Women in labour, miscarriage alone

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A Sydney woman who miscarried twins is among a growing cohort of women who say their treatment in a NSW hospital was cruel and that their experience was traumatic.

Hospitals have implemented a variety of new rules during Sydney’s coronavirus outbreak that mean women who are giving birth, experiencing complications with pregnancy or having a miscarriage need to do it alone — their partners and support people are not allowed in.

The measures are in place to protect healthcare workers from the risk of being infected with Covid-19 but even Health Minister Brad Hazzard questions whether they are a step too far.

“I must say from a human point of view, I would like to see mums who are about to give birth and post birth have their support person with them as long as possible,” he told reporters last week.

So bad is the situation that some women are “afraid to fall pregnant … due to the restrictions hospitals are placing on labouring women”.

Katherine*, a 31-year-old woman from Sydney’s south, told news.com.au she would never forget her horrific experience last week.

It started when she went in to see her obstetrician for an eight-week scan and was told she could only attend alone.

“I had my hubby on FaceTime during the entire appointment where my scan revealed an unviable twin pregnancy,” said Katherine, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

“I was in absolute and utter shock. In that moment all I needed was my husband’s hand to hold. But there I was, clutching my mobile phone as I fought back the tears. My OB recommended a (procedure to remove tissue from inside the uterus) and I had to process it all on my own.”

Things got worse for Katherine from there when, a day later, she received a notification from NSW Health that she was considered a “close contact” of an infected case because she visited an Ikea store. She was told to isolate for 14 days.

“I immediately contacted the hospital and was honest and transparent about my situation,” she said.

“They explained that I could not come for the procedure and that essentially I should only go to emergency if I were to start miscarrying on my own. This was an absolutely terrifying prospect for me.

“I reached out to NSW Health to seek an exemption on compassionate grounds, and, to their credit, they worked tirelessly to get me off that close contact list. I only attended Ikea for four minutes using their Click and Collect service. How could I be a ‘close contact’?

“Within a few days I finally received word that after reviewing my case, which included three negative Covid tests and receipts from Ikea showing time stamps of a person working in Click and Collect, NSW Health no longer considered me to be a close contact. Relief.”

Katherine booked in for the procedure the following day but was again not allowed to have her husband by her side.

“I had to go in alone. It was absolutely the most traumatising experience of my life. I was first put in a room in the maternity ward where I had to take a pill to start the miscarrying process and wait for theatre to be ready.

“I was there for close to three hours. Alone. Cramping. Unable to cry in my husband’s chest. Listening to the beautiful sound of crying babies around me. It was an extremely difficult experience.

“Opening my eyes for the first time after my procedure, I looked around and remembered I was alone. I was alone, in pain and in tears. I couldn’t stop crying and all I needed in that moment was my husband. But he wasn’t allowed in.”

Katherine says the hospital “should have granted me special exemption” for a support person.

“I believe we need to put an end to not only birth restrictions, but restrictions on support people attending when women experience miscarriage,” she said.

Other women are sharing their stories via a petition at change.org that has been signed more than 32,000 times.

Petition author Sarah Fowler wants the hashtag #endbirthrestrictions to gain traction and for the situation to be corrected immediately.

“The restrictions that are currently in place are inconsistent across hospitals throughout Sydney and are damaging women,” she wrote.

“Women are stressed, anxious, worried and fearful about what may happen if they have to go in to birth their babies with no support people. It is no secret that our hospital system is failing women already, the system is hard to navigate under normal circumstances, now it is nearly impossible.”

The Health Minister said last week that he was in discussion with health officials but they were holding firm to their decision.

“It is a difficult issue because at the moment Covid is in the community more broadly,” he said.

“I must say from the human point of view, I would like to see mums who are about to give birth and post birth have their support person with them as long as possible.

“I have discussed that with the senior health officials and the instructions they’ve given out are reflective that on the ground health authorities just have to make some really challenging decisions.”

He said issues had arisen in recent weeks at both hospitals on Sydney’s north shore and in Fairfield where hundreds of staff had to be furloughed because they came in contact with known Covid cases.

“Everybody in the health system innately wants people to have support in a whole variety of circumstances but at the end of the day it has to be a health decision in not only keeping that mum and that dad and that baby safe,” he said.

“It is a highly difficult and challenging circumstance. My heart goes out to those people. Compassion and care and concern has to be the overriding factor, but that compassion and care and concern can also mean you have to look at what risks there are around Covid.

“This one in 100 year pandemic is not easy when it comes to those issues.”



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