Caring for a baby in the times of COVID-19
This blog does not aim to deal with the crucial practicalities of how to avoid COVID-19 infection, or how to meet your baby’s sensory needs in these times of social distancing or lock-down. Nor does it address breastfeeding and COVID-19, or how to manage a crying baby when you can’t leave the home. I plan to address these and other topics in podcasts and blogs in the days and weeks to come. With this initial effort, I’m aiming to orient the parent with a baby or those helping parents with babies (or at the very least, to help orient myself!) to the extraordinary nature of the times we suddenly find ourselves in.
I dedicate this blog to my nine precious grandchildren (that’s you, Manu Lily Eli Adam Tierney Ted Oliver Dylan and Torin). May the world we leave our children and grandchildren post-2020 be so much better than the world they faced before this year of drought and fire and devastating global sickness.
Things fall apart.
My stepdaughter finds herself working full-time from home with three feisty boys in the house; my stepson grapples with how he might transform a hands-on design and technology subject into online learning for his students. But my daughter and her husband’s jobs disappeared completely last week, and now they are calculating just how many more days they will have money to buy food, sheltering at home with two children in New York City, where 5% of the world’s COVID-19 infections are currently located.
My son arrived back in Australia just before the borders closed. I’ve lost everything, he tells me by WhatsApp from self-isolation. Everything he’d invested in the small business he and my other stepdaughter own, the Bar and Artspace that was going to support her family of four and help him get on his feet, gone, he says, bleakly. He is among the thousands who’ve been trying to log-in to myGov or phone Centrelink or queuing in lines stretching around the block outside Centrelink buildings.
Brace for impact, the medical community warns in my overflowing in-trays. But I was already bracing for impact last week, with the help of a small but dedicated team, working to transform the Possums Clinic into the Possums Clinic Online (this new website should be up in a few days, fingers crossed), organising a free online Possums Community Room at 2 pm AEST each week day starting Thursday (watch the Possums for Parents with Babies Facebook page for details), turning our Masterclasses for health professionals, which were to be in Alice Springs, into two days of online education on 3-4 April (we are still taking registrations). Like everyone else, I’m worn out, and we’ve only just begun. We’re re-thinking how to best bring the Possums’ work to families in a COVID-19 era.
And what does it mean, anyway, to brace for impact? How do you brace for impact if you are the parent of a baby?
There is a powerful skill I believe you will need if you are caring for a baby in these unprecedented times. It’s known as psychological flexibility. That is, the capacity to behave in the great unknown of each moment in a way that aligns with the kind of human being that you want to be, the kind of parent you want to be, so that difficult thoughts and feelings aren’t in control of the things you say or do.
This takes practice, of course, and I find I often forget how to do this, or become very caught up in my ruminations or the strong and painful feelings that surge through me much more often than I would like. Worried, angry, or frightened thoughts and unpleasant or miserable emotional sensations and feelings are normal when you are caring for a baby at the best of times. They will be very normal as we find ourselves locked into a constrained domestic life, perhaps even an interior life inside the home, with a baby. What matters is that we have strategies to manage them so that we continue to lead a meaningful life with our baby, in the midst of everything. Or in the midst of everything falling away.
Great lashings of self-compassion, a deep self-kindness, a profound tenderness towards yourself as a parent, will also be essential.
When you look back and tell the story of ‘Living in the Times of COVID-19’, when you tell the story of the great global transformation you and your child lived through when he or she was a tiny baby, I wonder what you’d like to be able to say.
Perhaps you would say how shocking it was, but that you found it within yourself to anchor yourself in the precious present moment in all its exquisite difficulty, and that you took one little step, and another little step, and another little step, to be the parent you wanted to be to your precious baby. Regardless. How you slowed down. How you made space for those painful feelings that came and went, how you did your best to grow enjoyment together, you and the baby, in the midst of the strange times you were in, how you learnt to attend to the little things you discovered in the present moment as if they mattered.
If this really is a time when the global economy crashes and transforms, so that some things – perhaps the power that vastly wealthy corporations exert over our political and global realities, perhaps the high carbon emission economy that has plunged us into climate crisis – really do change for the better, then perhaps too (and I can only hope) this will be a time when our health systems are forced to think differently about how we support parents with babies.
Because when it is more difficult to obtain healthcare due to social distancing or lockdown, or because our health system resources must prioritise keeping people alive, it will be time to think about ways to care for our babies that are less conflicted and confused, that are better aligned with our little one’s evolutionary expectations, better aligned with biological needs. It might be time to explore low-cost innovative strategies which are evidence-based, but which don’t require medicalised interventions. Which optimise your baby’s psychological attachment style, which keep sleep sweet and easy and healthy for you all, which offer new, embodied ways to fit your breastfeeding baby into your breast when the baby is fussing and pulling off or causing you pain, so that you can enjoy breastfeeding and your baby thrives. Which empower you, and nurture joy.
Maybe, even though the economic, social, and health effects of COVID-19 are shocking and of unprecedented scale, the extraordinary disruptions we are living through will also change the way parents are supported to care for their babies towards a simpler, more cost-effective, more research-based, more biologically-aligned enjoyment and delight.
That’s what I’d hope for you, as you care for your baby in the times of COVID-19. And before all else, of course, that you and those you love stay safe.
Medical Director, Possums Education
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