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'Another case of it's only women so who bloody cares': Hundreds complain to minister about maternity restrictions

Correspondence sent to the health minister reveals emotional pleas for the restrictions to be lifted.

Image: Shutterstock/Serhii Bobyk

NEARLY 200 NEW or expecting parents wrote to the Minister of Health between August and October appealing for restrictions at maternity hospitals to be lifted.

Partners were not allowed to attend the 20-week anatomy scan for most of 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions before the position was reversed by many hospitals. Partners were also only allowed attend the delivery room during the late stages of labour and during the birth.

Visiting by partners is allowed in some hospitals for short periods of time in the days after the birth, but others are not allowing any visits. With the number of Covid cases on the rise, maternity hospitals are understood to be reviewing their policies again.

Yesterday, the Rotunda, one of the main maternity hospitals in Dublin, made the announcement that partners will no longer be allowed to attend the 20-22 week pregnancy scan.

A spokesperson said the “very difficult decision” was made “due to the surge in community-acquired Covid-19 infections and the move to Level 5 restrictions”.

The announcement comes a month after a rally was held outside the Coombe Maternity Hospital to protest against a Covid-19 restriction that prevents women’s partners from being in the wards for full labour and after the delivery.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, TheJournal.ie can reveal that between August and October, over 166 letters and emails were sent to Stephen Donnelly making emotional pleas to him to lift the restrictions. 

It is understood that many more were received in the run-up to the end of 2020.

As well as members of the public, TDs, ministers, MEPs and councillors from all parties also passed on correspondence to the health minister’s office, seeking an update on what was being done about the issue.

Emotional and angry emails seen by TheJournal.ie detail how women were left terrified of going through labour alone, without their partners. 

Others spoke about the harrowing stories of being told that they had had a miscarriage when they were sitting alone in a maternity hospital, with their partners left in car parks.

In one email, one expectant mother detailed “one of the most upsetting moments of my life”.

Attending hospital alone

She had a bleed at eight weeks into pregnancy and had to go to the hospital alone.

She explained how women were in hospital waiting rooms without their partners, being told the most upsetting news.

Another emailer said: “Is this the case of sure ‘it’s only women’ who bloody cares what they are going through. An attitude we have seen far too long in this country.”

She added: ” I am certain that if men gave birth, this would not even be up for debate.”

Another mother-to-be wrote to Donnelly stating:

I am facing one of the most life changing experiences imaginable, and I have to do it alone. In the field next to the hospital I can hear a sports game being played, where players aren’t able to practice social distancing. Yet I (and every other woman in the country) sit without any support while we are at our most vulnerable.

She explained that pregnancy is such an “emotional roller coaster full of constant worry, made even harder with the main support system of the mother being removed”.

‘Totally disregarded’

She said mothers in Ireland feel “totally disregarded”. 

I am absolutely disgusted that you have the audacity to reopen the bloody pubs when my husband cannot attend our 12 week scan. 

Another wrote to the minister stating that she thought the rules were “extremely unfair and unjust on our family as we have followed and are following all the rules since March”.

“We lost a baby last year and it’s been extremely stressful for me going to appointments on my own all year. I’m pleading to you can you help me to allow him to visit me while I’m in hospital please,” she said.

One woman who is expecting twins said it is an extremely stressful time, stating having partners in the hospital is a necessity rather than a luxury.

Anger of fathers 

A father wrote to the minister about his anger at the restrictions. 

He said they were somewhat “lucky” because they were able to afford a private scan, which allowed them to both attend, in comparison to the rules set down by many public hospitals.

“I was with my wife when the sad news that our baby’s heart was not beating was discovered and was, therefore, able to comfort her and absorb the news myself in real-time.”

The father added:

“I understand these are unprecedented times but I am struggling to understand how it is possible and acceptable for a person to get on public transport, meet their friends and, if they wish, go on a pub crawl but I am not able to put on all the PPE necessary and go from the front door of the maternity hospital, straight to the relevant room with my wife and be with her in this difficult time for us.

