Protect the right to have a birth partner during COVID-19

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My name is Emma, I’m 34 weeks pregnant with my second daughter. Yesterday I was admitted to a maternity ward due to a suspected pulmonary embolism. When I was asked to attend for some tests I was told due the COVID-19 outbreak I would have to attend alone and not be permitted visitors during my stay. I don’t anticipate it will be a long stay, so although I’m worried and anxious and of course would prefer not to be alone, I accept the rules and understand their reasoning. 

However, I have learnt that when I give birth, in the next few weeks, I may also be alone for that too. I have been told that currently women are not permitted to have their birthing partner with them until they are in established labour, very close to giving birth, and that once the baby is born their partner (if they have made it in time for the birth) must leave right away. I have also been told this may change and the measures may get stricter over the next few weeks, meaning that there will be no birthing partner for the entire duration of the labour and birth. Also, there is no visits allowed if you require an admission to a ward afterwards. This means that potentially, fathers will miss the birth of their child, and the first time they will meet their baby is when mother and baby are discharged.

As I mentioned this is my second child, and the labour and birth of my first was long, traumatic and something I would not of been able to get through without the support of my husband. My heart breaks for the women that are going through this for the first time alone. Since being told this information my anxiety has sky rocketed, and I have not been able to rest which is what I should be doing right now given the situation I am in.

I’m a call handler for NHS 111 and understand the need for safety measures in order to protect lives and to ease the strain on the NHS amid the Coronavirus outbreak. But, I also know that women up-and-down the country, who are being told they must go through labour alone are suffering as a consequence.

If you’re reading this having never gone through the process yourself and are struggling to understand why this is so deeply upsetting, I will use my previous experience to highlight some of the issues. 

In 2017, the year I had my daughter, a woman in labour was allowed two birthing partners. I chose to have my husband and my mum. My waters broke but contractions didn’t start so I needed to be induced, which was a long and painful process, the anxiety of the situation meant I was unable to relax and my labour did not progress very well. Due to exhaustion and the various pain medication, I was incoherent and became unable to make any decisions for myself. My heart rate became so accelerated due to the stress of the situation that hospital staff believed I was about to go into cardiac arrest and had a crash team rush into the room. Fortunately, they were not needed. Do you know why? Because my husband was able to speak to me in a way that only he knows, that calmed me and made sense to me, and we managed to agree to an epidural, which relaxed me and my labour was smooth sailing from there. Having birthing partners with me meant that my daughter could be held and comforted by someone other than myself whilst I was being stitched up afterwards. She had the bonding experience with both her father and grandmother.

I am not suggesting that the rules need to be so relaxed that two birthing partners need to be present, but I can not imagine what would of happened to us if I didn’t have my husband with me during early labour. I believe it would of resulted in an emergency c-section, which puts more pressure on the NHS and their resources. I also required a 7 day hospital stay while my daughter and I were treated for sepsis, so under the new guidelines this would mean my husband would miss the birth of his daughter and not of been able to meet her for a week, this is completely unacceptable. During pregnancy we are constantly told the importance of bonding with your baby and getting as much skin to skin as possible, this extends to partners as well, something else they will miss out on.

Everyone is aware that the NHS staff are very stretched at the best of times, so expecting-mothers will face long periods of labouring in a room on their own. Not only do partners provide physical and emotional support during labour, they are also essential in alerting staff when something has gone wrong and the mother is unable to notify nurses themselves, for example if she fainted or had an eclamptic seizure.

I hope that if enough people voice their concerns about these strict rules they can be evaluated and altered. I believe that precautions need to be taken given the current circumstances, but I also believe that women have the right to support during labour.



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