Mother of four Breege O’Connor laboured for over two hours in a hospital car park so her husband could support her as Covid-restrictions continue to affect births at many hospitals.
New guidelines will take effect on November 1 for support partners attending maternity hospitals. This will allow partners to attend “on arrival in labour or for induction of labour” during the day, with some limits applied at night.
But it comes after months of public campaigning by pregnant women and their partners, during which time thousands of crucial appointments were handled alone.
Ms O’Connor and her husband had been separated by restrictions during the birth of their third child in March 2020, so they were determined to stay together when she gave birth in October.
On the night her contractions started, they travelled from their home in Meath to a hotel near the Coombe Hospital in Dublin, hoping to stay there until she was ready to give birth.
However, when they arrived at the Coombe about 3am on October 8, she was not yet 4cm dilated. A midwife advised them this was then required for admission to the delivery suite where partners are allowed.
“I just had it in my head that if we could get outside, we would definitely be together, with no one saying he needs to leave me,” Ms O’Connor said.
“When you’re in pain, the last thing you want is an argument.”
They stood in the dark, between their car and a tree in the car park, swaying with her contractions. She saw men sitting alone in cars, presumably waiting to be called into the hospital for their child’s birth.
“He was holding me up when the contractions came, I was doing muffled breathing and shouting into his chest,” she said.
On re-entering the hospital at 5.40am, she was fully dilated. Their baby boy was delivered shortly afterwards with both parents present.
“You can be grateful you have a healthy baby, but you are allowed to be angry too,” she said.
“I’m still angry at the nine months we had.”
Frustrations had mounted for months as other sectors reopened fully, yet mothers and partners were still separated for appointments.
Ms O'Connor welcomed the new guidelines, and said she hoped hospitals are supported to follow them from the “magic date” next week.
“Hospitals are not being asked to explain the rationale for keeping essential partners out,” she said.
Just two days before their son’s birth, the couple attended the March for Maternity outside the Dáil.
“It was more emotional than we had expected,” she said.
“I had to go, I wanted to eyeball the politicians and see who would be there to support us.”
Ms O’Connor welcomed support from Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns and recently from Senator Regina Doherty.
A spokeswoman for the Coombe said: "We are not aware of any cases of women labouring in the car park. Once labour is diagnosed, the woman is admitted to the delivery suite where their support person is welcome to join them."