Wife of Chennai Six soldier terrified about giving birth amid pandemic

Wife of ‘Chennai Six’ British soldier reveals she was ‘terrified’ about giving birth during a pandemic and wasn’t allowed to kiss, touch or breastfeed her premature son in ICU without wearing PPE

  • EXCLUSIVE: Yvonne Irving, 31, of Paisley, Renfrewshire, is married to Billy Irving
  • Couple welcomed their third child on April 2 and he spent week in intensive care
  • Yvonne said it was a scary time to be pregnant and stint in ICU was very tough
  • Billy unable to visit due to risk of infection and Yvonne had to wear PPE near son 
  • Billy and five other Brits became known as Chennai Six after they were jailed while working as anti-piracy guards on a ship to combat piracy in Indian Ocean

The wife of a former British soldier who was among the ‘Chennai Six’ has described giving birth during lockdown as ‘the most terrifying thing she’s ever been faced with’.

Yvonne Irving, 31, of Paisley, Renfrewshire, is married to Billy Irving, 39, with whom she shares three children, the youngest of which she welcomed on April 2.

Billy and five other British men became known as the ‘Chennai Six’ after they were jailed in October 2013, charged with carrying unlicensed firearms and ammunition while working as guards on a ship to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean.

After years of campaigning, they won an appeal against their convictions in November 2017 and were allowed to leave the ‘hell hole’ Indian prison and return home.

Yvonne Irving, 31, of Paisley, Renfrewshire, is married to Billy Irving, 39, with whom she shares three children, the youngest of which she welcomed on April 2. Pictured with sons William and Harrison

Yvonne described giving birth to son Argyll during lockdown as ‘the most terrifying thing she’s ever faced’

Yvonne, who married Billy in March 2018, told FEMAIL she wasn’t able to kiss her newborn son or touch him with her bare hands after he was born three weeks early.

She described carrying a child during a pandemic as ‘scary’, and admitted it cast a ‘dark cloud’ over her pregnancy.

‘It’s the unknown. Midwifes and doctors were as much in the dark about this virus as we were and it was the uncertainty and unknown that scared me the most,’ she explained.

‘It was scary. If you’re not pregnant it’s scary. You are fearing for your health, for your children’s health, your unborn child’s health and everyone you care about. 


Yvonne, pictured left at 10 Downing Street with son William in October 2017, campaigned relentlessly for Billy’s release, along other family members of the Chennai Six. Pictured right: Billy after he was freed from prison in November 2017

On April 7, Yvonne and Billy were thrilled to be able to bring their son Argyll home from hospital to meet his brothers

‘I loved both my pregnancies and I loved giving birth, but this time I had a dark cloud hanging over me. It was definitely a scary time to be carrying a child.’ 

Yvonne, who works in a school, said the thought of bringing a child into the world during a pandemic was ‘the single most terrifying thing I’ve ever been faced with’, adding: ‘I’ve definitely had my fair share of dramas.’

The couple had a scare at 28 weeks when, at a routine appointment, midwives struggled to detect their baby’s heartbeat.

Yvonne was rushed for a scan where medics found it was beating but extremely slowly, meaning she needed to be closely monitored daily for the rest of her pregnancy.

‘My previous two pregnancies were textbook,’ she said. ‘I had no problems and both babies were born after 40 weeks. 

Yvonne, who works in a school, said the thought of bringing a child into the world during a pandemic was ‘the single most terrifying thing I’ve ever been faced with’, adding: ‘I’ve definitely had my fair share of dramas’

Yvonne said Argyll was born ‘very fast’, weighing a healthy 7lbs 7oz, and Billy was allowed in the labour suite but unable to visit his newborn son afterwards in intensive care due to risk of infection

‘At 36 weeks we were given the news that the baby’s heart rate had increased as they’d predicted and ectopic beats had stopped, so I was able to have a normal delivery. The care I was given at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and Queen Elizabeth University Hospital was exceptional.’

Yvonne said Argyll was born ‘very fast’, weighing a healthy 7lbs 7oz, and Billy was allowed in the labour suite but unable to visit his newborn son afterwards in intensive care due to risk of infection.  

‘We have two other sons, William who is five and Hector who is only one – it was devastating knowing I wouldn’t get to see my boys for the duration of our stay on the neonatal ward,’ Yvonne said.

‘But we couldn’t have Billy coming back and forward to the hospital to see Argyll and risk taking the virus home, or bringing it to the hospital.

Yvonne, who married Billy in March 2018 (pictured), told FEMAIL she wasn’t able to kiss her newborn son or touch him with her bare hands after he was born three weeks early

‘Seven days in a hospital while a pandemic was unfolding was terrifying. The first day I was there no staff had PPE [personal protection equipment], but by the third day all staff were wearing masks.’ 

