Kat works as a nurse in a care home and is mother to two babies. She also volunteers for Pregnancy Sickness Support, where she supports women with hyperemesis gravidarum, and campaigns locally for improved maternity services. She is passionate about women being at the centre of decision making in their maternity and birth journey.
I will start by being honest. I am conflicted about International Women’s Day this year. The theme is “choose to challenge”- something I believe in deeply, and embody within myself as a person who always gives possibly too much of themselves – like so many other women and especially mothers.
In the last year, existing has been a challenge for women. We know too well how the pandemic has disproportionally impacted upon disadvantaged groups in society, and pregnant women/ mothers are one such group. So, I ask you to rest. Please. You have given so much. You don’t always have to give more!
In the last year, I have been pregnant, given birth, worked in a care home, and now parent a 3-month-old and a 17-month-old. I returned to work full time at 1 month post-partum as this society is not kind to women who are the breadwinners, with statutory maternity pay being far below the National Minimum Wage. So, as you can imagine, I’ve been exposed to the dirty underbelly of COVID inequality and lived it myself.
I could write and speak for days about this generally, but my focus is on the experience of pregnant women during COVID. It has been well documented by the #ButNotMaternity campaign that women have attended scans alone, received news that they have miscarried alone and ultimately birthed alone. They have worn masks to birth and been denied access to their preferred birth place (with the preference of trusts being consultant led units, despite outcomes for healthy pregnancies being typically poorer in such a setting). In a survey by Pregnant Then Screwed, 97% of pregnant women felt that the restrictions had adversely impacted upon their mental health.
From a personal perceptive, the maternity journey has been truly one riddled with anxiety. I was unfortunate enough to contract COVID whilst still at work in the first trimester, and the tragic story of Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong weighed heavily on me as I saw pregnant colleagues nationwide continue to share stories of being forced to work in unsafe conditions. I spoke to women that had planned to home birth being told no, and so gave birth alone with rules dictating partners could only attend in established labour. As I was opposed to vaginal examinations, how would they know when this was? Many other women felt pushed into having these invasive examinations, so they could have support alongside them when giving birth.
Let that sink in. Women who were in labour, felt forced into having an invasive exam they didn’t want, so they could have basic support. During LABOUR.
From a professional point of view, as a nurse, I have been bitterly disappointed. Little has been said by the multi-disciplinary team providing care for us, and in fact some statements released have ignored the adverse outcomes well documented for pregnant people and insinuated there is heightened risk for the professional if the woman is accompanied, of which there is no evidence to support, and additionally accused campaigners of “populist attacks”.
With regards to how this impacted on me professionally, and how I challenge myself now, it has in two ways. It has made me a more empathetic nurse. I have keenly supported the #RightsForResidents campaign, that seeks to allow care home residents close contact visits, as I believe and have experienced how important it is to have family alongside you during your healthcare journey. Secondly, I understand the power I have as a professional in advocating for my patients. I wonder how different the last year would have been had more professionals spoke out about the harm befalling us, and I challenge myself to always speak up when inequality is happening.
I feel hope though. Finally, our stories are being heard. People care about the experiences of pregnant women. There was cross party support on improving the maternity COVID journey. There are some incredible women out there, such as Stella Creasey, Joli Brearley, Alicia Kearns, Angela McConville, Amy Gibbs and so many more who are campaigning fiercely for basic rights denied to pregnant women. Birth Rights ascertained that sonographers instructing women not to film their scans may have been unlawful and are currently working hard to collect more stories of pregnant women to fight this further. Progress has been made, with restrictions lifted recently for key appointments. The collective pain we have experienced has made us more determined to make sure this never happens again, and I will always be proud to stand up for women, alongside women.
Happy International Women’s Day, and remember, it’s ok to rest as well as challenge.