, because they obviously wanted to be a part of it, and to be a part of something that is so personal to you, you have to be willing to want to share that,” says Willis of the parents featured in the show. “So we’re all very, very open. And I loved it.”
A combination of candid moments filmed remotely by the featured families and honest Zoom conversations with Willis about their concerns and expectation, the show tactfully balances understandable anxieties with warm and uplifting moments. “Some of my favourite pieces of it are the dads in the cars, where you’re getting this insight into them,” she says. “Personally, I feel really silly when I’m taking a selfie video. I get really self-conscious, but these blokes are just in the car going, ‘Oh, my god’ and ready to get it all out, which I love.
“I love seeing a dad show their emotions, but also they must just feel so helpless as well at the same time; I do really feel for them. Not as much as the woman having a baby, but still, I do really feel for them.
“Also, we’re in this hideous situation and it is devastatingly sad and that’s kind of all you think about – the devastation and the sadness.
“But there are pockets all over the world of women having this amazing experience, so the mass devastation that’s happening in hospitals, there’s always also these incredible, joyous things happening as well. We all need a bit of happiness.”
Emma Willis: Delivering Babies In 2020 arrives on W on February 15.