I’d be lying if I told you I could give you a definitive list of things I am or aren’t allowed to do under the current coronavirus restrictions. Apparently, so too would the woman on the 56 bus who shouted at me that wearing her face mask was “down to choice – not the law!”, the offending item hanging impotently from one ear.
I know I can’t meet in groups of more than six people, but I can go to the pub (so long as my group is smaller than this). I know I can go to Nandos, because young, hip chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak likes Nandos, and he wants us to go to Nandos so much that he actually helped foot the bill for our Peri-Peri chicken. Pretty generous when you consider the amount a lone parent in the UK receives in income support, but I digress.
What I know many women across the country still can’t do is have a birth partner present for the duration of their labour in a hospital, or at routine or otherwise scans and other antenatal appointments. OK, OK, I get it, you’re right, we are in the midst of a global pandemic, yes, yes I know – but I can go to Nandos? (Let me just take this opportunity to apologise to Nandos. I don’t mean to pick on you, I know times are tough for you too and it’s not your fault your spirit was invoked by a Tory minister.)
To be honest, before I gave birth to my daughter in June, I almost certainly wouldn’t have thought this was that big a deal, either. I was allowed one birth partner instead of the usual two and my daughter’s father very reasonably conceded that my best friend, also a trained midwife, would make a more useful one than he – although I’m sure he would have quite liked to be there, given the opportunity.
Look, we’ve all got to make sacrifices, right? And what are a couple of hours of labour between friends, anyway? Well, quite significant actually. According to the charity Birthrights, research shows that continuous support during labour from a chosen birth partner has a “positive impact on wellbeing, and reduces the need for pain relief, and the likelihood that you will need help to deliver your baby”, as well as playing a part in shorter labour. Family members, they said, “play an important role in advocating for the person in labour”, helping to keep them safe.
But hang on a minute, if you don’t think the situation sounds rubbish enough already, put your 10-wing roulette down for a minute, because the impact goes way beyond expectant mums, with potentially wide-reaching impacts on new mums and their babies, too.
For the uninitiated, sorry to burst your bubble but breastfeeding is actually quite a tricky skill to master. It’s tough for both mum, ravaged by sleep deprivation and flooded with hormones, and for the floppy, helpless creature screaming into the sky at the injustice of being out of the womb. Worse still, born into Boris Johnson’s Britain. Believe me, support is vital.
As someone who didn’t get it, and whose baby was twice identified as tongue-tied, and twice promised a referral which they never received, I know how vital that support is. At 14 weeks old, and the problem now having been identified by four healthcare professionals at the same hospital and still having received no treatment, it seems unlikely we’ll get it at this stage.
What about general support at home? In many areas women, who under normal circumstances could expect regular health visitors, are not being seen, their babies are not being weighed and problems are not being identified. Family support charity Home-Start UK, which recently published the findings in the Babies in Lockdown report, receives the majority of its referrals from health visitors. With only 21.2 per cent of the respondents with children under two months stating they’d had face-to-face contact with a health visitor. The charity says any number of problems could be going unnoticed. My own daughter, who was jaundiced and lost a pretty hefty 9 per cent of her body weight after birth, has not been weighed by a healthcare professional in eight weeks.
“What about new mums themselves?” I hear not one cabinet minister cry. It’s a good question. How are those long, lonely, bewildering and isolated days panning out for them in the absence of any of the normal support groups they could have expected? According to the report, only three in 10 of those surveyed felt they could find mental health support if they needed it. How are their stitches even? Stomach muscles? Lumpy, burning boobs?
No look, you’re right, it is a global pandemic and sacrifices do need to be made, I just don’t think my sacrifice should – quite needlessly – be the physical or mental health of me or my daughter. The government needs to act now to ensure support is available for expectant and new mums, as well as their babies, and not just for some cheap halloumi sticks and dip while they negotiate the long and treacherous road of birth and parenthood.
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