Covid-19 restrictions are stripping away birth rights

Image of a distressed womanMidwife Claire Harbottle shares her worries about how Covid-19 restrictions are affecting hard fought for birth rights.

“In the 60s and 70s pregnant women went into hospital alone to give birth. They were subjected to routine enemas and pubic hair shaving (both unnecessary and potentially harmful), routine episiotomy if it was a first baby (unnecessary, painful and harmful), separation from their babies and regimented feeding schedules (positively harmful).

Their partners viewed their new babies from behind a viewing screen, making bonding harder (harmful). By the eighties and nineties all women were routinely given a period of time on a continuous monitor upon admission to hospital (pointless and harmful), but at least their partners were allowed to be with them during the birth.

Since then, campaigning has meant that partners can be more involved in birth and in most hospitals they have had open visiting including overnight. Enemas are a thing of the past, as is shaving, routine episiotomy and separation.

Covid restrictions did away with 40 years of campaigning for the rights of parents and birthing people to be supported by their partners at this crucial and vulnerable time. All of the interventions listed above have been entirely discredited – yet we still have interventions now which are considered ‘routine’ but which will be discredited in their turn. Birthing women and people often benefit from support to make their own decisions. Their partners need to be able to access them for this.

People outside the birth world are entirely unaware that partners are being refused access during antenatal care, during inductions (which can take days) and during postnatal stays. Some hospitals even stopped them being at the birth of their own child. The government lifted the ban on hospital visiting on 5th June but across the country partners are still being refused access.

It’s causing huge distress. It’s leaving birthing women and people vulnerable in a system that has form for getting it very wrong. You can go to the pub for a pint, but not to the ultrasound scan where problems with your baby may be spotted. You are banned from the decision-making consultation afterwards. You can fly to Spain for a holiday but not help your partner reach her new baby to feed after a caesarean section, nor care for your newborn. This is wrong and it’s in great danger of becoming normal. We cannot let this happen.”