Having a baby is an exciting and life-changing experience that parents — especially first time parents — look forward to with anticipation, perhaps a bit of fear, but overall joy. The impact of COVID-19 has shifted some of that joy and wonder to uncertainty and, for many, loss in denying the typical rituals that come with celebrating this momentous occasion with family and friends.
Baby showers are cancelled, and perhaps replaced by virtual events. Hospital policies, by necessity, have had to limit labor and delivery access to just the laboring patient and one support person throughout the postpartum stay. Gone are plans to have a doula present, or to share the birth of your child with your mother, sister or best friend. Christenings or other religious celebrations traditionally held upon the arrival of a newborn are put on hold, and the welcoming home of baby and new parents muted in the face of social distancing. Plans you may have put in place for childcare, or trying to make plans for childcare when you don’t know when you will be going back to work, and there are no daycares open that you could visit… all of that is up in the air.
For parents who may be sick or tested positive for COVID-19, the fear and loss is unimaginable. Isolating from baby and having to don a mask and other protective gear to do all that you can to try and prevent transmission of the virus to your newborn. Well, there are no words that adequately describe that level of that anxiety. It is nothing like the vision you had of those early weeks at home, bonding with your newborn. Far from it. It is just beyond anything you could have possibly imagined.
And yet, what is there to do? You follow all medical advice around social distancing and safety and beyond that, what? There are wellness apps and resources that are very helpful in outlining coping/calming strategies, offering good advice around sleep routines, exercise, and connecting virtually. New parent support groups and virtual lactation services have been created to provide ways for new parents to create new communities of support with others going through the same transitions. All good and positive ways of coping in this current environment.
I would also suggest that it is OK to let yourself just feel, to allow space for your anger, disappointment, and anxiety, normal responses to an abnormal situation. Imagine an ocean wave, it crashes you to the bottom, and then, it lifts you up. All you have to do is float, and know that when you are on the bottom, you will rise up again.
That said, postpartum mood disorders are a very real medical issue that is the result of hormonal shifts after delivery and/or the impact of this major life adjustment. These mood disorders are one of the most common complications of the pre/post-natal period. If you are wondering about your adjustment, please check out the Postpartum Support International website. The site offers a full description of symptoms and online resources during COVID-19. The postpartum period can be a challenge in and of itself, but in the face of an untreated medical issue, in the midst of a global pandemic, no one should go it alone.
Recently I came across a beautiful piece written by Elena Mikhalkov that I think resonates:
My grandmother once gave me a tip:
In difficult times, you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Remove the dust.
Write a letter.
Make a soup.
You are advancing step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Rest a little.
Take another step.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more.
And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.
This post was adapted from the Baby Know How blog written by Christine Sweeney, LICSW, Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC.