Until today, hospitals were free to make their own rules around how they handled women during pregnancy, in labour and in the hours and days after birth. Most chose to ban the presence of birth partners for all but the hours of active labour (the bit that really hurts) – an astonishing cruelty which has finally, thankfully, been ended.
The NHS has today instructed all trusts that partners must now be allowed to accompany women at all stages of their care – so long as they are tested for coronavirus and follow social distancing guidelines.
But for thousands of women who had children in 2020, those moments of vulnerable isolation have left their mark. And so it was for me, just nine weeks ago.
As I braced myself against early labour pains in an almost empty hospital ward, I picked up my mobile phone, opened Twitter and sent out a message into the dark: “For those interested, still no baby and husband has now been hoofed out under covid rules. Just had a little cry about that. Wish me and my tens machine luck for the night…” It wasn’t a self-centred attempt to grab attention; it was a cry for help. All I wanted, at that moment, was to feel less alone.
Earlier that day I had been admitted to hospital for induction of labour. I knew from the very start of my pregnancy that it would end like this, a week before my official due date, because I had developed gestational diabetes. What I didn’t know then was that I’d end up spending much of that process reliant only on the kindness of social media strangers to get me through.
It was hard to believe I’d ended up here. The decision to have a second child had not been an easy one. Our first daughter, Martha, was born in 2017. The first year of her life was tough. I had suffered a long and difficult birth which left me with dangerously high blood pressure and my baby separated from me on the special care baby unit. We spent much of her first month of life in hospital, returning home only as my husband was due back at his desk.