Having a newborn at any point in a person’s life is exciting, challenging, and scary and requires a period of time to adjust to the new reality. Add a pandemic to this already stressful time and there’s bound to be even more fun in store! But in all actuality, millions of babies have been born in the year since the Covid-19 pandemic has been recognized and parents have just had to adapt. I would know, as I recently joined the ranks as a first time parent to a baby born 7 months after quarantine started. Between trying to navigate baby meeting family from out of state, taking baby to doctor’s appointments with only one parent present, and not being able to introduce baby to other babies as we normally would have, I have had to manage the intensity of the newborn period while also managing the intensity of a pandemic, both of which require support from others. So much of parenthood is a series of judgement calls and thinking about how to do all of the above things with the appropriate Covid-19 precautions is no different.
Being in the mental health field, I am highly aware of symptoms of anxiety and depression and was extremely mindful of how Postpartum Anxiety and Depression (PPA/PPD) would manifest with all of the hormonal and life changes with a newborn. I suspect that the pandemic is also exacerbating people’s experience of PPA/PPD as our typical sources of support are not always available or accessible. At the same time, I am amazed by the resources available for PPA/PPD between OB/GYNs, primary care doctors, doulas/midwives, therapists, and even social media. In trying to manage the stress of the newborn phase during a pandemic, I turned to my own network of resources and found what works for me, specifically reaching out to others, practicing gratitude, and practicing acceptance.
1. Reaching out to others
I am sure that the amount of hours logged on phone calls/facetime and amount of texts sent since the beginning of the pandemic when I found out I was pregnant could wrap around the globe several times. OK, that may be an exaggeration but I really believe that the “is this normal?” texts and Facetime introductions of baby have made me feel even more connected to my friends and family and given me the support I needed to get through the newborn period during a pandemic. I also found a “support group” of sorts of new parents in my community that met on Zoom once a week and talked about all of the fun topics that new parents love like baby sleeping, eating, and playing habits. Getting to talk to new parents like me was a welcome hour of my week that made things feel as “normal” as they could have on minimal sleep.
2. Practicing gratitude
One practice that I particularly appreciated in our Zoom group was starting out the session with something we were grateful for that week and ending the session by sharing something we were grateful for during that meeting. Practicing gratitude twice in an hour was definitely sometimes hard to do for various reasons (did I mention the lack of sleep?) but it certainly served a good purpose. Having to think of my gratitude offerings and hearing others share theirs undoubtedly would remind me of the positive things that I experienced over the week and during the session. I couldn’t help but smile thinking of the new skill that baby learned that I was grateful for or for having the other parents share nice parks in the area that we could walk to on a nice day. Having to practice gratitude aloud during the session really helped me practice gratitude on my own daily and reminded me of how simple thinking of something I am grateful was for putting me in a better mood. I now try to think of the one thing I am grateful for either before I go to sleep at night or when I wake up in the morning and find that this helps set a good tone for the day or night.
3. Practice acceptance
If I thought practicing gratitude was challenging at times, practicing acceptance was probably that much harder. When I wished that I could set up an in-person playdate or be able to take baby on errands with me, I would always lament, “But Covid!”. Yes, Covid did make this difficult in some ways but I would eventually figure out ways to adapt. I accepted the situation and made the Zoom group our playdate and took baby for a walk in the stroller when I picked up food curbside. Reminding myself that I can’t get rid of all the pandemic obstacles but can accept these and get creative has been helpful in allowing me to just enjoy the newborn time.
Having a baby in a pandemic is hard but I look forward to telling them about their first several months of life and how I made it through by reaching out to others, practicing gratitude, and practicing acceptance.
Dr. Stefani Pila, PhD
CORE - Center of Relational Empowerment, PC