They say it takes a village. After giving birth to my first baby a week before the entire state of Michigan went into lockdown for COVID-19, I can see why. For most moms, we spend much of our pregnancy looking forward to meeting our baby and getting to introduce that baby to the world. But when you give birth during (or shortly before) a pandemic, all of that goes out the window.
I never realized how lonely you could feel while being practically attached to another human being for 24 hours a day. Visiting new moms is not just about providing help or a break (and maybe some food); the socialization is critical to remind her that she does still have a life outside of feeding, diapering, and comforting a crying baby. COVID-19 took that away from us and it’s okay to feel both sad and angry about it. My company provided a generous 20 weeks of paid maternity leave. When all of this started, I assumed I would still be able to get that socialization before I went back to work. But it never happened and I am left feeling like my leave was incomplete; like it was over before it truly began.
As things have started to open up, those of us with early pandemic babies feel left behind.
We missed out on getting to share our babies during that squishy newborn phase where they can sleep through anything and could be held by anyone and everyone. And those of us who gave birth in February/March/April did not have the luxury of getting to visit (relatively) safely outside with people because it was too cold. We missed out on being able to take them places before they had opinions on whether they want to be there. We were stuck at home in isolation for all of that. We are envious of the newer parents who did not experience this same level of isolation.
As hard as the isolation with a newborn was (and it is the hardest thing I have ever done), there is an extra layer of sadness in witnessing newer parents get the support during such a critical time that we missed out on. We were in survival mode for so long and didn’t realize just how much we missed until we saw what could have been. What should have been.
We are left feeling confused and sad over why people are not reaching out now.
It feels like the rest of the world has given up on the idea of bonding with our babies and have moved on to celebrating more recent life events. Don’t get me wrong; we are SO EXCITED to celebrate new jobs, marriages, and even newer babies. But as everyone else moves forward, we are left standing in the dust. Just like my maternity leave, it feels like our babies’ time to be fawned over and recognized for how amazingly cute they are is over before it even began. A baby that screams when you try to hold them just isn’t as cute or as fawn-worthy as a baby who is young enough to sleep through all of that.
We have fear over what the long-term impact of all this will be.
Putting aside the PTSD that most of us are experiencing over trips to the store or even walking to the park, we worry about our babies. Will they ever let someone else hold them or watch them without screaming for mom and dad? It is heartbreaking to see my daughter scream as though she is in physical pain when even my own mom tries to hold her. I know it wouldn’t be like this if she had been held by other people all along. And, will the guilt we feel about that ever go away? Will family members who didn’t meet or hold our babies early on still feel a connection to them and love them the way they would if they had gotten to be involved during these first several months?
Pandemic new parents still need your love and support.
Even (or maybe especially) those of us with babies who are going on six months old at this point need it. We are still dealing with the fallout from all of this, while feeling left so far behind. It isn’t too late to try to reach out now. And, to those of you who found creative ways to help us from a distance during the early months: thank you for making us feel a little less lonely. The porch visits, text messages beyond the first week to check in (because responding to text messages during that first week is overwhelming), meal deliveries, grocery drop-offs, and baked goods are what sustained us during this trying time.
Written for Detroit Mom by guest author, Cathy Duma