'This is just barbaric' Cork woman who suffered two miscarriages hits out at maternity restrictions

Covid restrictions around maternity wards have led to protests at some hospitals this week, as political and health leaders said the restrictions could be lifted
'This is just barbaric' Cork woman who suffered two miscarriages hits out at maternity restrictions

Cara Lyons, Fermoy with her daughter Lily and Rioghnach Elliott, Glaunthaune at a distanced protest against maternity restrictions outside CUMH on Wednesday. Picture: Dan Linehan

A woman who suffered two miscarriages in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic has said going through the experience without her husband was traumatic.

Covid restrictions around maternity wards have led to protests at some hospitals this week, as political and health leaders said the restrictions could be lifted.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said this week that there should be no restrictions on partners attending maternity services, while Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said he was “getting quite frustrated” at the lack of progress on restrictions.

Mr Donnelly said today that that 14 of the 19 maternity units in the country are complying with the instruction that partners should be allowed to attend antenatal appointments.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said last week that there is "no good reason” in public health terms why partners would not be allowed to visit.

'Emotional journey'

Rioghnach Elliott has spoken about her experience of going through two miscarriages without having her husband for support.

Ms Elliott explained that her first pregnancy with her now two-year-old had been a “textbook” one.

She added that with that pregnancy, she had her husband Derek there “every step of the way”.

“I know it's very much a physical journey, but it's an emotional journey as well. And I suppose the dads can’t go through it physically, but they can go through it emotionally,” she told the 96FM Opinion Line with PJ Coogan.

Last year, on her second pregnancy, she discovered she had a bleed at home after 11 weeks.

“I knew myself, that I had to go in. [I] spoke with them, you know, they would have said yeah, look, your partner can’t come in.

“So we just made a plan that he'd stay with our daughter and my friend would drop me to the door.

Ms Elliott said the bleed had begun clotting, adding: “I wasn't aware that a miscarriage at 11 weeks can be so kind of violent and aggressive in that sense”.

She said that her husband picked her up the next day, after declining a surgical procedure. “Because we had lost the baby, I didn’t see the need to have a D&C at the time.” 

Ms Elliott said that they got pregnant again and after the eight-week scan everything was good.

She said she went for a 10-week scan for reassurance with her consultant and “there wasn’t a heartbeat this time”.

“I didn't expect us to have that bad luck again, really. You're kind of just sitting there and you're trying to take all the information in.” 

She said that as good as the man explaining the situation and comforting her was, “he’s not your partner”.

“I had to walk out of there, trying to remember all the things…I had to kind of keep it together.” 

Ms Elliott said that she was thinking of her previous miscarriage while she waited for an appointment at the CUMH as she wanted answers as to what had happened.

“I was thinking ‘am I going to start bleeding again’. All these things go through your head.

“I didn't want to lose the pregnancy because I wanted to, to make sure I had genetic testing this time to get some answers.” 

'On my own'

She said she had the procedure done on a Thursday but had to have a scan again on the previous Tuesday.

“I had to go in on my own. They had to rule out that there wasn’t a twin, on my own.

“I thought I can cope with one, but two…I just thought this is just barbaric for like, for no support at all in this.

“As soon as the scan is over, it's like the tokenism tick the box. Yeah, your partner can come up now and meet your gynaecologist.” 

Ms Elliott asked “where’s the opportunity for the father to have any closure? Or to give you a sense of support.

“There’s a massive disconnect, especially for the fathers where it’s their first time.

“I've been lucky to have a baby before. I think that's pretty immoral and unjust and it's really abusive on both parties really.” 

Ms Elliott praised the staff at the CUMH, saying two nurses in particular (Louise and Janet) who were “just amazing”.

On Thursday the clinical director for Ireland South Women and Infants Directorate, Professor John Higgins said that pregnant women are being admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

The obstetrician and gynaecologist, who is based at Cork University Hospital, told RTÉ radio’s News at One efforts were being made to allow partners to accompany pregnant women to scans and appointments and during labour.

Access had been restricted because of Covid-19, he explained, but the position was that women were still presenting at maternity units where they were tested and found to be positive for the virus.

“We have to care for them and their baby,” he said.

Earlier in the pandemic, such cases were not serious, but there was a growing concern about the connection between Covid-19 and stillbirths. There was now a situation where there was concern that such cases could be “very dangerous.” 

Prof Higgins said that in recent weeks a new system of visiting for partners had been introduced. A review was held every week

Speaking to the Irish Examiner last week, the director of the National Women's Council of Ireland said that women have gone through “enormous trauma” having to attend appointments and scans on their own during the pandemic.

Orla O’Connor said that every pregnancy is a unique experience but it is a time when “the support of someone close to you is really important”.

She said that the issue of women being supported in pregnancy is not being taken with the seriousness that it needs to be.

“Women are saying to us, this is not a luxury, this is an essential part of their care during pregnancy.”

- additional reporting from Vivienne Clarke

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