Philip Potter

Dadding, season 2 episode 2: coronavirus wtf

Posted on 23 March 2020

9 months ago, I didn’t anticipate that my dad notes would coincide with a pandemic.

Last time, I wrote about the birth of my second child, Robin. I didn’t mention COVID-19 but I can’t avoid the topic now. The first direct impact the virus had on our lives was the hospital appointment for newborn checks I mentioned last time: the day we were due to go there, Southwark News reported that two COVID-19 cases had been identified at the hospital. We were left to make a decision about whether it was safer to see the midwife (who had a cough) or go to the hospital.

Note: I do not plan to be pedantically correct with my use of “COVID-19” or “coronavirus”; in particular, I will use these terms when “SARS-CoV-2” might be more correct. Don’t email me.

Newborn checklist

Since then, we managed to get all the immediate newborn things done. There’s quite a list of things you need to do with a newborn:

It was a real blessing that we had a homebirth here, because you need to register the birth in the registration district where the baby was born, and home is in Southwark while hospital is in Lambeth. We live 2 minutes’ walk from Southwark register office, but would need to get a bus or taxi to Lambeth. It’s hard enough to travel with a newborn and a recovering mother at any time, but the spread of coronavirus would have made us even more concerned. Did I mention there’s a time limit and you have to register the birth within 42 days? As I say, I’m glad we were able to use the local register office and get it done.

When booking the hearing screening, we mentioned our concern about social contact to the person taking the booking, and they said “it’s okay, you can do it any time in the first 3 months”. This did not reassure us. However once again we were fortunate because the screening centre was 2 minute’s walk from our house.

But we’ve got through our checklist. We don’t have to do anything more until the 6-8 week check for baby and mum and first round of vaccinations at 8, 12 and 16 weeks; though these could well be disrupted by the pandemic.

The shopping

As London people reading right now will know, but people reading from further afield or from in the future may not realise, the shops have gone a bit crazy with the pandemic. This has affected us in a couple of ways: first, we ran low (though we never actually ran out) of essentials like soap, nappies, and wipes, and second, we get our weekly shop delivered rather than going to a supermarket ourselves, and it has gone from a 1- or 2-day wait for a delivery slot to a 3-week wait. There is guidance to shop in person where possible to free up delivery slots for vulnerable people (such as older people or people with conditions such as asthma or diabetes). This would be nontrivial for us because we don’t have a car and we’re not close to a big supermarket, and our local shops have been running out of stuff.

However, we have been fine. We never actually ran out of anything essential, and we live in a good community where neighbours have been offering to get extra things from the shops when they go in their cars. I’ve been able to pick up nappies here and there when I spot them on the shelves (I take one pack at a time on principle at the moment). I am also in the habit of maintaining a stock of bread flour for our breadmaker so we will be okay for a while.

Social distancing and nursery closure

Around week 2, it became clear (to us at least) that the coronavirus was spreading in the UK and in Southwark specifically. We were already washing hands and, as parents of a newborn, were pretty socially isolated anyway; private sector employers that could were requiring workers to work from home, followed by the government issuing guidelines and public sector workers working from home.

Sonia’s parents had already returned home. They were worried about coronavirus and got themselves back home to Scotland before the disease really took hold in London, so we were left looking after a newborn and a three-year-old on our own.

On Wednesday, we learned that nurseries were going to close from the following week. This was a scary thought for us - both because it added yet more weight to the scale of the public health crisis, and because we had to think about looking after both kids full time – a newborn is hard enough! At least I’m on shared parental leave, unlike many of my friends and colleagues who suddenly find themselves having to work from home and look after children simultaneously.

Friday was to be Luke’s last day at nursery, but he had a snotty nose and Sonia and I both had sore throats. Under normal circumstances, we would have sent him to nursery – toddlers have snotty noses about 50% of the time in winter anyway – but we were cautious and kept him home, which meant he (and we) were unable to say goodbye to his friends and to the nursery staff.

My sore throat symptoms got worse and by dinner time I felt so nauseous I was unable to be in the kitchen because I felt the cooking smells would make me sick. This left poor Sonia to simultaneously cook, breastfeed, and watch a three-year-old, while ill herself. She was in tears by the end of the evening, and we were both wondering how we would cope.

