WHY A SENSE OF COMMUNITY AND SUPPORT ARE ESSENTIAL FOR NEW MOTHERS DURING THE PANDEMIC.
By Sara Mathov-Olszewicki
Audio: Baby cry and music.
Kaur Barber: I was, like, how the hell am I supposed to bring a baby into the world when everybody is like sick and dying? It was, like, terrifying.
Sara Mathov: Being a mom is scary. Being a new mom is even scarier. Being a new mom during a global pandemic is, as new mother and Laurier Brantford student Kaur Barber says, terrifying. For a new parent, a community is essential to provide support, advice and guidance. In this period of self-isolating, new moms are at greater risk of developing post-partum depression and feelings of loneliness. As the people raising the future of our world, more online support needs to be accessible and advertised to those who need it. As things start re-opening, support groups and information sessions need to be prioritized for new parents. Kaur is a fourth-year criminology student at Laurier Brantford. Right after the lockdown started in March 2020, she found out she might pregnant with her first child. She was nervous to go to the doctor because of the pandemic but soon went and confirmed that she was pregnant. She had to attend all of these appointments by herself. As a 21-year-old student, her and her boyfriend Parker were scared to tell their parents but relieved to find out that they were excited to hear the news.
Kaur Barer: But you weren’t allowed to have anybody come with you, which is very sad for the most part. My mom was very excited to, you know, be — she goes by Nona – so, to be a Nona, and she wanted to obviously be there, and of course Parker wanted to be with me, but they weren’t allowed, so that was very, like, lonely.
Sara Mathov: At times, she felt like people judged her for being a young mom. One thing that really helped her was the support of a friend of a friend named Summer, who found out she was pregnant at the same time.
Kaur Barber: She was kind of, like, my my mom wife, is what we call each other just because we were both having a C-section and we were both, you know, we were both going through basically the same thing. Like, we would ask each other, you know, like, do people look at you funny when you and your boyfriend are together and you’re obviously very pregnant but you don’t have a ring on your finger? Like, we would ask each other certain questions like that, and then postpartum — it’s been really good too because, you know, we’ve, especially with having a C-section, not many people, like, I don’t know anyone in my family who’s had one. My mom, Parker’s family, they all delivered naturally. So, for me to go through something different, it was really nice to have, you know, Summer there who was, like, you know, she would be like, Hey, do you have, like, a weird pain where your incision site is? And I’d be, like, yeah, I do actually, so we’d be, like, OK, so, if we both have it, you know it’s probably normal, but if you go get it checked out, let me know what they say.
Sara Mathov: Kaur and Summer gave birth three days apart from each other, and they continue to stay connected by sending each other questions and life updates. Janine Cooper also experienced the fear and unknown that comes with a C-section, when she had her first baby in 2017. Janine runs in-home childcare and was scared to discover she would have premature labour at 27 weeks. A labour is considered premature if it is before 37 weeks. After having an emergency C-section, her baby was hospitalized for 10 weeks, followed by a year of appointments with physicians to help her son get back to health. She got to know one family in particular when they met at the hospital, whose daughter was discharged the same day as her son.
Janine Cooper: That was a huge help for us as a family. especially going through it for the very first time. I honestly don’t know how successful we would have been in that first year had it not been for. you know, close friends like that. We had a really close connection with our health-care team.
Sara Mathov: The support of the family was a huge help because the moms shared all of their questions and experiences, the dads became gym buddies and it was an outlet for her to go on walks and chat with a friend.
Janine Cooper: It was really nice having someone who had already gone through the newborn phase for one. She offered a lot of advice, she kind of talked me down from a lot of stressors, you know, if, if he was doing something that I didn’t know was, you know, quote, unquote, normal, I would reach out to her first before, you know, his medical team, and she’d be able to kind of ease me if through things to say, oh, yeah, that’s totally normal, you know my kids do that, too. It was an outlet for me to, you know, go for walks, get some exercise. We got to meet up all the time, we both shared our maternity leave year, they became really close friends, our husbands started working out together at the gym. It was just, it was, it was really comforting having a family at, you know, that was in the same stage of life as us. So it … I don’t really know, how else to put it but it was just easier. If we hadn’t had them around, I honestly don’t know how we would have got through the year.
