Many new parents are just now beginning to process the experiences of having been pregnant, delivered and/or gone through the postpartum phase during a pandemic. As we are coming up on the one-year mark, it will make many pause and look back at that pregnancy and first year postpartum. This can be quite heavy when the first year of your child’s life and your parental transition, or parts of it, occurred during lockdown and a global crisis. If you gave birth during hectic circumstances where labor and delivery care was not operating as usual. It’s a big loss to be mourned. It was not the year you had expected or had prepared for (how could anyone prepare for that?). Our transition to parenthood is a multilayered process where we discover ourselves through experiences, and new parents have been so limited in their options for discovering themselves as parents during the pandemic. It is like a whole aspect of your parental identity did not get to fully unfold. This takes a big toll on parents’ mental health and adjustment to parenthood.
In terms of decision fatigue, many new parents might also be very hesitant to get too excited about how things are “getting back to normal”. It’s a very common and understandable way to protect oneself emotionally; not get your hopes too high. It’s also difficult to navigate this decision process as friends and family will be responding in very different ways. Many new parents have worked hard to find some kind of agreement on negotiating different levels of comfort or straight up conflicts around safety measures, especially with grandparents, in-laws, or other family members. This baseline that they might have spent considerable emotional effort establishing (and maintaining!) is now being challenged and “reset” and a lot of the negotiations will have to be re-established.
For new parents who have been dealing with family conflicts, it can be exhausting to even think about. We’re all frustrated after a whole year of limitations, so everyone will be eager to get what they have been longing for, making the situation ripe for conflicts. New parents often end up in the middle, trying to make all sides of the family happy while also taking care of themselves. For expecting and new parents, my recommendation is always to ensure their own basic needs first. The pregnancy and first year after birth is not just a precious time, but also a very vulnerable time. We are particularly vulnerable to the stress from conflicts during this time, as we are transitioning to parenthood.
Spring is indeed coming. But this doesn’t mean that new parents will automatically get all happy. I believe many new parents will feel mixed, understandably so. We are longing to go back to experiencing some sense of normalcy like our prepandemic lives, but if you became a parent during the last year, the pandemic has made it quite complex to understand your pre- and post-delivery life and your transition to parenthood. Without pandemics, new parents go through a natural process of comparing and processing the differences, looking back and mourning the loss of the pre-baby life while embracing and settling into the new normal with a child. This transition has become much more confusing and unclear for new parents.
I am thinking a lot about all the people who went through the transition to parenthood over the last year. It was already an intense process to become a parent; a process that requires time, space, support and compassion. The 2020-21 cohort of new parents deserve this in abundance.
I wrote a piece for Motherfigure about a thing that is huge in my field and my work right now: the particular advantages of online therapy, or Telehealth, for expecting and new mothers. Motherfigure is a maternal wellness startup that combines curated products with easy-to-access info, tools, provider reviews, and community to help women navigate motherhood. Their online magazine The Mothership offers articles on childbirth, postpartum, nursing, infertility and loss and much more. Packed with both first person accounts and evidence-based information from vetted professionals. Go here to read more about online therapy for new and expecting moms and explore the wealth of resources that Motherfigure offers.
We are all concerned about the coronavirus, and none of us knows exactly what the next months or year hold. If you are a new or expecting mother, especially if you are struggling with any type or level of anxiety, the concern about coronavirus is most definitely not what you need. Because expecting and new mothers are wired to be highly sensitive to any threat to their baby. Caring for an infant is already challenging enough when it comes to illness. Going through the common cold while pregnant or with a little one in the family can be highly stressful, both because babies and pregnant bodies need extra care and because we as parents are most likely already short on the energy that caring for a sick child requires. For first-time mothers, the first round of illness in the family can be incredibly anxiety-inducing. It’s the first time, so how do you know how do understand it all and what to do, how to care for your baby? It can be like fumbling in the dark as you are figuring it out and finding what works for you. For mothers with Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), like Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Anxiety, any kind of illness in the family can exacerbate symptoms and the feeling of overwhelm. And many mothers are either themselves dealing with serious health issues or mothering children who have them.
If you are experiencing heightened anxiety during this time, your reaction is very understandable. Anxiety is often like the tip of the iceberg, and so much is going on underneath; whatever the root of the anxiety is. You are not weak or wrong for responding with anxiety to this situation. You are responding for good reasons given what you are carrying in your body, nervous system, and mind. Being an expecting or new mother is already stressful, and this situation is particularly stressful when taking care of young ones. The good news is that children appear to be less susceptible to the virus than adults. But to a parent’s nervous system, wired for ensuring the survival of their baby, that might very well not be enough to calm down. And it’s very understandable. Especially if you are dealing with a PMAD.
