It’s December, and after the year we’ve had, many are looking forward to a brief respite from Covid restrictions to allow families to come together for Christmas, albeit with the promise that tougher measures will be enforced in the New Year to stem the inevitable rise of cases.
But not all of us are feeling so filled with festive cheer. I’m almost eight months pregnant with my first baby, and dreading what a tougher lockdown in 2021 might mean for us.
The government is now facing mounting pressure to scrap the Christmas easing, amid a resurgence in infections in recent days and fears that relaxations could cause the death rate to sky rocket. And quite rightly, in my view. How big a price are we willing to pay for five days of festivities?
We saw the consequences for pregnant women last time infections peaked. In March, they were placed in the “high risk” group, and ever since, many have been at the mercy of postcode lotteries as to whether or not they will be afforded basic support during pregnancy, birth and beyond.
During the first lockdown, women were forced to attend appointments, scans and even give birth alone. Antenatal classes and postnatal midwife visits – vital support systems for women navigating this huge life change – were also heavily disrupted.
When my baby went through an uncharacteristically quiet period last month, I had to go into hospital for assessment, while my husband had no choice but to wait at home for news. Happily, the baby was fine, but hospital-enforced restrictions added more anxiety to an already stressful situation for all of us.
In September, the NHS dictated that all trusts should allow birth partners to be present for the entirety of labour, but social media was still flooded with stories from women who continued to be denied this supposed privilege.
NHS England has now issued further guidance to trusts, asking them to take measures so that partners can accompany women to all appointments and throughout birth.
It’s a step in the right direction, but there will be no obligation for trusts to comply and no set timeframe by which they must do so – women will still be at the mercy of a decentralised system. And how many of these measures will have to be dialled back if the R rate explodes early next year? The Royal College of Midwives has already expressed concern that “safety is being sacrificed in favour of popularity” and has urged trusts to use “common sense” when interpreting the guidelines, as the UK struggles to control another boom in infection rates. It hardly fills you with confidence that frontline care providers are on board.
Pregnancy is already a time of huge emotional and physical upheaval, and during a pandemic, there is no “village”.
Call me selfish, but I don’t want to go through early labour alone. I don’t want my partner to be forced to leave after the birth. While there’s no suggestion this will happen to us, pregnant women’s needs have been repeatedly overlooked during this pandemic. Where is the guarantee this won’t happen again?
Even attending antenatal appointments without my partner feels unfair. We decided to have a baby together, and he wants to be involved as much as I want him there. Does his journey to fatherhood really matter so little that he should be excluded from these once in a lifetime moments? Where is the evidence that partners attending appointments is putting more people at risk than, for example, a heaving Oxford Street packed with Christmas shoppers?
There’s something very Handmaid’s Tale about looking round the maternity waiting room and seeing a sea of unaccompanied women. Covid has exposed just how gendered an experience becoming a parent is, above and beyond the obvious biology of pregnancy. The lack of acknowledgement of the vital role of partners has been maddening.
So call me scrooge, or selfish, or even naive for getting pregnant during a pandemic, but I’m dreading Christmas. As my February due date approaches, I’m filled with trepidation.
Pregnancy is already a time of huge emotional and physical upheaval, and during a pandemic, there is no “village”. The least we deserve is the recognition that this time in our lives matters.
Lucy Pasha-Robinson is opinion editor at HuffPost UK.