During lockdown, I wrote about the impact it was having on women disproportionately. Where in the majority of households women were bearing the burden of childcare and home education, in some instances even when the father was on furlough. Of course, this wasn’t always the case. But the picture was a pretty bleak one for gender equality. Yet, while in most instances schools are once again open, women are still facing the greatest impact of this illness. Disproportionately impacted and emotionally scarred. Why are we not seeing more support on this from the government?
Maternity care has changed tremendously during the pandemic. With a lot of appointments being offered over the telephone instead of face to face. Women are having to attend scans and appointments alone, with fathers excluded from the important pregnancy milestones and birthing journey. This leaves women isolated and alone, often facing very difficult situations without any emotional support.
There is this devastating story on the BBC of a woman forced to undergo a termination on her own. I have heard of stories of fathers being refused skin to skin contact with their newborn children. Then when they come home, grandparents cannot hold the children or offer support.
Some ladies have kindly shared their stories with me:
“Midwife services are initially being offered by phone only, with appointments not starting in person until 16 weeks pregnant. As the ‘booking in’ appointment is partly about maternal health, and past medical history, but also to ask questions in confidentiality about substance and alcohol use and possible domestic violence I’m really disappointed that this is now being carried out on the phone.
It is going to be very difficult for women in a vulnerable position to say this via phone, particularly if their partner is going to be present and listening to what they say. Also, women who may have previously had an abortion, or past medical history they’ve chose not to share will either have to keep that to themselves, which could be dangerous, or share it in front of their partner.
I have previously had a high risk pregnancy and needed medication from the moment I found out I was pregnant this time around, and that took a week to arrange as the GP kept failing to ring me at the promised time, and they have a new system which did not have an option for my requirements and therefore would not let me book an appointment.
I feel that a lot of opportunities for safe maternal care will be being missed now. Vulnerable women may be left for months before they see a healthcare provider who will actually ask about domestic violence. Also, there is a financial implication to the delayed services for pregnant women, as we are not receiving maternity exemption forms at booking in appointments, and some are waiting months meaning they may not be able to afford to access prescriptions or other services. Just for good measure partners can’t come to scans or appointments to help make any decisions about their unborn children or to support their partners during the pregnancy experience.”
At her last telephone appointment, Katy also asked about the option of a video call instead. She was told that unfortunately the midwifery team do not have the technology to support this.
Katy raises some really important points about vulnerable women and domestic abuse. This new system means it makes it so much easier for things to slip through the net. The midwife who looked after me when Bo was born, was very passionate about this having lost one of her mothers to domestic abuse. A telephone call, not even a video call makes it much easier to things to be hidden and women to remain in violent circumstances.
Another lady, Rachel, shares how it felt to be left alone when her partner had to leave after she gave birth:
“This was really tough mentally. I wasn’t prepared to be on my own so soon after giving birth, and honestly that first night was hell. Ava may have been my second baby but I felt completely abandoned. The ward was dark as it was late, and everyone’s curtains were already closed. The midwife who took me up left swiftly and there I was a few hours after giving birth, in the dark feeling totally alone with my new baby.”
Read the full story on Rachel Calter’s Blog
As a woman who has three c-sections and a traumatic birth I honestly cannot tell you how I could have coped without my partner present after giving birth. I’ll be frank, particularly after my traumatic birth I don’t think I would have coped.
It’s a tricky balance, with pregnant women being in the high risk category, there is of course a need to keep them safe and out of risky environments. To keep vulnerable newborns safe. But is this the way? Surely we can be doing better than this. Not only for mothers, but for fathers excluded from so much. They are equally the child’s parent.
Maternity leave, a wonderful and exhausting time. A time for mothers to bond with their baby, recover from childbirth. Learn how to be a parent.
I can’t but think what an isolating experience it must be having a baby during this pandemic. How very different maternity leave must be for women, particularly during lockdown. No baby groups, no bonding with other new Mums to help maintain your sanity. For some women, not even allowed to see their mothers or family members.
Then there is the financial insecurity. It took until June for the government to announce the people on maternity and paternity leave could join the furlough scheme, 3 months after the programme was initially announced.
