When I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter, Sunday, in October of 2018, the world was a different place. Around Christmas, we hosted a gender reveal party 40 or so people to celebrate her arrival. In May, I welcomed friends and family into our home (maskless) for a baby shower. Throughout the months, I had the easy-going pleasure of close, face-to-face conversations with friends and loved ones to help me through the inevitable bumps along the way. “Social distancing” and COVID-19 were words I didn’t know.
This past spring, when I found out I was pregnant with my second, I found myself in a completely different scenario: Like millions of women in 2020, I was navigating pregnancy in a pandemic.
Experts aren’t yet sure of what the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic will be on women or babies (though a research study led by Catherine Lebel, Ph.D. at the University of Calgary is seeking to understand this very topic). But there are already some clues.
Some experts say that many of the risk factors for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs)—isolation, a lack of support, and increased stress and anxiety—are currently “the new normal.”
Others say mere rates of PMADs are on the rise.
Preliminary results from the Parenting During the Pandemic research program suggests that effects could continue through new motherhood, finding symptoms of depression and anxiety in mothers are on the rise.
In short: It’s a difficult time to be pregnant. There are added layers of stress that simply did not exist a few years ago. Personally, like many women, I’m attending prenatal appointments and ultrasounds alone. Traditional celebratory milestones have been replaced with Zoom calls. Hospital rules and regulations change regularly. There are so many unknowns.
But in struggle also comes an opportunity for growth. I, for one, have found the privacy amidst an often public and overly-glamorized time of life to be nice. More time at home has allowed me to connect with my partner more. I have had more time to think about things differently.
Of course, everyone’s experience is different. Regardless of where you’re at in your journey, here’s how to find the support you need, connect (inward and outward), and prepare for motherhood in unprecedented times.
Give virtual support a chance.
Motherhood was never meant to be a solo sport. But the pandemic makes it harder than ever to find the help and support you need. And while virtual support may never replace the in-person kinds, support matters. Fortunately, many different groups including Postpartum Support International (PSI), The Motherhood Center of New York, and The Postpartum Stress Center regularly host support groups for pregnant women and new moms. On my own motherhood platform, Dear Sunday, I recently launched online meet-ups for pregnant women and new moms to connect with one another and learn more about pregnancy. Whether it’s teletherapy, an honest and reliable Instagram account, or a podcast about motherhood, online resources are more accessible than ever—and can provide you with connection and resources in a time of need.
Use quiet moments to reflect.
When I was pregnant with Sunday, I found much of the pregnancy experience to be overwhelming. The physical symptoms surprised me. The emotional ups and downs surprised me. From time to time, the ambivalence I felt made me question whether or not I was truly cut out for motherhood. But in a busier-than-ever day-to-day, I rarely made time to consider my experience—and accept it as a transformative time in my life. With more time at home, I’ve been able to recognize thoughts, worries, concerns, and milestones—and honor my experience as my own. These small but mindful moments can help ground you in the present, helping you remember that everyone’s journey is different and their own.
Accept help—even in small doses.
It’s easier said than done but learning to communicate your needs in pregnancy will go a long way. Remember: Your partner, parent, or boss cannot read your mind. And sometimes, you need to tell them what you’re feeling and what you need. By doing so, you empower others to provide the help and support that’ll benefit you, ultimately helping them feel needed and accomplished in the process. Strong communication skills will come in handy when you’re sleep-deprived, healing, and need a bit more help than usual with a new family member. Not used to asking for help? Consider making a list of things that need to get done and leaving it out. If someone asks if they can help, point them to the list.
Prepare for postpartum.
Being pregnant in a pandemic comes with its fair share of worries and challenges; as does new motherhood. So, it’s never too early to start thinking about and planning for a life with a baby. What kind of support do you benefit from most? What level of support (virtual care, the help of a sibling, hired help) are you comfortable with right now? Who can you lean on? How can you set all of this up? The more you can prepare—with extra hands, frozen meals, a doula who you can FaceTime with, a friend you can call in moments of need, a plan for sleep—the smoother your transition to new motherhood will be. Remember: Parenting isn’t and never was meant to be done in isolation.