Words and video by ITV News Reporter Ellie Pitt
Coronavirus visitor restrictions are forcing women to have scans and even give birth alone.
ITV News understands that up to a third of NHS Health Trusts across the UK still have not relaxed restrictions that would allow partners to be present for key moments such as the 12 and 20 week scans and/or the entire birth.
First-time-mum Korrie Hawkes, from Stockton-On-Tees, had to FaceTime her partner while in labour because she says she needed to hear his voice. She told ITV News: "The experience doing it alone was horrible, it was really awful. I’m actually going through stages of depression right now just thinking about it all."
MP Alicia Kearns, who is six months pregnant herself, is fighting for maternity services to let partners in again. She said: "For women giving birth with a partner it improves clinical outcomes, it improves mental health so this is really clinically needed, so I plea for all Trusts to please change your guidance." Many hospitals are letting partners in for ‘established labour’ but ITV News has heard reports of fathers waiting in hospital car parks for hours and missing the moment entirely.
John Cranfield, from Bristol, was told to go home after hours of waiting in the car, even though his wife Naomi suspected her waters had broken. He got the call that she was in established labour too late and missed the birth of his son Reuben by ten minutes.
Jenny Dean, from Exeter, faced labour alone - with her partner also waiting for that phone call, their daughter Evelyn was born moments before he arrived. Both women told ITV News they feel it is important for a partner to be present during the entire labour to comfort them throughout. "The partner is an important advocate for a woman giving birth," said Joeli Brearley, founder of the maternity and pregnancy campaign group, Pregnant then Screwed.
"While the woman may be in intense pain, have taken strong painkilling drugs, the partner looks out for their best interests and can ask questions of the medical staff on their behalf she explains."
The timeline of changes to maternity services during coronavirus
5 June – Health Trusts are permitted to change their visitor guidance including maternity services
15 July – The Royal College of Midwives produces a briefing for the re-introduction of visitors to maternity units
8 September – NHS England publishes a framework to assist Trusts to reintroduce access for partners in maternity services
19 September – NHS England writes to the Head of Midwifery and Directors of Nursing telling them: "To those that are still working through the guidance, this must happen now so that partners are able to attend maternity units for appointments and births."
Pregnant then Screwed say they are ‘gravely concerned’ about the long-term impacts of these measures on mothers’ mental health.
"We know there is a link between stress and anxiety during pregnancy and post-natal depression," Joeli Brearley adds. It is not just the cherished memories and moments of joy that couples are missing out on. Opportunities to support each other in times of heart-break are also diminished during the pandemic.
Clare Gardner was told alone at her 12-week scan that her baby’s development was not healthy.
Her boyfriend, Dan, was left waiting in reception while she was told that the baby had one of three possible syndromes and was not growing correctly. Panicked and upset she began sending WhatsApp messages to Dan who tried to get into the scan room but was not allowed. This made him angry and confused.
"I had no idea what was happening," he told ITV News.Eventually, a doctor did allow Dan to be in the room with Clare so they could both hear the diagnosis. Just a few weeks later the couple had to terminate their pregnancy.
The Royal College of Midwives says the rise of Covid-19 cases has meant some services have had to reverse their decision to allow partners back in. It is now local lockdowns that are blocking partners from re-entering the scan room or birthing suite. Birte Harlev-lam, Executive Director of Professional Leadership at The Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “Being able to have the support of a partner during scans and labour is important, and we understand completely that any restrictions on that can be upsetting.
"Although maternity teams are doing all they can to keep these opportunities available, local lockdowns due to Covid may mean that they are unable to. By limiting some access, maternity teams can continue to deliver, good quality, safe care, protecting pregnant women and the midwives and MSWs who care for them. This is in line with the national guidance published by NHS England earlier this month.
"Women can still have a birth partner present when in established labour. If you are pregnant and worried about how changes to maternity services will affect your pregnancy or birth plan, we would urge you to contact your local maternity service immediately and speak to your midwife.”
But critics argue that since birthing partners are often in the same household or bubble, the difference in risk of transmitting the disease between mother and partner is limited. Others suggest partners wear full PPE to mitigate the risk too. There are concerns that this is another part of life where the implications of Covid-19 could have a much longer impact than the virus itself.