In the last three or so months, our lives have all been upended, to varying degrees, by the emergence of COVID-19 across the globe. Virtually everything about the way we live our daily lives has been drastically altered, including how we work, care for our children, shop for basic necessities, and interact with loved ones outside of our immediate household. The level of fear, anxiety, and depression is at an all-time high as is the level of uncertainty that we, as a society, are being asked to tolerate.
The experience of new motherhood has not been spared this new reality. Pregnant women, who were previously anticipating the delivery of their child in the late winter/spring/summer of 2020 with joy and excitement, now must contend with worries and anxieties that most of us simply never thought about prior to the current moment. Some may have already been experiencing anxiety and/or depression and either way must now grapple with the ways in which the pandemic will impact their birth plans, their current health behaviors (including the way they are cared for by their OB’s), and what their postpartum days will be like in lock-down.
Speaking of postpartum days, this is a time when typically a woman needs support of many different kinds. She needs help learning how to care for her infant, which may include breastfeeding. She needs practical support in the form of respite so that she can sleep, shower, and rest. Meals and childcare for older children are extremely helpful. Social support is critical, as this time is so prone to being isolating. Now, little of this is possible with the exception of support from those who live in the household (often just the partner) or friends/family who may be able to drop off meals or groceries. All of the emotional complications that can arise under usual circumstances are amplified by the enforced isolation of social-distancing and the fear of infection. Financial concerns are intensified.
During this time, I encourage my clients, especially new (and not so new) moms, to remember a couple of things. First, limiting your exposure to the news and social media can be very helpful in containing anxiety. Lots of information is reported/posted, but not all of it is true or accurate. If Facebook helps you to feel connected to the outside world, by all means continue to use it. Just recognize that you may encounter triggering articles or posts that may exacerbate anxiety and you may need to just keep scrolling. Or consider filtering out upsetting material. Also, be aware of what I call “toxic positivity,” or posts which seem to criticize us for having negative feelings right now and encourage us to only focus on “silver linings” and gratitude. Silver linings and gratitude are important and have a role to play here, but they can and do exist at the same time as the negative feelings, and that’s okay, because that’s how human beings are.
Next, understand that we are all collectively grieving and undergoing a trauma right now. We have experienced loss, all of us in different ways. Some are experiencing more traditionally recognized grief/trauma in the form of having lost or almost lost loved ones, or have been ill themselves. However, all are grieving a way of life, a sense of normalcy, safety and predictability, and many individualized losses too numerous to name. This is also grief, and it is also trauma. Allow yourself to grieve your losses, whatever they may be, and try not to push the feelings away. Feelings are not permanent states of being, even though it may feel like it sometimes. Self-compassion is key here. We need to treat ourselves the way we would treat a friend or loved one who is suffering; without judgment and with care and love.
Finally, and this is connected to the first point regarding limiting exposure to the news, etc. Try to keep your focus on what is under your control, and away from what is not. Seeing less news and reports on the behaviors of others helps, as we can’t control other people and what they do, nor can we control the course of this virus. We can, however, control how we direct our attention. We can manage anxiety by directing our focus away from things we know will provoke our anxiety. We can decrease our sense of isolation by reaching out via Zoom or other video platforms to our loved ones. We can choose to engage in activities that bring us joy/pleasure. We can talk with our partners about how we are feeling and be honest about what we need right now. We can be compassionate with ourselves and remember that this situation is not like any other most of us have ever experience, and how we feel and behave now might not be how we would under usual circumstances. We can remember that we are doing the best that we can do in a very difficult time. And of course, if you feel that you need more emotional support, please reach out to a qualified mental health professional. I am available to you via telehealth, and am just a phone call away.
I leave you with the words of the Loving-Kindness Meditation:
May you be peaceful.
May you be well.
May you be safe.
May you live with ease.