Wollongong women support petition for expectant mums to have support person at birth

Expectant mum Rachel Lee. Photo: Sylvia Liber
Expectant mum Rachel Lee. Photo: Sylvia Liber

At 39 weeks pregnant, Rachel Lee is preparing for her baby to be born during lockdown.

And while it is her third pregnancy, it's also been her hardest due to the ever-changing restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the mum from is thankful that unlike some Sydney hospitals, Wollongong still allows one support person during labour, she knows her two children will not be able to visit her in hospital - or their new sibling.

Meantime, due to restrictions on seeing family and friends, she's not sure who her husband can leave them with while he visits.

"Pregnancy and preparing to labour and birth is challenging in normal circumstances," she said.

"But now there's a lot more unknowns which adds to the uncertainty and anxiety many pregnant women are already feeling.

"Little things make a big difference - my partner hasn't been able to attend appointments with me so has missed out on asking the questions he wants to.

"Plus we're not getting the opportunity to rely on the support of family and friends prior to the birth - and they won't be able to come and meet the baby and support me as a mum in hospital, or even when we return home."

She has received support, online, from other women and their partners through advocacy group, Better Births Illawarra.

Group spokeswoman Giselle Coromandel said she was shocked that some women were having to go through labour and birth without a support person by their side.

She said the group supported an online petition, End Birth Restrictions, which has garnered almost 30,000 signatures in just three days.

It calls on NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and local health districts in Greater Sydney to have a consistent set of rules for birthing and maternity units - and to always allow women to have a support person.

"Anyone who's had a baby knows that the experience of giving birth is with you for life," Ms Coromandel said. "Doing that in the absence of someone you know and love is just awful.

"We are fortunate the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District allow a support person.

"But we know this isn't the case for some women in Sydney and that's why we support this petition which is calling for health services to adopt a consistent guidelines based on evidence."

And the evidence - backed up by organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the Australian College of Midwives - is that women need a known support person during labour.

"We understand that some measures are needed during the pandemic, but not allowing women that vital support doesn't seem fair," Ms Coromandel said.

Wollongong Hospital is currently on red alert, with restrictions on visiting. This means only one person can support women during labour and birth, and postnatally the same partner may visit between 8am to 8pm. No siblings can visit.

However in Thursday's press conference in Sydney, Mr Hazzard said any decisions were challenging, citing the recent incident in Wollongong where an expectant mother and support person - who later tested positive to COVID - attended a private obstetrician.

"It has to be a local decision and a health decision in the interests of not only of keeping that mum and dad and that baby safe," he said.

"... About three weeks ago we had a lady who was about to give birth go to her obstetrician, with her partner, in Wollongong, and that fellow .. the support person .. well the result was the obstetrician ended up with COVID and somebody else in the waiting room ended up with COVID.

"So it is a highly difficult and challenging circumstance in each situation.

"While my heart goes out to people .. you have to look at what risks there are around COVID."

This story Rachel's 39 weeks pregnant and she's worried first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.