We also know that statistically women are more likely to be made redundant whilst on maternity leave. Pregnant Then Screwed wrote in Stylist Magazine that they have seen a 450% increase in calls to its free advice number. According the articles mothers are ‘47% more likely’ to have lost their job or quit during this pandemic. Really depressing figures.
Home Education and Self Isolation
Schools are back open. But that’s not the end of the story. Myself and several friends have already had to go into self isolation. Which means children back home and full time home education once more.
Parents once again facing the juggle of work and home school. We know from the government’s gender equality roadmap last year, that 74% of women provide the childcare in their households. We also know from the survey I ran in lockdown, that it was mostly women home education their children – in some instances over 90%. This is a huge female issue, having a big impact on their careers and achievements.
In lockdown some women voluntarily asked for furlough in order to manage childcare. I have had friends sharing concerns that having children and childcare responsibilities will mean they will be first on the list when redundancies are announced. With an apparently devastating 500,000 redundancies planned since the Covid crisis began, I wonder what mix of these will be women? If we look at the statistics above from Pregnant Then Screwed’s article I highly suspect it’s not going to be an even one.
“The nationwide lack of testing is indirectly having an adverse impact on women. The latest government guidance says anyone with a new cough or temperature should be tested for COVID-19 – and the whole household should isolate for 14 days – unless you receive a negative test result. Most families are unable to access tests, so children are routinely being kept off school for a fortnight at a time – and as we know, the majority of the childcare burden typically still falls to mothers.
“There are still not enough permanent professional part-time or flexible roles for women – so many working mothers end up self-employed out of necessity. With fathers typically in full-time permanent employment, it inevitably falls to the mothers to put our own work on hold and look after the children. This has a knock-on effect on women’s mental health as well as our income.”
Lack of Wrap Around School Care
On top of this we are seeing a lack of wrap around school care. While school isn’t childcare, it’s education. It would be naive in a climate where the cost of childcare is often prohibitive to people to returning to work that children going to school does not offer an affordable childcare to many families.
At present lots of before and after school clubs are either closed or running at reduced capacity, adding further to childcare complications. Again I have heard of women reducing their hours because they have no other choice without the childcare to support them.
Development Checks for Young Children
During lockdown developmental checks for children were put on hold. There were no phone calls or video calls in their stead. The service simply was simply stopped. At two years and three months old, my son has not seen a health visitor since he was 9 months old. This week I received a letter to say the health visitor service could not be able to catch up with the back log over lockdown and my son would not have a two year check. If I had any concerns there was number I could call.
While this is definitely an issue for both parents, I will argue that the lack of these development checks is one that will impact once again women, more than men. Simply because as I said above women are, in three quarters of families, in charge of the childcare in their homes.
I am lucky in that I have no concerns with Bo and as an experienced mother of 3, I have confidence in what I am doing. But this is not a case for a lot of other mothers. Mothers who worry about wasting people’s time, mothers with mental health problems, in abusive relationships, who don’t have the experience or education to know that something is not right or wrong. Things will slip thought the net, mothers will suffer, children will suffer.
In this difficult time, women need more support and more protection. Otherwise vulnerable women will be put an even more difficult positions. We will see a rise in domestic violence issues, a reduction in women in the workplace, an increase in mental health issues, more women out of work and falling into poverty and ultimately a massive slide backwards in the balance for the gender equality we have been striving to achieve.
There is a need now for health care to think outside of the box when it comes to women. To utilise technology, to look at difference spaces where they can be met that are less risk. Look at the emotional toll on mental health versus the risks to physical bodies. Even something as simple as a video call would be more personal than a phone call.
We need to see the government putting in more protection, greater encouragement of flexible working for both parents in order to manage childcare in this increasingly difficult environment.
There is a real risk that this could soon be a mental health epidemic the likes of which we have never seen before, as well as the viral one.
Finally, I have a real sense of frustration that the government’s own Covid war committee contains not one single woman. No women. Which is an utter let down for gender equality. Women are being let down, unprotected and left vulnerable because once again men think that they know best.
As women, we don’t want more than. All we ask for is equal. And the scales for equal are tipping further away.