Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Shutterstock/Leonardo da
Opinion Excluding partners from maternity care is no longer excusable - there is a better way
Linda Kelly says a clear roadmap for maternity services that includes partners needs to be introduced.

LATE THURSDAY EVENING, the National Maternity Hospital announced it was making changes to restrictions on partners accessing the hospital.

Two of the big headline changes were, that partner access during the day would now be unrestricted between 8 am and 9 pm, and that partners would also be unrestricted during labour/birth once you have been admitted to a bed. It brought tears to my eyes.

The tears were a reflection of the mixed emotions welling inside. I am, of course, delighted for the hundreds of women due to give birth shortly in Holles Street, and who will now no longer have to fear separation from their partner during labour or have to navigate the first few days post-partum without their partner’s support.

Instead, they can simply focus on supporting each other as a family unit. Exactly as it should be.


But I also recognise the frustration and distress the announcement will cause for many other expectant parents around the country attending one of the other 18 maternity units.

They will be left wondering why their access is being curtailed to the labour ward and for measly 45 minutes post-natal visits. It’s especially difficult to fathom when so many pregnant people and their partners are now fully vaccinated. (A full breakdown of current restrictions is available here).

I also can’t help but recognise my own sadness and grief that I didn’t have the same experience last year giving birth in Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH). Last July, I was full of hope going into my 38 week appointment, as the Dublin hospitals had announced changes to their restrictions at the time and post-natal visits had been re-introduced.

I was strongly assured at the appointment that there would be no such changes in Cork. And, true to their word, a week later I was left to navigate caring for a newborn for three days on my own post-C-section. Knowing that families in our situation in another part of the country weren’t being forced to go through the first few newborn days alone was a bitter pill to swallow.

I have never been able to fully articulate the heartbreaking, gut-punching sense of isolation and loneliness that I felt during those three days. I don’t talk about it to anyone, not even my husband because to relive those three days is too much.

It is too much to think about being separated from my newborn on her very first night in the world because I was immobilised from the surgery and she had to be cared for in the nursery. It is too much to remember the sound of the other women in the ward, crying in distress behind their little blue curtains. It is too much to remember my husband’s face on the screen as he tried to comfort me while hiding his own pain at missing out on bonding with our daughter.

People talk about partner support during maternity care now as if it’s a luxury rather than an essential component of the journey. Not only is such a view totally out of touch with how relationships and family dynamics are now established in Ireland, but it also misses the point on the much bigger picture.

Partner support is associated with better outcomes to such an extent that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that women have ‘a chosen companion during labour and childbirth, including during Covid-19’.

If we accept that partner support is essential then we need to relook at how we are delivering maternity services during Covid-19. We know that the current situation regarding partner restrictions in maternity hospitals is unbearable for families. There has been story, after story, after story from families about what they have been through. It is barbaric and inhumane and has no place in any country, let alone one as well-resourced as Ireland.

It also has to be acknowledged that is hugely difficult for hospitals too who are dealing with the consequences of years of underinvestment, delays to the implementation of the National Maternity Strategy and the ever-present threat of Covid-19. Not to mention the now prevalent Delta variant.

A better way

But, if we can agree that our shared goal is the safe delivery of maternity services for women and their partners, I firmly believe that a solution can be found. To achieve this goal, we need a roadmap for maternity services that has buy-in at the most senior levels of Government and HSE leadership.

That’s why we’re calling on the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 to announce a detailed, dedicated roadmap for maternity services as part of their announcement for reopening all other sectors of society at the end of August. Anything less than this is unacceptable in circumstances where all HSE staff have and continue to have access to the vaccine, when vaccination uptake among the population aged 18 and over is between 78% and 86% and when the rest of society can re-open.

The roadmap for maternity services should consider every available option to mitigate the risks of Covid-19 in maternity settings while retaining partner access. The roadmap could include Covid testing of partners, antigen testing, increased staffing, temporary accommodation solutions for overcrowded clinics, relocation of certain outpatient services to community care clinics, increased funding for community midwifery and homebirth services so the pressure on hospitals is lessened, and using privately funded scanning facilities.

If there is the political will to find the solution, we have the talent in our health service to find a way. I’m confident of that.

Linda Kelly is part of the #BetterMaternityCare campaign and gave birth under Covid restrictions in July 2020. She tweets @lindabtweeting and runs women_ascend on Instagram.


Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel