Statewide COVID restrictions have added a degree of difficulty to the demands of pregnancy for many Hunter women and their families.

COVID restrictions have meant expectant mothers have had to attend scans and appointments without partners or other support people. Image source: Pexels

And to add to the stress, Hunter New England Health has confirmed that six parents of newborns at Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital’s maternity ward and NICU have tested positive for COVID. No babies or staff have tested positive at this stage, and the affected areas have undergone deep cleaning.

Glendale resident Tiaran Ockenden, who is 28 weeks pregnant with her second child, said she and her partner had found the experience to be “super difficult” amid lockdown.

The couple has encountered complications with the pregnancy, and not having her partner Aiden there to support her during appointments has made the ordeal increasingly hard for Ockenden. 

“For us personally, it’s been a massive struggle,” the 21-year-old said.

“We haven’t had an easy pregnancy so it’s been super difficult not having my partner with me as a support person at appointments. 

“I’m left to feel like I’m doing this alone, even though I know once I’m home I have his full support.” 

With the difficult pregnancy comes additional appointments and check-ups, and Ockenden said the lack of involvement her partner had been permitted to have was disappointing. 

“For my partner, he’s left feeling like he’s missing out on everything when all he wants to do is be there to support his baby and me,” she said.

“I feel so sorry for all pregnant women right now, especially first-time parents – like this is supposed to be an exciting time for them, not a stressful one.”

For first-time father Nelson O’Connor, of Mayfield, FaceTime is the only option for him to accompany his wife Kate to scans to watch the growth of the baby, whose birth is imminent.

Expectant parents Nelson and Kate O’Connor, of Mayfield.

While O’Connor said he was “lucky” to be able to attend his wife’s first scans, he is devastated he can no longer attend appointments.

“Obviously, attending the first few scans was amazing. You’re slowly seeing the baby grow, and interacting with my partner both emotionally and physically. You’re acting as a comforter,” he said.

“Since the second round of COVID hit, it’s stopped me from attending the scans. I have to do them by FaceTime now and it’s nowhere near the same. I’m watching a screen on a screen.”

O’Connor said that the restrictions had changed “something so special” to “something involving our phones again”.

“Not knowing how my wife is feeling and not seeing the scanner roll around the stomach area showing my firstborn. Times like these are to be cherished as a family,” he said. 

For many couples, question marks still loom over the birthing process itself, and Ockenden, who is just 11 weeks away from giving birth, is still seeking answers. 

“I have a hospital visit soon so I’m going to inquire as to what’s going to happen when I go into labour and if I can have a support person or if they need to be fully vaccinated, et cetera,” she said. 

NSW Health has said the decision to have a partner or support person present in the waiting room and during antenatal appointments should be decided by each facility.

“This decision will depend on individual circumstances, the size of the birthing room and transmission of COVID-19 in the local community.”

The health authority said “compassionate and cultural considerations will be taken into account”, and that the “considerations are best discussed with your doctor or midwife before you go into labour, so that there is a clear plan in place”.

Currently, public health services such as the John Hunter Hospital maternity ward allow one support person, regardless of vaccination status, into the birthing suite during labour, however additional people are banned from prenatal and antenatal appointments. 

The decision was in accordance with John Hunter’s “commitment to the safety of women, our community and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic”, a directive sent out to patients said. 

A local student midwife in her final year observed the health restrictions were not just a difficulty facing pregnant women, but women who had already given birth. 

“So many women are missing multiple appointments in a row for their antenatal care because they aren’t permitted to bring their kids to the visits,” she said. 

“They also can’t find alternative care for the kids either so they have no choice but to miss visits, which then puts them and the bub at the risk of missing any serious complications.”

Despite Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently revealing the roadmap to freedom, no plans have been announced for the future of appointments involving pregnant women and those seeking antenatal healthcare. 

Maia O’Connor

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