A new campaign, which calls on the government to relax restrictions around birth partners and maternity services, has seen scores of parents share their heartbreaking stories online under the hashtag #ButNotMaternity.
Currently, birth partners are not allowed to attend scans, join the mother until they are a certain amount of centimetres dilated in labour (meaning they have to go through painful inductions alone) or visit afterwards, aside from restricted hours. Some partners have even missed births. The restrictions also mean some mothers have been forced to hear news of and then miscarry or go through traumatic births alone.
The BlissBirth Academy is one of the associations who started the campaign – and asks why pubs and cinemas have reopened and even weddings can go ahead, while maternity has continued to be restricted.
‘Whilst valid at the start of the pandemic, they are now unnecessary and adversely affecting the health and well-being of parents and their babies,’ they say of the restrictions. "There are countless stories emerging about increases in traumatic births, stillbirths, women birthing alone... By continuing to forbid pregnant people from taking a partner with them to scans and appointments, and to only allow one birth partner for a limited time during labour, we believe that human rights are being violated and the health and wellbeing of parents and their babies are being carelessly flaunted."
Sarah and Phil's story
When mum Sarah, 33, from Birmingham found out she had coronavirus after being induced, her birth plan was thrown out the window and she faced a long, complicated birth, without her husband by her side.
'My world completely crumbled around me after testing positive for coronavirus during labour'
Read Sarah and Phil's full story here.
Jordan and Lucy's story
Jordan and Lucy from North Wales had a miscarriage around 14 weeks – he says being unable to be by Lucy’s side throughout the process has caused them immeasurable pain, and left her struggling with PTSD.
"My fiancée and I found out that we were expecting early in the time after lockdown began. From day one, the pandemic environment meant that we were deprived of basic needs," he says. "I couldn’t go to Lucy’s early scan; I couldn’t meet Lucy’s midwife; I couldn’t even sit in a waiting room nearby, though we had isolated together since day one and I had a mask and hand sanitiser with me.
"On the day Lucy found out she was miscarrying, she was told alone and I was allowed only a few minutes to be with her before we had to leave the stenographer’s due to social distancing concerns. Ordinarily, we would have had the choice of Lucy going into hospital to have a medically managed miscarriage with me by her side, but due to the Government’s restrictions, our choices were to either wait for things to happen naturally at home with no medical assistance (knowing we would then have to dispose of our child ourselves), or Lucy could go into hospital and I wouldn’t be allowed to be with her as she gave birth to our baby (we were 14 weeks along at this point)."
"We spent nearly two weeks at home, wanting to go through the worst days of our lives together, before the pain became too much to bear. At that point, we took Lucy to the hospital, where I was told I had to leave straight away. Lucy was then left on a labour ward, on her own, for six hours, waiting to lose our baby. After passing our child, she spent two further hours on the labour ward with earphones in to block out the sound of parents with their crying newborns. Lucy was not given any real privacy, nor the respect of ensuring she wasn’t near babies being born, and she wasn’t given the right to let me be by her side when it is what we both needed most."
"It’s hard to put into words how me not being at the hospital affected us. We felt as if we were lesser humans, not worthy of anyone’s time or attention or respect. We knew when things were going well with the pregnancy that being apart at every key appointment would be horrific, but we at least would have a child at the end of it all. As a couple miscarrying, we were given no chance to gain closure."
"For Lucy, she has been deeply traumatised by the loneliness of that labour ward, the sounds of babies crying that she heard, and the simple fact of having held our baby in her hands alone without me being there. She has, I believe, PTSD from her experience, to the extent that when her dad went into hospital a few days ago, she was shaking at the thought of being near there."
"For me, I felt like I was never for a second treated as my fiancée’s equal, or as a father, and that my right to be there was taken from me by people who should never have been able to make that decision. I cry at night thinking of Lucy’s isolation, and I cry because I never saw my baby’s heartbeat, never held my fiancée’s hand at a scan, never got to hug her and tell her things would be okay when she was losing our baby. Physically we are exhausted, and emotionally we feel as if our lives have, in some way, been taken from us by this pandemic and the moments we will never get back."
Like those who have spoken up online, Jordan says he cannot understand why maternity services haven’t had their restrictions looked at, while other areas of society, like pubs and cinemas, have been allowed to open.
"The Governmental guidance and policy has made it painfully clear that money is more valuable than human life,’ he says. ‘If we had been in a position where we had to pay for healthcare and for partners’ presence in appointments and hospitals, then I have no doubt that the Government would have let me be there with Lucy when we lost our baby, and would have let the hundreds of thousands of other partners out there be with their partners every step of the way."
"I would like to ask Matt Hancock what he plans to do to support the parents who have gone through unimaginable pain because of the policies on partners in maternity. I would ask him if he will foot the bill for the counselling and the therapy, and if not then will he apologise for the lives that have been shattered directly because of decisions he facilitated. There should never have been a question as to whether partners could be with their baby’s mother through their pregnancy - never."
Jordan added: "Speaking as a man, I would like to say that I hope any man who has lost a baby or not been allowed to be there knows that they matter too. I hope that they know their pain is valid, their denied moments are important, and that they have been done just as wrong as their partners have been. Hold your loved one close, and know that the only way forwards, whether you were luckier than us or have been through the same, is with love and with togetherness."
More than 300,000 have signed a petition calling for partners to be allowed for the entirety of labour/birth in all hospitals, which you can sign here.
If you want to write to your MP to urge them to ask the government to change, BirthBliss have some guidelines here.