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Opinion: Maternity restrictions forced me to labour in the car park this week

Breege O’Connor tells how she spent her late stages of labour in the car park of the maternity hospital due to Covid restrictions preventing her husband from joining her.

Image: Shutterstock/Milana Gutesa Bozo

MY HUSBAND AND I are fully vaccinated and happily wear masks at all times in public.

On Sunday evening I laboured with contractions for as long as I could at home. I live 50 minutes from Dublin’s Coombe hospital so that was stressful trying to guess when to go in knowing that my husband could be taken away from me if we were ‘too early’.

As this was my second baby in Covid I was well aware of the maternity restrictions on birth partners. I really didn’t fancy crowning on the N4 though.

We were in fact so afraid that we’d be ‘too early’ that we hurriedly booked and paid for a room in a Kilmainham hotel but only stayed two hours. Most expensive hotel stay ever but we were lucky it bought us some more time together. All we talked about as we counted fast contractions was god help those who couldn’t afford this luxury and weren’t we so lucky in that respect.

Baby coming

We headed to the hospital when contractions were around three or four minutes apart. On entering the hospital I was quietly crying because of the fear of my husband being ejected more than any pain the contractions were causing me.

There was no joy, only dread of being separated. We held our phones in hand bearing screenshots of the Coombe website guidelines stating that a nominated support partner should be allowed to bring me as far as the assessment room. This was done in anticipation of any argument at the door. He was allowed in to carry my bag as I was in obvious labour and it was the middle of the night and so quiet at that stage.

A truly amazing, wonderful lovely midwife whom I want to commend and definitely do not blame for the situation, examined me as quickly as she possibly could in the assessment room as she saw my quiet tears and knew they were for wanting my husband.

She was happy with my progress but explained mobility was key to ramping things up. As I was deemed not to have reached the correct dilation just yet, a public ward would be my only option if I stayed.

I would have access to pain medication then and could walk the corridors and ward alone… There was just no way I could abide by that option AGAIN. That is exactly how I laboured on 16 March 2020, the night before Leo’s famous Paddy’s Day Covid-19 speech when my 3rd child was born.

Back then, under the circumstances of Covid-19 unknowns, we were accommodating and polite in the face of tightening restrictions. That time around we didn’t make a fuss, did as we were told and I laboured alone while my husband sat in the car park. There was no way we were agreeing to that this time as enough time has passed, we are both fully vaccinated and Covid guideline compliant.

‘I needed him’

Around 2.45 am we collected my file and brought it to the assessment room where a kind member of staff let my husband stay in the waiting area outside the room with my bag as I was visibly upset and there was nobody else there waiting.

I was upset again after the internal exam showed that I wasn’t quite dilated enough to be moved directly the delivery room where my husband could join me. At this stage I was so anxious about my husband effectively hiding in the waiting area. I dreaded to think he had been spotted and removed so I felt i had no choice but to get out of the hospital quickly.

I let staff know we’d be outside and was advised that I should return as soon as I could feel that things had ramped up. I was lucky this wasn’t my first child as I cannot imagine how other women could fully recognise labour progression.

As this was our 4th child I guessed it might be quick, but all labours are different. So by 3.30 am I was dressed and headed outside and we found a quiet spot between our car and a tree in the dimly lit car park, standing and swaying together.

I held him tightly and breathed my intense contractions into his chest trying as best I could to stifle any cries for fear security might not take kindly to it and I’d be forced back inside alone.

There was probably never any real threat of that happening but at this point in the fight for better maternity care, would we really have been surprised if it did? Many of us who have been in the maternity system throughout Covid-19 have felt that nothing too heartless feels to be beyond the realms of possibility with regard to the terrible treatment of pregnant people from the powers that be.

When I just couldn’t take the pain anymore, we ran back into the assessment room, stopping every minute to hold each other and endure another long contraction. We were brought straight to the delivery suite at 5.40 am. My waters were broken at 6 am and we were holding our baby at 6.25 am.

Our midwife for the delivery was the same wonderful amazing lovely midwife who had completed my initial assessment and treated us with empathy and respect, fully understanding I needed to be with my partner for the labour to progress well. To her and her understanding colleagues, we are eternally grateful.

We had prepared

Throughout this pregnancy, like all expectant couples, we’ve been watching for any changes or relaxing of the Covid restrictions coming up to our time in labour. I have a chain of emails between myself and the patient liaison manager over the last few months where I needed her to spell out what restrictions were in place as I found the wording of the website to be vague and sparse. Even on the car ride into the hospital during labour, we were trying to decipher the language of the website between us as it is ultimately confusing overall.

The latest restrictions at the hospital are that partners ‘must return to their vehicle’ once the woman is checked in and cannot be admitted again until she’s in the delivery room. You’d have to wonder, what happens to the birthing partners who don’t have transport, are they to sit out front and freeze? The website states:

Please note that partners will be contacted to return to the treatment area, if clinically indicated or to assist the woman to the next stage in the admission journey.

As as I now understand it, that ‘next stage’ is just a single occupancy delivery room where your birthing partner would be allowed to join when the baby would be pretty much just arriving, at the end of labour. The problem with all of this is we can be left labouring alone for hours before we are dilated enough for delivery and that’s the toughest time, sitting and trying to move and breathe through contractions, feeling utterly alone, despite the wonderful staff. And the midwifery staff are amazing.

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To the other people in the maternity system, making the decisions and enforcing the separation of those in labour from their partners, we can never forgive. They will never fully understand the extra anxiety, pressure and stress they heaped on us for the whole pregnancy and labour journey.

And judging by their lack of proper engagement with better maternity care advocates I have lost faith to be quite honest. That is our one small story out of the thousands over the last year and a half or so. People are still being separated with no end in sight and it is just awful.

Breege O’Connor has given birth to her fourth baby.

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