We need to do better for women at this vulnerable time

In her weekly column Dr Michelle O'Driscoll recalls her own recent pregnancy and labour during Covid restrictions and said we have to do better by women
We need to do better for women at this vulnerable time

"What impacted me the most was that period of labouring alone as my husband waited outside, staying in contact with him between contractions," so said Michelle. Picture: Stock

LAST week was Maternal Mental Health week, and conversations in the media shone a light on the effect that COVID restrictions have been having on women’s pregnancy, labour and post-partum experiences, not to mention the impact that it’s had on partners.

An open letter to the political and public health leaders on the issue was published over the weekend, signed by thousands. It stated that women had done what was asked of them since the beginning of the pandemic, but now as the country begins to reopen to retail, dining and sport, against a backdrop of vaccinated healthcare professionals, it’s time to lift what is being asked of women at what can only be described as one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.

Do you know that feeling when your flight has been delayed (if you can remember what it was like to take a flight!), and you’re waiting in the Departure lounge - gone past the point of no return, but none the wiser as to how long this will take, and nowhere to call your own, only your hand luggage to see you through? Waiting with baited breath for the announcement that your flight is now about to board, and you can get on with your journey? Do you know that feeling? That’s the closest I can get to describing how I felt during my pandemic birth, that time in hospital alone, waiting to be deemed to be in ‘established labour’ and to be granted permission for my husband to join me. A feeling of unease, of being in limbo, of wishing every second away. And in the meantime, all those hormones of relaxation and love that keep labour progressing were being stilted and stalled.

"Regardless of how birth happens, you’re at your most raw, exposed, vulnerable and of need of support like no other time in your life," said Michelle. Picture: stock
"Regardless of how birth happens, you’re at your most raw, exposed, vulnerable and of need of support like no other time in your life," said Michelle. Picture: stock

I experienced the typical attending of appointments and scans alone, yes, but what impacted me the most was that period of labouring alone as my husband waited outside, staying in contact with him between contractions. This was nine months ago now, and we have a gorgeous baby boy that we thank our lucky stars for. 

At the time I brushed that part of the experience under the carpet, reminded myself how lucky we were that my husband got to be there at all (some are not so lucky), not to dwell on the negative, that everybody was healthy and well, what did I have to complain about really?

The conversations being aired over the past week however, have justified how it felt, how I felt (alone, afraid, in need of support) and highlighted that there were women in their thousands feeling the same. 

The importance of support is not just applicable to labour either. Regardless of how birth happens, you’re at your most raw, exposed, vulnerable and of need of support like no other time in your life. True too of appointments, where devastating news could potentially be delivered.

The midwives I met were amazing. They are incredible at what they do. But they’re not superhuman, and could not sit and hold my hand through every surge during that time the way that my husband would have. They had other women in that room to also look after, who were also labouring alone.

This has been unbelievably tough on them as a profession too with the exponential increase o the demands placed on them.

Back then we justified the restrictions. As tough as it was, we did it because we sought to keep our healthcare workers, pregnant women and babies safe from the pandemic. 

It was affecting all aspects of life, everybody was touched by them in some way.

But the situation has since changed. 

Seeing pubs, hairdressers and nail salons reopen at a national level, versus a seemingly disjointed approach to the regulations in our maternity hospitals, reassessment of our priorities is being called for.

When this reassessment happens, our women will no longer be separated from their partners during one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. Partners won’t be labelled as ‘visitors’ rather than their true role being recognised, and will be able to provide support throughout the whole process.

Mum, partner and baby will be treated as a unit, including during neonatal care. At the time of writing there has been progress, and more ahead it seems. It’s very welcome, because for our women we can do better.

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