How one pregnant MP is fighting to stop the trauma of lone births
‘Women feel forgotten and scared – and say the NHS is run by misogynists’: How one pregnant MP is fighting to stop the trauma of lone births caused by Covid rules
Ms Kearns (pictured), who has been leading efforts in Parliament to end these draconian post-Covid rules, said she cried when she saw the message
Of all the messages about lone births that flooded her inbox this week, it was the one from a father that stopped the campaigning Tory MP Alicia Kearns in her tracks.
He sent the email sitting in a hospital car park while his wife was inside having surgery to remove a miscarriage.
Like many partners, he was banned from attending the scan that showed they had lost their baby and the devastating hours in hospital for his wife that followed. All in the name of social distancing.
Ms Kearns, who has been leading efforts in Parliament to end these draconian post-Covid rules, said she cried when she saw the message. ‘He was so utterly, utterly heartbroken and lost,’ she said.
‘I’m fighting for partners, not just the mums, because all they care about in the world at that time is in one room, and they are not allowed through the door.’
This was on Tuesday, a day before the Prime Minister backed The Mail on Sunday’s campaign and said no woman should be forced to give birth alone. Still, too many NHS Trusts are failing to adhere to official guidance and continue to ban partners from maternity wards. A number of women have told the MP these draconian policies are a ‘sign the NHS is run by misogynistic men’, Ms Kearns told The Mail on Sunday in her first newspaper interview.
‘People write to me to say, women don’t matter, women are always forgotten because the world’s run by men. Like with any organisation, the ones at the top tend to be male, particularly on the bureaucratic side. Women just feel forgotten, and also desperately sad and scared.’
A woman who was finally pregnant after four rounds of IVF and multiple miscarriages told her that ‘every scan is terrifying’, a fear made worse by having to face them alone.
Ms Kearns’ inbox would be emotive for anyone to read, never mind someone who is expecting her second child in January. She said: ‘I have found it incredibly emotionally hard, and anything brings me to tears at the moment.’
The Tory MP for Rutland and Melton said the messages from men in response to the campaign were ‘particularly difficult’. ‘There are few things in the world worse than feeling that lack of power, when you can’t help the person you love,’ she said.
A woman who was finally pregnant after four rounds of IVF and multiple miscarriages told her that ‘every scan is terrifying’, a fear made worse by having to face them alone (stock image)
We meet in a cafe by Lambeth Bridge. Despite making waves in Parliament last week over the campaign, Ms Kearns jokes she isn’t currently allowed in the building. She has been voting by proxy and speaking by video link while pregnant.
She is one of the 2019 intake of young Tories and the pandemic means she has spent more time out of Parliament than in. She and her husband John, an accountant, decided to have a second child during lockdown. ‘I was so sick during my last pregnancy, my husband said, “If you’re going to be as unwell, you only have to go on camera for ten minutes at a time, then you can be off camera being sick.” ’
Ms Kearns describes the agony of her 36-hour long labour with her son two years ago. Her husband intervened when clinicians gave them opposing views on whether she should have an emergency caesarean, preventing her from being needlessly rushed into the operating theatre. He was also first to spot that their baby’s heart rate had halved, something the midwife missed. Partners are ‘not just as an emotional support, they’re there to be your advocate,’ Ms Kearns said.
‘As a woman you’re in such a vulnerable position. You’re tired, you have multiple needles shoved into you,’ she said. ‘I walked for two hours in the middle of [the 36 hours] desperately trying to progress labour. I’d had a chemical induction. I think I slept for about two hours.’
Many hospitals only allow partners into the ward once the woman is dilated more than 1.5in (4cm), and Ms Kearns points out that, even in 36 hours, she never got that far – an indication that such one-size-fits-all rules do not work.
The MP is protective of her son’s privacy, revealing she was heavily bullied at school because her mother was her headmistress – ‘I had cigarettes put out on my face,’ she said. She described how bullies waited for her at the school gates at Impington Village College, the Cambridgeshire comprehensive, to torment her. ‘There was always that angle of, “Your mum this, your mum that, your mum told my mum they were going to expel me.” ’
She went on to read social and political sciences at Cambridge University, before graduating at the height of the financial crisis, struggling to find work and eventually joining the civil service.
Now 32, Ms Kearns worked as press secretary for the Victims’ Minister at the Ministry of Justice, before moving to the Ministry of Defence and finally the Foreign Office, where she was involved in the response to the Salisbury attacks and the communication campaigns on Syria and Iraq.
