Thousands of women are enduring the ‘unimaginable anguish’ of having to give birth alone due to draconian Covid-19 rules.
More than 60 MPs are now demanding NHS Trusts lift their ban on partners at the bedside during births, which has left many women ‘devastated’.
The Mail on Sunday today launches a campaign to stop the practice, which has also led to patients being forced to attend stressful hospital appointments without the support of loved ones.
The MPs, including former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, have written to NHS Trusts demanding they all immediately loosen restrictions.
Thousands of women are enduring the ‘unimaginable anguish’ of having to give birth alone due to draconian Covid-19 rules
In their letter, they accuse local health chiefs of ‘dragging their feet’ and failing to follow Government guidance which allows family members to be present at scans and during labour.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock last month urged NHS chiefs to allow partners to attend scans and birth.
The letter says: ‘We are failing women if restrictive support policies in pregnancy are allowed to continue one moment longer than they need to.
Since the national lockdown was lifted, vast numbers of pregnant women have continued to sit alone in hospital rooms, without their partner or a family member as they hear life-changing news.
‘Their partners have been locked out of scans and hospital rooms, anxiously separated from the people they love most in the world with no idea whether the outcome would be as they hoped, or as they desperately feared.’
The letter was organised by Tory MP Alicia Kearns, who is pregnant, and was driven by what she has seen in hospitals.
Her partner was present at a scan two months ago and she said it is ‘utterly heartbreaking’ that not all women are allowed the same. ‘I can’t imagine having to go through birth without my partner,’ she said, adding: ‘Trusts had the ability to change these rules when we came out of national lockdown, but didn’t.’
The letter was organised by Tory MP Alicia Kearns (pictured), who is pregnant, and was driven by what she has seen in hospitals
Campaigners blame overzealous bosses at Trusts, including those in Liverpool, Nottingham and London, of ignoring Government advice.
This newspaper understands that one woman last week gave birth to a stillborn baby at 41 weeks without her partner present.
A relative said: ‘She is traumatised, even more so as she was alone to hear this news and hold her dead baby.’ In another case, a woman found out alone at her 12-week scan that her baby had died. She then had to go through surgery alone as they wouldn’t let her husband into the ward.
Ruth Watson, whose husband has not been allowed to attend her upcoming 36-week scan after doctors suspected complications said: ‘I feel women are almost being treated as though we don’t matter.’
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Anaesthetists all say women should be allowed ‘one birth partner’ by their side during labour in most cases.
Last week, the Government published guidelines on how hospitals can allow partners to attend labour and key appointments such as scans. Maternity Minister Nadine Dorries said: ‘Partners have a vital role to provide emotional support.’
She added it has been ‘painful to hear stories of women facing difficult moments and conversations alone’.
But Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs two maternity units in London, states on its website: ‘Please do not bring anyone to your scan… you must attend your appointment alone.’
And while partners can stay for the labour and birth, unless the delivery happens to be during visiting hours of noon to 7pm, partners must leave soon afterwards.
Similar rules are in force at Nottingham University Hospitals, although partners may now attend routine 12- and 20- week scans.
Partners are also not allowed to stay on the antenatal ward for observation – during what can be a highly stressful time for the mother – and must leave ‘a couple of hours’ after the birth.
Liverpool Women’s Hospital operates a near-identical policy, and stresses: ‘There is currently no postnatal ward visiting.’
The RCM said: ‘Having a trusted birth partner present throughout labour is known to make a significant difference to the safety and well-being of women in childbirth. When coronavirus is heightening anxiety, that reassurance is more important than ever.’
The college accepted that hospitals could stop partners attending routine appointments, but said: ‘This should not apply to labour and the birth room.’
Professor Mandie Sunderland, chief nurse at Nottingham University Hospitals, said their guidance was under review, adding: ‘Our priority remains to keep mums and babies safe and our stringent visiting policy so far has done just that.’
