Pubs are back open, #ButNotMaternity
“Nervous?” I ask my husband as he steers our car off the A470 and makes the turn towards Nelson.
He frowns into the rear-view mirror. “…I’m having some serious concerns about her nose.”
I take a breath and catch my own reflection in the passenger side mirror. I wrinkle my own nose – the nose that’s made me cringe at every side profile photograph ever taken of me since my teens. “…Yeah. Between yours and mine, she’s screwed.“
We’ve driven half an hour to see the tiny, terrible schnoz we’ve joked about for years – ever since Sunny and I first got together and wondered quietly what a much smaller version of the two of us would look like. The drive’s been relatively quick but the journey’s been much, much longer; I definitely didn’t expect to go through two miscarriages along the way, and I definitely didn’t expect the one that stuck to happen in the middle of a global pandemic. Since piddling on that stick back in March – on one of those final days of blissfully ignorant freedom before the whole world locked down – it’s been a strange, frustrating and lonely few months to be pregnant. So far I’ve attended all my NHS scans and check ups alone – from the terrifying 12 week scan that brought back painful memories of last year’s empty, silent screen, to the 20 week anomaly scan, where I fizzled with excitement alone when I found out I was having a girl. Of course Sunny came to every single appointment and scan but he had to wait outside with all the other hopeful soon to be dads in their cars at the curb, nervously shuffling their feet waiting for updates via Whatsapp – good or bad. Now I’m 28 weeks, and the only way Sunny can actually see his baby before she arrives is to fork out for a private scan – a luxury not every couple can afford.
And there are so, so many out there just like us. It’s only now, 6 months after the Covid-19 Pandemic interrupted all our lives that the struggle new parents have been through during this time are being reported in the media, with questions finally being raised at PMQs, and NHS Trusts beginning to consider relaxing the strict rules that were slapped on antenatal and maternity services way back in March. Rules that have forced women to attend important screenings, scans and appointments alone. Rules that have relegated important face to face appointments to phone calls. Rules that have suspended longed for IVF cycles. Rules that have left women to be induced, prepped for caesarians and labouring in hospital all alone – separated from their support network and chosen birthing partner until they reach established labour. Rules that have kept parents away from their newborn babies during those precious first few days – treating partners as the lesser parent. Rules that have seen vital postnatal services and health visits vanish into thin air.
Worse still, it’s because of these rules that some women have been forced to go through the anguish of miscarriages and still births completely on their own. I remember my own miscarriages in vivid detail – the long and painful wait in A&E the first time clutching my belly in one hand and my husband’s in the other, and the weird crack in the ceiling of the scanning room I chose to stare at as I went through a third uncomfortable internal scan to confirm my second. The thought of having to go through all those moments without Sunny by my side holding me together when I was ready to crumble and listening to the important advice and instructions on medicinal management when I simply couldn’t is difficult to imagine, and yet so many women have been forced to do just exactly that over this strange and surreal summer.
Rules are easing, but sadly it’s an inconsistent story across the country as it’s down to individual NHS Trusts to decide how they manage their Covid Restrictions. So, while a new Mum in Bristol might have to labour in full PPE while her partner waits outside in the car, her counterpart over the bridge in Newport may find that she’s actually able to hold her partner’s hand from that very first contraction right through to the last. And that’s all without considering the threat of a second wave taking us straight back to where we started (in fact, not five days after my private scan up in Nelson, Caerphilly became the first county in Wales to go back into Lockdown). It’s utterly baffling that while we’re being encouraged to eat out in pubs and restaurants alongside total strangers, a couple from the same household can’t be together during some of the most terrifying and challenging moments of their life together. When I’m asked in the next few weeks where I’d like to give birth, I’m seriously considering putting “Local Pub” down on my birth plan with a request for an ice cold lager shandy and curry half and half on standby for when I finally pop. At least my husband would actually stand a chance of being there, and I reckon that pint would go down a treat.
In the scanning room up in Nelson, our daughter’s nose finally appears on screen. It’s absolutely massive, but lovely all the same; it’s ours. And even though I know Sunny’s laughing just like I am, I don’t get to see it because of the mask he’s been forced to wear. As moments go, I’ll take it – even though the truth is that I’ve been dying to watch his reaction to seeing his daughter for the first time for months, years even. And while I’ve been really lucky so far compared to most – during a time where people have lost so much – for me and for many other mums to be it’s the loss of those first special moments that are going to stick in my throat, as well as the thought of what other less fortunate parents to be are going through – the loss of an experience shared for better or worse.
Head to ButNotMaternity.org to find out more on how you can help get NHS Trusts to update their rules and allow partners to attend scans, appointments and births, and tweet your own experiences of pregnancy and birth during Covid using #ButNotMaternity. If you’re in Wales, sign the Senedd Petition here. ♥