Last week our baby’s heart stopped beating... here's why restrictions at maternity hospitals have to change

A regular contributor to The Echo and WoW!, Cork woman IRENE HALPIN LONG suffered a miscarriage recently and has decided to share her story and call for restrictions introduced in the wake of Covid-19 at the country’s maternity units to be changed
Last week our baby’s heart stopped beating... here's why restrictions at maternity hospitals have to change

"The heart that had fluttered in my baby’s chest on the screen four weeks previously now lay still," said Irene. Picture: Stock, posed by model

WHEN my husband, Craig, and I found out this summer that I was expecting another child, we were elated.

We lost our first baby to miscarriage in 2013. Our daughter, Saoirse, was born in 2015. Finding out that we would have another baby, five years after Saoirse’s birth, seemed like a blessing. Our family would finally be complete.

I had an early scan at eight weeks. Baby was growing as expected and its little heart beat reassuringly, sounding like a galloping pony. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, Craig wasn’t allowed into the clinic to witness the scan. My consultant gave me the first three pictures of our tiny baby. I couldn’t reach the car fast enough to show Craig the first images of our baby.

Last week, our baby’s heart stopped beating. I found out at the 12-week scan. I lay on the bed in the clinic as the consultant explained that baby had stopped growing and there was no heartbeat.

The heart that had fluttered in my baby’s chest on the screen four weeks previously now lay still.

Craig sat outside the clinic, waiting for news, wondering if our baby was a boy or a girl. I sat with the consultant and midwife, crying and shaking, devastated that our pregnancy journey had come to an end, worrying about Craig who was sat alone, unaware of what was happening.

The consultant and the midwife present were an amazing support to me. They talked me through things and explained that there was nothing I could have done to prevent the loss of our baby.

They were professional and compassionate. But I wished that Craig was by my side. I needed the support of my husband at that moment. I also felt it was unfair that he wasn’t in the room being counselled by the consultant and midwife. He was as emotionally invested in this pregnancy as I was.

On a rational level, I understood the need for the Covid-19 restrictions. I understood the predicament that healthcare professionals face, trying to juggle the needs of their patients with the restrictions outlined by the government. But deep down, I felt desperately upset that I had to receive this devastating news on my own, without Craig. I wished he was there to hold my hand as the consultant explained our pregnancy had been abruptly cut short.

Irene Halpin Long, who is a regular contributor to The Echo and WoW!
Irene Halpin Long, who is a regular contributor to The Echo and WoW!

I wished he could have been with me to help me process the information that followed about how my second miscarriage would progress and be managed.

I wanted him to be there so his feelings could also be acknowledged and his questions answered.

Surgery was organised three days after I received the news that my pregnancy had come to an end. I was booked in for a procedure carried out under general anaesthetic called an ERPC (Evacuation of retained products of conception) where the pregnancy and related tissue is removed.

The day before my surgery, I started experiencing strong contractions and heavy bleeding and was admitted to the emergency room at Cork University Maternity hospital. I was frightened by the prospect of going into the hospital on my own. Craig brought me to the door of the hospital and had to leave me. The receptionist was very compassionate when I explained through my tears what was happening to me. A midwife came to reception and helped me to a consultation room. I was in a lot of pain, both physically and emotionally. She asked if I had come alone. I explained that Craig had dropped me off but we had been told he wouldn’t be allowed into the hospital with me. Thankfully, the team in the CUMH used their discretion and told me to ring him and tell him to come back, that I couldn’t go through this level of distress on my own.

While I was examined and assessed in the emergency room, Craig was by my side for part of the experience and was allowed stay by my bedside on the ward for a couple of hours before having to go home.

I passed our baby that evening in hospital. I am so grateful to the staff at CUMH for the support given to me. My first experience of miscarriage was in the UK and I was not offered the same level of medical and emotional support I was given in CUMH. I was sent home in the UK to miscarry and the process took several weeks.

As distressing as my experience of losing our second baby was last week, I felt safe in the care of the midwives and doctors at CUMH.

The treatment of our baby was dignified in comparison to my first miscarriage. The midwife caring for me explained that the pregnancy loss will be sent to a lab and if significant foetal cells and tissues are identified, they can be returned to us as a family or we can request that the baby be buried at St Michael’s Cemetery in Blackrock, where the hospital has a designated space known as The Holy Angels Plot and a register of burials is kept there.

During the agony of miscarriage, this gave me a little bit of comfort, knowing that our baby would be treated with dignity and not discarded like clinical waste.

Surgery went ahead the next morning because part of the pregnancy tissue was still in my womb. The surgery went well and I was discharged in the evening.

I am telling my story for many reasons. I ask that our elected TDs in each Cork constituency and around the country stand up and speak out for women like me who are facing the distress of pregnancy loss alone. Our partners are pushed to the side-lines because of the restrictions imposed on maternity hospitals. We are delivered the news that our babies’ heartbeats have stopped without the support of the person who loves us the most. We are forced to find strength from deep within ourselves at a time when we need a loved one to stand beside us to prop us up. I ask you to provide more leeway to our amazing healthcare professionals, who are forced into making discretionary  decisions as to whether a woman’s predicament warrants the support of her partner. I ask you to ease the restrictions to allow every pregnant woman bring her partner or a designated support with her, not only in cases where a woman is delivered the news that her pregnancy has come to abrupt end, but also for women whose pregnancy is progressing well. Allow her partner be with her when she is in the early stages of labour or induction, as opposed to the current guidelines which state a woman must be in active labour before her partner is allowed into the hospital.

I ask the public to sign the petition at restrictions-on-maternity-care in an attempt to urge the government to remove the current restrictions imposed on partners which deny them the right to be present at scans and hospital visits.

No doubt, at this very moment, there are women all over our country who are receiving news alone that their pregnancy is lost. There are women who are miscarrying in our maternity hospitals without their partners by their side. I have been there.

I wish you weren’t going through this experience. I share with you the advice my mother did the morning I went to hospital alone. I was frightened and told her that I couldn’t do this by myself. My mother said: “Just remember that we are all thinking about you and we will think about you every second you are in there so you are never going to be alone.

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