New motherhood is both beautiful and difficult. Where a newborn is concerned, the stakes could not possibly be higher, nor the parental learning curve sharper (and these observations apply to normal times).
The COVID-19 pandemic currently sweeping the United States has caused new parenthood to exist in two discrete realms – “before the pandemic" and “during the pandemic." We have not yet arrived at “after the pandemic." And it has been a century since anything on this particular order has hit the United States. In so little time, much has changed. Typical support systems, while evolving, are suspended. Timeframes as to how long public health advisories will be in place are uncertain.
Give InKind spoke with Kerby Anne Cabry, an R.N. and a new mother of an infant. She was kind enough to describe some of her experiences and observations with our readers so that they might benefit from her reassuring experience.
To begin with, to talk to Kerby Anne is an absolute pleasure. In the background, I could hear the cooing of a happy baby and Kerby Anne was drinking in every moment. “He is such a great baby." And he is. Still, the accommodations that COVID-19 have made necessary, have been mentally difficult.
“This is supposed to be one of the best times of your life. Now you are relying on Zoom and FaceTime. It’s disappointing, but necessary because health and safety are the most important.”
– Kerby Anne Cabry, R.N.
Because Kerby Anne’s son was born immediately before the pandemic spread to the Northeast U.S., she describes her later prenatal check-ups, as well as labor and delivery, and recovery from a C-section, as fairly standard.
Kerby Anne noticed a quick shift following her discharge when her postpartum check-up was canceled. While she recognized that this was necessary for public health, Kerby Anne describes it as stressful, simply because it is natural to want to know that everything is healing well when you have never had a baby before. Even as a nurse with professional training, she said that it shook her up a bit, as a new mom, to have limited access to a doctor. When doctors do see patients in person, there are temperature checks, and masks – necessary, but still possibly anxiety-provoking.
- TIP: Always seek medical attention when you need it, and begin with your doctor. If your doctor is unavailable, use telemedicine.
While procedures governing/advising/instructing people about public health procedures are geographically variable, Kerby Anne’s experience of well-child exams introduced new exam procedures. Many pediatric practices, for example, require a parent to call the office on arrival to wait for office staff to come and do a temperature check on a parent before the baby can be taken into the office.
In many circumstances, only one parent or partner may enter the pediatrician’s office. This may seem like a little thing. But it can be nice for both parents to attend if able and may inspire confidence – a glimmer of hope that, together, you know what you are doing. Oftentimes, one partner is more familiar with babies than the other one and it’s nice to be able to internalize that you, as a team, know enough for now – and that you can learn the rest (trust me, this is important).
- TIP: Try booking an infant well-child for first thing on a Monday morning. This is the time the office is likely to be the most highly sanitized.
- Ask to be taken right into the examination room.
Breastfeeding also offers challenges in a no-contact world. Whereas lactation consultants tend to be very hands-on, at present they cannot be. Kerby Anne describes breastfeeding as very important to her because of the antibodies to so many illnesses present in her breastmilk that she wants to pass to her baby.
- TIP: Seek assistance if necessary from a local hospital or birth center. You may also contact La Leche League for guidance.
- Be mindful of your specific challenges associated with breastfeeding. Especially during this era of social distance, one’s everyday support circle is less available.
- Be gentle with yourself.
Kerby Anne spoke candidly about feelings of sadness just before milk letdown. She described it as sudden and intense feelings of anxiety. Without an immediate circle of women with whom to confer, Kerby Anne began to wonder if she was experiencing postpartum depression (PPD). Following some research, she figured out that was what she was experiencing was Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER), a hormonal shift that affects some women but is not widely understood and is frequently misdiagnosed as postpartum depression. Since then, Kerby Anne has made sure to get as comfortable and relaxed before nursing.
Keeping in Touch
Among the more difficult aspects of having a new firstborn in a pandemic, is that the plans you had to introduce your first to your family, friends, and community are necessarily shelved. Unless you have a close relative or extremely close friend willing to strictly self-isolate, you will not be spelled at any point, really, except by a partner. There are specialized 4th-trimester services that can be adapted for telemedicine to benefit new parents, that may be especially applicable during the pandemic, particularly for a single parent.
- TIP: Kerby Anne reminds us that it is necessary to communicate with grandparents who are likely to be in an at-risk COVID-19 demographic that they must comply with self-quarantine and social distancing so that they can meet their grandchildren as soon as possible.
- Some younger grandparents have never been in an at-risk demographic because of age and this may require some sensitivity in approach.
Kerby Anne does not let people into her house. Her husband is there, as well as a relative who agreed to isolate as a pre-condition. Kerby Anne points out that there is simply too little known yet about the virus to be anything other than conservative to the best of one’s ability.
Kerby Anne observes that staying connected to loved ones in creative ways has been sustaining. She has been moved by the compassion of her family, friends, and neighbors as they think of the things she needs. Some of the things she will remember are these:
- Because shopping services were overwhelmed by the sudden demand, long waits for corporate grocery delivery services did not always work well. Many items simply weren’t on the shelves. Finding the last of the tiny travel-size hand sanitizer or a bottle of bleach at a random gas station is a job for a determined best friend forever.
- If you are planning to freeze your breast milk, buy a deep freezer that opens from the top. This freezer is less likely to be opened multiple times than the one in your kitchen. Breast milk in deep freeze lasts longer.
- You may introduce a few trusted-to-stay-away-no-matter-the-temptation to meet for a walk if they live in more rural areas where social distancing can be enforced. A short walk with a close friend, six feet or more apart, can be a lovely thing.
- The pandemic has complicated what were fun rituals. Baby showers for women due in the coming few months are getting the extra attention they so richly deserve. People are getting creative on Zoom or Google Hangouts. For many couples starting a family, the practical help in buying the necessary baby items makes a big difference. Make sure to check that people are buying off the registry.
- Total generosity. Some photographers (including those who photograph newborns) are working within the confines of social distancing for charity. Kim Jaeckel has launched Front Steps Project Portraits for families in Newtown, CT. Photos are taken from a safe distance in exchange for a donation to any COVID-19 charity.
This the fourth in a series of articles to provide guidance as to navigating situations we continue to navigate during the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic. We recognize that life continues in all aspects, even the pandemic impacts all of us in profound ways. We are on your team now as well as post-pandemic – and beyond. We invite you to visit our library of situationally specific articles here.
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