Published on: September 22, 2020
COVID-19 can undoubtedly be a stressful time for parents, especially so for those with young children. In this article, we got our colleagues to share their parenting tips and find out what it is like for them to start a family and be a parent during COVID-19.
According to Dr. Alex Ooi Koon Hean, Senior Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Farrer Park Hospital, it is alright to get pregnant during the pandemic as long as the pregnancy is adequately maintained.
By that, he meant regular checkups to monitor the mother's nutritional and medical status.
"Being pregnant does increase the risk of COVID-19 infection because the immune system drops when women are pregnant. However, the data is still non-conclusive to make the correlation,” Dr. Ooi said.
When asked if he has any other advice, he said: "Stay clear from everybody and wear a mask."
Being pregnant during COVID-19 would inevitably bring additional anxiety to expectant parents. Questions about their vulnerability to infection were raised and many wanted to find out more about how to stay extra protected. Other concerns also include concerns on sourcing for food when the craving hits and getting to the hospital when the big day arrives.
"Our biggest concern at that time was keeping our baby safe. Since I handle patients, there is a higher risk of COVID-19 infection," said Chin Ke Wei, Assistant Nurse Educator from the Education & Training department. She is due to deliver her second baby this year.
"However, the hospital policy and PPE supplies have kept the nurses safe with zero infection rate. More so since COVID-19 is a norm now, whether we like it or not, we have to live and deal with it," she added.
For Serene Lau, Marketing Manager, it is her first time having a baby and she had concerns about breastfeeding.
"My biggest challenge then was to learn how to manage breastfeeding problems on my own. The lockdown limited home visits," she added.
For many expectant parents, being pregnant means having limited to no family help.
"There was an option where my wife could go back to India so that she can be with family for help," said Jeethu Syriac, Head of Human Resource, "however, this means I cannot be with her during birth. Coupled with not knowing how the situation will evolve, we decide to stay in Singapore and have the baby here." Jeethu's baby boy arrived in July this year.
Did panic purchases at the supermarkets add to their anxiety?
"At the beginning of DORSCON Orange when people were panic buying, it did make me feel a little anxious. The queue was long and some items were out of stock," Ke Wei shared, "however, the restock speed was fast, and that gave us great reassurance that we will not run out of daily essentials."
"We were worried about where to get confinement food as well as diapers and milk powder going out of stock in supermarkets," Serene shared. She delivered her first baby in April this year and revealed that said she bought all her baby supplies online since retail stores were not operating during the circuit breaker period.
Ke Wei also did likewise using an online platform to get her supplies.
“Although the waiting time during was slightly longer due to higher demand, we managed to get the goods we wanted.”
The norm of visiting the shops physically to purchase was not going to happen any sooner, all of Jeethu's purchase was made online - from cots, strollers, wraps, mittens to caps.
"Whenever my wife's craving kicked in, we would order food online. All our groceries were also ordered online. Everything is online. It gave us a sense of security as we were able to get what we want without having to step outside," said Jeethu.
"We did not plan to hire a confinement nanny. My mum was supposed to fly in from Kuala Lumpur to help out," recounted Gwendoline Phung, Nursing Manager, Cardiovascular Suite, "my husband and I took turns to take care of the baby."
Like Gwendoline, Jeethu said he tried to get a confinement nanny but could not.
"Every time we applied, it was rejected. During this time, the Ministry of Manpower had to be careful about bringing foreign helpers into Singapore for infection control containment purposes."
So he did a triple take. "I become the 'mum' to my wife, daddy to my daughter and the nanny to the baby," he laughed. A positive outcome now - Jeethu cooks!
"It was during this time that I started cooking. I never knew I could, but I think I am quite good at it now; more so than my wife," he beamed proudly.
As for Serene, she said there were limited choices. "I finally found a nanny waiting for transfer as her previous employer did not find her satisfactory."
"It was devastating not having family visitations when I delivered, especially since everyone at home was very excited about the arrival of their first grandchild. It is even sadder not to have them visit when I was home during the circuit breaker period," Serene recounted.
Being on your own with little help and no visitation when you are having a baby can become a source of isolation for both parents. "One of our biggest challenges was not knowing what would happen. A lot of our initial plans for the baby had to be canceled and altered," said Gwendoline.
"We just had to remind ourselves to be strong and strive through the difficult time. We hope that the day would come soon when the borders could reopen freely so that my parents will be able to see our little one."
Even though visitation at the hospital was allowed for Jeethu, his biggest challenge was coping with visitor restrictions for his younger child.
"I straddled between home and hospital a lot. As my elder daughter is under 12 years old, I cannot bring her along to visit her mum and baby brother," he recalled. For Jeethu, traveling frequently at specific meal times became a routine during the four days his wife was in the hospital.
For frontline healthcare workers like Gwendoline and Ke Wei, the first thing they would do upon reaching home is to head straight to the bathroom to wash up before hugging their little ones.
"I won’t hug or carry my baby when I get home from work and I’d always ensure that I take a shower first thing I get home. I take full precautions when handling patients at work and I follow the same principle at home," Gwendoline shared.
The routine was not any different for Daddy Jeethu as well. "Whenever I get home, I would head straight to the bathroom to wash up."
For Ke Wei and Jeethu, they have to factor in raising their firstborn; both are under 12 years old.
"My daughter is two years old now. She attends childcare. It wasn't easy during the circuit breaker because I need to be in the hospital. Although my husband has a work-from-home arrangement, the 2-year old needs a lot for attention," said Ke Wei.
"In the day, he will look after her until I am back home. It is only in the evening that my husband catches up his research work. Hence it was more tiring for me during the second pregnancy," she added.
For Jeethu, his elder child attends school, but his concern for infection is no less. "After the baby was born, the school term also started immediately. She commutes to school, and we did not want her to go out and get exposed; besides, we now have an infant in the house. As a precaution, we asked the teacher for an additional 2-weeks break."
"Now she is back in school. She dons on her mask and keeps a sanitizer in her bag. We keep reinforcing to her about sanitizing her hands before and after coming back from outside. She now has the habit of automatically sanitizing her hands whenever she can." He added.
Living in the COVID-19 pandemic has its fair share of stress, not counting the pregnancy stress, the anxiety of childbirth, and raising a child.
"We can never be as well prepared as we would like to be. Just go with the flow and be highly adaptable. More importantly, keep our spirits up so we can be strong for our little one,” Serene said.
For those with young children at home, Jeethu said it is essential to suitably prepare your child to help them understand and adjust to additional measures expected from them. "The main thing in COVID-19 is about health. Once you are sick, it can disrupt routines and schedules," he added.
Besides children, mummies and daddies also need to look out for each other. "The understanding and coordination between my wife and me are better. We automatically took turns to mind the infant and do the chore to give each other time to rest," said Jeethu. Ke Wei can't agree more! "Daddy has to be supportive and attentive as it helps maintain mummy's wellness during her pregnancy." That's because "a happy wife is a happy family", according to Gwendoline.
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