A new baby is typically a time of joyous celebration, but anxieties around COVID-19 have added another layer of complexity and fear to new or expectant parents.
What if family members don’t take the virus threat seriously, and insist on visiting your newborn? Do you eschew family gatherings completely, especially with big celebrations like Thanksgiving and Christmas ahead? How long could this isolation last, especially with new threats looming, such as flu season?
Those are among the many concerns voiced by participants in LSSND’s first “Baby, Let’s Talk” virtual support group last week. The group, a spin-off of the Project Renew gatherings formed to support people during the pandemic, met for the first time last Tuesday via Zoom and continues for seven more weeks. Participants not only had an opportunity to share experiences with others undergoing the unique situation of childbirth during a pandemic, but were also able to offer support and solutions.
Some of the top new-parent concerns shared were:
Winter isolation/flu season: Participants talked about the triple-whammy of dealing with COVID anxiety at a time when they’re also dealing with flu season concerns and the prospect of a long winter of sheltering at home with baby. “I’m due Dec. 1, and I have a daughter with special needs as well,” one mom shared. “We’re really careful (with safety measures) when we go to therapy for disabilities. I don’t want to stop our therapy when the baby is born. However, December and January are flu season. I don’t want to stunt her growth and development, so how do I allow her to go outside and protect her?”
Family issues: Several talked about the challenge of keeping distance between extended family and their newborns, especially if relatives don’t believe COVID-19 is a threat. “I’ve definitely been made to feel like I’m overreacting,” one mom said. “I worry about compromising on something I really don’t want to, and putting my son at risk. I’m such a people pleaser, so it’s hard for me to say no. Then there’s the new mom guilt, and the added guilt of everything else. It’s not letting that become so overwhelming.”
Self-care. The group discussed ways they could take care of themselves while also protecting their children. “We’re all in different stages of this. The most important thing is, if we can keep ourselves, as moms, feeling OK with our decisions, and feeling calm about our decisions, we can be better role models or supports for our families in general,” said Tina Jacobs, one of the group’s facilitators and an expectant mom herself.
Isolation. Several talked about the fear that their children weren’t receiving normal socialization and interaction with others at key periods in their development. “Developmentally, they’re at point where they want friends, but it’s so difficult right now,” a participant shared. “We went to a birthday party recently and it was really hard to see how scared she was of the other kids.”
Planning for birth. With hospital guidelines changing from day to day, participants spoke of the difficulty in establishing a clear birth plan. Several women talked of making the difficult decision between allowing their spouses accompany them during the birth or opting for their doulas.
Building support systems. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Rely on the people who are understanding and won’t make your decision to protect your baby about them. “I have had a hard time just getting perspective,” one mom said. “I ask for advice but it seems like no one is going through the same thing. I’m just excited to talk to people living the same thing that I am, grappling with same issues that I have.”
To please or not to please? That is the question
As the gathering progressed, several helpful themes and suggestions arose as group members talked about coping mechanisms they’ve discovered.
Re-prioritizing what’s really important. Many of us have learned to be people-pleasers, but an event like this can clarify for us what’s really important: Pacifying the in-laws or ensuring that we’re doing all we can to keep our children from getting sick? As one participant said: “As long as I can sleep at night knowing I’ve done everything I can to be safe, I can live with it.
Control what you can; surrender the rest. Maybe now is the time to take charge of those details that you can control. That might mean calling your healthcare provider to find out your hospital’s most up-to-date policy on number of people allowed to support you during delivery or firmly yet calmly explaining to in-laws why you won’t be bringing a fragile newborn into a large family gathering. The rest – your relative’s reactions, the ever-conflicting news from our government’s leaders, the nation’s unrest – need to be left to powers greater than ours. Close your eyes. Return to the current moment and what you can control right now. Breathe deep. Let it go.
Retain connection, even if you have to do so virtually. Tools like video chats, phone calls, emails or handwritten notes can go a long way toward helping us feel less alone. One new mom talked about eventually arranging a socially distanced visit with her own mother, just so she could alleviate her isolation. “I wanted to hug my mom, that was so hard for me. When he was about 5 weeks old, I said I couldn’t do this anymore; I needed immediate family. So we let them come in, had them wear masks and we were really strict about hand-washing.”
If you’re searching for other parents who are going through what you are, the “Baby, Let’s Talk” support group continues every Tuesday at 1 p.m. through Oct. 20. Parents can still join the free support group, but must register first at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUlfumhqj4qG91ikM8fsZOJCvVG06MggQGS
– By Tammy Swift