Becoming parents in times of the pandemic

Becoming parents is always an incredibly exciting experience and it is a very special journey with many ups and sometimes also some downs. What must it be like to have this experience in times of COVID-19 when so many areas of everyday life are anything but normal? Even more so when pregnancy and birth do not go as expected or planned? In this interview, Patrícia Larguinho Estêvão and Pedro Filipe Silva Oliveira, parents of Lourenço Filipe Estêvão Oliveira, who was born at 26 weeks in March 2020, share how it felt for them to go through this emotional time.

GLANCE: Dear Patrícia, dear Pedro, your son was born during the pandemic. Did the thought of becoming parents in such a time, affect you emotionally? If yes, can you explain how?

Patrícia Larguinho Estêvão and Pedro Filipe Silva Oliveira: In addition of being nervous and lost because our baby was born at 26 weeks of gestation, the pandemic situation has further complicated our situation as it is something new and unknown. Every day we woke up with an immense fear that we might have been infected with the virus and then needed to stay away from Lourenço, because we were aware that he would have to stay in the Neonatology Unit for a long time. Our emotional state was completely in ruins.

You say your son was hospitalised after birth, did the pandemic and the respective hygiene- and safety regulations affect the treatment and care for your baby? For instance, were you both still allowed to be with him in the NICU? Were opening times of the NICU limited? If there were such regulations, how did they influence your everyday life as parents and how did you experience that time emotionally?

Yes, it affected our emotional state a lot. Because every day the schedules and rules were changed. We had to be very strict and careful with our hygiene every time we went to see our baby. We can say that we were extremely afraid of being able to take some virus or bacteria to his side because we knew that he was a very small and vulnerable baby. Lourenço was born in mid-March in 2020, right after the worldwide pandemic was announced. It was all “new” and unknown at that time. He was hospitalized for about 91 days, and unfortunately, we could never be both present at the same time to find out about our baby’s news. It was not before 1 June when the three of us managed to be together for the first time for around 1 hour because on that day the unit made an exception to celebrate International Children’s Day. We were all back to be together again on 6 June 2020 when our baby was finally discharged home.

Lourenço Filipe Estêvão Oliveira, born at 26 weeks, with his parents Patrícia Larguinho Estêvão and Pedro Filipe Silva Oliveira. © private

Based on your experience, is there any advice or message you would like to pass on to parents or to members of NICU staff?

Well, a Nurse sat down with us and said: “Now we are going to live hour by hour and day after day”, and that is how we have to do it! It was not easy at all, I confess. It is very important when we are with our babies to wear a cape and be very strong, because they absorb all our energy, all our love and affection, and this is essential. Whenever you have a simple question or doubt, always ask the team why. They are always ready to help us understand everything that is going on, or can happen. An essential factor is to be always present, if possible. Our presence and our caress, holding them close to our chest, and on our lap, are the best “treatment” they can receive. And lastly, never give up on fighting. For these mini mini wonderful beings. It is in them that we seek all the strength and some more to be able to overcome all of this. Remember, they are stronger than we think and they are true warriors.

Dear Patrícia, dear Pedro, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your experience and advice.

Like many parents worldwide, Patrícia Larguinho Estêvão and Pedro Filipe Silva Oliveira have been separated from their preterm born baby due to the ongoing COVID-19 safety- and hygiene measures. GLANCE supports parents who had or still have to experience such separation policies and advocates for family centred care and zero separation policies – also in times of the pandemic. If you want to support us and want to learn more about the “Zero separation! Together for better care” campaign, please visit our campaign page