I’ve been in my home with my new baby for two months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The last time I left the house for anything other than groceries was for my daughter’s two-month wellness check. I had all three kids in tow, and when we got home, my husband called to let me know that he was becoming concerned about COVID-19. He thought it would be best if we started our own voluntary isolation, and I agreed. Within days, the whole country was on some level of lockdown, and it’s been that way ever since.
When I say I’m beyond lucky to be doing okay, I truly mean every word. This time around, my mental health has been pretty stable. If this pandemic had happened when one of my first two babies were small, I would quickly have been in crisis.
I suffered with raging postpartum anxiety and moderate postpartum depression for close to six months after the births of each of my boys. This kind of isolation would have spelled disaster for my mental health, especially after the birth of my second son.
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Even with my normal level of support, I had a very hard time after having my second child. I was adept at pretending to be okay, and nobody really understood the depth of my anxious thoughts. I spent hours of my day imagining worst-case scenarios and trying to prepare myself for how I’d handle it. My worst nightmares felt inevitable. I was in a prison in my mind, surrounded by my own voice telling me that my baby was not mine to keep, and I should prepare myself for the worst. When I was struggling like that, maintaining my connection to the outside world kept me functioning. My family and my girlfriends kept me afloat until I was healthy again.
Having a newborn is very stressful for anyone. Bringing home a brand new baby during a time fraught with fear and uncertainty is another level of hard. COVID-19 has us all at home, and many women have to care for their brand-new baby without their expected in-person help. It’s a perfect storm for postpartum depression and other postpartum mood disorders.
When women who are pregnant now conceived their babies, they believed that they would deliver in the world they knew. Instead, they are bringing their children into a new world, one where the circle of support that ideally surrounds a new mom is conspicuously absent.
This global COVID-19 pandemic means that many moms who are suffering with postpartum mood disorders have to do so at home without their usual supports in place, and traditional wisdom no longer applies.
In addition to seeking medical care and exploring medications and therapy, women who are suffering with postpartum mood disorders are usually encouraged to seek help with our babies from trusted family members and friends. Our doctors would usually tell us that it’s important that we leave our homes regularly for a change of scenery. They’d encourage us to maintain a routine that allows for some consistency in an otherwise brand-new time.
Those suggestions aren’t practical right now. New moms and their babies are safest from the virus at home–but self-quarantine and physical distancing is not necessarily safest for a struggling mother’s mental health.
In an interview with Today Parents, Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, director of the University of North Carolina Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, acknowledged that the isolation and stress of this pandemic are likely to exacerbate depression and anxiety for already struggling new moms.
She states, “The fact that this is highly stressful, the fact that it’s so disruptive to people’s lives, is bound to have negative mental health consequences for the population at large. We already seeing that particularly for our vulnerable populations like perinatal women.”
New moms are feeling a lot of understandable sadness right now. This is not what we imagined for our babies’ infancy. I know I didn’t expect this. I imagined a spring full of movie nights in my best friend’s backyard. In my mind, I would be watching my besties snuggle my daughter to get their baby fix. All the big kids would play tag and jump on the trampoline.
Instead, I’ve got day after day of the same rocking chair, the same four walls, and a mind full of uncertainty. Having a baby just before the world fell apart has been really hard for me.
Moms who have delivered since the pandemic began have an even bigger set of challenges. They have likely given up the birth experience they imagined, missed the opportunity to introduce their baby to their friends and family, and are feeling a deep sense of loss. Many of them could be facing financial uncertainty and job loss. This is a very unusual and overwhelming time to be a new mom.
So, what can we do to help?
We have to be vigilant about our new moms right now. Community support might look different than it usually does, but it’s more important than ever.
It’s important for all of us to familiarize ourselves with the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and mood disorders. We need to keep an eye on new mothers. We are all sheltering in our homes to protect populations that are vulnerable to COVID-19. While we are here, we need to remember new moms who are vulnerable right now, too.
You can’t bring a new mom a casserole and offer to do a load of laundry. You can’t hold the baby while Mom showers or sleeps. But you can drop that casserole on her doorstep, and set up a time to talk or video chat.
You can rally the mom’s troops. Make sure there is a rotating schedule of people calling to do a quick check-in each day to make sure she’s okay.
Offer to do her grocery shopping.
Express your genuine interest in photos and stories about her baby so she knows the world hasn’t forgotten her brand new addition.
Make sure that the distance between you and the new moms in your life is physical, not emotional. Be available as a source of help in any way you can be.
And don’t forget moms with older infants. Moms are most likely to develop postpartum depression, anxiety or another mood disorder in the weeks directly after giving birth, but according to the American Pregnancy Association, postpartum depression can arrive on a delay, any time in the first year or just beyond.
New Moms: Postpartum mood disorders are common and nothing to be ashamed about. They can range from a few days of “baby blues,” to a serious and sudden emergency crisis requiring a call to 911. In this especially trying time, you are even more likely to face this struggle. If you find your mental health starting to suffer, there is help available, and you deserve to be healthy. You can get through this.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a postpartum mood or mental health disorder, please call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773, or text 503-894-9453.