Pregnancy and Mental Health During a Pandemic
The doctor opened the door. She held something small and I was slightly confused as she reached her hand out to me. Then I saw the object and those two pink lines. My eyes widened as I looked at her. “Congratulations,” she said.
I couldn’t believe it. A few months, after an extremely emotional miscarriage, I was seeing those two lines again. I was beyond thrilled (and scared) but couldn’t wait to break the wonderful news to my husband. I couldn’t even keep a straight face! I told him immediately. No cute, elaborate way. I just straight up told him — we were going to have another baby. Our dreams were coming true!
After the miscarriage I had been through a couple of months before, I was indeed terrified. Terrified of what I was going to see each time I had to use the bathroom. Terrified I would feel that complete heartache and consuming grief again. But the blood tests confirmed it: I was pregnant.
The first trimester was challenging. Fatigue, nausea, vomiting, all mixed in with underlying fear. When we made it to 13 weeks, I felt like we crossed the finish line. We announced to our friends and family. We shared our exciting news on social media with our son, posing adorably in his brand new “Big Brother” shirt. It was perfect. So much excitement. So much happiness. So much to look forward to, until that next week when the unexpected happened.
Coronavirus. COVID-19. Illness. Global pandemic. Death. It was everywhere on the news. It was all anyone could talk about. Shutdowns in other countries. Shutdowns coming to the USA. What was happening?
Pandemic. Masks. Social Distancing. 6 feet. COVID testing. Quarantine. Ventilators. Intubation. But I was still pregnant. What did this mean? It meant stress. It meant overwhelming stress all the time. It meant a new level of being terrified. It meant loneliness. It meant absolute fear.
It also meant not seeing family. It meant not seeing friends. It meant anxiety on a completely new and different level that I have never experienced. It meant losing trust in others. It meant not trusting at all. What if someone was not wearing masks like they should be when they came in contact with me? What if they hadn’t been washing their hands consistently like they should be? What if they were (to be) the reason I got sick? What if I then would have to be intubated and lose my baby? What if I would have to be intubated and then give birth to my baby while I was in a coma? So many what if’s consuming me daily.
I read a story about a pregnant woman testing positive for COVID. Due to difficulty breathing, she was put on a ventilator. She then gave birth to her child while on a ventilator. I couldn’t help but think if that happened to her, it could happen to anyone. Anything could happen to me. How ridiculously terrifying.
Anxiety to the Extreme
Truth be told, I’ve struggled with anxiety well before the pandemic. This is now me trying to begin to explain the amount of anxiety I struggled with while pregnant during this pandemic, and still do. ABSOLUTE fear. What if I tested positive for COVID during pregnancy? What would that do to my unborn child? COVID hasn’t been around long enough. There are no studies and little to no information. “You should be fine if you were to get COVID. Pregnant women don’t get as severe of symptoms”, I was told at the time. Great. But what would happen to my baby? No one had an answer. There were no answers. I was literally living in the moment. No studies. No research. This was brand new.
Masks. Social distancing. Masks. Hand sanitizer. Wash. Wash. Wash. More masks. Temperature checks. Wiping down everything. TeleMed appointments. Masks.
Exercise, Pregnancy, and Mental Health
As I was nearing the end of my pregnancy, I knew it was time to do something I had not done in a while. I was doing my best to manage my physical and mental health through physical activity, more specifically, running. I ran 414.7 pregnancy miles and decided to temporarily retire my running sneakers at 34 weeks pregnant due to discomfort. I was so proud of those miles as I worked hard for each and every one. Unfortunately, after I stopped running, the mental stress I was experiencing was causing too much pressure to handle. I could no longer manage my stress through physical activity so I made an appointment with my therapist. I also inquired with my OBGYN on when and how to start back up on my anxiety medication. I needed to do this for myself. I needed to be prepared to be the best mom and wife I could be. My mental health was important.
I made it to 38 weeks while my family and I continued to stay healthy. My husband and I wore masks as we were admitted for labor & delivery. Once admitted, we could remove our masks as they were not required in the hospital I delivered in. We had to bring everything in with us, though. Completely different from the first time around with our son. All our bags, our car seat, etc. We were told once we entered the hospital, there was no leaving and returning. Due to COVID, we had to be prepared – during labor, during delivery, and during pregnancy. And responsible; as responsible as possible.
