Words by Genieve Muir
Imagine right now you are expecting a baby.
Your face-to-face antenatal education has been cancelled.
When you have your baby it is likely you will only be allowed one visitor (just your partner). No one else can come and visit to congratulate you and meet your baby, not even siblings.
You won’t want to stay as long in hospital because you’re worried about infection. This means moving home often before your milk has come in and before breastfeeding is established.
When you go home, there will be no visitors, no grandparents, no baby health centre, no mothers’ groups. So many of the traditional supports that were there for other women are not operating – or are currently scrambling to get online to support women in this way.
There is no doubt about it – this is huge.
The impact of COVID on these mothers and these families is being felt right now, and the potential fallout is still unknown. PANDA (Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Australia) have experienced a 30% increase in demand for their counselling services and CEO Julie Borninkhof says that figure is growing by the day.
“With COVID-19, and not being able to have access to resources that they would normally have access to… the anxiety levels are definitely increasing."
There will loss and grief – even if for nothing else than this is not the birth that people pictured. This is not the birth we have traditionally been able to have – and further with a global pandemic happening this is not the world we pictured bringing our babies into.
But is there a light? An upside?
Yes. Even in the short the period since high-level social restrictions were put in place in Australia, we can envisage a postpartum experience that is more peaceful, more calm, and more present, for our babies.
In one Sydney Hospital midwives are reporting that the hospital is calmer than it has ever been. And, as result mothers are actually sleeping during the day.
Without visitors, women can focus completely on their new babies during a critical time of bonding.
It’s actually not that long ago that this is how maternity wards were run, with siblings and dad on the street waiving up to mum and seeing their new brother or sister from the window. The purpose of this way of doing things was about rest for the mother, and infection control.
Once home. New parents don’t need to prepare themselves, or the house for visitors. As much as we want visitors to meet our new baby, it is well-known that new parents often miss opportunities to rest in order to make cups of tea for friends and relatives.
In many cases unless one or both parents are essential workers, many new dads will actually get to work from home through weeks or maybe months of their newborns life. This eases the isolation on the mother mum and also allows fathers and babies to bond. Given that so much of the attachment between a baby and caregivers happens in the first year, surely this is an incredible opportunity for both parents to connect with their baby and begin to read their cues. Building the beginnings of a relationship that will last a lifetime.
What if a slower first few months allows families to begin life as a team – with fewer outside pressures or distractions?
This pandemic is also bringing into the light the invisible work of mothers. With all the children at home, more and more we are ALL starting to realise what it is that ‘mums’ do all day long.
One of the other side effects of global social distancing we are all talking about, thinking about, and reading about is connection, and our need for it, more than ever before.
Could we use this to change, permanently, the isolation felt by so many mothers in their first year?
I know that, personally, I am at home with my four boys - and we are finding life a lot calmer without the need to dress up, and rush around.
New parents can surf that wave too - no need to achieve being out and about with bub within a week of being home, no need to be back to boot camp, no need to compare milestones, and no need to be out and rocking their skinny jeans within a matter of weeks.
Nowhere to go, no one to see, nothing to do but stare into the eyes of your new baby – the greatest show on earth.