Lockdown may be easing across the country, with pubs, shops and beauty salons reopening, but pregnant women say they feel they’ve been “forgotten”.
Mums-to-be are still finding that routine antenatal appointments are being cancelled or conducted over the phone, HuffPost has heard, while many continue to face scans and difficult face-to-face appointments alone.
Pregnant women have faced significant challenges throughout the pandemic, since they were classed as “vulnerable” in March and were told to abide by stricter social distancing measures. Things looked a little brighter in April, when the NHS set out a six-week plan to resume normal services across healthcare.
But three months later, maternity services in some parts of the country are still heavily restricted and tight limits remain in place on partners attending scans, appointments – and even a baby’s birth.
“I’ve had to attend everything on my own,” says Stacey Carley from Fleetwood near Blackpool, who is 37 weeks pregnant with her third child. In the past week, Carley, 33, who has experienced complications throughout the pregnancy, was told her daughter is too big and also breach, so will need to be delivered early.
“I wish my partner had have been sat there. I wish anybody had been sat there, to be honest, just to hold my hand and say that it will be okay, but I had to sit there by myself,” she says. “I’ve got to go for an emergency scan at some point this week. He’s still not even allowed to attend that. It’s really upsetting.”
Carley accepts that tight regulations were needed on maternity and antenatal wards at the height of lockdown, but doesn’t understand why they’re still in place when other restrictions are easing.
“You can go and get your hair done, you can go and sit in a pub, but you can’t have your partner with you while you’re having a baby. It’s just not logical,” she says. “I’ve had to go into all these appointments by myself and come out upset and tell him in the car. It’s not nice for him, either – he doesn’t want to hear this stuff in a car.”
Fiona Hall, 32, from East Croydon, London, is 32 weeks pregnant with her first child and is worried that a lack of face-to-face contact with her midwife could mean vital information is missed.
She had one in-person appointment at 10 weeks, but her 16-week appointment was conducted over the phone and lasted just a few minutes. “I didn’t know what to ask because I’ve never had a baby before. People need to be offering information and I found that that wasn’t really the case,” she says.
Hall says a friend “mentioned in passing that you’re not meant to sleep on your back after a certain number of weeks”. Research shows the risk of stillbirth increases after 28 weeks for women who do so, according to the NHS.
“No one official has told me that – and I’m 32 weeks.”
Hall, who’s part of the Dope Black Mums community group, was able to attend her 12-week scan with her partner, but at the 20-week scan, he was told to wait in the corridor. Her next appointment, at 24 weeks, was cancelled by her GP surgery, who told her to contact her midwife team instead.
“For weeks I couldn’t get an appointment because they just didn’t answer the phone, so I had no 24-week appointment, it just passed,” she says. “No one checked on me, no one called, no blood test, no blood pressure check.”
Blood pressure is usually checked at every antenatal visit during pregnancy, but Hall didn’t have hers checked between week 10 and week 28 of pregnancy, when she eventually got through to the midwives.
“That’s a long time, especially for a first-time mum who doesn’t know what’s happening, not just in regards to blood pressure, but in terms of having that assistance and having those conversations,” she says.
“No one has spoken to me about alternatives for birthing classes or breast feeding tuition, or anything like that. I’ve been floating for the longest time.”
“No one checked on me, no one called, no blood test, no blood pressure check”
Hall has fibroids and doesn’t yet know if she’ll require a C-section instead of a vaginal birth. So far, her partner has not been permitted to attend any of the appointments where these options have been explained and discussed – and she doesn’t know how long he’ll be allowed to stay with her after the birth. “It’s extremely distressing to me, the possibility of having to have my partner leave straight away after birth,” she says.
Kerry Langley, 35, from Hertford, Hertfordshire, is 35 weeks pregnant. She also accepted the restrictions at first, telling herself, “it’s going to be a bit shitty, but you’ll be alright.” But at her 20-week scan, she was told she wasn’t even allowed to video call her partner – and that’s when her frustrations started.
When she asked the sonographer why, she was told a video call would go against the data protection rules at the hospital.
“On the news and everywhere there is NHS staff doing TikTok videos. You can see the inside of the hospital pretty clearly. How does that work?’ I just think this is more important than a bloody TikTok,” she says.
Langley’s partner has two children from a previous relationship, while she has one from a previous relationship. This current pregnancy is their first child together but the couple say like they’re not able to enjoy it as a family.
“This is going to be our only baby together – four is enough, I can’t do five – so we won’t have this experience again,” she says.
Langley is booked in for a C-section and her partner will be present for the delivery and allowed to stay for a couple of hours while she’s in recovery. However, the couple have been told he won’t be allowed on the ward, where she’ll stay with the baby for the rest of the day and overnight.
“It was the other day that it really hit me and I thought: ‘Oh my goodness, that’s going to be horrible’. I know the staff will be amazing – don’t get me wrong, this is never anything towards the NHS staff – but at the end of the day, I want my partner there,” she says. “I’m upset about it, as it’s getting nearer the time, and as all these other restrictions are being lifted, it’s upsetting me more.”
Langley understands the need to kickstart the economy, but says that seeing people stagger out of pubs, when her antenatal appointments have been so restricted, is increasingly difficult.
“It makes me feel frustrated and it makes me feel like me and my partner and all the other pregnant ladies have been forgotten about,” she says.
A fourth woman who spoke to HuffPost UK and wished to remain anonymous, said her partner hasn’t been allowed to attend any of her scans which has been “really difficult” after she experienced a missed miscarriage in January, which was only picked up at a routine scan.
“Knowing I had to do the whole appointment process – taxis, waiting surrounded by other pregnant women, the actual scan – without the support of my partner added a lot of anxiety into the lead up to the appointments,” the 37-year-old from London says.
“I couldn’t help but think if we were allowed in Primark together, why not for a scan appointment with proper precautions?”
“My partner also felt the same way, mostly helpless as he just had to wait for the information alone at home. And then when the scans went well, there wasn’t the one person I wanted to be there to share the overwhelming joy with.”
The midwives and technicians have been extremely supportive during each appointment, the mum-to-be adds, but she’s still frustrated by the situation.
“I couldn’t help but think if we were allowed in Primark together, why not for a scan appointment with proper precautions? Especially because our hospital’s maternity wing is separate from the rest of the hospital.”
HuffPost UK has contacted NHS England for comment on the experiences of the women we spoke to and details of when normal services are expected to resume. We will update this article when we receive a response.
In the meantime, the uncertain end to restrictions is making a difficult situation even harder for women approaching their due date. “The anxiety of being pregnant during a pandemic is high anyway and our mental health has suffered,” says Stacey Carley. “I don’t understand why we can’t have someone with us still.
“We’re all taking precautions – using hand sanitiser and masks and doing everything we can – plus I live with my partner. They say you can mix with six other people outside your household, so why is he not allowed to come in? We need that support.”