Creatura Mario: A pandemic pregnancy – and the stess, anxiety, and guilt of being barred from my wife’s side at hospital.

20 Dec

Mario Creatura works in communications and campaigns. He is a councillor in Croydon, a former Special Advisor in 10 Downing Street and was a Parliamentary candidate in the 2019 General Election.

It was a cold, dark night in December last year, two weeks into the General Election campaign. I had just got in from an afternoon of campaigning, wolfed down some dinner and was in the process of running out the door for the next session when my wife, Amy, pulled me to one side.

She was pregnant with our first child. It may be twee, but it was an incredibly happy, instantaneously life-changing moment. And, of course, it suddenly put everything into perspective: I was standing for Parliament but, a split second later, my priorities had shifted to thinking less about knocking on doors in the drizzle and towards the tiny, poppy seed-sized kid inside Amy.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the first scan revealed we were having not one baby, but two: a one in 250 chance. We were elated at the news we were having twins, and couldn’t believe our luck.

I accompanied my wife to every scan, every trip to the hospital – that is, until the pandemic hit. All of a sudden, the guidance changed. I was banished from my wife’s side and relegated to the car park, anxiously waiting for updates that all was well.

The rules were there for a very good reason. We needed to protect the NHS, and keep the risk to the incredible key workers in the hospital as low as possible. We understood the justification on an intellectual level, but that didn’t make it any easier emotionally. We are in the same household; she’ll have whatever I had. Why the separation?

Being pregnant at all comes with many potential hazards, but having a multiple pregnancy is officially classified as ‘higher risk’. There’s any number of additional complications that can occur at any point, simply because you have two or more children growing inside you. Reading the self-help books and online guides were informative but did little to reduce our stress levels

There were many times when I should have been by my wife’s side, when things weren’t going as smoothly as we’d hoped, but I was prevented from doing so. The guilt was palpable, and the impact real. It was made worse knowing that friends and acquaintances were going through the same thing. I subsequently learnt that many NHS Trusts were routinely preventing a partner or family member from accompanying pregnant women for scans and, in some cases, all stages of labour.

That’s why, when the tenacious Alicia Kearns launched her campaign in September, I was an immediate and enthusiastic supporter. It turns out that Government Covid guidance permitted partners to attend both scans and the entirety of labour, yet many trusts hadn’t cascaded this down adequately to maternity teams.

At that time, the guidance from NHS England was for expectant mothers to work out access with their midwife, who had total discretion on partner attendance. That led to national disparities, with large unintended consequences.

From the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary on down, the Government backed the campaign – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that was the end of the matter.

Yet three months on, a poll published this week for the incredible Twins Trust found that four out of ten women carrying twins or triplets were still being forced to go through scans alone. And whilst 40 per cent of families said they had one or both twins taken to specialist units after birth, partner access to the children varied from hospital to hospital.

I was able to attend the birth and, immediately after, I spent a few precious hours with my expanded family before being asked politely to leave. One of my boys needed urgent neonatal care, the other needed treatment for ten days after birth. Every day I delivered nappies, snacks and a change of clothes, but each time I had to hand them to a nurse – consigned to video calling my wife on the phone.

Whilst the hospital staff were truly phenomenal, it didn’t change the fact that, in June of this year, I was prevented from seeing my newborn children and wife when they needed me the most.

hankfully, that research, and yet more campaigning from MPs, led to NHS England this week issuing new guidance telling maternity teams them that expectant mothers will have a right to “access to support from a person of her choosing at all stages of her maternity journey”. These people will get a rapid Covid test on arrival, and so there’s no reason why partners shouldn’t be with pregnant women every step of the way. Why on earth did it take three months to communicate something so straightforward?

Back in June when the contractions started, I was continuing my increasingly dependent relationship with the hospital car park. Being separated from my wife as she started labour was for me emotionally (if not physically) agonising. Amy was incredibly brave, and for all intents and purposes had to go through 90 per cent of the labour on her own, frantically snatching the odd minute here and there to Whatsapp or call me.

When the moment came, thankfully, I was near and allowed to rush to her side. The birth was complicated, but the team at East Surrey Hospital could not have supported us better. The professionalism and the care we experienced was world-class, and while the entire experience was impacted by the pandemic it was nevertheless a feeling of total, unadulterated joy when little Milo and Rocco entered the world at 5.04am and 5.18am respectively.

We were lucky: many others have had significantly more traumatic experiences exacerbated by partners not being present. Seventy-none per cent of those quoted in the Twins Trust survey said the pandemic had taken a toll on their mental health. with 47 per cent saying they were allowed to bring a partner to some but not all ultrasounds. And with approximately 19 per cent of expectant mothers saying they received worrying news at a scan, it should be easy to see why this new direction from NHS England is so vitally important.

There is a broader lesson that I hope will be taken from this situation. The pandemic is sadly far from over, and it will take some time for the hope-giving vaccine to be rolled out sufficiently. Roughly 1,800 babies are born in the UK every month. These 1,800 women and their partners deserve to know what they can and can’t do as early and as clearly as possible. The virus has complicated what is an already tricky, stressful process. I hope NHS England and their subsidiary hospitals will learn from this experience to better communicate to their expectant mothers.

A pandemic pregnancy is tough enough; let’s try to ease some of the added anxiety as parents-to-be prepare to bring their little ones into the world.

Radical: A response to Nicola Richards and Alicia Kearns’ recent piece on the Gender Recognition Act

1 Sep

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they found Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.

We’ve been writing this fortnightly column about sex and gender since March. We’ve covered a range of topics relating to relevant matters of law, philosophy, and public policy, but we’ve been clear from the outset about where we’re coming from:

Of course trans people should be treated just the same as anyone else, all things being equal. But it’s also the case that biological women need societal recognition of their right to certain single-sex spaces. And the denial of the concept of biological truth leads only to an anti-vaxxing hellhole.