Acknowledgment and nonjudgmental support is crucial when we are anxious, especially in the perinatal period. We need care and support, not shaming (whether direct or indirect) of our anxiety. We don’t need to be told neither to “stop freaking out” nor to “start taking the situation seriously” (and any scrolling on most social media is an avalanche of these mixed messages). So I am here to tell you that it is so very understandable if you are feeling anxious about the situation. The drive to protect our children and families is extra heightened during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Maybe your anxiety is related to deeper underlying issues. Anxiety can be caused by a number of things including (but not limited to) trauma, medical issues, social or relationship issues, lack of access to support and care, discrimination. But whatever the root cause, it is very understandable if this situation is triggering your anxiety during the pre- or postpartum period; when we are most raw and open and vulnerable.
I can’t tell your what the future holds for our public health, but I can tell you the good news that anxiety is treatable and can be reduced. There are many options for treatment and they need to be combined in a unique way to fit your personal needs and situation: therapy, medications, support groups, volunteer support, family or social support, yoga or other forms of movement, faith community support, online therapy, exercise, nutrition and life-style changes, getting access to community services, breathing and meditation exercises, self-regulation skills, somatic trauma therapy, addressing physical and health issues, art and creative activities, seeking experiences in nature, connecting with supportive communities.
What You Can Do
Remind yourself that your reaction is UNDERSTANDABLE. If you have anxiety, it is no wonder that you are reacting to this situation. It would be absurd to expect you to not have a reaction. You are wired to be highly sensitive to any threats to your baby and your family’s safety. Of course you are reacting to this. And you deserve help and extra support while going through this.
If you are working on reducing your anxiety, whether in therapy or other forms of treatment or support or by yourself, be gentle with yourself about your progress right now. Maybe you want to put your big goals a bit on hold for now? It would be unfair to expect you to progress and improve a ton and reach your goals during a time of this sudden new stressor. It’s okay. You will get there. It’s okay to put it on hold and just take it one day at a time.
If you were wanting to reach out to your health care providers or maybe start therapy, but don’t feel safe about going to an office, consider online treatment. Online health care, or Telehealth, has pros and cons and are relevant for some. Some providers are already set up for providing Telehealth, some are in the process of it. More and more therapists are offering therapy online. Ask if your provider is certified to offer online treatment and set up for it properly. If you seek out Telehealth, ask the provider how they are determining whether it’s the right fit for you and your needs. Another form of online help is online support groups. Telehealth may or may not be a good fit for you, but you should know your options.
If you are concerned about being in public with your baby, allow yourself to do what you need to do to make it work! So if you need to do moms groups without babies touching, that is totally understandable. If you are wanting to not shake hands with anyone at the moment, then so will it be. Don’t concern yourself with what others may think; that is their problem, not yours. If your concerns about being in public are overwhelming and limiting your life, there is treatment available. But right now might not be the time to conquer and overcome those anxieties. In time you will be able to address it and overcome and HEAL, but these are challenging circumstances. So don’t be hard on yourself.
Reduce exposure to news and social media discussions. Prioritize a few sources of update from news outlet that you find credible and who offer concrete and useful information and guidance without sensationalism. Remember a certain portion of the media runs on over-dramatization. If certain media sources make you extra anxious, maybe mute or limit them for now. You will get the info you need without the sensationalism and drama.
It is not your fault that you are suffering from a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder
Motherfigure: A maternal wellness startup that combines curated products with easy-to-access info, tools, provider reviews, and community to help women navigate motherhood.
Virtual Support Groups: For a low fee, The Bloom Foundation offers virtual support groups for mothers who are unable to attend in person or prefer the online format. Different groups for Loss, NICU Moms, Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, Moms of Multiples, and Birth Trauma.
Interview with Karen Kleiman: Alanis Morissette has a podcast titled “Conversations with Alanis”, and this episode is an interview with one of the leading experts in Perinatal Mental Health; Karen Kleiman.
Mom & Mind: Podcast on Perinatal Mental Health, hosted by Dr. Kat. Many amazing episodes with supportive information about any thinkable topic related to Perinatal Mental Health.
Postpartum Stress Center instagram account: Karen Kleiman’s Postpartum Stress Center has an educational instagram account with touching “comics” about the struggles of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Read more about the comics and Karen Kleinman’s work here.
Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance: Nonprofit raising awareness about Maternal Mental Health disorders to reduce stigma and improve outcomes for mothers and babies. Their website offers a wealth of information about everything in the world of Maternal Mental Health.