As hospital precautions were ramped up, Yvonne told how she was given a face mask, gloves and an apron, and instructed to wear them to hold or feed her son.

‘Reality hit me hard that day,’ she said. ‘I wasn’t allowed to touch my newborn son with my bare hands, I couldn’t kiss him, all he knew of me was a mask and eyes. 

‘He was hooked up to all sorts of monitors and machines and I was wearing a plastic apron trying to breastfeed a baby that was sliding all over the place, tubes coming out his nose and mouth, and wearing a pair of gloves. It was surreal.

Yvonne, pictured while pregnant, admitted there was a ‘dark cloud’ hanging over her pregnancy as she was worried about the growing pandemic

‘I’m just thankful I have had two children previously – had I been a first-time mother I would have struggled far more than I did, and I’m not afraid to admit that I struggled a lot in the hospital and cried at least once a day. 

‘It was lonely, it was hard, and it was long. I wasn’t sleeping or eating – two things you really need to do in order to feed your baby and provide for them. It was just very worrying.

‘The staff were incredible though, I can’t emphasise that enough. They went above and beyond to help both myself and Argyll; they couldn’t comfort me like they would have liked, but their kind words and sympathetic eyes helped.’ 

Yvonne added that it was calming not having a stream of visitors coming and going, and it meant midwives had more time for the women on the ward.

‘They made me feel really special and taken care of. As frightening as it is giving birth at this time, the midwives and staff in the hospital have gone above and beyond to make sure once you are in hospital you feel safe. I can’t praise the staff enough, from cleaners to consultants and everyone in between, they are remarkable.’

Writing on Facebook, Yvonne said: ‘Argyll can be proud that, despite everything, he became a part of history, a “pandemic baby”‘

Yvonne and Billy were thrilled they were able to bring their son home on Tuesday, where he was able to meet his older brothers for the first time. 

‘Stepping out the hospital doors with him in a car seat into the fresh air to meet his big brothers for the first time and see his daddy for the first time in five days was just magical,’ Yvonne recalled.

‘I knew then I had made the right decision staying with him in hospital. Although there is a risk we could have picked something up in hospital, I’m trying not to think of that too much and enjoy lockdown with all my boys.’

Yvonne highlighted how tough it is for new parents right now whose relatives can’t meet their newborns.

Argyll is yet to be registered and meet his grandparents and Yvonne admitted she is desperate to ‘show him off’.

Argyll, pictured being carried by proud dad Billy, is yet to be registered and meet his grandparents

She added: ‘We are lucky we all have each other to look after one another – some people are in isolation alone, with no garden, no family. 

‘I can’t stop looking at my beautiful family and thinking and knowing how extremely lucky I am. 

‘I just hope people are taking the lockdown seriously – I want my boys to enjoy their cousins and friends again soon.’

Writing on Facebook, Yvonne reflected on how her children will remember the pandemic when they’re older.

Yvonne highlighted how tough it is for new parents right now whose relatives can’t meet their newborns – admitting she can’t wait to show off gorgeous Argyll

‘Will they remember when Daddy went out to “zombie land” to bring home the messages, and Mummy made him strip at the door while she washed down bags of food?’ she wrote.

‘How school work was done in the garden eating a picnic, how some days they didn’t even get changed out their pyjamas, and eat a ridiculous amount of snacks while playing rig around the house, and join Joe Wicks for PE.

‘How Daddy would pipe in the front garden at 8pm every Thursday while the whole of the neighbourhood clapped and went wild for all our key workers. 

‘Argyll can be proud that, despite everything, he became a part of history, a “pandemic baby”. In a world of uncertainty and tragedy, he showed us love and life still goes on.’

Who were the Chennai Six? 

Billy Irving pictured as he arrived at Glasgow Airport after being released from India after serving four years in jail on weapons charges

Brits Billy Irving, of Connel, Argyll and Bute, Nick Dunn, of Ashington, Northumberland, John Armstrong, of Wigton, Cumbria, Nicholas Simpson, of Catterick, North Yorkshire, Ray Tindall, of Chester, and Paul Towers, of Pocklington, East Yorkshire were arrested, along with 17 foreign men, in October 2013 accused of importing guns to terrorists.

The men, who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, were working as anti-piracy guards on the MV Seaman Guard Ohio ship in the Indian Ocean. 

Officials found 35 guns, including semi-automatic weapons, and almost 6,000 rounds of ammunition on board. 

Indian authorities said their weapons had not been properly declared, but the crew argued the weapons were lawfully held and their paperwork, issued by the UK Government, was in order.

The group denied the charges, which were initially quashed but later reinstated. 

They were sentenced to five years in 2016 and were being held in the prison in Chennai, formerly known as Madras. After an appeal, all charges were dropped. 

On November 27, the High Court acquitted the crew after a judge ruled the prosecution did not prove their case. The British men returned home in December 2017.

 

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