Sara Mathov: Kaur also says that having the support of parents and her partner were really helpful on top of having a mom wife.
Kaur Barber: We are blessed with so much love and support both of our parents, especially with me finishing school, because obviously I’m in my last semester of school, and helps a lot, so that when I’m in, like, a three-hour lecture, Parker’s mom can, you know, take her and keep her distracted, and my mom usually takes her a lot. So, we do have lots of support behind us.
Sara Mathov: In a study published by Dr. Patricia Leahy-Warren, she found that social support, mainly from family and friends, significantly impacts a new mother post-partum. She concludes that social support impacts a new mothers self-efficacy or ability to believe that she can do this and be successful. here’s what Dr. Leahy-Warren, from Ireland, says on the importance of community for new parents.
Dr. Leahy-Warren: What we found in terms of social support is that the more social support women were deemed to have, the less likely they were to at risk of post-natal depression. And also, the more social support they have, the more likely they were to have a higher score in relation to self-efficacy, which is similar to confidence in their ability to parent or mother their infant, and that again then had a buffering effect in relation to the risk of post-natal depression. So, having a network is hugely important to new mothers and new fathers. But we do know from the evidence that support, social support, is very very important because it will significantly reduce the risk of women having any adverse mental health issues, so this is why it is so important that women are assessed during perinatal period for their availability of social support, during pregnancy and also the post-natal period, and if they have been deemed to have very low social support, therefore they need to start mobilizing this within their community.
Sara Mathov: Nicole Poole, from British Columbia, despite having the support of a partner and family, also experienced loneliness and isolation during her pregnancy. she gave birth to her first baby in December of 2020. Three days prior, she decided to get tested for COVID-19.
Nicole Poole: I just thought I should get tested just because I’d been going to doctor’s appointments and I’d been going to the hospital, so for the sake of other people, and to my surprise I was positive. And so that definitely threw a wrench in things and it changed the whole giving birth experience. For the sake of, I wanted my husband to stay negative, because if he tested positive for COVID, there was a greater concern that he couldn’t come to the hospital. So, while I was pregnant, I lived on the second floor, and he lived on the first floor.
Sara Mathov: Luckily, her baby tested negative for COVID, and doctors advised her that it was ok to have contact with the baby.
Nicole Poole: We had to wear masks, so, we, I, myself and my husband, wore masks the entire time that we were in the room. And then, even when we went home. That was my — when we went home was my last contagious day, but my husband, technically, because he was negative, had to isolate for 14 days from that day, so we still wore masks when we got home for at least another week and a half out of safety precaution so that was definitely different…. Lonely. I think that’s the biggest thing that I had was more of, I felt that, other than being with your partner, going through the whole experience of being pregnant was very lonely because you, you couldn’t celebrate and be with your people. I mean, you could talk to people and video Zoom chat and stuff, but there was definitely a different experience. Going to doctor’s appointments by yourself, when you couldn’t bring your partner. And, so, it was a different, you can’t share the same experience. I mean, this is my first child anyway, so I don’t know what it’s like during a normal time.
Sara Mathov: Allison Palermo, a hairdresser, had her first baby three years ago, and her second just before the pandemic started. She describes this experience as really different from her first but stressed that having a new baby can be lonely regardless.
Allison Palermo: You’re extremely sleep-deprived, even a first-time mom you’re sleep deprived, your, like, hormones are totally out of whack. Everything hurts, you’re sore, you’re learning all of these new things, you have this new human who, like, yes, you carried them for nine months, but, like, now they’re finally out in the world, and they have their own little quirks and their own sleep habits, and they like to cry, it’s their way of communicating to you. Just, it’s lonely in the sense that you’re not, you’re experiencing all of those things, and it’s a lot of things you’re experiencing all those things, basically, all by yourself.