We’ve also been clear that we’re writing these columns because people on the centre-right have, too often, been missing from this important contemporary debate. We wanted to share what we’ve learnt and provoke discussion, and felt well placed to do this.

One of us, Victoria, is a party member and activist, and a classic conservative; the other of us, Rebecca, is a former party member and PPC, and a libertarian. Our shared values, and our differences of opinion, mean that, between us, we have a lot in common with most of the ConHome readership, which itself is varied in many ways.

So, we want to use this fortnight’s column to pave the way to search out points of commonality with some Conservative MPs – Nicola Richards, Alicia Kearns, and several other co-authors – who wrote a piece here last week.

Maybe you saw it then, or read about it in the papers. Now, the conclusions of their piece, regarding matters of sex and gender, were different from ours: not least in that they support a move to “self-ID”, and we don’t. But it seems clear that their article comes from a place of goodwill, and we’re keen to engage with its writers. 

We want to know more about their views, particularly regarding some key issues about which we feel they could’ve been clearer. We’re also keen to know your answers to the questions we’re going to pose to them now:

Q1 Are you clear about the content of the Gender Recognition Act?

You note “there are many misconceptions” about proposed reforms to the GRA. Unfortunately, you’ve adopted misconceptions, yourselves. For instance, you refer to a person changing their “gender” on their birth certificate. Yet, despite the confusing language regarding “gender recognition” in the legislation, a GRC doesn’t change the gender noted on a birth certificate (because gender isn’t recorded there). Rather, it changes someone’s sex, for legal purposes – to align it with the gender with which they identify.

Your confusion is understandable, in some ways: the wording of the relevant section of the GRA uses “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, and doesn’t define either. But it’s important that lawmakers – and particularly those agitating for profound change – are clear and specific, rather than helping to spread misinformation. Sadly, this is not the only example of misinformation we noted in your piece. 

Q2 Do you accept that the distinction between sex and gender is an important one?

We believe it’s crucial: that “sex” relates to matters of biology (whether someone is a member of the female sex set, or the male sex set), and that “gender” is a matter of social convention (how someone sees themself in relation to stereotypical societal norms regarding the two sex sets).

Moreover, we believe this distinction reflects why it’s neither illiberal nor hateful to oppose self-ID. People should be free to behave and present themselves in accordance with whichever (unharmful) norms they prefer, but there are good reasons to avoid pretending that sex-set membership is a matter of personal choice or feelings. 

There’s no law here against exercising “gender expression” – which is a private matter for individuals – and it would be profoundly illiberal to instate one. Indeed, there’s significant legal protection under the Equality Act and criminal law for anyone identifying as a member of the opposite sex.

Sex-set membership itself, however, is highly relevant to important matters of public concern, including those as basic and obvious as the data collection required to underpin medical-resource allocation.

We strongly believe, therefore, that whilst goverments should not be concerned with how people present themselves, healthcare concerns provide just one clear reason why the state must remain interested in, and objective about, matters of sex.

Accuracy and clarity is vital, here, and should be unobscured by personal impressions relating to sex-set stereotypes about matters such as as dress sense. 

Q3 Do you believe that trans people should have access to single-sex services and spaces intended for the opposite sex, including refuges and prison wings?

We were concerned by your claim that: “Trans people can already use, and have always been able to use, services matching their gender, regardless of whether they have the certificate. Services such as Domestic Violence Refuges have always been able to exclude a trans person in certain circumstances, if it is proportionate and regardless of whether they have a GRC. This is covered by the Equalities Act”.

Again, this is complicated, and the legislation is not clear, but the grounds on which trans people can be excluded from single-sex spaces under the Equality Act are actually general and wide-ranging.

Activist groups, such as Stonewall, like to pretend this isn’t the case, and public bodies, such as the EHRC, which should know better, have issued misleading guidance (currently subject to legal challenge) that tries to limit this to “exceptional” or “limited” circumstances.

But do you really believe that, in 2010, parliament intended that the very wide protected characteristic of gender reassignment – “proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex” – generally entitled men in that position to use women’s changing rooms and refuges?

Rather, what is clear from the act, is that it was intended for people with this protected characteristic to be protected from discrimination (such as in the workplace), not that they were to be entitled to be treated as a member of the opposite sex. 

Moreover, you claim that “we are the party that ensures people have the freedom to live their lives as they wish”. Now, this is a contestable and partial account of Conservative Party philosophy.

But, putting that aside, aren’t you concerned by the idea of the Government violating women’s rights to organise themselves, and to consent to whom it is they share private spaces with? Or the ability of businesses and charities to provide services that respect and protect women’s interests and preferences?

Q4 Do you believe that doctors should be allowed to perform non-reversible medical interventions on under-16s, in order to help them physicalise their gender expression?

We believe that adults should be free to seek medical intervention to make their bodies resemble the opposite sex. We also believe, however, that there’s no justification for prescribing puberty blockers (which the NHS no longer states to be reversible) or hormome therapies to children.

Indeed, it’s clear that these interventions are, like FGM, a form of child abuse, and we are keen to share with you our full findings on this topic as a matter of urgency. 

Q5 Do you believe in free debate about these matters?

We hope you’ll agree that our questions are neither inherently hateful nor phobic. We certainly agree with you that improving mental health services for trans people is important, and that fighting against hateful prejudice of all kinds is both good and necessary.

We hope you agree with us, however, that people should be able to discuss their views openly about these matters, and that the serious professional consequences and personal abuse that too many – from JK Rowling, downwards – have faced for doing so, are worrying and wrong.