LAURA Hughes throughout her pregnancy had a clear picture of how her twin boys Harvey and Harrison would be welcomed into the world.
They'd be surrounded by doting grandparents at the hospital, her mother by her side in the birthing suite to offer support alongside husband and NBN sports reporter Mitchell Hughes.
On leaving hospital, their Hamilton home would be flooded with well wishes from friends and family.
The reality was far different. When Laura Hughes arrived at the John Hunter Hospital on March 17 at 37 weeks pregnant for her scheduled induced labour all the rules had been changed - starting that day - due to COVID-19.
The birthing suite was restricted to just one primary support person and the special care nursery was parents only.
Laura's parents, who'd travelled from Wollongong to support their daughter and welcome their first grandchildren, were restricted to seeing Harvey and Harrison from behind a window.
Harrison, the younger of the boys, was born with a low temperature and low blood sugar level and weighed just 2.2 kilograms.
Doctors made the decision to admit Harrison to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and under the new COVID-19 restrictions only parents were allowed access. That meant the brothers were separated for the first three days of their lives.
"It was brutal looking at your kid through one of those humidicribs," Mitchell Hughes says. "And for Laura it was so hard as she was trying to feed Harvey regularly in the K2 [postnatal] ward downstairs and then running upstairs on the schedule to feed Harrison, to try and breast feed him and try and get him into that routine.
"So there's no sleep for her and even the idea of just having all four of us sitting in the NICU would have been nice - to have us all there. It was very hard actually. Your emotions are racing, and to add that at the start was an extra tough thing to deal with."
Laura, who is a doctor herself based at the Mater Hospital, found it difficult to understand why twin siblings needed to be separated and says it only contributed to an already difficult situation.
"I kept looking at the clock thinking 'I can't spend too long here even though he's a newborn baby with a tube down his nose' because I had to go back to the other room as no one else can do my job," she says.
"I'm the only one that can feed them, so that was pretty rough. It felt like I was neglecting the two of them."
It's not just changes within birthing suites and maternity wards that have altered parenthood in the age of coronavirus.
Many of the services new parents traditionally access in the initial months - such as lactation and sleep and settling assistance, support from child and family health nurses and post-natal depression counselling - is being delivered remotely through the telehealth model via telephone or video stream to limit physical contact and the potential spread of COVID-19.
It's been a swift transition for Hunter New England Health, but one its director of Community, Partnerships and Integrated Services, Matt Frith, believes has been successful.
"We've been doing a lot of feedback with families and a lot have actually found it useful and beneficial," Frith says. "What you'll see, I think, is we've consolidated a lot of our telehealth services and the cancellation rates have just plummeted.
"Because it's in their home, they're logging on and it's meeting their needs. It's not like they're travelling to meet their appointment. Some staff have noticed - because none of these issues go away because of COVID - like post-natal depression or toddlers with learning problems, we've been able to modify the service."
Hunter New England Health received about 1000 child and family health nurse referrals for March.
This is an increase on the individual monthly figures for December to February. Many of those referrals were serviced through the telehealth model.
Frith says telehealth has proven more efficient and he expects the success of the program to have a permanent impact on the healthcare system post-COVID.
"I think it'll be interesting to see what happens after the pandemic," he says. "I think some services will always be more suited towards face-to-face, but I think it'll give the flexibility for families to have the option."
Frith, however, does recognise telehealth's limitations, especially for low socio-economic families without reliable internet.
While the telehealth model has allowed the continuation of important clinical services to parents, it does present problems.
Maryville mother Emma Summerhayes and her husband Liam welcomed the birth of their daughter Edie on February 29.
They enjoyed the company and support of family and friends during the first fortnight after Edie's birth before the lockdown meant loved ones were restricted to dropping off groceries at the front door, as a way of helping the young parents.
Summerhayes admits it's been mentally challenging.
"It's definitely been hard not seeing family and friends now and them not being able to come and cuddle her and do things like that because we'd love their company and love for them to come and see her growing," Summerhayes says.
Initially Summerhayes had face-to-face access to a midwife, but once the COVID-19 restrictions were introduced she was forced onto the telehealth model for a Skype meeting with a lactation consultant.
