Coronavirus: 'I was separated from my baby during lockdown'

By Claire Graham
BBC News NI

  • Published
Mother and daughterImage source, Joanna Wozniak

A mother who was treated for mental health issues during the Covid-19 lockdown has described how she was separated from her baby for three weeks.

Joanna Wozniak was admitted to hospital earlier this year after becoming ill following the birth of her daughter.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a specialised mother and baby unit.

When restrictions were announced, visits from baby Emilia had to stop.

Ms Wozniak, from Greenisland, was admitted with post-partum psychosis - it can cause hallucinations or delusions. In most cases it requires hospital care, ideally in a mother and baby unit.

'I thought it was a conspiracy'

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster's Mother Courage: Pushing Prams in the Dark, Ms Wozniak said she struggled to understand why she couldn't see her daughter while recovering in hospital.

"At the start I was genuinely thinking it was part of a conspiracy. I thought there was no virus and people were making things up," she said.

"I didn't understand why I couldn't see her, it was constant arguments with the staff and the doctors.

"It got to a point where I couldn't see her for three weeks and that was just heart-breaking.

"I thought she wouldn't recognise me and people told me to be prepared for that."

Image caption,
Joanna Wozniak spoke to Claire Graham for BBC Radio Ulster's Mother Courage: Pushing Prams in the Dark

Health Minister Robin Swann has said he is "all too aware of the impact of the pandemic on mental health" and "more acutely on people already struggling, such as anyone affected by perinatal mental health difficulties".

Mr Swann has said work on the business case for a dedicated mum and baby unit is still ongoing, but it is likely a new unit "would take some time to develop".

He added his recent Mental Health Action Plan addresses the long-standing issue of limited perinatal mental health provision in Northern Ireland.

Fear of being separated

Ms Wozniak believes more women in Northern Ireland would speak out about their mental health if they didn't fear having to be separated from their child.

"I genuinely think there is not only myself sitting and worrying," she said.

"If I'm locked up again, I'm separated from the baby. I don't think that should be the way.

"I think any mother should be able to say, 'Listen I'm not feeling 100%' and not have that fear.

"If I could have gone somewhere with her, I'd have asked for help myself.

"When I went in she was three months old. When I came out she was six months."

Mother Courage: Pushing Prams in the Dark will be broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle at 12:00 on 13 June and then will be available on BBC Sounds.