On Saturday, though, we felt a lot better, and the sun was shining. The government advice was to self-isolate if anyone in the house had a temperature or a new continuous cough - and that didn’t apply to us, so we decided to go out. We were aware of the advice to keep a social distance: even when going out, keep at least 2m from other people.

I thought that I’d take Luke to the local park and try to teach him to ride his pedal bike that he got for his birthday. This would be something we could do which didn’t involve going in the play area and touching lots of surfaces that other children had touched.

Once we were in the park, we saw a few of our neighbours who had children of their own. It was so nice, especially after the low point of the previous evening, to have social contact with people again. We also know how much good it does Luke to be outside. It’s very important for his development to get lots of exercise and to socialise with other children. However, while adults are pretty capable of keeping a 2m distance in a big open green space, children are much less so capable. We have told Luke about the coronavirus, and about germs more generally and how they transmit, but when he sees another child he knows with a toy, he still wants to play with it, and in the moment, it was hard to tell him not to. Also, it was hard to keep him out of the play area when other children were there using it. In the end, I’m slightly ashamed to admit we went in the play area, against my initial judgement, because there was another neighbour there I wanted to catch up with, and I was so enjoying the social contact. Although we felt refreshed after the park trip, we also left wondering if we had been too lax and if we need to think carefully about what rules we set for Luke and ourselves and how we enforce them.

On Sunday, I decided to avoid the park entirely, to avoid temptation. I decided to take Luke for a ride on his balance bike (the pedal bike is still a bit beyond him) and we’d go somewhere and look at trains. He did well, although as a new and unfamiliar trip he was uncertain, confused and nervous, and got easily upset. But I think it’s important to think about how we can responsibly exercise Luke and get him outside, and if we repeat this routine it should become more familiar and comfortable to him. Late on Sunday, the leader of Southwark Council announced that all play areas would be locked from midnight that night, which thankfully made a decision for us.

This morning, we used Zoom to do a video call with Luke’s nursery friends. We tried to recreate the start of the day that they have at nursery, which they call “circle time”. We had songs: their welcome song, the wheels on the bus, heads, shoulders knees and toes. Then parents took turn to read stories to the call. It was a bit ropey, feeling a bit adrift at times, but overall for something that had been self-organised pretty quickly by people who don’t normally do this, it went pretty well! We spent the rest of the morning in the garden playing with megablox. In the afternoon, we had a one-on-one facetime with another nursery friend to paint a rainbow (there is a phenomenon of children painting rainbows and putting them in their windows so we were joining this bandwagon). We had another walk to the park, and Luke is internalising our rules about not touching other children, even children he knows. We explored less-well-travelled parts of the park, that we (and others) spent less time in, to help maintain a distance from others. As promised, the play area was padlocked shut. Sonia had a nerve pain headache all day so was out of action, but thankfully I was in good enough health to be chief parent of Luke (if not of Robin, who needs frequent breastfeeding).

Robin’s progress

I showed a draft of this to Sonia and she pointed out I hadn’t written about Robin very much. This is true and I suppose it’s for two reasons: one is that I’ve been much more focussed on Luke, our 3-year-old, while she’s been much more focussed on Robin. This is pretty necessary as she is breastfeeding him and so has to be near him for much of the day. The other reason I haven’t talked much about Robin is that he’s been doing really well, and there hasn’t been much difficulty to talk about regarding him.

The nights have been really good (as far as sleeping with a newborn can be described as “good”). Robin often wakes up only twice in the night, which is pretty good. He has been feeding well - he had regained his birth weight and then some by day 10 and, although we don’t regularly weigh him, we can see he is filling out. He is generally quite a content baby. He has occasional cluster feeds where he can be quite demanding, and these tend to happen in the evenings just when Luke is also tiring and becoming difficult to manage and needs bath and bed, which means the evenings as a whole can be a difficult time.

Sonia and I have discussed the issue of me spending more time with Luke and her with Robin. We’ve acknowledged it’s a thing and note that there is a risk of entrenching these connections longer term, so we’ve also been trying to notice opportunities to swap over. For example, I’ve been on a few walks taking Robin with me in the sling, and Sonia’s done a few bedtime stories with Luke. Hopefully as feeding becomes more regular and less frequent, we can rebalance how much we care for each of our children.