A CORK midwife has opened up about the extra strain on midwives as they endeavour to keep mothers safe under level 5 restrictions.
Naomi O'Donovan, who works as a midwife at Cork University Maternity Hospital, said there has been a lot of concern around current restrictions but urged expectant parents not to be afraid.
Women admitted for induction of labour or who are in labour can have one nominated companion at CUMH. Nonetheless, a birth partner can only join the patient when she is in labour or called for caesarean section.
Visiting is also prohibited for inpatients, including antenatal and postnatal inpatients. Additional protective measures only allow parents to visit babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at separate times.
Ms O’Donovan admits it has been a difficult time for both staff and families.
“It’s been an intense few months but maternity hospitals are always intense. We deal with unpredictable situations and emergencies all the time. People forget that midwives are facing Covid too. Midwifery is a very adaptable profession and we have had to roll with the punches of 2020.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as the “International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife,” to mark the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. Ms O’Donovan said they could never have anticipated what this year would have in store.
Despite now being in the spotlight as frontline heroes, she stressed that midwives are still only human.
“We are still only human. The only difference is where we work.”
Midwives are now trying to step up and be even more than what we have always been. Our job is to be with women. We can’t replace that partner for them. We can only do our best to support them. They know that we have to implement these safety measures, not only for mums but for their partners, babies and families. It has been tremendously difficult for the women we deal with.”
Naomi said that restrictions at the maternity hospital are being taken extremely seriously.
“We have to be firm. It’s in these situations that we really have to shine for our patients. The majority of people understand”
She offered sage words of encouragement for women preparing to give birth in CUMH.
“We want to get the message out there that you are not alone because your midwife is with you. I see women being strong every day. It’s not that births are painful, it’s that women are strong. That’s something we continue to see in spite of the pandemic.
“There are always different levels of support. Some mothers have come from other countries. Their partners have to stay home and mind the kids because there is nobody else who can.
“No matter how many people are in the room it’s you and your baby who are performing this everyday miracle. We want to reassure mothers and let them know that they will get through this.”
The midwife said she welcomes level 5 restrictions if it means protecting patients.
“We knew this was coming but some of us had hoped it would come a bit sooner. We work in science and we work in rules, regulations and safety so staff wanted everything to be as safe as it possibly could be. Everyone just wants to keep the potential for damage at bay. This doesn’t mean we are giving up.
“There is so much talk about heroism on the frontline but it doesn’t take much to be a hero. Every single person in this country who picks up a mask can be a hero. We need to show this virus what we’re made of.”
While staff have adapted to restrictions they often face little reminders of life before the pandemic.
“It’s the little things like not being able to celebrate with the parents that affect you the most,” Naomi explained.
“One of the most heartwrenching moments for me is when I’m looking after a woman who gave birth. You know they are in that lovely little bubble afterwards. They are getting to know their babies and becoming parents with every passing minute. Normally, you bring the mum up to the ward and get the dad unpacking and wish them luck.
“You would give them a big hug goodbye.
“Now, you can’t do that. It’s such an instinctive thing. That’s something that has changed for us. However, the way that we care for women hasn’t.”
She described the effect of the pandemic on staff morale.
“The social aspect of our work has been dampened down considerably. There are no more hugs or high fives between staff. Normally, our work is work, but now it follows us home. Masks and sanitizer are a part of everyday life and not just on the wards. At work, we deal with infections and the barriers and preventions to infections. Now, however, it’s become so much more intense.”
Naomi and her colleagues are looking forward to a day when restrictions at the hospital can finally be lifted.
“It’s difficult that we aren’t currently able to do all the things that benefit your wellbeing such as going to the gym. I’m from Bantry but living in the city so I’ll miss travelling to take walks by the sea. People were relieved when restrictions were lifted but now it is happening all over again. All we can do is keep going.”