A woman who gave birth to a baby daughter just a week after the devastating loss of her own mother says it's "shocking and absolutely shameful" that maternity restrictions are still ongoing.
She was speaking as protests are held at four maternity hospitals across Donegal, Dublin and Louth over ongoing restrictions on partners attending key scans and appointments.
The demonstrations, organised by advocacy group AIMS, are calling for partners to be allowed to attend all scans and all stages of labour.
The HSE has issued guidelines calling for partners to be allowed to attend the 20-week scan, active labour and during neo-natal care.
However, campaigners want a nationwide approach to maternity care instead of each individual hospital choosing its own policies.
The Health Minister today said maternity restrictions should not be in place unless there's a safety issue in a particular hospital.
"Was I going to be doing this alone?"
Recently, Sarah McGinn - mother of seven-month-old Annie - shared her story of how the maternity restrictions have impacted her and her husband.
Sarah became pregnant in January 2020 - and, just weeks later, the country went into lockdown.
Speaking on The Pat Kenny Show, she recalled: “For the 12-week scan, lockdowns had just started… there was a lot of confusion in the hospitals.
"My husband couldn’t come in… in fact, I wasn’t even allowed ring him at the time. That did change after - that you could FaceTime or video call your husband during the appointment."
The early scans showed Sarah's baby was healthy and developing well, but six months into the pregnancy Sarah's family received devastating news.
She said: “My mum was given a year to live… my mum was one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. It was devastating - for someone so young and seemingly so fit and healthy. At 59 years old to be handed your death sentence… it was unbearable.
“For myself personally, every appointment thereon out… I felt I’d have to explain over and over again that my mum was dying, that I was very stressed, I wasn’t coping… and that I was worried about what this stress and grief could do to the baby."
During chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Sarah's mother grew sicker and weaker, and she ultimately passed away on October 10th.
A week to the day of her mother's death, Sarah gave birth to a baby girl.
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Sarah recalled: “It was only at my final appointment… that they were giving me reassurances that my husband would be able to attend [the birth]. But it was loose reassurance, as they couldn’t give me full guarantees.
“I left that appointment confused and upset. Was I going to still be doing this alone? Who would I meet at the door? Would they know my story? Would I need to explain it again, in the midst of labour?”
Sarah said Annie's birth brought moments of joy - but it was all "tinged with sadness".
She said: "[Annie] would never get to meet the greatest person in my life, and my mother would never get to meet the daughter she so wanted me to have.”
Women 'being treated as second-class citizens'
Sarah doesn't blame individuals in the hospitals for the policies, restrictions and confusion she encountered during her pregnancy.
She praised the team who helped deliver her daughter, especially the midwife who "felt like a gift from my mum".
However, Sarah said she felt like she had to share her story after discovering that other pregnant women were still experiencing the restrictions she did.
She said: “There still wasn’t those clear guidelines - it was shocking and shameful. I feel that the women in this country are being treated as second-class citizens.
“I feel my mother, myself and my daughter were forgotten about, when we were supposed to be minded by the structures that are in place to mind the most vulnerable of our nation.
“I understand people are excited with everything opening up… but how in all this time has maternity not been a top priority?
"It’s astounding, shocking and absolutely shameful.”
Sarah believes partners shouldn't be seen as visitors, as they're a parent too and a vital part of the journey.
She observed: “It’s the most incredible, magical and terrifying experience of your life. Why anyone should have to do that alone is just astounding.”