I want to send a big virtual hug to all new moms and mothers-to-be! Pregnancy is a significant time in our lives. It’s 9 months (or longer when those babes feel the need to make a fashionably late entrance) of planning and growing. I think it’s reasonable to say that pregnancy is a mixed bag of emotions. It’s a roller coaster of feeling elated, anxious, determined, in denial, panicked, calm, insert twelve other emotions you experienced this hour. The easiest way to manage our anxiety is to problem solve. For many moms, this means planning out the pregnancy, delivery and postpartum phase to manage this emotional roller coaster. During these months, moms may be reading every blog and book they can grab. They may be reaching out to professionals to make sure they’re “on the right track”. They may start nesting to create the ideal nursery for their new family member. They have created a birth plan, set up parental leave with work, connected with potential daycare services, or made enough freezer meals to feed the whole neighbourhood.
And now, despite all of this planning and good intentions, COVID-19 has completely messed up our plans. A common theme I have been hearing from pregnant and postpartum moms is dealing with shattered expectations. No matter what you were planning for your pregnancy and postpartum phase, this is not it. It’s incredibly hard to not have our support network available to us right now. We don’t have the same access to our doctors and specialists. The coping strategies we planned aren’t feasible (i.e. attending baby/mom groups, visiting family and friends, etc). Given all of these changes, I wanted to provide some suggestions that I hope will be of help:
This is time for physical distancing not social isolation. Be in regular contact with your friends and family. Continue to reach out to your professional support through telehealth. For first time moms, it is normal to have a TON of questions about your newborns. (i.e. Why is she making that noise? Has he pooped enough? Am I producing enough milk? Will I ever be able to fit into those skinny jeans? Will everything turn back to normal down there after that magical 6 week-wait postpartum?). Your anxiety will feel calmer with some answers from trusted sources like your family doctor, ob/gyn, midwife, Douala, lactation consultants, etc.
Participate in virtual communities of fellow parents. There are many parenting communities online such as What to Expect or local Facebook groups. When I was postpartum, I realized most of my anxieties showed up during a 3 AM feed (really, what sleep deprived parent is thinking clearly and calmly at 3 AM?). It was a relief to be able to post questions to my online community at any time of day. Participating in an online parenting community also led me to the realization that I had zero original thought 😀 Every question and concern I had was also posed by a dozen moms before me. This is great because our worries are fleeting if reassurance and answers are just a few scrolls down.
Be clear with your partner of what will feel helpful. Of course, we’d love for our significant others to always know what we want or need. However, this is not the time to test our partners. Our needs are always changing, and what might have worked prior to the pregnancy may not seem like the right approach right now. It’s okay to turn to our loved ones and ask for help, whether it’s an extra pair of hands during a nighttime diaper change, getting a meal ready, needing a hug, or reinforcement that you’re doing a good job. It’s also okay to articulate when we feel distressed and we don’t know what will help. Acknowledging that we don’t have a solution can be tough to us and our partners. It’s okay to not always know the best solution, so long as it opens the door to brainstorming and trying out new ideas.
Stay active. Yes, this is the most cliché advice that you can get from a therapist, but I promise it’s based on evidence! Your nervous system will thank you for making time for cardio. If you are consistently working out, it will improve your ability to handle stress, and it will help your emotions feel generally more regulated (Who doesn’t want to get off that emotional roller coaster?).
Accept that you wanted this to go differently. At the end of the day, this is not what you planned, and it’s okay to be disappointed. Many of us, whether we’re parents or not, can appreciate being disappointed with plans being thrown out the window due to this virus. Why should we deny this reality? Suggestion 6: Be honest with yourself in whether your worries are manageable. There are a lot of professional supports available. Whether through individual counselling, couples counselling, or support groups (i.e. Postpartum Support International), therapy can offer many options to address struggles that feel beyond your control. Seeking help does not mean you’ve done anything wrong, nor does it say anything about your capacity. Pregnancy and postpartum is a messy time. It’s a combination of hormonal changes, lack of sleep, adjustment difficulties, and mental health vulnerabilities. The emotional distress exacerbates when we try and put pressure on ourselves to “suck it up” or “just snap out of it”.
Everyone’s needs are unique. If you feel some support would be helpful, please reach out.