Born in lockdown - the story of a surprise early arrival in a Hampshire car park

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 June 2020

The Howells family - Hannah, Wilf, Theo and Andy Photo: Hannah Howells

The Howells family - Hannah, Wilf, Theo and Andy Photo: Hannah Howells

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Young Wilf Howells has never known a life outside lockdown. His family share the story of his surprise arrival in a supermarket car park.

Wilf Howells only a few hours old Photo: Hannah HowellsWilf Howells only a few hours old Photo: Hannah Howells

When Hannah Howells woke up on a Sunday morning after an uncomfortable night she and husband Andy didn’t think too much of it. She was two weeks away from her due date, so the Hamble-based pair put it down to false labour pains.

“Then suddenly the pains got worse and closer together,” says Andy, 37, over the phone while on paternity leave from his day job as assistant director for external affairs with Universities UK International. “We thought this had come on quite suddenly, but this is the real thing.” The pair packed their bags and called Hannah’s parents to look after their three-year-old son Theo.

Andy admits that the lead-up to the big day had been stressful. “We self-isolated to a degree, but we were still seeing my wife’s parents as we didn’t know whether I would be able to go to the birth,” he says. “Having a baby anyway can cause a lot of anxiety and worry – but to do it at this moment in time...”

Prior to getting into the car to go to the Broadlands Birth Centre at Southampton’s Princess Anne Hospital, Hannah, 33, who is a teacher at Ludlow Junior School, had been on the floor trying to deal with her contractions. They got worse as the couple travelled to the hospital. “It became apparent we weren’t going to make it,” says Andy. “I was making frantic calls to the labour line on the speakerphone, while Hannah was getting very uncomfortable, grabbing me and putting her hand in my face!”

Hannah making cardboard vehicles with Theo Photo: Hannah HowellsHannah making cardboard vehicles with Theo Photo: Hannah Howells

It looked like salvation might be at hand as an ambulance drew near, but despite Andy putting on his hazard lights and waving frantically they didn’t stop. “They just waved back,” laughs Andy.

Spotting the car park of the Sainsbury’s Local in Hill Lane, Andy straddled his Volvo across two parking spaces, called 999 and was talked through the process of delivering his son by call handler Kellie-Anne Blake. “She kept me calm,” says Andy. “The next thing I knew Wilf was out and on my wife’s chest and I was going through the boot of the car trying to find something to wrap him in.” The youngster was born at 10.47am on Sunday 19 April, weighing a healthy 6lb 7oz. “A bit of a crowd had gathered,” remembers Andy. “A guy who had been in the shop to buy flowers for his wife came over and gave them to us.”

Assisted by the same paramedics who had passed them before, the family were given a chance to decompress in the ambulance before going to Broadlands Birth Centre. They were released after six hours following newborn checks. “We were back home by 7.30pm eating last night’s leftover pasta bake!”

The Howells’ Hamble home has been deluged with positive messages from well-wishers worldwide. “We have been buoyed by how much people

Wilf with his older brother Theo Photo: Hannah HowellsWilf with his older brother Theo Photo: Hannah Howells

seem to be taking from our wonderfully odd, slightly surreal story,” says Andy.

It has been shared on Sky News, ITV Meridian and BBC South, with the family making appearances on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 lunchtime show. “It’s been an opportunity to thank the amazing NHS staff and key workers that helped us,” says Andy. “These guys are risking their lives to help people like us – it is fantastic.”

Hannah’s top five tips for new mums in lockdown

Make the most of it

“Rather than feel disappointed about all of the things you can’t do, embrace all that you can: extra time with loved ones on lockdown is a real bonus. I’d planned girly lunches and pamper days, all of which were cancelled, but instead found a way to reclaim this time, albeit a little differently. Virtual baby showers or at home spas can be just as wonderful.”

Stay up to date, stay positive

“With ever-changing advice, try to stay up to date with maternity services in your area. Plan for the positives – a birth partner present and a straightforward birth – and if things change, deal with these as you need to. My best-laid plans went out the window so I just had to adapt. Prepare, be open to change and leave plenty of time to get to the hospital!”

Make the most of virtual worlds

“When Wilf was just two days old, my sister FaceTimed Theo to read him a story. Theo loved it – it was the first time since the birth that Andy and I stopped, sat together and enjoyed a quiet moment. Gestures like this can mean the world, so much so that we were teary eyed. Get your whole family involved in virtual babysitting: everybody wins!”

Tag teams

“Balance is key. With your partner, try to grab moments throughout the day where you can be kind to yourself – a shower, lie down or spend quality time split between your brood. It’s about finding your new normal, so don’t let the guilt get to you. Just five minutes to yourself can be bliss.”

Go with it

“If lockdown has taught me anything, it’s to be led by my children. I’ve let Theo play with flour and water, making a mess of the kitchen, rather than engaging in the baking I had planned. I’m okay with the fact our house has become home to a fleet of cardboard boxes which somewhat resemble vehicles or garages. Just go with it!”

Follow Hannah on Instagram @Howells_at_Home

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