In her own words, Helen Strachan tells her astonishing story of how the coronavirus crisis has affected her…
I have been separated from my children, Hannah, 12, and Louis, nine, since the end of March after making the agonising decision that it would be safer for them if they stayed with my sister while I continue to work 13-hour shifts as a midwife.
I love my job, I always have, but I feel particularly proud to do it at the moment. Pregnant women still need to come into the hospital. Babies still need to be born.
I work in the assessment unit – which is the A&E for pregnant women – and on a ward that looks after them if they are unwell.
And right now, it is even scarier for the women as they have to come in on their own, feeling frightened, and their partners can only join them once they are in established labour.
We’ve always provided support, but now we are doing so on a different level – we are also having to be their birthing partner during the early stages.
Unfortunately, some of the women have caught coronavirus, and being at the hospital puts me at risk so, as a single mum to Hannah and Louis, I realised I had to make a very tough decision about my family’s safety when the country went into lockdown.
I didn’t want to put my family in danger by bringing it home and possibly passing it on to them. And while, touch wood, I have not had coronavirus and nor have any of my colleagues yet, I knew I had to do something if I was going to continue to work – giving up wasn’t an option for me. I want to be able to look after the women who are poorly and feeling so scared.
I feel very protected because we have full PPE. We’ve had it for a long time – before we wore it for the ones who were poorly with things like flu, but now we wear it all for everyone because you don’t know if someone is carrying coronavirus or not.
It was actually my sister, Rachael, who suggested the idea to have the children to stay with her and my brother-in-law Kurran, because my parents are self-isolating and it wasn’t possible for them to help with the childcare.
We asked the children how they felt and they were excited about the idea because they knew they would get spoilt rotten, so they moved in with my sister on the 31st March, straight after both their birthdays.
It felt incredibly weird at first and it was – and still is – so quiet without them. The silence is something I will never get used to. I miss them so much. I miss putting them to bed, the evenings together, doing their homework with them, all the normal, everyday things you take for granted.
I work 13-hour shifts and I have roughly three days off a week (but not consecutively). I walk over to see them. It takes me 30 minutes to get there and another 30 to walk back and so I do this as my hour’s exercise allowance.
My sister has got a good size garden and so I am at one end and they are at the other. I stay for about half an hour and we talk to each other.
But the hardest thing, by far, is not being able to get close and hug them. Thankfully they do have their phones and we talk on FaceTime as well.
When I’ve had a hard and long day, I am often tired and just need to sleep. I also talk to my work colleagues. They really understand and are a great support.
They are so resilient though. I separated from Louis’ dad at the end of last year, which was really hard for them. I met him two years after Hannah’s dad, Lance Corporal Kenneth Rowe, was killed in 2008 in Afghanistan.
She was only three-months old and sadly never met her dad because she was born two weeks after he went to Afghanistan. He should have come home the day before he died but there was no cover so he’d stayed on and was killed by a rocket grenade.
I had never feared anything would happen to him because nobody in his regiment had ever died before. I naively thought we were quite safe despite him being on the frontline.
When I was told he was never going to come back, our whole world was shattered. It was absolutely horrendous.
It was a few years later, in 2012, that I decided to train as a midwife. I’d always had office jobs and I wanted a career that would give others the kind of experience I had when I was pregnant.
My midwives made me feel empowered when I gave birth and I wanted to make other people feel like that. No day is ever the same and I feel fortunate to have a job I enjoy so much.
The pregnant women on our ward can’t have anyone to visit and they are all alone. It’s so harsh for them and we are doing our best to raise their spirits.
It’s so tough not being with my kids, but my colleagues – or my work family, as I call them – have been amazing. Nobody else understands what it is like to be working constantly throughout this and having absolutely nobody at home when you get back.
We all get very emotional during the clapping on a Thursday, I have been in work the last couple of weeks and all the emergency services have turned up to clap with us, too. They stand outside.
It’s been so moving and it’s nice that the NHS has got the recognition it deserves. I hope people will remember the sacrifices people are making.
I don’t know how I am going to ever be able to repay my sister and brother-in-law for what they have done for me and I can’t thank them enough for their incredibly kind gesture.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed it will be safe for Hannah and Louis to come home before too long. The first thing I’m going to do is treat them to pizza. And give them a massive hug…
Helen has shared her story to help raise awareness about a charity close to her heart – Scotty’s Little Soldiers, which was set up to help children who have lost a parent who served in the British Armed Forces.
When Helen’s partner, Hannah’s dad, was killed in Afghanistan, their world fell apart. But thanks to the charity, they have met other families going through the same nightmare.
‘The charity has helped us so much,’ explains Helen. ‘On the anniversary of Kenneth’s death, they send Hannah a voucher to spend as well as one on Remembrance Sunday – one of the worst days of the year because it is so much in the public eye. They send her Christmas and birthday presents, we go to parties and have been on lodge holidays with them too.
‘Now we are in lockdown, they’ve given us a six-month Disney Plus pass, they’ve organised virtual parties for the children and we have virtual coffee mornings too. Scotty’s charity has been amazing to us.’
– For more information about the Scotty’s Little Soldiers charity, click here