Welcome Baby Boy!
This past late August, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Jacob. We had no visitors in the hospital, both nice and sad at the same time. We did it. We had made it home. We love him immensely. We introduced him to his big brother. So much joy and love! But here we were again, faced with another challenge: a newborn during a pandemic.
Quarantine. Masks. Hand sanitizer. Wash. Wash. Wash. More masks. Social distance. Even more masks.
Me? MASSIVE ANXIETY. OVERWHELMED. SCARED.
Rules? NO kissing the baby. Masks. Limited contact. Wash hands immediately upon entering the house. Limit who we allow in our home, if even allowing anyone.
And here we are today. We did it. Almost 4 months postpartum.
After the Finish Line of Birth
I sometimes feel in complete isolation from others. A pandemic will do that to you. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. It is extremely hard. All I can say is please be respectful of others and their wishes; what they are comfortable or uncomfortable with. Being respectful and showing compassion is more important now than ever. I am so very grateful for the loved ones in my life who have been there for me through all of this; to talk me through this and to understand and respect what I’m feeling.
Over the past several months, I’ve had a couple of people make comments based off pictures I’ve shared on social media, stating that it looks like I have had an amazing year. This makes me cringe. Don’t get me wrong, I feel extremely blessed. I love my little family more than anything in the world and my boys bring me so much joy. I absolutely love being home with them watching them grow and creating wonderful memories. But realistically? This has been the most challenging year in SO many ways and probably the most challenging in the 34 years I’ve been on this earth.p The mental and emotional turmoil this pandemic has caused me makes it even difficult to come up with the right words to write about.
Sadly, many of our family members have not met our baby. A lot of friends have not met our baby. People have judged us. People have made selfish comments; hurtful comments. People have called me paranoid, saying I need to relax. I understand it, I really do. But unfortunately, what people do not understand is the true level of “crazy” anxiety a mother experiences in a pandemic during pregnancy and postpartum. People don’t understand the stress and fear of raising an infant during a pandemic and people won’t fully understand that until they fully experience it themselves. (Although, I don’t wish this stress upon anyone) From the beginning, I was adamant in my ways, stating NOTHING is worth risking the health of my family and my babies. That is what I would do (and did) as a mother. That was my choice. I vowed to do my best to keep my two boys healthy. Hell, even my husband and I would fight about it because the first thing I did when he walked through the door was remind him to wash his hands. Please know this isn’t to “nag” anyone. This isn’t to make anyone else’s lives more difficult or judge. This is completely about me trying to do everything humanly possible to aid in their good health and safety during these challenging times. It’s completely about my anxiety forcing me to do things I never thought I would.
Life in it’s Current State
We did it. My maternity leave has almost come to an end. More challenging times. More emotional times. More stressful times.
Feelings of sadness. Feelings of rage. Feelings of fear. Why can’t I quit my job? Why can’t I be a stay at home mom? Why can’t I just stay in my bubble? Why can’t I keep my babies safe? Why can’t I keep my babies healthy? A lot of tears. What if I get sick? What if one of my babies gets sick? How do I trust the people around me? More tears.
If you may read the above paragraph and automatically think to yourself or say to me, “Well, of course they are going to get sick. Someone is going to get sick. Someone is going to get COVID” –you are not helping me at all. That mindset is honestly the furthest thing from helpful with someone experiencing extreme and consuming anxiety during this pandemic. Truth be told, compassion goes a long way. With a lack of compassion being shown paired with high anxiety levels, it can seem as if others do not care about being careful or the sake of others, or about you. I cannot help but continue to think that one person’s ignorance can be the cause of another person’s illness; of a person’s life. Please remember that.
Above all: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. BE KIND. BE RESPECTFUL. SHOW COMPASSION!
Returning to work in the healthcare field, as a nurse, at 4 months postpartum with my 2nd son — here we go, anxiety. It’s about time for another breakdown. Another stressful path and more unknowns. I will keep fighting this. I will keep doing my best. I will get through this.
Sending love to you all.
A worried mother of two, knee deep (and struggling) in this global pandemic