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Parents' plea Mum tells of 'fearful' labour experience at protest against maternity hospital restrictions

"He wasn't allowed anywhere near the entrance. He was distraught because he could see the agony that I was in."

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Bernadette Phelan (right) with baby Eve and her friend Katie Boyle at the AIMS protest outside the Coombe Hospital in Dublin

Bernadette Phelan (right) with baby Eve and her friend Katie Boyle at the AIMS protest outside the Coombe Hospital in Dublin

Bernadette Phelan (right) with baby Eve and her friend Katie Boyle at the AIMS protest outside the Coombe Hospital in Dublin

A young mum has told how she had to crawl on her hands and knees along the entrance to a Dublin maternity hospital as her husband was not allowed to go with her because of Covid 19 restrictions.

Bernadette Phelan (32), who is living in Leixlip but is originally from Belfast, was one of more than a dozen protestors who gathered outside the Coombe Hospital today for a demonstration organised by AIMS Ireland.

The maternity advocacy group has been staging similar protests at Holles Street and Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, Co Louth as well as Letterkenny University Hospital to highlight how Covid-19 restrictions are affecting maternity patients and their partners.

Bernadette told how she went through the whole process with her little girl Eve, who is now six months old, on her own, “from the first scan right through to active labour”.

“And it was quite a tough labour at the start,” she recalled. “When my husband dropped me off at the door I collapsed on my hands and knees. I had to crawl up the concrete ramp into the hospital by myself in just pure agony.

“My husband was in the car. He had to drop me off and then go park and sit in the car. He wasn't allowed anywhere near the entrance. He was distraught because he could see the agony that I was in.

“I was in back labour with her so it was actually causing me to vomit,” Bernadette added.

“I was really fearful. It was my first pregnancy so I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know how long the labour was going to take. (I just needed) to have the reassurance, not only the mental and emotional reassurance but also the physical. Like I said I couldn’t stand, I couldn't walk.”

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Neasa Henry from Lucan pictured  at the Coombe Women's Hospital at a protest by the Association for the Improvement in  Maternity Services. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Neasa Henry from Lucan pictured at the Coombe Women's Hospital at a protest by the Association for the Improvement in Maternity Services. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Neasa Henry from Lucan pictured at the Coombe Women's Hospital at a protest by the Association for the Improvement in Maternity Services. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Bernadette's friend, Katie Boyle (39), who is also living in Leixlip was on her way in to get her 13 week scan.

“And it's just absolutely frightening (to do it) on my own and just knowing that my partner won’t be with me,” she said.

“I don't know what news I'm going to receive, like it's just super daunting and it will just continue like this with all the coming scans and then the birth itself.

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“You try to get yourself into a state of comfort and bring all your levels down while you're in labour. I mean, your partner is the one who's going to do that. They know you better than anyone else and that’s the one person who is not with you. The midwives and all the staff are unbelievable but it's not your partner, the person who you planned everything with. It's very frightening.”

Leemore Butler of AIMS Ireland said the association was there to represent all the “hardships that my clients are going through in the last 14 months”.

“Partners are not visitors,” she said, “and women should not go through any of this process on their own. We heard a horrific story this morning (of) somebody that lost their baby in 38 weeks, end of pregnancy, and she was there on her own. She didn't have her partner with her. I have many, many stories from the last 14 months (like this).

"We met somebody this morning that actually stopped and talked to us and she's going through fertility treatments. Now fertility is hard enough anyway for your partner and for yourself and not being there in this process together is just mind boggling.”

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Six week old Éabha  pictured with her mother, Shauna Gillan  at the Coombe Women's Hospital. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Six week old Éabha pictured with her mother, Shauna Gillan at the Coombe Women's Hospital. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Six week old Éabha pictured with her mother, Shauna Gillan at the Coombe Women's Hospital. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Ms Butler said they want “clear guidelines to how this is going to change”.

“We understand it cannot be changed quickly but these restrictions have to (be lifted). Partners need to be part of the birth. Women need support during early labour, especially if they're being induced, which can be a long process, and then during pregnancy.

“I see a lot of dads that are suffering with depression or they're incapable of bonding with baby because they're being cut from the whole process of pregnancy,” she added.

“It is affecting the dads of course because they're not there, even for the first scan. In a lot of places I know they're not even allowed to be on video. If a woman, God forbid, is going through a horrific scan which can happen she's there all alone.

"I don't think it's the doctors’ fault or the midwifes’ fault, they are doing amazing with what they are being told to do, so it really has to come from high up.

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Six week old Éabha  pictured with her mother, Shauna Gillan at the Coombe Women's Hospital.  Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Six week old Éabha pictured with her mother, Shauna Gillan at the Coombe Women's Hospital. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Six week old Éabha pictured with her mother, Shauna Gillan at the Coombe Women's Hospital. Picture Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

“I think that the Minister of Health has to come to a decision to make a united guideline that the maternity hospitals should follow."

At a HSE briefing last Thursday, HSE CEO Paul Reid said he was writing to all maternity units about partner restrictions and that conditions are right at the moment for restrictions to be lifted.

Labour leader Alan Kelly had raised the issue in the Dail, asking Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to ensure there would be “consistency in service to allow partners to be with their partners in the delivery of maternity services”.

Kelly described the restrictions as “barbaric”.

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