During my pregnancy, I gave much consideration to expectations and hopes for my postpartum experience the second time around. As a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD) specialist, I was confident.
“This is my second child, it’s going to be easy. I have a prevention plan, but probably won’t even need it. I know what to look for.”
Then the day of the shutdown arrived – and I had no idea how different my postpartum experience would prove to be.
Parenting a newborn in the midst of a pandemic.
It is now October 2020. The past seven months have been some of the loneliest and anxious times in my life. This sentiment has been echoed by dozens of women I know, both personally and professionally.
With so little known about COVID-19 at the time my son was born, the idea of anyone coming over to help felt like a life and death risk. Not just for my baby, but for my entire family. I felt fiercely protective of them. Life became consumed by Zoom calls, texts, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer. Anytime someone said, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do…’ it was with good intentions. But it also came as a reminder that there was nothing that could be done without risk.
Suddenly, I was questioning the necessity of everything. I was constantly searching for less risky options to meet our family’s needs. It felt like the world stood completely still. Yet my days were spinning out of control. Weeks passed. Anxiety gave way to depression and anger. I was so angry and in disbelief that my family was in this situation. My son had been born into what felt like utter chaos.
I was at a loss with the constant changes in recommendations of COVID-19 and its general unknowns. Yet as my children’s mother, the pressure to make “the right” decisions was still there. It wasn’t until I accepted that my postpartum experience was going to be dramatically different that I could see some new perspectives. I also had to grieve the loss of expectations. This is something I believe many parents find themselves doing now.
No matter what boat you find yourself in, the pandemic has caused some serious storms. The first months can be a struggle for any new mother, let alone when navigating a pandemic.
As a PMAD therapist, it is my mission to support moms whether they are currently pregnant, or newly postpartum.
It is when we acknowledge that things are hard, we can begin to look for ways to get the help we need and deserve.
The current times are tough. Really tough. Adjusting to motherhood is challenging on a good day, excruciatingly difficult on a bad day. It is almost impossible during a pandemic. Only when we acknowledge that things are hard we can begin to look for ways to get the help we need and deserve.
In the midst of COVID-19, we have to be a bit creative with what postpartum help looks like.
Once I embraced “radical acceptance,” I was able to use coping strategies and receive help that positively affected me, both personally and professionally.
First, acknowledge that we are not superheroes and we need help, especially now.
The pandemic has forced us to be constantly weighing the benefit of help with the risk it might pose. Help might be having a loved one leave a meal via porch drop-off or delivery service. It could also be having someone grocery shop so that mom and baby don’t have to venture out. Help can also take the form of a weekly phone call or video chat to check in with the new mom.
Second, connect to others who are navigating a similar postpartum experience.
Isolation and lack of connection with others significantly increases depression risk. Well-meaning family and friends want to give new parents their space, especially after a few weeks have passed. But often, mom doesn’t want to be alone. Moms are currently torn between the desperate need for hands on support and the fierce instinct to protect their newborn from COVID-19.
Approximately one in four women report feeling lonely in the weeks following the childbirth. That feeling of isolation is now at an all-time high. The people moms often turn to for support and advice have never had a baby in a pandemic. Connecting virtually with family or friends who also have young children, or connecting to a virtual support group, provides a healthy outlet.
Postpartum Support International has a national directory of support groups organized by state. Access to variety of options are available, many of them currently virtual.
Third, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings.
With so many limitations on what can and can’t be done in public, how many people we see, etc., the power of your mind is invaluable. There can be tremendous relief in incorporating the word ‘and’ into your thought patterns.
It is exhausting to hear things like, “Well, it could be worse,” or “Just look for the positives.” Only focusing on the positive end of the emotional spectrum can cause us to seriously neglect thoughts and feelings that need to be acknowledged. The word ‘and’ is inclusive of all feelings. For example, “I’m grateful to have had a baby AND I’m angry that this pandemic makes this experience to look different than I expected.”
Lastly, seek help from trained professionals.
If you have had a baby in the past year, or are about to deliver, chances are you are struggling in some way. For moms who conceived prior to the pandemic, expectations have to be shifted dramatically and quickly. Connecting to a therapist can help you work through the difficult challenges of caring for a baby. It can also help center your thoughts and give you healthy ways to cope manage realistic expectations in current circumstances.
Therapy can also offer a safe place to grieve the losses that you may be experiencing. Therapists can provide community resources and connection to a psychiatrist who can offer guidance on medication if needed.
Humans – especially new mothers – are not designed to live in isolation.
This pandemic is hard for everyone, but especially for new moms who are facing a variety of challenges in an age that we’ve never encountered before. Every new mom desires to be the best she can be. But in the middle of a pandemic, uncertainty is at an all-time high and anxiety almost inevitable.
For now, remember that it’s okay to not have all the answers, and navigating the postpartum journey is especially hard at the moment.
However, you have people willing to listen. You’re doing the best you can with the information you have. Above all else, you are the perfect mother for your baby. This pandemic is a part of your story. One day, you will remember how you and your baby survived something you never expected.
For information about postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders, including warning signs, how to help and treatment options—visit these pages on our website:
Heather Kiel, LMSW, PMH-C is a fully licensed clinical social worker. She has extensive training in providing treatment for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD) and is endorsed and certified through Postpartum Support International (PMH-C).
Heather has a drive and passion for working with and advocating for women navigating their reproductive journeys. She regularly works with pregnant and postpartum women struggling with Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, as well as women who may have experienced pregnancy loss and/or fertility related complications.