Where do the priorities of this government lie when procedures to allow the former take precedence over the latter? As I said earlier we are the lucky ones, we cannot help but think of the hundreds or thousands of women who had to discover such terrible news on their own.

A father’s role 

Another father said husbands and partners play an important role in the labour process and are often the voice for the woman when things go wrong, or when they are experiencing a lot of pain, providing comfort to their loved ones. 

Another first-time mother-to-be said in an email to the minister:

“It was absolutely horrible, lying there alone getting this news. I’d like to know when he
will be allowed in to share this with me. Out of all of the precautions you’re taking for Covid-19, I feel like this is a cruel and unnecessary one. Limit it to both of the parents and no one else if you must but I beg you to reconsider allowing fathers attend. It’s a special milestone they’re losing out on.”

In a letter sent to the Taoiseach, and forward to the health minister, one woman said she and her husband were overjoyed to find out that we were pregnant with their second child.

“We patiently waited for our eight-week scan to roll around and on I excitedly went to my consultant’s office for my first scan. What began as pure joy quickly turned into confusion, fear and sadness when there was no heartbeat and I was told I was only measuring six weeks and two days.

The moment when I needed my husband the most I was alone crying in my doctor’s office being questioned about dates and how sure I was that I was eight weeks. I was told to wait two weeks and come back where there was just a 50/50 chance there could be a baby, again alone. It was at this appointment on I was given the devastating news that my pregnancy wasn’t viable and I was going through a missed miscarriage.

She said miscarriages are very common and “are the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching thing to go through”.

“Because of these ridiculous measures we have to go through them alone,” she said.

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‘Crying in my bed, alone’

In this woman’s case, a D&C, a procedure to remove tissue from inside the uterus was required.

“I was alone crying in my bed wanting nothing more than to hug my partner and grieve
with him for our lost child.”

One woman said having a partner there during the most important time in anyone’s life is not a luxury.

One woman said that the restrictions were a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

“It is unacceptable to continue to show so little respect for vulnerable women and new families. I am not asking for visitors, I am simply asking for the partner to be allowed with the mother from induction or early labour and to be allowed visit postnatal ward to give some much-needed support to these mothers, many of whom have had major abdominal surgery.”

“I hope that you are seeking a review of these restrictions, otherwise you are directly responsible for continuing to allow women to live in fear of the happiest moments of their lives.”

A number of politicians such as Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan also wrote to Stephen Donnelly, raising their concerns about the restrictions in maternity hospitals as well as highlighting the high level of correspondence they were receiving from constituents. 

Hourigan was just one of the politicians who called on the Minister for Health to consider the impact of the current restrictions on pregnant people and requesting that he consider a review in conjunction with hospitals and care providers.

She pointed out that the Green Party Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu had received hundreds of pieces of correspondence from those accessing maternal care who have spoken out about the “very real impact the absence of a partner can have on your well being”.

“The World Health Organization supports the presence of partners during antenatal care and labour as research shows it can improve outcomes,” she said, writing that pregnancy and labour can be a very stressful time for mothers, as well as their partners.

Guidance

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the Health Protection Surveillance Centre has issued guidance regarding attendance at hospitals during the pandemic, which includes attendance at maternity hospitals. 

“The guidance advises that restrictions on partner visiting; accompanying persons in labour; or parents visiting neonatal intensive care units, should be based on a documented risk assessment that is regularly reviewed.

“Any decisions on restrictions are informed by this guidance and with due regard to local circumstances, including infrastructure, local rates of community infection and infection rates in members of staff.”

The HSE has now re-classified partners as an ‘essential companion’ for the purpose of fetal anomaly or anatomy scans, with updated guidance to maternity hospitals given in December stating that partners’ attendance at fetal anomaly or anatomy scans will be facilitated, where possible, having regard to overall patient and staff safety. 

“However, it is important to emphasise that if a case of Covid-19 is linked to a maternity unit, Public Health teams will undertake a public health risk assessment, and it may be necessary to re-introduce restrictions,” said the spokesperson.

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