Imperial College Healthcare Trust said: ‘We are currently reviewing the visiting restrictions. We understand how difficult the current restrictions are and will do all we can to make changes quickly while also ensuring everyone’s safety.’
Andrew Loughney at Liverpool Women’s Hospital, said: ‘Following the recent change in national guidance, we are planning to lift restrictions.’
‘It was the scariest five days of my life’: How one first-time mother endured three days of labour alone… then two more after having an emergency caesarean – in just one of many horror stories that shame NHS bosses
- Hannah Cockerill spent three days alone at Luton and Dunstable Hospital
- Her partner, Michael Trott, was allowed inside only minutes before caesarean
- It was two days before Mike, 32, was allowed to see Alfie or Hannah again
The birth of her first child should have been the happiest moment of Hannah Cockerill’s life.
But, instead, in the middle of the August heatwave, she spent three days alone having her labour induced at Luton and Dunstable Hospital.
There was no one to comfort her or hold her hand as the drugs kicked in and the pain took over. Or to reassure her when a monitor revealed baby Alfie’s heart rate had plummeted dangerously low.
Her partner, sales manager Michael Trott, was allowed inside only minutes before she was rushed into theatre for an emergency caesarean section – and made to leave 45 minutes after their son, was born.
It was two days before Mike, 32, was allowed to see Alfie or Hannah again.
The birth of her first child should have been the happiest moment of Hannah Cockerill’s life. But, instead, in the middle of the August heatwave, she spent three days alone having her labour induced at Luton and Dunstable Hospital
As IT manager Hannah, 31, explains: ‘It was the scariest time in my life. Five days of hell. I was left vulnerable, with a newborn, after major surgery, on my own on a dark ward.
And Mike will never get that time back with our son. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen to new parents. To be treated like this is just cruel.’
Hannah’s traumatic experience is, sadly, far from isolated. Since the start of the pandemic in March, around 300,000 women have given birth in England.
Many have been forced to endure the distress of labouring alone as NHS Trusts make their own rules, continuing to exclude partners, friends, husbands and families from maternity wards across the country.
Fathers have missed crucial scans, hospital appointments and even, in some cases, children being born. A letter from MPs to trust bosses reveals just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the lasting impact these decisions by local health chiefs have on women.
ANXIETY: Ruth Watson (pictured) says women are treated ‘like we don’t matter’
It chronicles several harrowing stories of those who have been left unsupported during their most vulnerable moments.
One of them, a woman known only as Mary, from Sutton Coldfield, said: ‘I found out alone at my 12- week scan that my baby had died… I then had to go through surgery alone as they wouldn’t let my husband into the ward. I wish that noone has to go through this alone in future as it’s awful.’
Athena, from Windsor, told how she had endured more than four weeks of traumatic hospital visits and tests alone after her baby died in the womb.
And another described the experience of being told, two days before her caesarean section, that she would not be allowed any family support in the room with her. ‘Devastated. Frightened. Powerless. Helpless. Shocked,’ she said.
The stories were shared with a pregnancy advocacy organisation, Pregnant Then Screwed, which works with campaign group Make Birth Better to try to ensure women and their partners can support one another through pregnancy and birth. After all, the science on this is clear.
‘IT WAS AWFUL’: Beth Shafiq (pictured with baby Kai) said she cried every day
The respected Cochrane Collaboration, which analyses all available research, has found having continuous support from a birth partner can reduce complications and make labour shorter.
Obstetrician Dr Ellie Rayner, who founded The Maternity Collective, said she saw ‘first-hand the comfort supportive birth partners bring to a sometimes unknown and unfamiliar situation’.
‘For me, I find having another person to advocate for the women, who knows her, her background and her values and plans for birth helpful in ensuring I provide the right care for her and her baby.
‘It is also helpful if any interventions become recommended as another pair of ears to listen and ask questions to fully understand the choices being offered.’
