Providing Care And Support To New Moms In The Time Of COVID-19

Like many EveryStep staff members, providing care and support to clients is at the core of Stephanie Van Roekel's mission.

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, that care has taken on a new look for the Healthy Start nurse consultant.

Instead of visiting expectant and new moms and their babies at home, Van Roekel has turned to other means of communication, such as phone calls and text messages, to make sure her clients' needs are met and health questions answered.

"At first, not being able to be next to a client at a home visit was very difficult. Trying to assess a postpartum mom’s pain, helping with breastfeeding or evaluating her mood is obviously much easier to do when I can see her, read her facial expressions and to see how she’s ambulating," Stephanie says.

It's even more difficult when it comes to assessing newborns. Being unable to hold them to assess their tone, watch how they latch to nurse and chewing their weight for appropriate growth has been next to impossible.
"Nurses truly rely on all of our senses to care for others. Taking away most of those has added a layer of difficulty during this time," she says.

Still, Stephanie and her fellow nurse have been up to the challenge, adapting the ways in which they can offer support and care.
"Using the phone and figuring out how to word questions differently and having more in depth conversations is necessary to assess the needs and concerns of these days," she says. "This has forced me to utilize a whole new set of nursing skills."

Such was the case recently when Stephanie was working with a new mom who was having difficulty nursing her newborn.

In addition to not being able to visit the new mom face-to-face, Stephanie also wasn't able to communicate with her over the phone, as the woman is deaf.

"Pam, her case manager, advised me that the client had a hearing impairment and that communicating via text would be most effective," Stephanie recalls.

The woman, her partner and baby had just returned home from the hospital the day before Stephanie contacted her. 

"The maternity nurses at hospitals are excellent.  They send families home with a lot of resources and education for caring for their newborn," Stephanie says. "But, sometimes when you get home and are without those nurses at your bedside, there are new questions, or the baby does something they didn’t do in the hospital – like not feeding well." 

That's where EveryStep programs come in, providing staff as a resource that can visit new parents at home – or, during the COVID-19 crisis, over the phone – to answer these new questions or guide them through breastfeeding.

"Initially, this mom wanted to discuss questions about breastfeeding," Stephanie says. "But as the day progressed, and many texts were exchanged, I was able to educate on postpartum healing, well-child appointments, and just overall adjustment to having a new family member."

Since establishing the relationship, Stephanie says she's been able to answer other questions for the new mom.

"I feel like I was able to answer her questions, provide her with resources and be a sounding board for her this week," Stephanie says. "She expressed gratitude, but also understanding that this was the only way I could provide support at this time. I look forward to making home visits to her family once those resume after this isolation period."

Stephanie says she's received similar understanding from other clients since EveryStep adjusted its home-visitation policy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In fact, with all of the encouragement to adhere to social distancing, most of them are in favor it at this time," she says. "Some have many questions and I have talked to some families multiple times this week to help them through preparing for labor and delivery or bringing a new baby home." 

In addition to their regular questions and concerns related to their families and health, Stephanie says that the current COVID-19 situation can bring a certain level of fear and uncertainty to clients. 

"If nothing else, we can provide a listening ear and education to them about how to weather this storm," she says.

"Fortunately, I'm not alone," she says of reaching out to families. "Most all of these families have either a case manager, community health specialist or another staff member from an EveryStep program that is available to wrap around them with support and resources."

While Stephanie notes that she and her follow nurses would always rather see clients in person to address their needs, they know that pandemics don't happen everyday.

"This is new territory for all of us," she says. "I want our clients and their families to know that we’re prepared to help them at this time."