I was fortunate enough to go through both my pregnancies BC (before covid!) and at times, going through the health system was tricky for me. I had to ‘out’ myself at every appointment. It became the norm to give a detailed history of how and why I had conceived via IVF. My personal life became pretty public for those 10 months. Luckily, my wife had full access to me when it came to scans, appointments, admissions and labour.
I cannot even imagine how difficult it would have been to have to go through any of those moments alone. At every stage, my wife was able to be by my side, supporting and helping me. I never had to face the possibility of a pregnancy loss alone. I never had to be alone through unexplained bleeding. I never had to wait during an emergency room admission with no support. I never had to suffer solo through a 48 hour labour. I was never forced to be alone in a hospital, with a newborn and with no partner there to support me. Even though I never had to do any of those things alone, it was still the hardest experience of my life.
Over the course of the last few months we have all heard of the restrictions in maternity hospitals, in fertility clinics and through the health care system in general. People have been up in arms, and rightly so, about the fathers who haven’t been allowed access to their wives and partners through pregnancy and childbirth. But it’s not just fathers who have had their access restricted. It’s non birth mothers, gay dads and other parents in situations where they may not be the ones physically giving birth.
I spoke to LGBTQ+ families who have had their children in Covid times, and they shared with me how the pandemic has impacted their experience of becoming parents. Sarah and her wife Jenny have a three year-old daughter together. Sarah gave birth to their second child in April, at the height of the Irish lockdown. Sarah detailed their experience.
“Overall, the primary feeling looking back (Zoe is six months old now) is that the stress of the unknown and what could or might happen between lockdown start and giving birth at the end of April was just making every day endless. So my final month of pregnancy felt like nine months! Each day was a case of, if I go into labour now is my wife allowed in? What if I go into labour tomorrow, will the rules change? I was terrified of having to do it without her.
“When I was in labour she drove me into the hospital and waited outside in the car while I was checked in. They had me call her back in then to go up to the labour ward with me. Luckily they didn’t send her home again as Zoe arrived within 45 mins (very quick second baby!) She stayed for the labour and for about two hours afterwards. She had to leave when they took me to the ward then and couldn’t come back in at all until I met her at the door when we were discharged. Zoe was born Monday night and I was discharged Wednesday lunchtime... so it wasn’t too bad.
“There is a feeling that our families missed out so much in those early days, and on our older daughter too, who grew so much during lockdown. I feel they missed those moments. We have close friends who have never seen Zoe and might not yet until next year even, and that upsets me daily. Things like not having a Naming Ceremony like her sister did, not having that first Santa visit picture to show her when she’s older. All insignificant things really but still they matter to us.
“We, along with a lot of LGBTQ+ parents, are now going through the process of re-registering the births of our children under the CFRA (Children and Family Relationships Act) order to get both of us on their birth certificates. This was delayed and the court dates were pushed back due to Covid. Thankfully we have our date for December now though.”
Amy and Caroline became new parents in the recent months. Here Amy describes how they have found pandemic parenthood.
“During my labour, I should have been brought down a couple of hours earlier to the delivery suite but there were no free rooms. So basically there was a big chunk of time where I was by myself on the labour ward and pacing the corridors of the Rotunda, a little worse for wear. Which I didn’t really think about until a few weeks after, as I guess it was my first baby so I didn’t really know any different. Caroline had access to come in when I was in the delivery suite so she was there for the birth. Freya was born at 3:33pm and Caroline was allowed to stay until visiting time ended at 7pm.
“In those early days of parenthood, it was great and we loved being in our little bubble. I thought it was pretty chilled, maybe because there was zero pressure to do anything or be anywhere. We could just enjoy it and take the time to adjust to being parents. Now that we are in the second lockdown it’s harder, as we would love to be meeting all our family and friends whenever we want, Freya is a bit bigger now so she is missing out on interactions with other people, she has mainly just been around us and grandparents.
“If I could change one thing, it would be that Caroline could have been in the hospital with me for more time before and after the baby arrived. A positive to the restrictions has been the ability for her to work from home. She’s been lucky to be there and not miss out. Babies grow and change so much in the first year, so to be at home and have all that extra time together is wonderful.”
Donncha and David are married and live in the UK, though Donncha is originally from Ireland. They have a daughter born through surrogacy and their second child was born in the middle of the UK restrictions.
Donncha details, “It was a very strange and stressful time. Our son was born through surrogacy, and our surrogate lived over two hours away, so we were terrified that we wouldn’t be there for the birth for any reason. Our birth plan went out the window, and we weren’t really able to draw up a new one as the situation was changing so rapidly. We had to play it by ear a bit, which is not ideal when having a baby.
“One of us was allowed to be there at birth, which was great. For a while, we were worried that our surrogate would have been forced to give birth alone, which would have been horrific. The hospital was really great and accommodated us as much as they could. It was sad that we couldn’t both be there, as we were when our daughter was born; but really we were just so relieved that one of us was there, and our baby and our surrogate friend were both safe and happy.
“Surrogacy has been amazing for us, and we were really lucky that we had the support of an experienced and trustworthy surrogacy organisation (Surrogacy UK). As soon as the lockdown happened, they drew up guidelines for hospitals, midwives, etc. to help them understand the specific requirements around surrogate births, and generally health professionals have been as accommodating as they can be. Unlike Ireland, surrogacy is pretty well legislated for in the UK, which proved a godsend when we were suddenly faced with these unprecedented circumstances.
Sarah and Blanca are married and have a young daughter together. Blanca is due to give birth again in December. Here Sarah tells me a little about how Covid impacted their decision on how to grow their family.
“Our plan was for me to carry our second child using Blanca’s brother as our sperm donor. But as he lives in Canada we were unable to travel due to Covid restrictions. Rather than putting it on the long finger, my brother agreed to be our donor again and for Blanca to become pregnant through Home Insemination.
“I was not allowed to be at the routine scans, so we booked two private scans which I was allowed to attend. Blanca is more nervous about this birth than the last because she is worried about being alone in the hospital. As far as we know I will only be allowed there for delivery and for an hour afterwards.”
This last year has been an uncertain one for us all, so we can only hope for a better 2021.