Father’s Day: Covid-19 clampdown a labour of love for expectant dads

Bit parts and big waits: Fathers have limited time with partners in lead-up to new arrivals

It’s all over now baby blue:  Sam and Sorcha Hartigan leave the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, with  their baby  son Eli. Photograph: Alan Betson

It’s all over now baby blue: Sam and Sorcha Hartigan leave the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, with their baby son Eli. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Ben Lowe and Sam Hartigan were keenly aware of the bit parts they had been assigned in the drama in which their wives, about to give birth, were the stars and both clearly understood what they were missing out on as their partners were led off to the wards to go through the early stages of labour without them.

Covid-19 restrictions in place in the National Maternity Hospital – and other maternity units across the State – have meant that for more than three months some 2,000 fathers have been unable to spend much time with their partners in the lead-up to new arrivals and even less time with their babies once they have come kicking and screaming into the world.

But both of these fathers knew their absence was a price worth paying to keep their babies, their partners and those caring for them safe from harm.

The drama for the Lowes and the Hartigans started early on Monday morning.

“Sorcha’s waters broke so we rushed into hospital, but when got there at around 6am we were told she wasn’t in active labour so she was diverted to an antenatal ward and I was told to go home,” Sam Hartigan recalled.

The big waiting game: Sam Hartigan waiting outside the ground floor lift at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, for his baby son Eli and wife Sorcha to emerge. Photograph: Alan Betson
The big waiting game: Sam Hartigan waiting outside the ground floor lift at the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, for his baby son Eli and wife Sorcha to emerge. Photograph: Alan Betson

He returned to their home in Dún Laoghaire, and less than three hours later a call came from a hospital midwife that it was time. “I was back at 9.30am and Eli was born shortly after 2pm.”

I’ve everything ready. The room is all set up and the car seat is locked and loaded. I wish they were home

Eli is the couple’s first child and while they don’t have anything to compare the birth experience to, Sam is acutely aware things were not normal. “The experience was definitely different to what it would have been pre-Covid,” he said.

“I’d just over an hour with Eli before I had to go. That was tough. I went home and thought I might get some sleep but I just couldn’t, I was buzzing and pacing around. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

National Maternity Hospital staff midwife Tara Finn hands over their two-day-old son Eli to father Sam and mother Sorcha Hartigan as they leave Holles Street in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson
National Maternity Hospital staff midwife Tara Finn hands over their two-day-old son Eli to father Sam and mother Sorcha Hartigan as they leave Holles Street in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson

It was the middle of the week when he spoke to The Irish Times and he already had plans for his first Father’s Day.

“I’ve everything ready. The room is all set up and the car seat is locked and loaded. I wish they were home.” Within hours his wish had been granted and the small family unit were together.

‘Very frustrating’

The Lowes’ story started in a similar fashion. “We woke up at 5am on Monday and Tracy was having contractions so we raced into Holles Street,” Ben said. “I was allowed to stay to get her checked in but then they said she wasn’t in active labour so I had to leave. We live in Wicklow town and the midwife advised me against going too far.”

I just tried to keep my mind off things. I felt like she was in there all on her own even though I knew she was surrounded by these great midwives

So he sat in the car for 30 minutes and exchanged multiple texts with Tracey. “It was very frustrating to not be by her side even though when our son Michael was born seven years ago I did feel a bit useless, like, I’d say, most men do.”

Ben Lowe, from Wicklow, with newborn Eleanor, son Michael (7) and Tracey, his wife, after she gave birth in the National Maternity Hospital. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Ben Lowe, from Wicklow, with newborn Eleanor, son Michael (7) and Tracey, his wife, after she gave birth in the National Maternity Hospital. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

After waiting in the car for a bit he decided to go for a stroll; a long, long stroll. He clocked up thousands of steps over more than four hours walking around the Dublin city centre block. “I just tried to keep my mind off things. I felt like she was in there all on her own even though I knew she was surrounded by these great midwives.”

That was very hard but I’m in no way angry. The procedures are there to keep everyone safe

The couple continued to exchange text messages until 11.30am when Tracey went silent. “I stopped getting messages,” he said. “I think I sent at least four she didn’t respond to and I was convinced then she’d already had the baba. I was terrified the hospital had the wrong number for me and couldn’t reach me. Then I got a call from the midwife, Caroline.

‘Just terrified’

“She was amazing. I happened to be just outside the front door and when I walked into the hospital, I passed five hand sanitiser dispensers and used every one of them. I didn’t take a lift as I was afraid I’d have to touch something and didn’t open any doors with my hands or hold banisters. I was just terrified I’d bring something in with me.”

Aoife Doyle, staff midwife at the National Maternity Hospital, shows baby Eleanor to her brother Michael (7), as proud parents Tracey and Ben look on. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Aoife Doyle, staff midwife at the National Maternity Hospital, shows baby Eleanor to her brother Michael (7), as proud parents Tracey and Ben look on. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

He wasn’t even in the labour suite for 40 minutes before he was cradling his daughter Eleanor. “We’d a few minutes to ourselves, just the three of us and that was great, amazing, but then around half an hour later they were moved to the ward and I had to say my goodbyes. That was very hard but I’m in no way angry. The procedures are there to keep everyone safe.”

He predicted he would be having a different Father’s Day this year. “My wife will tell you I really milk Father’s Day. It’s nearly father’s month for us and I’d normally be pleading for a lie-in. It won’t be like that this year for sure. There’ll be no lie-ins.”

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