28 April 2020

Becoming a dad during a global pandemic

Mo Bro Luke’s story on launching headfirst into fatherhood during lockdown
Mental Health | Real Stories

Becoming a dad for the first time brings along a whole set of new challenges and experiences. Those who have been there before will be able to relate to that part – but how about bringing your new born home during an unprecedented global pandemic?
Recently, we caught up with Mo Bro Luke to chat about the arrival of his first son, Alfie, and what life has been like as a new dad during COVID-19 lockdowns.

“With the current circumstances and being in isolation, it’s been challenging to not really be able to celebrate fatherhood with family and friends.”

When did Alfie arrive and what did life look like then?
Alfie was born just before COVID-19, on 3 February. He was born with a significant congenital heart defect, which is called transposition of the great arteries. During his correctional surgery, he developed some complications and ended up spending about seven weeks in hospital after he was born. In those first weeks life went from relatively normal during the pregnancy, to very stressful and a little chaotic as he went through several procedures to correct his condition.
He was in ICU for a while and there was a limitation on the number of people who could be in the room, so for those first few weeks we were in similar circumstances to now. Only a few family members were able to visit him in the hospital, and we spent most of our time with him in his hospital room, not being able to take him outside.
What at stage did lockdown hit and how did that shake things up?
Once he made a full recovery, we brought him home and he was home for a few days before the current measures due to COVID-19 started getting phased in. This really meant that we transitioned from spending most of our time in hospital with him, to spending all of our time at home with him, and fairly quickly weren't able to have people over to visit.
The really big challenge with those measures being in place was missing out on the family support - having them being around when we initially brought him home. Also not being able to have our friends and family around to have a bit of a celebration considering the circumstances of his birth and the surgery he had been through. To this day, there are still a few family members that have only met him via Zoom.
Has it made fatherhood different to what you thought it would be?
Yeah it has. I anticipated the usual circumstances going into fatherhood would mostly include a lot of celebration. The initial heart complications meant that became mixed with a lot of apprehension and stress to work through while he was in hospital. 
With the current circumstances and being in isolation, it’s been challenging to not really be able to celebrate fatherhood with family and friends. When you become a dad you feel like you're joining a bit of a club, especially when you have friends and family that have kids, but with the current circumstances it's kind of downplayed because on the one hand you're overjoyed with having a baby, but you also can’t share that experience and celebrate in the same way that you'd otherwise like to.
He's coming up to being three months old and we would have hoped to do something with family and friends, but it means that those things kind have to go on hold for a while.
What are the positives you’ve been able to take away?
The contrast to the challenges we've had is that if we weren't in the current isolation measures, I would have returned to work after paternity leave and I'd be working five days a week. I'd be in the office, probably leaving the house at about 7:30 in the morning, and getting home anywhere between 6 and 7 at night. I'd probably have a bit less time to spend with Alfie, whereas with the current measures in place, I get much more time with him and my wife, Kathryn. 
We have an arrangement that seems to work really well where we each do different feeds throughout the day and I get to do his bath at night and his last feed quite late. It really does mean you're in this little family bubble and you get to establish yourself as a family unit where yeah, you may not have family and friends popping in, but you really focus on who you are as a parent, without as much input as you might otherwise have. 
It's great to spend a lot of time with family, but the challenge that comes with working from home is needing to be very mindful of separating work stress from home stress - or tiredness if, for instance, Alfie isn't sleeping. Work alone usually presents challenges with milestones and deadlines, and working remotely has the potential to increase that stress, so it’s really important to talk things through at home and at work, and ensure that if one or the other is causing stress, it’s addressed and we talk through it.
What are you looking forward to doing most as a family once the lockdown lifts? 
Getting the family together for a big lunch or dinner. That'd definitely be the first thing.
The other thing is that myself and my friends, all the way back from high school, hold a monthly dinner where we have a bit of a chat and a beer together. That’s the other thing I’m really looking forward to getting back to.
Without those in-person get togethers, what has social connection looked like for you recently?
It definitely has a much more digital focus. Where there would usually be a lot more interaction with friends and family, there's quite a lot more interaction with co-workers right now. 
Kat, my wife, is an organisational psychologist and one of her perspectives on working from home is that it helps to ‘unmute’ your life when you're in meetings with people. So, when I've got Alfie sitting next to me in his rocker, I will always bring him in, introduce him in the meetings and people seem to really enjoy getting a bit of an insight into your life.

Want more content about life as a new dad? Check out our Dad In Progress podcast.