Lockdowns, border closures leave NT mothers with newborn babies struggling without family
Flying solo with a newborn during a global pandemic has taken its toll on Maydia Parry, who says border restrictions and tough quarantine rules have forced her to question her family's future in the Northern Territory.
Her son Patrick is the only baby in her family who has been unable to receive visits from relatives down south.
"No-one is getting to see him … it's pretty sad," Ms Parry, 39, said.
"We're getting to the point where we are thinking of moving down south just so we can have time with family … because otherwise, it's so uncertain and anxiety-causing," she said.
NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner told the ABC he has "significant sympathy" for parents like Ms Parry who have been doing it tough without the support of family during the pandemic.
Mr Gunner said last week he was considering introducing home quarantine for returned travellers if 80 per cent of eligible Territorians are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of the year.
But on Tuesday he cautioned that Territorians with family in NSW and Victoria probably will not be able to see them for Christmas without quarantining.
Ms Parry said she was "extremely lucky" her parents and sister made it to Darwin for Patrick's birth four months ago, before the NT's border with Victoria shut again.
"Mum was here for three whole weeks when he was born, which is just invaluable … however they left and we haven't been able to see them," she said.
Several planned family visits have since been cancelled because of rolling lockdowns and border closures, the latest prompted by the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Victoria.
Travel plans have also been quashed by the requirement for mandatory quarantine in the NT at a cost of $2,500 per person.
Ms Parry has been caring for Patrick around the clock largely on her own, with the support of her partner who works full-time.
"You don't get a break because you don't have any family to take over for a little bit, so that plays a big role with mental health I guess and self-care," she said.
Many new parents in Ms Parry's situation are seeking connection and support at parenting education sessions.
But COVID-19 spacing restrictions have made it difficult getting into classes.
Kim Pemberton from the Childbirth Education Association said while her members are "super grateful" to live in the Northern Territory during the pandemic, the isolation is hitting parents with limited support especially hard.
"It kind of wears you down … women know that they can't access their families, they can't get support, families can't come up," Ms Pemberton said.
"[They are] trying to recover from birth, establish breastfeeding, navigate through all the hormonal changes, relationship changes, not going to work. It's a massive change," she said.
The closure of Australia's international border is also causing hardship among many NT families.
New mum Maria Vescan, who immigrated to Australia from Israel six years ago, said her "anxiety grows" each time there's talk of Australia's international border on the news.
"I did not expect to be giving birth with just my husband and literally no-one else … I feel that Google is my practical mother, which sounds bad, but it is what it is," she said.
The juggle is even harder for single parents like Karen Wilson, who left all her family and friends behind in Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom, when she immigrated to Australia.
Fighting back tears, Ms Wilson said caring for her three-month-old daughter Beau alone while the border has remained shut has been the hardest experience of her life.
"I'd give anything to be with my friends and my family, especially for her as well, you know?" she said.
New mum Katie Purves is used to crushing blows during the pandemic.
She couldn't make it home to England for her father's funeral last year and is desperate to see extended family in Sydney.
But she is worried she will end up in quarantine.
Every afternoon Ms Purves, 39, props her four-month-old daughter Florence on the couch to video call her mother in England.
She said Florence has become mesmerised by the "lady in the screen".
"We read books, we sing songs, we chat about everyday life, make sure she's OK, make sure I'm OK," she said.
Speaking from north-east England, Ms Purves' mother, Celia Purves, said she was grateful technology is allowing her to see her first grandchild grow up on the other side of the world.
"I'd be very sad without it … I do feel part of Katie and Florence's family," she said.
Katie Purves said although calls back home helped balance the loneliness, they haven't taken away the sadness she feels, and the longing she has for family.
"It's incredibly sad, you know we can't hug each other, she can't hug her. She can't hold her, she can't get to know her … it's always been on the screen," she said.
"Florence just knows her grandma and other people as somebody in a screen, no human touch, no human smell, no human face-to-face contact."