An Post workers: ‘I fear that I will bring Covid-19 home with me’
Post men and women balancing pressurised work with homeschooling and family life
Yvonne Twohig, who runs a post office in Co Cork
There are few more challenging times in a person’s life than the birth of a baby. These challenges increase when giving birth during a pandemic with insurmountable restrictions and strict guidelines. Throw in the pressures of one parent being an essential worker and an incredible stress is added to an already worn family dynamic. Shane Wakefield, who has worked for An Post for 24 years, and his wife, Stephanie, rode this wave last year after the birth of their twins, Bonnie and Ava.
“The twins were born early at the end of November and were in NICU” – the neonatal intensive care unit – “for five weeks,” Wakefield says. “During this time I continued to carry out my duties, all the while visiting the twins in the hospital in the morning and back again in the evenings. Stephanie had an emergency C-section and was unable to drive, so there was a lot of pressure. It was difficult to juggle everything.”
With an older daughter, six-year-old Holly, Shane and Stephanie formed a bubble with close family members to share the inordinate pressure of caring for their older child alongside supporting their babies in the NICU, while Stephanie also recovered from pregnancy and birth and Shane continued to work a pressurised job. While family members looked after Holly, the couple visited the twins in the NICU during these extraordinary times, balancing the difficulties of such an uncertain time.
“It was extremely stressful, both physically and mentally, on both of us,” says Wakefield. “The uphill struggle we faced due to Covid-19 was nothing like we had ever experienced before. Stephanie had to go to every antenatal appointment on her own, which was hard for me also, as I wanted to be part of the experience. I have empathy with anyone going through this situation during the pandemic.
“We have heard the horror stories of women giving birth alone but thank God I was lucky enough to be with Stephanie for the birth of our twins. We couldn’t thank all the staff in the National Maternity Hospital enough for taking such good care of our girls and supporting us through that time. It was a long road, but thankfully the twins were brought home just after Christmas and are thriving.”
Throughout his career with An Post, Wakefield says, the postal service has faced a lot of challenges, but nothing compares to the current situation. These challenges have individually hit the employees, affecting their personal experiences. The emotional challenges, the sacrifices made, and the imbalance of homelife is difficult for so many of us. The commitment provided by our essential workers during this time should never be underestimated. And their personal familial situations should not be ignored.
“Due to the pandemic work has been increasingly pressurised,” says Wakefield, “as obviously An Post are under huge pressure with deliveries, packages, etc, as more people are working remotely and shopping online. As a father of three I am constantly worried and concerned about protecting myself and my family and keeping us all safe from Covid-19. An Post have put in place protective measures, including staggered hours, to protect staff. Personally, I ensure I wear my mask at all times and take all other proper precautions.
“I have the added worry of newborn, premature twins and Holly at home. Stephanie is on maternity leave from the public service and is currently home looking after the twins and trying to homeschool our six-year-old. As I am the only one leaving the house at the moment, my worry is that I will bring Covid-19 into our home unknowingly.”
While Wakefield can happily switch off from his essential role in An Post and dive back into family life when he comes home, he worries about the effect the restrictions have on his family. Wakefield is conscious that family members have yet to meet the twins and Stephanie is consistently at home alone with newborn twins while undertaking the heavy task of homeschooling. While he is undoubtedly grateful for his job, he says that his most important role is as a parent and keeping his family safe.
“As the schools are closed I worry about how this is affecting Holly,” he says. “She is missing her school friends and weekend activities. We were lucky that Stephanie was able to work from home before going on maternity leave, which was the only way we could manage childcare during the pandemic. But family life has totally changed, as it has for everyone.”
Parents on the frontline
Yvonne Twohig runs a very hectic post office in Cork. A mother of two – she has a 14-year-old who is caught up in an exam year, and a 19-month-old who has lived most of her life with restrictions and face masks, and hasn’t had the chance to socialise and play with other toddlers – she is aware of her duty to protect not only herself but also her three staff, who rely on her leadership. Her husband is at home providing care for their children during the Level 5 restrictions and school closures.
But Twohig has found the balance of life has become unduly unstable as navigating the pandemic has created additional, complicated layers. “It’s working all day in the post office where I’m trying to keep my staff safe and also trying to keep all the customers that come through the doors safe. And then home in the evenings doing schoolwork as we have a Junior Cert in the house. I’m worried that he’s missing out on so much like meeting his friends and interacting with other people. He does a lot of his schoolwork through Microsoft Teams, and I also have the app on my phone so I can monitor it. But I still worry, so I’m making sure he’s doing all his schoolwork and studying enough for his exams.”
Parents will recognise this worry as it’s sadly common as we face the challenges of ensuring our children receive an adequate education. “He’s very laid back about studying,” says Twohig. “So I worry sometimes I’m pushing him too much, but I know it’s for his own good! It’s hard mentally on them. He has not been mixing with his peers or seeing his grandparents, cousin, aunts, and uncles.”
Twohig, like many parents on the frontline, is split between meeting working responsibilities and continuing to carry the load. Having created a connected team in her office, she is comfortable in knowing that if anything family related were to happen she has their support. But the stress of running a business at this time is exhausting.
“We are an essential service for the community,” says Twohig. “And we provide so many services. I enjoy my job, but this year it has been particularly challenging. Every day when I go home I fear that I will bring Covid-19 home with me. But I’m there to provide a service and people forget that we are trying to do our best in these circumstances, and we have families that we worry about too. I am looking forward to going home in the evening and being able to walk in the door without having to disinfect myself.”
Having recognised the exhaustion the pandemic, working outside of the home, and in a busy, risk-associated environment, Twohig ensures family time is met. “But there’s only so many walks you can go on.” she says. “But I do feel it has made us stronger as a family. In all, I hope people appreciate us at the post office and support us.
“In many ways, we are like a social bubble for some people, as we are the only contact that they have on a weekly basis. Mentally all of this is hard, but I think it will make us stronger. We’ve gotten this far and hopefully with the vaccines there’s hope.”