This pandemic has affected everyone, that goes without saying. However today, my focus is how the pandemic has affected mothers of newborns. The process of having an infant at home can already feel extremely isolating and overwhelming. But here’s the thing, there was a pretty realistic “solution” prior to the pandemic, surround this mama with a tribe of help. Guess what? During a pandemic, a rotation of people available is not exactly an option.
What’s so different about delivering during a pandemic anyway?
Oh, just about everything. I want you to keep in mind that this parent has just been subjected to a very abnormal pregnancy experience. Most likely you did not receive a baby shower/ sprinkle/ in-person celebration of any kind. Her prenatal care was either less frequent, done virtually, or in person with no support person allowed to be present. This includes no children. All of this equates to copious amounts of anxiety.
It goes without saying that there is an infinite amount of things that take place that feel like they are out of the your control while pregnant. Now imagine going into every prenatal appointment by yourself and practically begging for information on what to expect when you deliver that baby. Then imagine being met with pretty open-ended response since guidelines were changing weekly at some points throughout the pandemic.
You are likely concerned over a multitude of things including her own health, the health of her unborn baby, arranging childcare for every prenatal visit (if you have other children) the list goes on and on.
I want to be transparent with the fact that perhaps I am a little bias due to the fact that I was pregnant during the thick of the pandemic. So yes, while I can speak from a personal standpoint, I assure you that I can subjectively speak from a clinical perspective as well. And let me tell you, this experience was extremely difficult on me, therapist or not.
I say this because I want you to keep in mind that this means that these parents entered into the delivery likely not feeling so great mentally. And well, context is everything. So, not only did the pregnancy look vastly different, the delivery process is also out of the norm.
Covid testing for mom is pretty routine at most hospitals during the labor and delivery process. The swab isn’t the problem. It’s what can potentially come after the fact. If mom is positive, most hospitals require that the support person leaves. Yes, you read that right. Mom is now subjected to having to labor and deliver what to her will feel like, alone. Of course, medical staff is still present, but let’s face it. This parent doesn’t want to page a nurse to hold their hand throughout the process, she wants her partner there.
It is also very likely that the medical staff will urge separation of mom and baby if mom does test positive for Covid 19. This separation occurs immediately at most medical facilities. This means that mom delivers baby and baby is immediately taken, there is no skin to skin. No attempting to latch or offer that first bottle.
So now not only was this parent alone throughout the labor and delivery process, but they will remain alone for the remainder of the stay. More than likely crying the entire time because her infant has been separated from her and she is being told that she should quarantine separately from her infant for fourteen days.
I say this all because this level of trauma cannot be ignored. And it is. It is because we haven’t seen the ramifications yet. And we’re a society that likes evidence. Well, I’m here to tell you that in about ten years or so when empirically based research begins to emerge on the long-term psychological affects that this process has had on pregnant people, it won’t be pretty. And it will be too late. We need to support these mama’s now.
While this is worst case scenario, I promise you that this scenario has ran across the majority of pregnant folks’ minds. So even if it did not happen, they likely spent a great deal of time making herself literally sick with worry that this would happen.
So what can I do to help?
One of the biggest risk factors for developing postpartum depression is a lack of support once the baby arrives. This includes physical support. So we need to get creative! This is going to take a team effort. Many of these suggestions will be similar to supporting a new parent of a newborn outside of a pandemic as well!
Physical Ways to Provide Support
Keep that family well fed! Contact close friends and family members and arrange for meals to be taken care of at least the first two weeks that they are home. Meal trains are popular! Have someone set up a google calendar and each person/family can pick a day to drop food off at the door. Be sure to be mindful of dietary restrictions in the household.
Arranging for meals doesn’t mean you have to cook them! Gift cards to third party restaurant delivery services work great too! They can be emailed, so this is a great “contactless” option.
If the family doesn’t already have an annual subscription to a grocery delivery service, this makes a great “pooled” gift option as well! I promise you that another pack of onesies is NOT needed!
Let the parent know when you are going to grab groceries and offer to grab some for the family. Not only was it a nightmare grocery shopping with an infant before, Covid complicates this even more. The great thing is that so many grocery stores are offering some kind of pick-up service – meaning parents can put in an order online and you can snag it for her and leave it at the door step!
