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Photos of excited relatives standing outside maternity ward windows with signs welcoming the newest member of the family are popping up on social media to offer some good news amid the onslaught of coronavirus information, but for some, it’s a stark reminder of just how different pregnancy and childbirth look in the age of COVID-19.
Baby showers and gender reveals have been canceled or moved online. Doctors’ appointments and ultrasounds have been shifted around or limited to patient-only visits. And in the age of social distancing, many women who were planning to rely on relatives to help them navigate through motherhood now find themselves alone.
“Well before a woman becomes pregnant, even dating back to childhood, they may have had an ideal vision of what the pregnancy and birth will be like,” Dr. Daniel Finch, who is certified in perinatal mental health and is vice president of Population Health Strategies and director of Psychiatric Urgent Care Services at CarePlus N.J., told Fox News. “Fear of deviating from these dreams can cause sadness and regret, even a sense of losing something that can never be recovered.”
Finch, whose wife is a psychotherapist and 30 weeks pregnant with their second child, said that he understands where the anxiety and stress is coming from during this time but that are ways to fill the emptiness expectant couples may be feeling, as well as ways to avoid missing milestones altogether.
“One way to overcome this is to be creative and use technology so as not to miss out on those special moments,” Finch said. “For example, take funny pictures to announce the pregnancy and have a gender reveal party on a social media gathering platform so as not to miss out on your original plans. Try to stick to the initial ideas as much as possible, just get creative in the delivery.”
Finch also emphasized the importance of avoiding the temptation to compare this pregnancy to ones experienced before the pandemic.
“It is difficult, but paramount, that expectant mothers try not to compare themselves to friends and family who have had children prior to the pandemic,” he said. “One way to do this is by connecting with other expectant mothers who are experiencing the same thoughts and emotions. Sharing feelings, experiences, and innovative solutions with those who are going through the same challenges can be enormously helpful.”
Finch said that virtual support programs such as the one hosted by the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey can help connect pregnant women, and that health care providers can also offer support to concerned patients. Turning to your partner or spouse for support is also vital during this time, Finch said, especially in the absence of extended family members.
“It is very stressful -- if not downright fear-inducing -- that some pregnant women during this do not have the same support system as they may have had in the absence of the virus,” he said. “Women must feel empowered to communicate their needs to their significant other or designated supporter, if they have one.”
Despite the many changing circumstances, Finch said it’s important for expectant parents to remember that the birth of a child is a momentous occasion despite what may be going on in the world.
“Moms and their partners should be validated in their emotions of sadness, loss, anger and anxiety,” he said. “They should also be reminded -- more than once -- that this is still a momentous occasion and that nothing can take away from the amazing experience of bringing a new life into the world.”
Finch said that while social distancing is still the norm, it should only be defined in the physical sense, and that now more than ever it’s critical to maintain a connectedness with loved ones. Should the feelings of being overwhelmed or sadness take hold, its imperative new parents reach out for professional help, he said.
“Even before the COVID-19 crisis, up to 80 percent of new moms experience ‘baby blues,’ which is generally defined as a brief period of sadness, irritability, mood swings, restlessness, anxiety or other symptoms that do not significantly impair functioning and resolves within two weeks postpartum,” Finch explained. “Among the most common contributing factors are sleep deprivation and hormonal changes. The current situation, with all of its additional stressors, may exacerbate these symptoms. It is important that these moms know how common these feelings are and to utilize healthy coping skills.”
As many as one in seven moms and one in 10 dads will experience symptoms of postpartum depression, Finch said, so it’s imperative to familiarize yourself with the possible signs.
“Unlike ‘baby blues,’ these symptoms are more severe, do not resolve within two weeks, and may need help from a professional,” he said, adding that the time to seek help is “whenever you feel that you want or need it.”