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Imagine bringing a new life into this dystopian world.
For many parents, the support systems in place for welcoming new additions and caring for children have been disrupted – ratcheting up the stress and angst even more.
Jessica* learned she was expecting her second child right before the March 2020 work-from-home mandates hit full force.
“My child’s daycare closed. My work office closed. Suddenly, my husband and I were trying to balance the demands of remote work while entertaining an active toddler, trying to sell our home and buy a new one for our growing family,” she explains.
The usual happiness that comes with growing a new human was squashed.
“Being pregnant is supposed to be a joyous occasion, but I’d never felt so alone,” Jessica admits. “It was very lonely. My prenatal appointments weren’t celebratory because my husband wasn’t able to attend most of them due to the hospital’s COVID precautions. We were in the throes of working remotely with a toddler in tow. I was already overwhelmed, and my husband was preoccupied with our new house and his own work responsibilities. I was left to manage my job and our active one year old.”
Jessica recalls one mortifying work-from-home conference call – although she laughs about it now.
“I remember handing my son, Eli, an iPad to distract him. Just as I unmuted my phone to speak, Eli found the volume button. All 50 participants were serenaded with the song Baby Shark.”
As lock downs wore on, balancing work-from-home and parenthood was a constant struggle.
“We felt horrible about the amount of screen time we allowed Eli,” Jessica says. “But that’s nothing compared to the guilt I feel today about being unable to socialize him and encourage his early development – along with feeding him a lot of chicken fingers and mac-n-cheese.”
Jessica’s stress skyrocketed when Eli was hospitalized for three days and underwent surgery. Yet, even with her toddler out of the woods, healthy and happy, she still fell into a darker place. Her loneliness lingered for months after her second son, Hudson, was born. Depression, anxiety, and the pressure many women feel to “do it all” took deep root.
Putting on her “mom hat” at the crack of dawn, Jessica’s days are still a whirl of diaper changes, meal prep, endless laundry, breast feeding, playtime, soothing tears, and countless other things that need tending. She barely has time to jump in the shower or enjoy a cup of coffee before going to work. Her other work (a.k.a. full-time job).
Logging into meeting calls, she often has Hudson on her lap. “I try to make sure my camera is off. Not sure how people feel about nursing, but I don’t have the energy for that topic,” she sighs. “I nurse him while listening and hoping no one calls on me. I’m silently crying while I try to balance all this.”
Fortunately, Eli’s grandparents are now helping care for him during the weekdays.
“I’m thankful for a good support system and try to lean on them as often as possible – as many experts advise,” Jessica says. “Still, these experts often forget that when you’re in the fog of motherhood, in the middle of a pandemic, working remotely with little to no childcare for your toddler and infant, it’s difficult to reach out. I know you’re there, but I often don’t know how to ask for help. I’m lost.”
Sadly, lots of first-time and new moms share Jessica’s feelings and struggles. If you’re one of them, here are some important things to remember.
Focus on you and your baby. Eating, sleeping, bathing and bonding are the most important things for you and your baby right now. Let others help with cooking, dishes, cleaning and laundry for a while. Tap family and friends. Use meal delivery and housecleaning services. Delegating can help ease stress and postpartum blues.
Make time for self-care. It’s not a luxury. It’s vital to you and your child’s well-being. Try to set aside 20 minutes a day that’s just for you. Spend it doing something relaxing. Pamper yourself with a luxurious bath. Go for a walk. Read a favorite book, meditate or do some yoga. Just make sure you do it in a room or somewhere away from the family so you won’t be interrupted.
Find ways to connect with kindred spirits. Social distancing can be isolating. Reach out and stay in touch with people you trust and admire. Whether it’s a FaceTime chat, texting or getting together for coffee or a walk, spending time with a friend helps you feel supported. Joining a forum or discussion group with other moms can lift your spirits and let you know you’re not alone.
Resist trying to tough It out alone. If you feel depressed, talk with your obstetrician-gynecologist or pediatrician. Postpartum depression is real. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health counselor who can help you cope with symptoms and feel better.
The pandemic has mired so many aspects of our daily lives. It’s derailed important milestones, rites of passage and precious relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Don’t let it take a negative toll on this unique and special time in your and your baby’s life.
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