Be Mindful of Meeting the Baby
Please don’t hound the parent about when you can meet the baby. Now this does not mean that you cannot express that you would love to meet bub at some point, but be sure to be mindful of your word choice.
Be Mindful of the Delivering Parent
Keep in mind that the parent is important too! So many people reach out expressing interest to see the baby, seemingly ignoring the vessel that brought babe into this world, leaving this parent feeling pretty isolated. At this point, they may already be panicking about how they are going to do “this” alone. The partner likely received very little time off and may already be back at work. The delivering parent likely received very little time off as well! There will be no play classes to attend with the baby and/or toddlers. Making decisions before every outing will be exhausting, weighing risks and benefits to getting out of the house.
If the parent is planning on working remotely, consider your rhetoric surrounding this notion. “Well, at least you’re working from home!” may not be that helpful of a statement. For many parents, work is their only semblance of interaction from the outside world! These parents now is expected to keep her productively levels as impressive as they were before she took leave, so that no one judges, all while listening to her baby scream in the next room.
There are ways you can help in this scenario too! If the family has decided to start off with a nanny, offer to help her draft e-mails that she can just copy and paste when reaching out to the nannies’ references. If she has decided to place the baby in daycare, you can help by asking if you can reach out to places that she has researched and inquire about pricing information and if they have openings! You can even see if she would like you to post in a local mom/parent group for her asking for daycare recommendations. It’s much easier to contact a few places, then sift through twenty options!
If the family is comfortable with you visiting, walk in wearing a mask. Believe me – you would much rather have them tell you that you can take the mask off than have them awkwardly ask you to wear a mask around the baby. If you’re not comfortable wearing a mask while visiting the baby, then don’t plan on any in person visits any time soon. Be sure to ask if family members/partners can come along when you go visit as well! This is done for two reasons, one, the less exposure to people the better, and two, perhaps mom would like the space to talk freely about how she is truly handling the transition.
Emotional Ways to Provide Support
Here’s the thing: having an infant, pandemic or not, is so hard. It’s an extremely challenging time both physically and emotionally. If the parent is able to be vulnerable and is honest about the challenges faced with in parenthood, please don’t diminish these challenges by trying to “fix” it. What I mean by that is – allow the parent to speak freely. Empathize and acknowledge how difficult this time is.
AFTER that, feel free to remind the parent how strong they are and that they WILL through it. But often times we panic when our loved ones are in pain and just try to say whatever we can to erase this pain for them. But that can’t and shouldn’t be done here. Feeling difficult emotions and processing through them is how we heal. Shoving them down or glazing them over is how suffering develops. We don’t want this parent to suffer.
Keep in mind that second and third and fourth time, parent STILL need support! Each postpartum period can vary significantly. Going from a singleton to multiples can feel traumatic at times. Please be mindful of the rhetoric that you are using in an attempt to empathize. You sharing how you were able to handle three under three with no help may leave her feeling like their emotions are being down played or that you are insinuating that the parent is not doing a good job “handling” everything.
Be sure that when you’re checking in with a phone call/text/face time, you’re not just asking about the baby. Ask about how THEY are doing too.
Pandemic or not, it still takes a village. That village has just gone remote now. Get creative!
For all of the parents out there reading this trying to rack their brain and find a way to support their friends/siblings/child/colleagues who are giving birth during this time, you have beautiful souls. I want you to remember all of the things that you wish would have been done for you that would have been helpful when you first had your children. Let’s stop this old school cycle of treating motherhood like a hazing period. Perhaps you suffered during this time period yourself, reminding others of all of the challenges that you faced won’t take away your pain and it won’t take away from this either.
Just do for them what you would have wanted done for you.
More about Deema
Deema is the newest addition to our Bumblebaby team and is a psychotherapist specializing in women’s mental health issues including maternal health and perinatal mood disorders! Click here to read more about Deema’s background and certifications.
Services she will be offering this fall through Bumblebaby:
- Webinars and Interactive Workshops pertaining to perinatal mood disorders and maternal mental health
- Parent coaching on implementing behavioral structure at home: 4 biweekly 30 minute video chat sessions on how to troubleshoot and implement realistic expectations for more challenging developmental stages in your kiddos