Giving birth? Not without my partner by my side...

The current policy to only allow partners into the labour ward when women are in active labour needs to be reviewed, says JENNIFER HORGAN who talks to two, men who have recently become fathers.
Giving birth? Not without my partner by my side...

Ben Cochain and Nóirín de Barra with their baby girl Camille de Barra.

WOMEN are having a tough time in Covid. CSO figures released this time last year, reported that 37% of women as opposed to 22% of men felt low levels of life satisfaction. With a disproportionate rise in unemployment and domestic abuse experienced by women since, that gap has presumably widened.

And yet there isn’t a single woman on the Covid committee. Not one.

This has an impact on the decision being made. Our schools are now open; there’s a return to outdoor sports and local travel. But what isn’t changing on a national level is the restriction placed on pregnant women, those in childbirth, and their partners.

CUMH has introduced a new app called Yellow Schedule, which will now see partners attend the 20- week scan. 

This week it was announced that one ward at CUMH is trialling lighter restrictions. But the situation varies across the country where partners are generally deemed ‘unessential.’

Too often, we rely on women to fight their corner whilst simultaneously navigating childbirth, breastfeeding and their own post-partum recovery.

So, I approached two proud first-time dads, to get their take on the restrictions at maternity hospitals. Both express nothing but respect and gratitude to staff at CUMH, people who they say go above and beyond, often beyond their working hours, to care for mothers and babies.

Simon Horgan with baby son, Noah Horgan.
Simon Horgan with baby son, Noah Horgan.

Simon Horgan, who welcomed a beautiful son into the world on Easter Sunday, said he “only had to wait in the car park for a short time” before his partner was ready to give birth. 

The birth was straightforward, lasting only a few hours, too short a time to even consider an epidural.

Simon tells me how staff “normalised the experience in a very abnormal setting”.

The second father, Ben Cochain, has a less positive story to tell. His partner Nóirín de Barra decided to labour at home so she could stay with him for as long as possible.

The continued policy at CUMH is to allow partners in when the woman is in active labour only. This means having regular contractions, or at 3 to 4 cm dilated. Labour differs hugely between women.

The feeling of being in labour differs. And for first time mums it can be either a manageable or a stressful event. I spent an entire weekend in and out of labour in hospital with my second child, so I’m keenly aware that the experience of giving birth is as diverse as both the babies born and the women birthing.

Ben explains: “Nóirín’s worry was that she might go to hospital, not be dilated enough, and that I’d be sent home. She didn’t want to labour without me.

“After five years of infertility issues, including miscarriage, she was understandably anxious about giving birth for the first time.

“The birth experience was traumatic for Nóirín. She would have preferred to have midwives telling her everything was OK, everything was normal. She lost a lot of blood and we were both freaking out. Of course, it brought back traumatic memories for her, and for me. 

"I rushed her to the hospital 12 hours later, convinced I’d done it wrong.”

Thankfully, all went well and Nóirín and Ben are the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl. Still, their exhaustion is palpable and although Ben is full of praise for an over-stretched hospital staff, it’s clear that Nóirín’s long and anxious labour took its toll.

Perhaps partners are essential throughout the birthing process, before, during and after the birth — if that’s what the couple wants. Not every couple will. Indeed, many women report how relaxed and supportive the quieter wards are now. But some women will want their partners there, particularly those with trauma or nervous first-time mums.

Research shows that having continuous support in labour can have a significant impact on how the women and children fare in childbirth. 

A companion of choice is recommended for all women throughout labour and childbirth by the WHO.

Cork TD Holly Cairns continues to highlight maternity restrictions, noticing the impact on women living in rural areas, given that most frontline healthcare workers have been vaccinated.

Ms Cairns states: “I know people in West Cork opting for home births because they were just not willing to go through childbirth alone.”

There has been a 30% increase in home births in the country, and although these can be positive for many women, this rise is undeniably linked to Covid restrictions.

Speaking to these two men, these two fathers, reminds us how far we’ve come in thinking childbirth and indeed parenting is the sole responsibility of women.

The men in Dublin making all the decisions, in the absence of women, would do well to remember that.

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