The migrant mothers raising their babies alone amid Australia's lockdowns

Navigating parenthood during a pandemic has been difficult for most people, but the hardship for some of those with no family connections in Australia has been amplified.

Thanh Binh with baby Joe.

Thanh Binh had her second COVID-19 vaccination while in labour with Joe. Source: SBS News/Abby Dinham

For Thanh Bình, the COVID-19 pandemic has defined her journey into motherhood.

She gave birth to her first baby, daughter Judy, on the day masks become mandatory in Melbourne in July 2020.

Then, while in labour with her second child, she received her second COVID-19 vaccination.

It was an appointment she says she wasn’t willing to miss.

“When I go to get a vaccine, I have him on the same day. Four hours later. I really wanted the vaccine. I had some contractions the night before I have the appointment, but I tried to hold on.”

Her son Joe is now one month old.

Thanh Bình and her family.
Source: SBS/Scott Cardwell

Thanh arrived in Australia from Vietnam seven years ago and met her husband, Minh, at university. The family now lives in a small bungalow in Melbourne’s northwest.

Despite having the challenge of having two babies in lockdown just 14 months apart, she says the biggest challenge was the first few months after giving birth to baby number one as she tried to figure out motherhood with no family to show her the way.

“First time being a mum with Judy, nobody around to tell me how to cuddle or feed the baby. Very hard at that time.” 

In-home maternal child health nurse visits had been suspended at the time, with the council operated services forced to take appointments on the phone to check in on the welfare of new mothers and their babies.

Judy was born in July 2020 on the day masks became mandatory in Melbourne.
Source: SBS/Abby Dinham

Manpreet Kaur was born in India and lives in Melbourne’s north. She has discovered that having a baby in 2020 came with a label.

“When I make visits to anywhere, people will ask ‘when is the birth of my daughter?’ When I say 22nd of July 2020, they say 'oh she’s a COVID baby!'”

These migrant mothers share their experiences of raising COVID babies in isolation

Unlike other birth stories she’s heard, Manpreet says hers was one of the positive ones. She says she was lucky to have her husband able to be present for the birth of their daughter, Sagal.

But thereafter, she says, he was allowed only two-hour visits to the hospital until she was sent home.

Ms Kaur says the joys of having a new baby came saddled with fears of parenting alone.

“It was really difficult for us with a first-time baby. We didn’t know what we need or what was the essentials, what we need in the next moment.”

Manpreet Kaur and her 'COVID baby', Sagal.
Source: SBS/Scott Cardwell

Traditionally in her culture, she says at six weeks old her daughter would be welcomed to the family with a big get together featuring grandparents and close relatives.

But at 14 months, the family still has not celebrated Sagal’s arrival or her first birthday, and she is yet to meet her grandparents in person.

Manjinder, Manpreet and Sagal.
Source: SBS/Scott Cardwell

“COVID has changed everything for us. When we came back home with the baby, no one was there to welcome us. It was just me and my husband all by ourselves.”

Migrant mothers impacted

Ninety per cent of migrant and refugee women have reported experiencing moderate to severe impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Dr Adele Murdolo from the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health says international travel restrictions have forced many new mothers to go it alone.

“They would normally have family members like sisters or mums who would come and help with the baby after the baby is born, or they would be able to join mother’s groups.

“So with those two forms of support removed it’s been a really difficult time for migrant mums.”

Dr Adele Murdolo says the pandemic has disproportionatly affected mothers from migrant and refugee backgrounds.
Source: SBS/Scott Cardwell

In 2020, calls to Victorian parenting support hotline Parentline exceeded 21,600 - an increase of more than 2,000 calls logged in the previous year.

And while COVID-19 has left many new parents in Australia navigating parenthood alone, Dr Murdolo says it has increased existing hardships for mothers of migrant and refugee backgrounds.

Research shows mothers born in non-English speaking countries are less likely to attend antenatal care in Australia and are more likely to have poorer maternal health outcomes.

“Even pre-pandemic migrant women - and especially new mums - have had higher rates of social isolation. It’s a risk factor for perinatal anxiety and depression,” Dr Murdolo says.

The isolation has led thousands to seek support online.

Connecting Indian Mums provides culturally tailored support.

Melbourne-based mother Neha Thakur Luthra started the Facebook group Connecting Indian Mums six years ago to connect those who like her were raising children without the support of their extended family.

She says the number of group members shot up during the COVID-19 lockdowns. 

“We have grown so much; last year we were at the 7,000 mark, this year we are at 11,000.”

Group members offer advice, support and a cultural understanding missing from the traditional maternal support services offered in Australia, she says. 

Neha Thakur Luthra started the Facebook group Connecting Indian Mums.
Source: Supplied

Those who live near each other have even provided meal drop-offs and groceries for new mothers struggling to cope.

The platform has become a lifeline for many during the pandemic, Neha says. 

It takes a village to raise a child, so why not we become a village for each other and each other’s kids.”

Parents of Australian citizens and permanent residents will now be allowed into the states and territories that have reached 80 per cent double dose vaccination targets.

The rule does not currently cover those on temporary visas. 

Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Published 18 October 2021 at 9:07pm
By Abby Dinham
Source: SBS News