“In motherhood, love can manifest most powerfully as fear.” This quote is from the new book by Sarah Menkedick, with the timely title “Ordinary Insanity.” One might argue that our current situation is one of madness framing our mundane daily activities. Pregnant women and new families are living through an extraordinary historic moment doing the most ordinary things: carrying, birthing and parenting children. Yet there is nothing normal about our lives right now. This is a time of chronic concern for all humans on the planet, but for parents, especially new families who haven’t yet acquired their self-confidence as parents, it can be a recipe for anxiety.
In the past two weeks, New York area hospitals banned pregnant women’s spouses (and other romantic partners) and their midwives from assisting with births. Understandably those near their due dates panicked and scrambled to switch hospitals or flee the area; some even considered birthing at home. Then, just as abruptly, the hospitals reversed course and announced that one support person could be present at delivery. But the damage had already been done. Pregnant women now fret: “Will my hospital rules change again? Is the hospital even safe? Will I be discharged before I’m ready? What if my labor nurse is infected?”
In addition, all the fun things pregnant women expect to enjoy—a “babymoon,” yoga and childbirth classes, baby showers—have been put on hold or rearranged to comply with our solitary confinement.
This is not to say that COVID-19 has been all bad for new parents. Spending time indoors with no distractions and partners home for a potentially much longer paternity leave constitutes the perfect postpartum bubble.
But those bubbles burst with age.
“I feel like right now I’m a terrible mother and a terrible employee,” one mom confessed in a virtual support group. She’s not alone. All parents working from home are feeling divided by their pressing work and childcare obligations. Maybe in the past you spent a few days working from home when your sick child couldn’t go to daycare, but this is different. With daycares closed and babysitting help too risky, there is no reprieve; the weeks are grimly stretching out before us.
In a recent session of a support group for moms with toddlers, parents shared tips on how to create a makeshift playpen while on a conference call. “The one benefit is all of us are in the same boat—my boss, my colleagues, our CEO. It’s a great leveler.” One popular approach is for one to parent to work while the other watches the baby or children—but if you’re a single parent, this is obviously impossible. So, some single parents are leaving their homes and hunkering down with their own parents.
“I don’t know what I would have done without my mom,” says Alison, a single mother of twins. “It’s just too much for one person to juggle. We’re not supposed to work and take care of babies at the same time, but I have no choice!” This combination of work and childcare is fueling unprecedented stress levels.
I spoke with Mollie Busino, director and psychotherapist at Mindful Power, a counseling practice in Hoboken. Many therapists have begun treating their patients in a virtual format like Zoom or Skype, and that has made counseling much more accessible. “This is a time of worry, and families need to protect themselves, especially in situations where anxiety is likely to escalate. I’m recommending that parents limit their time on social media, watching the news, and listening to a friend or relative who is consumed with panic about the Coronavirus,” Busino said.
Likewise, birth-workers, yoga instructors and other educators are creating virtual support groups to help new moms navigate this situation.
Still, parents are losing their ability to cope. “If one more person says ‘this is the new normal’ I’m going to lose it!” says Lauren, a mother of two under age four. “I’m trying to work, my husband is trying to work, my four-year-old has no preschool to go to, and my baby is oblivious to the lack of adult attention right now.”
In Jersey City, parents are accustomed to utilizing our beautiful parks, playgrounds, interactive music and yoga classes; we have it all here, but much of that is on hold for the moment. In a recent new moms support group, I spoke to a mother of a newly toddling one-year-old, and she sounded heartbroken. “This is the time I should be watching my daughter run around, play on the swings, see her cherished friends—and we’re stuck inside with too much screen time and no fresh air.” When I suggested she go to a less-populated park (like Liberty State Park), she shrugged off the suggestion. “I think that’s worse,” she said. “Then I worry that the air we breathe, the things we touch, the person who walked—they’re all threats.”
So what to do?
Don’t let your anxiety spiral into depression. If the strain of this quarantine is starting to overwhelm you, take measures to protect yourself in the same way you would against the Coronavirus: Look for virtual new moms’ groups, seek online counseling, consider taking medication (which you may need only temporarily). Every day during this period of isolation feels long and repetitive, prompting lots of “Groundhog Day” memes. But perhaps you can connect virtually face-to-face with relatives and friends, something you might have done via only text or phoning before. Maybe you’d feel better expressing thanks—even for small, seemingly inconsequential things. I thing I can assure of you of is that this will end—and when it does, we are really going to appreciate the little things in life; we are really going to smile at that slice of pizza on the pedestrian plaza.
For help with perinatal mood disorders:
Peggy Kraft, Clinical Social Work/Therapist: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/peggy-kraft-jersey-city-nj/122489
Mollie Busino, Psychotherapist, Mindful Power: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/mollie-busino-hoboken-nj/77480
The Seleni Institute: Perinatal Mental Health: https://www.seleni.org/
The Motherhood Center: https://www.themotherhoodcenter.com/
Partnership for Maternal & Child Health: 973-268-2280 x 154: firstname.lastname@example.org
Header: Distancing in Liberty State Park, photo by Jayne Freeman