Several women have now spoken to The Mail on Sunday about their recent heartbreaking experiences during both pregnancy and labour.
Caroline Redman Lushe, 46, from Barnham, Surrey, had been through five miscarriages and 13 rounds of IVF to become pregnant with her much-wanted son, Hamilton
Beth Shafiq was also forced to struggle through the first eight days of motherhood alone in hospital while son Kai fought off a potentially deadly infection. Husband Haseeb was allowed to attend the birth in May at East Surrey Hospital in Redhill, Surrey, but was told to leave just two hours later.
Mrs Shafiq, 27, from nearby Godstone, said: ‘It was awful. I’d just had a spinal block and physically couldn’t do a thing. I thought, “I can’t look after my baby, so who’s going to look after him?”’ She ‘cried every day’ when Kai was diagnosed with sepsis, which can be fatal in newborns, and her husband was not allowed to visit.
Fortunately he has made a full recovery. But she described the restrictions as ‘cruel’ and ‘inhumane’, and said NHS bosses had failed to consider the emotional impact on women.
It’s a thought which has preoccupied Ruth Watson too. The 35-yearold is 35 weeks pregnant with her first baby and faces attending crucial scans alone next week at Liverpool Women’s Hospital to investigate a potential problem with her placenta.
The results could determine whether she goes ahead with a home birth as planned – but husband Rob will be excluded, as he has been from all of their scans.
The couple, who live in Newtonle-Willows, Merseyside, and run their own graphic design business, have chosen not to find out the sex of their baby as a result.
‘When you go into the scans on your own, it’s not the same as finding out together,’ Ruth said.
‘I feel women are almost being treated as though we don’t matter, and no one’s thinking about what pregnant women actually go through. ‘It’s not just my baby, it’s my partner’s baby as well. It’s very anxiety-inducing having to go to these appointments on your own.’
Few can have needed more support during this time than Caroline Redman Lusher.
The 46-year-old founder of the Rock Choir, the world’s biggest contemporary choir, from Barnham, Surrey, had been through five miscarriages and 13 rounds of IVF to become pregnant with her much-wanted son, Hamilton.
Every stage of her highrisk pregnancy was fraught with stress, with scans and tests scheduled every two weeks.
But Caroline’s husband Stuart, 41, a pilot, was unable to attend the appointments, instead sitting for hours in the car park of the Royal Surrey Hospital. ‘We’d be shaking every time, terrified that something would be wrong,’ Caroline says.
‘It had taken us six years and we’d said this was our last try. Yet Stuart wasn’t there to hear those amazing heartbeats.
‘I’d just come out with my thumbs up. The doctors were amazing, and we had a happy ending – Stuart was there for the birth – but it was hard not having him beside me throughout, as he was for all of the IVF and miscarriages. I’m strong, but not everyone is.’
Hannah, too, is adamant that there may well be repercussions for women’s mental health.
‘If there was someone who was particularly vulnerable or anxious it could have a really bad impact on them and their ability to take care of their child afterwards,’ she says.
But as Mike Trott points out, there is also trauma for the fathers. ‘I’ve never felt as useless as after Alfie was born, knowing Hannah was struggling and alone,’ he said. ‘I’d have done anything to have had that time with them both.’
KATE MANSEY: When I had a miscarriage, I couldn’t have coped without my husband’s loving hug
Alone, frightened, shocked and left feeling totally helpless at the most vulnerable point of their lives – that’s how hundreds of women have described suffering the cruel indignity of having their partner banned from their bedside during labour.
No matter how caring, experienced or dedicated the nursing and midwifery staff around you may be, they are still strangers.
For in reality, few women are lucky enough to recognise the midwife helping them at this life-changing moment.
Even fewer will have received medical support during labour from someone who has cared for them during their pregnancy.
