I just want to start by saying that I have not been pregnant or postpartum during COVID. I can only imagine the number of things that pregnant people are missing out on during this time. Partners at doctor’s appointments, baby showers, visitors, help from family… it has all been disrupted by social distancing efforts. I’m here to make the case, though, that it hasn’t been all bad. As someone who works with pregnant people and new parents, I have seen something shift that I actually think is really positive. Please, before you roll your eyes and stop reading, allow me to explain.
When I had my first baby, I was newly living in Colorado and all of our family was back in Texas. This meant that when the baby was born, my parents and my in-laws both traveled from out of state to meet the baby and help us transition to life as a family of three. Of course, I absolutely loved and treasured that time, but something wasn’t quite right about it, too. I came home from the hospital and immediately felt like I needed to host. Suddenly these people I love so much were in my new town and my new house with my new baby, and I wanted to show them everything! We went on walks around downtown, ate lunch on restaurant patios, spent the day at a friend’s house, hosted people for Aggie football (WHOOP!)… all this while navigating early postpartum. My perineum was sore. My boobs were swollen. I was wearing padsicles in mesh underwear. I was running on basically no sleep. What was I thinking?! And don’t get me wrong, this was no one’s fault but my own. I love to be with my people, and all of these things sounded so fun to me at the time, even with the challenges of early postpartum. I felt it was so important to bounce back to my normal life as quickly as possible.
After some months had gone by, I started learning more about how other countries and cultures do postpartum. China and India, for example, have 30- to 60-day resting and confinement periods where the mother is cared for by family members or hired help. This is meant to help the mother heal, strengthen the mother and baby bond, and prevent exposure to infections. In France, mothers are cared for in the hospital for five days before being sent home. Once they’re home, a nurse comes periodically to care for them. Doesn’t that sound amazing? These are just a few examples, but basically, America has things backwards when it comes to the postpartum period! The U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave, so many new mothers have to go back to work right away out of financial necessity. It’s wild, y’all.
Here’s where COVID comes in. Just as the postpartum experience has its ups and downs, the COVID postpartum experience is no exception. I see families cozying up in their homes. I see them paying closer attention to their newborn’s needs and meeting those needs with the resources they have available. I see parents leaning on each other more. I see parents trusting their intuition. I see mothers encouraging one another with less judgment. I see increased bonding between parents and their infants. I see new families exploring outside more, enjoying the positive benefits of the sun and fresh air. I see groceries and meals dropped off on porches. I see family members quarantining and committing to safely support their loved ones. I see partners working from home, making them more available to support the new mother throughout the day. I see new mothers letting themselves off the hook a little bit.
I know it is not all sunshine and rainbows, however. I see the sting of partners missing ultrasounds and prenatal appointments. I see new parents with less help than ever before. I see a lack of access to resources. I see financial strain. I see loneliness, isolation, and uncertainty. I see the sadness caused by family members having to miss milestones and celebrations. I know there is so much more that I can’t see from the outside looking in.
I believe there are parts of the COVID postpartum journey that we should never let go of, even after the dust settles. We have to stop giving new mothers the bare minimum. We have to stop expecting more of them than they’re mentally and physically ready to give. We have to recognize that childbirth (in any form) and parenting littles (in any form) are beautiful and exhausting—a sacred mess that takes time and support. And in some ways, we are forever changed. I don’t think COVID is saving the fourth trimester, but maybe it could be a start…