Ashleigh McMullen remembers a lonely pregnancy that ended with learning, after the birth of her four-month-old son, that he would require open-heart surgery.
The "traumatic" part, she says, was having to go through the prenatal process alone.
Her husband wasn’t allowed to attend prenatal appointments, including ultrasounds. It hurt that she wasn’t able to share the happier moments of her appointments. That pain became more pronounced during post-natal appointments when she had to go to appointments alone where doctors gave her details about her son’s condition.
"It blows my mind, it really does, and it makes me sick," McMullen said. "Because this is probably the hardest thing my husband and I have gone through, and my husband’s had to experience this… from a car, or from a FaceTime call."
Under current COVID-19 restrictions, maternity patients are allowed one designated visitor during the delivery and afterward. McMullen’s husband was allowed in the room only when her labour was induced, meaning she was alone when she learned the baby was in the breech position and had to be turned, and she was alone throughout the procedure.
"The dad or the partner is just as important as the mother... so why wouldn’t they be allowed in there?" she said.
“I don’t understand their method of how they’re opening things, so I can go get my nails done, but I can’t have my husband with me at an appointment? It doesn’t make sense. I feel like they’re maybe opening things that benefit them, in a way.” ‐ Ashleigh McMullen
A spokesman for Shared Health said the province would continue to assess visitor guidelines in hospitals.
"As Manitoba’s COVID-19 activity continues to evolve and public health restrictions are eased, we are regularly assessing the impact these changes may have on health facility protocols, including visitation," he said.
Shayna Plaut, who is eight months pregnant with her second child, was "shocked" when she learned she would have to choose between her partner and her doula to be present while she gives birth.
"So, I’m going to deny my partner being able to see the birth of his child? That’s what you want me to do? (Or) you want to deny me the help of a woman who has had the experience of bringing in 30, 40, 50 babies into this world, when I want that support and it’s going to help me make the birth go better?" Plaut said.
She had a doula during her first birth and said it was a crucial part of the process. She wasn’t made aware of the current restriction until she raised the issue with her doctor.
The Shared Health spokesman confirmed that a doula may be part of the labour and delivery process as an "essential care partner" but would not be considered a member of the medical team.
Plaut, who is an instructor of peace and conflict studies, said the restriction raises the question about who is qualified as an essential worker.
She called the work of a doula an aspect of "cultural capital" — an important role for doulas is to advocate for the person giving birth, and some people have societal privileges that make them more capable of advocating for themselves than others. Her own labour lasted 25 hours.
"I’m a native English speaker. I am fairly well-educated. I am an assertive person by nature (and) I don’t have a problem looking at a doctor and saying, ‘This is what I want, how are we going to do that,’ but that’s not going to be the case for everybody," she said.
"I also expect to be listened to, that’s certainly not the case for everybody. Racism is a real thing, classism is a real thing, language barriers are a real thing."
As the number of COVID-19 cases remains fairly low, Plaut said it’s likely time to fine-tune the visitation process on a case-by-case basis.
"We’re now in a place where we can open up (lounges). We can open up gambling machines," she said. "But you can only have one person that’s designated as a support person for when you’re giving birth."
McMullen called the province’s reopening strategy "totally absurd."
"I don’t understand their method of how they’re opening things, so I can go get my nails done, but I can’t have my husband with me at an appointment? It doesn’t make sense," she said. "I feel like they’re maybe opening things that benefit them, in a way."
Her next step is to travel to Edmonton, where her son will undergo surgery. She’s been told both she and her husband will be able to see him into surgery, but fears that could change.
"You have a lot on your mind, especially having a baby born with something wrong that we didn’t even know about," she said.
"Now I have a million questions in my head… it would be a lot easier if you had your spouse there. You’re in pain, you’re stressed out, you’re full of anxiety and then you don’t have anyone there."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.