When Angela Rayner (pictured), the deputy leader of the Opposition, raised the injustice of lone births during Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms Kearns criticised her for failing to credit her campaigning and turning the issue into a ‘political barb’
She grew up in a dyed-in-the-wool Labour family and voted Conservative for the first time in 2015 – four years before being elected to Parliament. ‘I had to essentially come out to my family as a Conservative, and I took all my friends out and told them individually,’ she said.
Her father grew up in Ireland in a ‘very poor, very hard-working family’. He left school at 13 and later met her mother, a teacher, before moving to Birmingham and then Cambridgeshire. She was the breadwinner throughout Ms Kearns’ childhood, and funded her father through university when he was in his 30s. Her father also became a teacher but was ‘essentially a stay-at-home husband for 15 years of my life’, Ms Kearns said. He died from a stroke when she was 19.
Her parents’ background and politics give context to her ‘disappointment’ last week at Labour’s reaction to her campaign. She said just one Labour MP contacted her about the issue and asked to get involved.
When Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Opposition, raised the injustice of lone births during Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms Kearns criticised her for failing to credit her campaigning and turning the issue into a ‘political barb’.
Politics aside, she said ‘all that matters’ is getting all the trusts to change their policies to allow women to have partners at their side (stock image)
Days before, Ms Kearns had mobilised more than 60 Conservatives to write to the heads of NHS Trusts calling for immediate changes to their policies. ‘Within Parliament, there is an element where you recognise others,’ she said. ‘You normally give a nod to the other people who are working on things. It is a shame because I don’t want this to be a party political issue.’
Politics aside, she said ‘all that matters’ is getting all the trusts to change their policies to allow women to have partners at their side. She criticises NHS bosses for failing to give a ‘rational reason’ for why they continue with the stringent policies, in defiance of Government advice. Some trusts have even incorrectly blamed the guidelines.
‘They have all either said they are now reconsidering, or they’re just saying, this is our view. That is frustrating for the women, who have the right to an explanation for why they have restrictions while other hospitals don’t.’
Her own hospital has allowed partners to attend for more than two months, and Ms Kearns said there is no excuse for other trusts not to follow suit. She has seen progress over the past week, with trusts changing their minds and clinicians contacting her to express support.
She clearly relishes a fight, describing herself as a ‘storm chaser’. With the impact she is making while she cannot even go inside the Commons, it will be interesting to see what Ms Kearns achieves once back on its green benches.
Father who missed birth after security led him out
When former nurse Lorrell Davis, 29, was taken by ambulance to hospital after going into labour at 34 weeks, her husband Patrick was asked to leave and was escorted off the premises by security.
As a result, he missed the birth of their daughter, Beau, at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, East London.
Ms Davis, who is a doula – a helper who gives non-medical support during childbirth – said: ‘The room was full of people in masks and I had no idea who was who. Everyone was there except the one person I needed. We are completely shaken up.
When former nurse Lorrell Davis, 29,(pictured) was taken by ambulance to hospital after going into labour at 34 weeks, her husband Patrick was asked to leave and was escorted off the premises by security
‘He missed out on one of those special moments you can never recreate. He feels guilty, wondering if he should have made more of a fuss.’
A spokesman for the local NHS Trust said its guidance met national recommendations.
Marketing manager Alex Hirst also fell foul of the rules. Even though she suffered complications during the birth of her first child, she was sent home alone by hospital staff as contractions began during her second delivery. Ms Hirst, 32, said rules restricting partners’ access to the labour ward put lives at risk after her daughter Juliet arrived dramatically in an A&E treatment bay.
Marketing manager Alex Hirst (pictured) also fell foul of the rules. Even though she suffered complications during the birth of her first child, she was sent home alone by hospital staff as contractions began during her second delivery
Her first labour was extremely fast, she lost a lot of blood and did not shed the placenta. This was flagged up on her medical notes and she was advised in advance by her consultant to stay in hospital once her waters broke.
However, nurses at Darlington Memorial Hospital sent her home in the early hours, saying she would be safer there. Her husband Michael drove her straight back to the hospital and Ms Hirst gave birth before even making it to the labour ward. Michael said: ‘The baby came within two minutes of our arrival. The doctor had his hands behind his back tying his apron.’
His wife, who gave birth in April, called the no-partner rules ‘appalling’, adding: ‘It’s just horrendous. Some people who get induced are there for days. And then there are first-time mums who don’t know what to expect.’ A spokesman for the local NHS Trust apologised that Ms Hirst ‘didn’t have the experience during labour and delivery we would wish for her’, but said its restrictions followed current guidance.
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