Talk of COVID-19 began building in March 2020 and we began making jokes about phone consults and Zoom calls. But we also wondered: How would we assess baby and family wellbeing, attachment and bonding over the phone?
When lockdowns commenced, maternal and child health services continued to function in a variety of ways. Some councils sent their staff home at short notice and did telehealth for a long time. Others offered a combination of telehealth and centre days for weight checks. We decided to do all appointments for babies eight weeks and younger fully face to face with the nurse wearing full PPE and the parent—only one was allowed—wearing a mask. Other appointments were online or via telephone, with quick weight checks in people’s doorways and speedy in-house mattress and sleep area checks to ensure babies had a stable mattress and a safe place to sleep.
Wearing PPE protected us but it also changed our practice. Our eyes became our primary communication tools and we grew adept at smiling at babies with them. Our senses became finely tuned as we learnt to take cues from struggling parents through their eyes so we could tease out issues and offer support.
We moved our new parent groups online. For the first online group, I sent emails to families and asked if they would be guinea pigs to trial a Zoom new parent group. They all jumped at the chance—they were so looking forward to joining a group and making connections.
The online groups had ups and down. Connectivity issues, sound issues and the awkwardness of people not wanting to speak in case someone else wanted to meant that the groups weren’t perfect. But they still gave people hope and connection at a time when so many were feeling alone and worried about the unknown risk of COVID. People welcomed the chance to talk about ‘normal’ things instead of the doom and gloom of COVID.
Our parent groups stayed online until March 2022 when we returned to face-to-face groups. We introduced rules around wearing masks and social distancing, and restricted families to one parent only so we could comply with the government requirements about social distancing.
In these sessions, families shared their worries about being isolated from family members overseas or interstate. Some were completely alone. They talked about the loss of income and stability and we referred them to support agencies for food and money when we could.
Our community was very caring and supportive. They set up a nappy drive at many daycare centres and brought the nappies they collected to our centre so we could distribute them to families in need. We had access to food vouchers and hampers for families through council supports but nappies were often unavailable so this community action was amazing.
At the same time, nurses were supporting their own families, often home-schooling their children—trying to keep them motivated and focused through a childhood that no-one expected.
It’s a time I will never forget.