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'I want to be there when she needs me most': Frustration as restrictions keep partners of pregnant women out of hospitals

Partners cannot attend scans and can only join pregnant women for the late stages of labour.

Image: Shutterstock

THERE HAVE BEEN calls for restrictions to be lifted in hospitals to allow partners of pregnant women accompany them to appointments and to be with them for their whole labour.

Sarah Flynn, an antenatal educator, has said she has been contacted by many women and their partners who are frustrated with the restrictions, particularly with restaurants and some pubs back open and children now back at school.

Currently, pregnant women have to attend their scans alone at many hospitals and can only have their partners with them in 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. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Flynn said it has been particularly hard on women who received bad news when they went for a scan.

“To be told your baby won’t make it and you’re on your own, it’s just horrific,” she said.

Last week Flynn shared the story of a woman who had “a very difficult and stressful appointment” alone without her partner. She said the woman felt her care was “cold” and she cried in her car afterwards.

She received a huge response from women who had already had their babies during the pandemic or who are currently expecting.

One woman said she was still processing her experience of “labouring mostly alone” while her husband had to sit in the car park.

“Birth was honestly fine, it was the labouring experience that I felt I didn’t get to enjoy.”

Another woman who is due in a number of weeks said she is “finding it tough thinking about what labour is going to be like without the support of someone who knows me”.

This thought is at the forefront of Colin Mahony’s mind, as he considers the prospect of his wife going through the early stages of her labour on her own in eight weeks’ time when their first baby is due.

“There are definitely people in worse situations, we’ve had a good pregnancy, we’ve not had any bad news and from the start when I wasn’t allowed into scans we just said ‘it is what it is’. But now they’re talking about opening pubs, we’re sending everyone back to school but partners still have to let them go into their scans on their own,” he said.

When she goes in for her scan, if she’s anxious about it, all I can do is sit in the car. What annoyed me most about it all is if she goes into labour – and who knows how long that’ll be – she could be sitting in there without me sitting beside her. For me, I want to be there for the part when she will need me most. 

‘Challenging to manage space’

Sarah Flynn said partners are only allowed in when women are moved to a delivery suite. 

“So if they’re in early labour, they could be on their own for hours or if they’re being induced, they will start that entire process in hospital alone – an induction could be a two day process,” she said.

“A good point made to me was that early labour is an important part because it’s that stage where you need to keep your mental and physical stamina and sometimes that’s when the partner’s support is needed more.

“Psychologically that’s huge. From my point of view, I’m telling them all the time to keep their stress levels down and then we’re sending them in to wing it on their own.”

The Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Professor Shane Higgins, told RTÉ’s Drivetime yesterday that an easing of some restrictions could take place as early as this week. He said the first rollback is likely to allow partners to attend a 20 week anomaly scan. 

Mary Brosnan, director of midwifery and nursing at the hospital, said they are conscious of how difficult it is for women not to be able to have their partners with them.

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“We’re really trying to balance the amount of people who can be in any space at any given time,” she told TheJournal.ie. “We have a small number of sonographers and our waiting areas are tiny. It’s very challenging to manage the space and to have multiple people in a small room. 

“I don’t want to come across as defensive or terribly restrictive, but we are trying to balance the risk in cramped spaces. ”

She said the hospital also has to take into account the anxiety levels among staff about numbers of people coming in and out of the hospital. The sonographers, she said, would see a significant number of women each day. If they all brought their partners that would double the number of people those staff members would have contact with, usually in a small room.

There is also concern about losing staff members who have to self-isolate if cases do make it into the hospital.

“It’s something that we review every week and when the numbers go down, hopefully we can say it’s a risk we don’t have to worry about,” she said. “It’s not in our interest to be worrying women, we’re here to provide a service and we want to do it, we’re just trying to do our best.”

Yesterday Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said he recognised the importance of those moments for parents but in order to facilitate a lifting of restrictions, the spread of the virus has to be controlled.

“NPHET doesn’t have a formal position on every element and we don’t have a formal position in relation to that. I think though pragmatism needs to play a part in decision making and guidance around that,” he said.

“It is a particularly important element of anybody’s life, speaking as a dad myself, and equally though, guidance has to reflect risk. And so if we want to be able to have those moments – those vital moments – if we want to be able to do as much as possible, we need to keep this disease under control.”

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