Lara Stewart-Panko

Birthing During a Pandemic

I had a chat with a virtual doula client yesterday who is expecting her first baby's arrival very soon. Understandably, she's processing extra fears given Covid-19 and all its implications for social distancing and what it can mean to be in a hospital. Surprisingly, it came out that she thought she was unique in "freaking out". Noooo, sister! We're all freaking out.

Birthing is many things on the best of days: challenging, beautiful, transformative, and painted with some fear. It is a powerful, vulnerable, moment-by-moment unfolding of Life.

Birthing during a pandemic is next level -- let's not kid ourselves. The common social supports are restricted during your pregnancy, labour and postpartum period. You're grieving in one way or another. Perhaps you've lost your baby shower, or the joy of sharing prenatal appointments with your older children, or the strength you gleaned from your mother's hugs. Maybe you've lost a birth companion -- your best friend, your doula, your auntie are no longer permitted to be with you physically during labour and you're feeling the anxiety of a solider without her reinforcements. When you look ahead to the early days with your baby, you hope that you can figure things out well enough, and that the support you can safely access will be adequate. You feel sad that some loved ones won't get to meet your baby in person for some time.

Your maternity care has likely changed somewhat. You can only attend many appointments alone, or some have been converted to phone calls. You know these measures reduce the potential of community exposure, and they can also make the mind wonder if everything is being assessed adequately. When you do see your caregiver in person, their personal protective measures are a visual reminder of the situation we're in; their mask is paradoxically reassuring and stressful. You're called to trust your care provider and Nature more deeply than you remember signing up for.

In some hours the tears come and you release a bit of the tension. You reach out to talk to friends with kids, but sometimes find less solace than you need because they're too far removed from the reality of new parenthood, or too overwhelmed with their own experience of navigating pandemic waters. Your partner is processing just how much they're needed now, and some days they have more to give than others. Your relationship may be strained or deepening or becoming more of what it's typically been. You're both trying to ensure you make the safest possible decisions right now, and you feel your stakes are achingly high.

There are still precious, joyful moments. A warm shower finds you admiring your miraculous belly, enjoying the movements of your baby inside. You feel resourceful and "normal" for a while when you walk into the living room and your yoga mat is waiting for you to centre more fully into your body. You take a break from the pressure and really get into the affirmations recording, allowing yourself to feel much peace and empowerment and excitement about soon holding your baby in your arms. You connect with the signs of Spring, feeling a kinship with the new life bursting forth, feeling deeply grateful for the sunshine that invites the robin to build her nest.

What might I provide for you, dear sister? This is certainly not a time to be trite nor saccharine. Here's my humble offering:

  1. Be real and honest with yourself, and with others who have the capacity to hold your truth reverently. There is zero use in denying anything that is taking up your headspace, be it pretty or painful or irrational.
  2. Prioritize yourself and your baby. Your energy is for you, first and foremost. Determine and enforce healthy boundaries. Yes, lots of folks need emotional support right now; you don't need to be in the giving role today unless it genuinely feeds you.
  3. Give unpleasant feelings opportunities to move through: cry, talk, write, draw, dance, scream, feel them and breathe. The pain will come in waves, just like labour.
  4. Practice good mental hygiene: choose what media you consume, spend time in meditation or listen to a hypnosis recording, affirmations or uplifting music. Have chats with your baby, sing to them, read to them, give them sneak previews on the beauty of the world.
  5. Be good to your body: rest, stretch, move, hydrate, eat well and pleasurably. Accept (or request) massage if you're partnered. Cuddle with your pet.
  6. Put fears in their proper place: get accurate information, determine plans A, B and C, reach out for support, know that you have what's required to move through your life experience -- guaranteed. It might not always go as you wish, nor feel spectacular, and it might require healing after the fact, but you will move through it.
  7. Keep connecting with the goodness that is as real as the shit: if you're reading this, you've been blessed with countless privileges. May you humbly accept them, appreciate them, and use them to strengthen yourself. You can see and read and reflect. You have access to information. You are having a baby. You are being protected. You are about to be initiated into the mind-blowing world of parenthood (or expanding into it further). You are part of a community. You are loved.
  8. Reach out, reach out, reach out. We ARE in this together. One more time, take it in: You. Are. Loved.

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