Sara Mathov: Despite the pandemic, many new moms have found ways to connect with each other online and have found online communities for support. Anita Nwaghodo had her first baby at the beginning of this year. During her pregnancy, she was part of a baby class that was free to attend, where she would learn all about taking care of a newborn from professionals. Each class you attend, they offer a $20 Walmart gift card, which Anita described as really helpful while not being able to work during the pandemic.
Anita Nwaghodo: So, having that was very, very helpful, and I do recommend that to anybody who is pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, I would say to find support.
Sara Mathov: The classes were in person at first but as we entered lockdown, they moved to happen online over Zoom.
Anita Nwaghodo: Because they tried to make it as interactive as possible. Just so you still feel like you’re there, you know, they asked us to leave our cameras on, they constantly ask questions as we, like, go through the slides, just so it’s not, like, oh, you’re just listening to a presentation, you’re actually there and participating. So, they, they try their hardest to make it feel like it’s in person.
Sara Mathov: Anita stressed the importance of having not just family members to go to but friends and professionals.
Anita Nwaghodo: When I had my son, they actually came over and dropped off a stroller and a playpen, and I also got a bunch of diapers. They don’t give it out to everybody, but it’s just based on, like, your circumstance, since I work in childcare, we are always the first people to get let go. So, it was a huge help. During the whole like pandemic and the whole of my pregnancy, it felt good to be among, like, a group of other women that are going through the same thing you’re going through, as well.
Sara Mathov: Kaur also had a positive experience with online connection. Before the pandemic, she says you could exchange diapers for different sizes as your baby grows at Walmart without a receipt.
Kaur Barber: But now you can’t, which sucks, so in that market, there’s a lot of people who are, like, hey guys, you know, I have this or I have that, does anybody want to trade? And there’s a lot of people on there who, like, if you have a question that you’re not sure of, like, I know my [baby], she has terrible gas sometimes, and she will scream, and getting hold of a doctor these days can take days, so I put in there, you know, is anybody else experiencing something like this? If so, you know, like, what did you do to help? Within, like, minutes I had, like, five or six minutes like, oh, we tried this, we tried this, you know, try this, which definitely helped. Actually, one of the suggestions helped a lot, and I made sure that, like, before I even tried it, I went through it and made sure it was safe for her, so it was definitely very helpful, especially right now, because it is very hard to, like, even my family doctor, like, he — it takes almost a few weeks to get in there.
Sara Mathov: Although it is important to connect, and currently one of the only ways that you can is online, there are negatives to online connection and the use of social media as a new mom. Alison says that a lot of moms have always compared and competed with each other on social media.
Allison Palermo: To add the pandemic layer on top of that, when you’re, when you’re lonely and bored and all you do all day scroll through social media, it makes it even worse. I think it’s really tough because you sort of, you want that sense of community. And, so, you, you know, you either follow other moms or other, like, influencers. I think where social media really messes with your head is that it really just makes you compare. Compare yourself, compare where your child is developing, compare how good of a parent you are by, like, how many activities you set up for them and how much screen time you’re doing.
Sara Mathov: Allison often avoids social media after a long day.
Allison Palermo: I think that’s what so crazy about, even just motherhood in general, is it’s very challenging to not compare yourself and then add a pandemic on top of it, where you have to fill at least nine to 10 hours of a day, where you’re stuck inside all day, it makes things really challenging. To have to see other moms that clearly might have it a little bit better off than you, to compare yourself to them it really isn’t helpful. So, it is nice to have someone like a sister or, you know, one good mom friend that you can relate too and not feel judged by, you know, if you watched Mickey Mouse all day long.
Sara Mathov: It’s clear that being a new mom during the pandemic is not easy. What more people need to be aware of is the importance of sharing the struggle with others and not passing judgment. If you know someone struggling with loneliness or post-partum depression, it is always a good idea to reach out and offer support, even if that’s just in the form of a text message, it could be life-changing to someone struggling. Motherhood can be, as we know,
Kaur Barber: Terrifying.
Audio: Baby cry and music.