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The impact of COVID on mental health is huge

We are all aware of the devastating impact coronavirus and lockdown restrictions are having on mental health.  As one of the hardest hit areas of the UK, Manchester has experienced some of the toughest restrictions throughout the pandemic and is clear that this is having a huge effect on the mental health of parents who experience neonatal care.

The amount of parents who are accessing our trauma therapy services has more than trebled since March this year and we fear this is just the tip of the iceberg.

In the past studies by the charity Bliss have highlighted that 80% of parents who experience neonatal care have reported a negative impact on mental health as a direct result. We know it is common for NICU parents to experience symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following neonatal care and that is when we’re not in the midst of a global pandemic. 

“The doctors and nurses were beyond wonderful but it’s not the same as having your partner with you”

One of our mums had her little boy 31 weeks into her pregnancy, he was born the week before the first lockdown in March. She shared how it feels to have a baby in neonatal care in a global pandemic and why support is so important.

” The first time I met my son he was in an incubator with wires attached to every part of his body. Due to coronavirus restrictions I was alone. My husband and I met our son together, for the first time, on the day we brought him home from hospital, almost two months after his birth. 

I obviously understood why my husband could not be on the neonatal unit at the same time as me. To be honest, I am not sure how we would have managed it as we had a toddler at home to care for too. But on days where our baby was very poorly and we were waiting on test results, it was harrowing to sit next to his incubator without him. The doctors and nurses were beyond wonderful but it’s not the same as having your partner with you. 

There was a room off the main NICU corridor which had clearly been prepared should a baby with coronavirus be brought into the unit. Each day when I walked down the corridor I would mutter under my mask, “Please don’t let there be a baby in that room, please don’t let there be a baby in that room.” I would not wish coronavirus on anyone, least of all a premature baby, but my overriding thought was to protect my baby. There could not be an outbreak on his ward. Indeed, mine and my husband’s mantra which we would repeat over and over was, “We just have to get him home, we just have to get him home.”

Getting him home wasn’t the end of our problems. He had been on NICU for almost two months and as a family we had shielded ourselves during that time. So we didn’t take the virus, or indeed any bugs, onto the neonatal unit. Upon discharge we then had to shield our baby for a further three months. In total, we spent almost five months in just our house and garden – no mean feat for anyone, let alone our two year old.

There were no home visits from midwives or health visitors due to the pandemic. Alongside the worry of what we would do if our baby needed medical attention. I found shielding incredibly draining mentally. Being unable to just go out for walk, see a friend or hug my own parents. It meant I couldn’t escape the trauma in my mind even for five minutes and the birth and some of the worst days on NICU were playing on a loop in my head. I also was not in control of my reactions to the world around me, I would get angry even if something small went wrong and felt so cross with family and friends for not being able to comprehend what we were going through (even though I know they were trying) that I stopped answering anyone’s calls or texts.

Spoons literally scooped me and my family up when we needed it the most. I received weekly Zoom counselling sessions with a therapist who specialises in working with neonatal parents. This helped me come to terms with what had happened, to reduce my anxieties related to my baby’s health and wellbeing and to calm my inner rage. We were also connected with other NICU parents via Spoons’ dedicated social media groups. Families who were experiencing the same thing that we were, probably some of the only people on the planet at the time who genuinely understood.”

Like many other charities we are currently experiencing a surge in the demand for our services and we fear the this is just the start. Throughout the pandemic Spoons has taken its peer-to-peer and therapeutic services online, working in ways which were completely new to us. But we have learnt a lot and will continue to provide remote services in the future if that makes it easier for parents to access. We were aware that parents felt desperately isolated and needed to be around other parents who understood what they had been through. We have recently restarted our face to face baby massage sessions, and have invested in a space to allow us to  provide our EMD and trauma therapy. We will not let coronavirus stop us supporting our families.

As World Prematurity Day approaches (17th November 2020) we are working hard to raise awareness of the need for dedicated support for families in neonatal care. Granted, it is a very different World Prematurity Day and we are unable to host  our usual parties on the neonatal unit. Our fundraisers have also been cancelled which is a huge blow but we wont the let the day pass unnoticed. And you can still get involved.

Join our World Prematurity Day #spoonsforspoons campaign.
Get creative with your spoons and upload your video onto social media using #spoonsforspoons and don’t forget to tag us in.
We will share every video we see on social media!

You can also donate to our World Prematurity Day campaign every donation received will be used for the long term neonatal dedicated support for families in Manchester.
Your support is truly appreciated!

If you are a family who has experienced neonatal care in Greater Manchester, we are to support you.
Please get in touch here