05/19/2016 09:25 EDT | Updated 05/20/2017 05:12 EDT

Abolishing Hospital Visiting Hours Would Respect Patients' Needs

JGI/Tom Grill

By the end of this year, visiting hours will no longer exist in Saskatchewan hospitals. In early May, the province decided family members will soon be allowed to sit by their loved one's side, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, should they so desire.

My feelings on this policy change can be summed up with an elated, "hell ya!" Personally, I hope my own province is taking note.

As the first province in Canada to do away with rigid visiting hours guidelines, Saskatchewan is, in my opinion, wholeheartedly putting patients' needs first.

It's a move that will no doubt be especially impactful in one particular area of the hospital -- the maternity ward.

After a woman gives birth, no surprise, she needs support

It shouldn't surprise anyone to know after a woman gives birth she needs access to her people. Isolating her, even for a night, can do real damage for some.

I've had three babies, all in Alberta hospitals.

All of my kids were born at night, so each time I was in the dreaded multiple-patient hospital room, my partner was never permitted to stay.

During each of my pregnancies, as labour drew nearer, in the back of my mind I always felt a small knot of stress perpetually growing and stretching. I knew the hospital where I was delivering had limited private rooms available for new moms and I would likely be sharing my recovery space with a stranger.

I also knew this meant I would be spending the first night with my newborn (and possibly subsequent nights) alone while, at the same time, trying to manage the pain I would no doubt be experiencing after having just had a baby.

All of my kids were born at night, so each time I was in the dreaded multiple-patient hospital room, my partner was never permitted to stay.

Those babies clearly didn't get the memo on hospital visiting hours.

My husband was not only forbidden from being present to help me after I just went through something that scared the crap out of him -- delivering a baby -- but he was also forced to leave his tiny new child, only hours old, something that added to his own new-parent stress.

I didn't feel like a person; I was just someone's job

Like many people, when my first baby was born I had no idea what I was doing. It was shortly after 11:00 p.m. when my daughter came crashing into the world, and after a quick stint in the delivery room, we were promptly wheeled to recovery. I was so tired and in pain. After about half-an-hour, my husband was abruptly told to leave by a nurse who can easily be described as an angry pit bull (admittedly, she could have been tired herself after years of arguing with people over visiting hours).

We were shocked, "Whaddaya mean he can't stay?"

"You can't come back until 11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning," she told him gruffly.

We looked at each other, and I panicked. I still had a catheter in and, being a type-1 diabetic, I also had an insulin pump attached to my abdomen. After repeated demands by the nurse telling him to leave, he begrudgingly did so.

Not wanting to venture far, he slept in our vehicle (reclined in the front seat, trying to find a comfortable spot for a minute or two), counting down the hours until he was allowed to come back inside.

I can tell you, from the moment he left until the second he returned, I had never felt more alone in my life.

I vividly recall that nurse being rough and annoyed; "You can pick up your baby you know," she barked, as my newborn cried loudly. Guilt and embarrassment washed over my face.

OMFG Motherhood. I was already made to feel like I was doing it wrong.

On shift change, a new nurse came in and wanted to know how breastfeeding was going. She wasn't mean or abrasive like the last one, but she was clearly going through the motions. She pulled down my shirt without asking and squeezed my breasts to see if my milk was coming in, checking off one of the many tasks she no doubt had on her mind. At that point, I didn't feel like a person anymore; rather I was just someone's job.

I can't help but wonder, if I had a family member at the hospital with me at that time -- to be my advocate, to show me gentleness, to provide me with a small break -- it would have meant a lot to my recovery after labour. In fact, it would have started off my first few hours of motherhood on an entirely different tone.

Instead, the coldness and sterility of that night initiated what my doctor later described as the "baby blues."

When it comes to the maternity ward and the support new parents need, having a policy of strict visiting hours, without exception, seems wrong.

After giving birth, a time when I was already at a higher risk of developing depression, I was isolated from my family, putting me at an even greater risk.

Are no visiting hours in hospitals always appropriate?

Should visiting hours be a black-and-white policy? Of course, not. There will always be the need to have exceptions to the rules.

I imagine instances when a patient is so sick they cannot be disturbed by a neighbour making noise, or if there is an outbreak of severe illness, imposing temporary visiting hours makes good common sense.

When it comes to the maternity ward and the support new parents need, having a policy of strict visiting hours, without exception, seems wrong. Also, consider this, even if patients have the option to pay for a private room so their family member can stay overnight, what happens when it's not financially feasible for them to do so (especially for those who face extended stays)? Do those patients deserve any less support than those who can afford privacy? (hint: no!)

To me, abolishing visiting hours is about respecting patients' needs. Alberta, are you listening?

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