In my shoes - Zoey Howarth

In my shoes - Zoey Howarth

Two photos of Zoey Howarth side by side. On the left Zoey is wearing green uniform smiling and on the right is a side shot wearing a flowered dress, holding baby bump and smiling

"The main issue was the immense guilt I felt that my colleagues were on the frontline and I couldn’t help them."

Zoey Howarth, 28, who has worked as an Ambulance Technician with East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) for five years, was delighted when she fell pregnant at the end of 2019 and was looking forward to welcoming her first baby into the world in summer 2020.  

As is normal at EMAS, once Zoey had announced her pregnancy at work, she went onto alternative duties, and she began supporting her colleagues at Leicester Royal Infirmary by training them in the use of respiratory hoods. It never crossed their minds that they would soon be using them regularly.

As the new COVID-19 virus began to pop up in countries across the world, Zoey hoped that her long-awaited pregnancy wouldn’t be affected, but when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced lockdown measures in March, she realised how serious things were.

She said: "As soon as we got to lockdown, I realised how severe it was. Before that, everyone was a bit blasé and saying it’s just another flu.”

Because she was considered to be in the vulnerable category, Zoey couldn’t continue her training in person, and so she began supporting the EMAS Clinical Education department from home by arranging placements for student paramedics.

She said: "Going from working on the frontline to being told you’re vulnerable was quite worrying. I did my best to care for myself and my baby by staying home and not seeing people, but it was very isolating.

"I found it really hard actually working from home, you are just stuck inside. Obviously, all universities were on hold, so we were mainly planning future student placements.

"The main issue was the immense guilt I felt that my colleagues were on the frontline and I couldn’t help them."

Zoey carried on supporting in any way she could and still showed her support to the NHS by joining in with the clapping on a Thursday evening, although this caused its own problems.

She said: "Every Thursday when we joined in, all my neighbours knew I worked in the ambulance service and were thanking me, but I just felt so guilty instead."

Zoey was already 20 weeks pregnant when the UK went into lockdown, and so until this point her husband had been allowed to attend appointments with her and share in the development of their first baby together. However, for her scan in June, everything was different.

She said: "I had to go into A&E and have an overnight stay on my own. It was so surreal. My husband, Tom, had been with me every step of the pregnancy but now he couldn’t come. It was really difficult because he couldn’t even come in to drop off some stuff to me."

With Zoey’s due date on the horizon, new fears had also begun to take shape:

She said: "Because it was an IVF pregnancy, I was told I was going to have to be induced. But because of COVID, I would be on my own. So, I was really worried about being by myself."

Fortunately, on a summery day in July, Zoey went in labour naturally at home with her husband and when she was transported to hospital, he was able to stay alongside her for the whole experience. Her labour was relatively normal, although her midwives were all wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).

A healthy baby Ellie was born on 11 July weighing 7lb 9.5oz.

Before they knew it, the new family were home safely and Zoey and Tom began getting to grips with being parents for the first time.

As with lots of new mums who have had babies this year, Zoey found one of the hardest things for her was that her mum wasn’t able to be there at the hospital with her when Ellie was born. But they did manage a FaceTime, and her mum had even sent a pillow with her face on it to keep her company.

Zoey said: "Me and my mum are incredibly close, so I always imagined she’d be there alongside me. I held on to hope that restrictions would be eased, but in the end she couldn’t be there.

"Then when my mum and mum-in-law came to meet Ellie for the first time, they couldn’t cuddle her and had to wear masks around her.

"Obviously, it was hard having Ellie during COVID, as she is my first baby so it was so daunting, and you would usually rely on your parents to be physically there to help. Though we got through it in the end, it was very strange."

However, there were benefits to having Ellie during lockdown too.

Zoey added: "Some aspects were nice, like not having a sudden influx of visitors all the time and valuable time to bond."

Now five months old, baby Ellie is settled into her loving home and as she rested for her afternoon nap, Zoey reflected on the surreal pregnancy journey she had taken.

Baby Ellie - In My Shoes

She said: "I’m a person who’s constantly on the go and constantly doing things so being in the house and not doing anything is torture. To be honest, it was nice to have the time to slow down, nevertheless I can’t wait for COVID to be out the way."

Zoey also wants to offer advice to any of her colleagues who might be expecting.

She said: "Although it’s one hell of a story to tell your baby in the future, really try not to feel guilty. I know I wanted to do my usual routine, but everything was so out of the ordinary I just had to go with it.

"Try to enjoy your pregnancy and take the positives out of it like the valuable bonding time."