Alone, frightened, shocked and left feeling totally helpless at the most vulnerable point of their lives – that’s how hundreds of women have described suffering the cruel indignity of having their partner banned from their bedside during labour (stock image)
It is all so unnecessary. Yes, we need to be vigilant about spreading Covid-19 around hospitals, but by instigating these risk-averse measures, some NHS Trusts have deprived women of basic human decency and comfort.
That any woman has had to go through labour and scans – even happy ones – without a partner, family member or close friend by her side, makes me livid.
And what of the men? Why should they be locked out while their partners go through all this, and even recover from surgery, alone.
This is 2020, not the 1950s when men paced the corridors anxiously waiting for news of a safe delivery. It is cruel beyond belief. I’m furious on their behalf and appalled that anyone should be treated like this.
Each labour is unique and, after hearing war stories from many friends, I can confirm with confidence that no two experiences are the same.
But one part of the story is always identical – that a partner, friend or relative’s presence at the birth is absolutely vital.
That support, of course, goes way beyond fetching cups of tea and remembering the hospital bag full of Haribos and nappies.
Your partner is an advocate. This is the person who will stand tall, puff out their chest and firmly reiterate your increasingly desperate demand for an epidural while you are on all fours, biting down on a gas and air inhaler and utterly exhausted after 36 hours of agonising labour.
No matter how caring, experienced or dedicated the nursing and midwifery staff around you may be, they are still strangers (stock image)
Studies show that the presence of a partner during labour means a woman is more likely to have a straightforward birth, as they offer physical as well as mental health benefits.
In 2018, the World Health Organisation launched a major study to improve the health of women and babies and issued 56 recommendations.
Right at the top of the list – recommendation number one – is that a woman ought to have ‘continuous support’ during labour, while number three states that a woman should be permitted ‘a companion of choice’. These even take precedence over recommendations to check fetal heartbeats and cervix dilation. It’s not just labour, of course.
During the pandemic, partners have often been excluded from all the highs and lows of pregnancy – the tests and scans which they would otherwise ordinarily attend. In my case, I know I couldn’t have coped without my husband at my side during these seemingly routine check-ups.
How lucky I am to be the mother of two children, but the most painful moment of my life was not while giving birth to either of them. It was a sunny March day a few years ago when, giddy with excitement, my husband and I dropped our son at nursery and made our way to hospital for a 12-week scan of our second baby.
All the signs were wonderfully reassuring: there was the dreaded morning sickness and the fact that my work dresses were already being forced to stretch around a growing baby bump.
As the sonographer started the scan, my husband held my hand and we were naturally thrilled to see the image of our perfect little baby beamed on to a huge wall-mounted cinema screen. Such relief! Such joy!
But the sonographer fell silent, brought a colleague in for a second opinion and then broke the news that, sadly, our baby had no heartbeat. It was what they call a ‘missed miscarriage’. I went into a deep state of shock while still staring at the image of our baby on the screen.
I could see the sonographer’s lips moving but I couldn’t hear anything at all. I know that if I hadn’t had my husband by my side, I would not have been able to get off the bed or walk out of that room.
Another scan followed in a different part of the hospital which confirmed what we already knew.
We were guided to a bereavement room where a kind nurse came to talk to us. I was devastated. Crushed. After surgery a few days later, my husband was there to pick me up. No words were needed – there was nothing to say – but his hug meant everything.
That any woman should have to go through all that without someone to hold her hand, scoop her up and give her a hug… well, it breaks my heart. I’m sure it would break theirs. I went on to have two more miscarriages and many more scans. Thankfully my husband attended every appointment, except one when my mother was by my side.
When I eventually gave birth to a second child, the midwives were fantastic but I saw a new side to my husband, who morphed into an inspirational sports coach, tirelessly cheering me on.
The support and strength I drew from him was tremendous. So thank God for those who have had the courage and decency to stand up and contest these draconian measures.
For if these NHS Trusts seriously think that women and the men who love them will stay quiet and put up with this, they are desperately mistaken.