Birth and parenthood in the wake of COVID-19
"The world was a different place when I had my kids," says a parent of a previous generation. Or, in this case, I now say, as I reflect back to having my second child less than three months ago. How different things were then, before COVID-19 reared its ugly head, and how hard it would have been for me to wrap my head around not being allowed my full birth support team—which, in addition to my partner, included my doula and my father—at my son's birth, or knowing we'd have to face the first weeks/months postpartum with no visitors or other outside help. And yet, these are the circumstances so many now face.
This was brought home to me this last weekend when one of my clients gave birth and I was unable to be there with her and her partner. Support people are now restricted to only one per birthing person for hospital births, and no support people are allowed for epidurals or c-section births, purely based on the need to preserve the limited supply of personal protective equipment hospitals have. Home births in our community are currently less restrictive, with doulas still welcomed in addition to the partner/other support person, and midwives are seeing an uptick in requests for planned home births. Nevertheless, pregnant folks in today's world are having to manage mounting anxiety over what birth will be like in the midst of a global pandemic, beyond all the normal unknowns of birth. This is an unbelievably challenging situation to find oneself in, in an already vulnerable moment of being pregnant and preparing for life with a newborn.
We can do little to change the current circumstances we find ourselves in, but for those whose due dates are approaching or having given birth in the last week or two, I want to give you permission. I want to give you permission to mourn the plans you have had to change, the difficult decisions you have had to make in order to abide by the current restrictions. I want to give you permission to cry, vent, or sit in sadness as you process any and all of the ways that your birth and postpartum period will now not be able to look as you had hoped. The more these very real and understandable feelings are denied the louder and more ferocious they are bound to become, and that is when fear and panic take hold.
I also want to give you permission to soften to yourself, and to forgive yourself for any rough edges you may have now or that crop up as you navigate birth and parenthood amidst a pandemic. These next weeks are likely going to come with a host of challenges, whether this is your first or fifth child, and it can make a world of difference to decide to be on your own side. I also believe that compassion is also one of our greatest tools for healing and resilience, and I urge you to offer yourself an abundance of self-compassion. Trust that you have more power, strength, and resilience in you than you perhaps ever thought possible, and open yourself to the possibility that you can impress even your harshest critic (who, of course, is you).
I also want to give you permission to still make space for all the feelings and emotions that come with welcoming a newborn into your life. This can range from soaking up the delicious snuggles and marvelling at the gorgeous, perfect little human you brought into this world to feeling completely overwhelmed by the umpteenth feed and/or diaper change of the night.
Whatever your experience is, let it be yours, and let it just...be. This is still a moment of enormous transition and one that will only happen once between you and this new life. And I want to give you permission to acknowledge the incredible work your body is doing/has done to grow and deliver a human into this world, and just as importantly, recognise the immense healing that your body must undertake in the initial weeks postpartum. It may be much harder to give yourself the needed space to rest without visitors coming help out, but take moments where you can to breathe, slow down, and rest.
And, I want to remind you that there is so much you can do to prepare yourself for what's to come. If this is your first birth and you haven't taken a childbirth education class, now is the time to sign up and find the help and support you need to prepare for this journey. We have now made our classes virtual and you can sign up here. If you aren't someone who has previously tried meditation, now is a great time to give it a go and get to know what works for you, your favourite guided meditations or music to slow down to. Insight Timer has a plethora of free guided meditations, talks, and music to meditate to, and Calm and Headspace are also great options. If you've never tried focused breathing techniques to centre yourself and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (which in turn deactivates your sympathetic nervous system, or your "flight, fight, or freeze" response) this is a great excuse to familiarise yourself with techniques such as alternative nostril breathing, box breath, or these great breathing techniques specifically for labour. Focusing on your breath and turning inward can be one of the most powerful tools for successfully coping in labour and birth (as well as during life with a newborn!) and it will be even more essential if your other options for support are limited.
Finally—and I know it can sound trite to some, but it can truly work wonders—find what you're grateful for and take the time to focus on those things. Even on those days when it feels like there's too much stacked against you, finding even the tiniest thing to be grateful for, to relish the joy of in your bones—like hot water, or having cozy slippers, or managing to have a pee without wincing and/or having to bring your baby with you—can be transformative. Now more than ever it is important to take things one day at a time, or one minute at a time, and to find the small miracles life has to offer. Go inside and find what brings you calm, and what helps you call upon your strength and resilience. You, dear one, can and will do this, and we are here for you in any way we can.