"It's never as easy as they can't as easily get up close to you to see if the baby is latching and checking, if they need to, for tongue ties or any of that stuff," she says.
"I was having quite a bit of trouble with breast feeding and you get different information from the different midwives at the hospital and the doctor."
Joining a mothers group was another rite of passage Summerhayes had hoped to experience post birth.
COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of all face-to-face mothers groups, but Hunter New England Health launched virtual meetings two weeks ago.
Summerhayes also took the initiative to create her own after being placed in contact with another four first-time mothers through her midwife.
"I'm just trying to write themed things, like something good or something funny that's happened," Summerhayes says.
"Just something to spark conservation. Because I don't actually know them, I'm trying to organise virtual coffee dates with each of them so I can get to know them and then we'll do a group one as well."
Warners Bay clinical psychologist and director of The Hummingbird Centre, Rickie Elliott, says the cancellation of mothers groups has been one of the biggest challenges for new parents during COVID-19 due to the loss of social connection and support.
Parenthood can already be isolating, and cutting off new mums and dads from engaging with people undergoing similar experiences can exacerbate the issue.
Dr Elliott says common mental health disorders to arise from parenthood are perinatal anxiety and perinatal depression, which covers pregnancy through to the first year of the baby's life.
COVID-19 is already having a major impact on the mental health of the wider public. An Australian Bureau of Statistics report found 42 per cent of people felt "restless or fidgety" during the pandemic.
Those figures are likely to be far higher in new parents.
"People are overwhelmed, isolated, lonely," Dr Elliott says. "We're seeing more reports of relationship stress and conflict just from the pressures of being at home and obviously there's a lot of financial pressures around at the moment as well."
However, the isolation of COVID-19 hasn't been a negative for everyone.
New mum Ashleigh Hays, from The Hill, has actually enjoyed the quiet time. Rather than the hustle and bustle of daily life, it's given her time to bond with her daughter Ari, who was born on April 15 at the John Hunter Hospital.
"It hasn't been too bad for us as it's nice to have just us and not worry about having a million people over to see the baby," Hays says. "We could just take our time with it."
Hays' mother has been around to visit and help with Ari, but has avoided close contact.
Despite the upheaval created in society by COVID-19, it hasn't dulled Hays' enthusiasm at becoming a mother.
"The anxiety of bringing a baby into this world was already something I thought about in the past, even before I had kids," she says.
"Maybe it's the hormones or something, but I don't feel any extra anxiety from this. I guess I've had a pretty positive outlook and I feel like everything will be alright eventually.
"I haven't felt too worried about anything."
It's not just new parents who are being affected by COVID-19. The rules have been rearranged for expectant parents.
Birthing classes have been cancelled and partners have been excluded from baby scans.
Cardiff's Nathalie Levick is due to give birth to her first baby on July 14. Since her six-week antenatal course was cancelled and replaced with a two-hour video session, she's sought information from free information classes run online by midwives, or delved into the podcasts Australian Birth Stories and Kick Pregnancy.
Levick's regular antenatal appointments have also been pushed onto telehealth, which she says has created anxiety.
"Pregnancy check-ups are a lot about feeling the baby and the bump, doing the measurements and the heart rate," Levick says.
"That's just getting skipped. You have telehealth or just a phone call. Even then they just say, 'I'll speak to you in a couple of months'.
"It's not just me feeling that way. I'm on a pregnancy forum on Facebook and people everyday are putting up posts that they feel neglected and they're worried that something is going to get missed."
Thankfully in the past week COVID-19 restrictions have eased to allow two adults and their children to visit another home.
Undoubtedly many Hunter families used the opportunity to reunite with loved ones, and in some cases, introduce themselves to new family members.
The full restrictions remained in place when Laura Hughes spoke to Weekender, but it was clear introducing Harvey and Harrison to their extended family was a moment she would cherish.
"We keep telling ourselves we're not missing out on anything, things are just being delayed," Hughes says. "That's the message we keep repeating to ourselves so it doesn't get too frustrating or overwhelming."
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