Postpartum & Pandemic Parallels - Part 2
As pregnant people move through the months of this pandemic, there is such piercing grief for all they are missing. Commingled with the typical excitement and apprehension of birth and new motherhood comes a yearning for what cannot be - extra, loving support during birth and through postpartum, from a doula or from trusted family and friends. No traditional baby shower, no family flying in to be present for the birth, no friends dropping by to bring a casserole and hold the baby. With hospitals restricting visitors and birth attendants, birth is about getting down to business and getting home. Alone.
Pregnancy and postpartum are developmental periods that require expansive outside support in the form of gathering, joining, clanning and togetherness, in service of the vulnerable new baby and new mom who need collective care and protection. This virus has brought such fear and cautiousness into the lives of new and expecting parents, restricting that expansive outreach. Fear and cautiousness bring tightening and contraction. It is wise to contract in the face of a threat, to cover our vulnerability and our tender viscera with as much bone and muscle as we can muster and flex. But fear and cautiousness means pregnant families have been faced with a stark aloneness. And so there is immense grief right now for all the celebrating and joining that cannot happen. There is such grief for all the eyes and hands and hearts that won't be present during these sacred days. It's not fair.
New mamas need to be seen and validated in their new role. To have their bellies and then their babies welcomed and known is part of the completeness of the transformation that a new mom undergoes as her identity evolves into "mama" and she begins to trust herself as a new maternal creature. To be beheld in her tentative, newfound matrescence, and witnessed as a good mom, especially by family and close friends - this is an essential piece of maternal wellness. As therapists who work with new moms, we know that social support is the primary prescription for postpartum suffering. We are all having to get creative and develop new ways of meeting the real developmental needs of new mothers, as our usual refrain of "who can come over? which family member? how about hiring a postpartum doula?" is no longer an option. How can we make sure these new mamas get all that they need during this time of isolation? Zoom baby showers, virtual visits, casseroles dropped off at the door with a love note, online support groups ...these all work to convey love and reinforce care and connectedness.
As I continue to sit with pregnant people during this pandemic, my learning is beginning to crystallize. I see some benefits! There is in fact a glass half-full -- we can make a lemonade-like brew from these sour, sour lemons. Yes, I culled some nuggets of niceness from this strange new perinatal land. Mamas, are you listening? I've got good news:
You're an isolation warrior. A typical major postpartum stumbling block that can trigger depression is the experience of being newly isolated. You already know how to do isolation! You've been doing it for months and it's familiar. You will not be shocked by the slower pace of being at home. You don't suddenly have to grieve the loss of going out to the movies, to restaurants, or getting together with friends. You've already adjusted to this reality and you're already a pro. This is a huge head start.
Built-in boundaries. Your in-laws can't come over! You don't have to be the bad guy, dig for the right language or navigate the rocky terrain of drawing new lines with all the people who want to hold your baby and infiltrate your home. This is your time and your space and your baby - and you get to own it, claim it and you don't have to work so hard to protect it. Built-in boundaries are a gift for new parents with over-eager relatives.
You aren't missing out on anything. The whole world has come to a halt and staying home is everyone's norm. Many new moms feel like life has gone on without them, and they feel left behind, like they're the only ones not out there, living LIFE, getting their hair done, growing their careers, attending events, etc. Not right now. Nothing's happening anywhere. The world has slowed down with you.
Working from home may = new flexibility. There's a good chance you or your partner have been working from home, and hopefully a new commute-free, less hectic, WFH life has already become the new norm for your household. If so, you stand a good chance of getting more support and more sustained presence from your partner in the months ahead. Maybe the two of you have already become a better team by virtue of spending so much time together. It could also mean that you get to (have to?) work from home when you return from leave. Working from home with kids present is very much a mixed bag, but having your partner around in the early months postpartum holds the promise of more care and support for you and for baby.
This pandemic blows, and new parents are missing out on so much. But, here’s my hopeful message to new moms out there: you will make it through this and find your footing. Amazing support is still available. You are loved. You are seen.
Mama, you got this.
Written by Jessica Sorci, LMFT