When my son was born I disappeared. The self that I was prior to his birth vanished the moment he entered the world. It felt like a death and I spent the majority of three years reviving and transforming and becoming a mother. My closest friend will tell you that she thought I had been lost for good. We had become close during our pregnancies, but I was so weighed down with suffering in that first year postpartum that I rarely ventured out of the house. I was deeply dedicated to nap schedules and the simplicity of staying at home because I couldn’t cope with any additional uncertainty beyond the regular daily care of an infant. The thought of having to go on an outing with my baby in tow was like torture. My friend called regularly. She invited me out for swimming, for hikes, for adventures of all kinds…and mostly I said no. It would have been easy for her to take my refusal personally and write me off completely. I’m incredibly lucky that she was so persistent and that she was there waiting for me when I started to emerge from my postpartum depression. But emergence was a very slow process. I am still the sort of person who is more comfortable staying close to home. Traveling great distances with my children feels difficult and stressful. I am still a routine based mom, who feels most calm when the day unfolds quietly without too many surprises.
As British Columbia begins to re-open after our two and a half months of COVID lock-down I’m reminded of what it felt like to venture further into the world after having a baby. The fact is that there’s no right way to take those first steps and it looks different for everyone. Whether you have a new baby or not these next few weeks are going to come with challenges and a lot of difficult decisions. In our support groups we always tell new parents that they are the very best people to make decisions about the health, well-being, and safety of themselves and their children. I think the same applies to everyone right now:
You are the best person to make decisions about the health, well-being, and safety of your family as we navigate the constantly shifting requirements of the COVID-19 pandemic plan.
Some people will feel more comfortable continuing to stay close to home and keeping their circles very small. Others will need to venture further into the world to support their own need for connection and their mental health. Everyone’s situation is different. Some will have family members at high risk, others will see the need for support as outweighing any health risk from potential exposure. Some families are trying a “double bubble” while others are seeing only close family while others are attempting a variety of distanced interactions. These are all complex and personal decisions and there’s no universally right way to approach it. There’s only the right way for your own family.
Having a new baby or young children might further complicate the decisions that need to be made right now and I know that the decision making process can feel overwhelming: Who should you see? Who should you not see? If you decide to have closer contact with one set of friends will other friends be offended? How do you manage contact with older relatives? Should you send your kids back to school or daycare? What about summer camps and programs? Music lessons? Outdoor play dates? Summer vacations?
The questions can feel endless and the answers are muddy at best. It can be helpful to use the same tactics that you would use when developing a postpartum self-care plan when approaching the convoluted pandemic landscape. Try identifying the areas where you feel the greatest need for support right now and then prioritize those when making decisions about how to move forward.
For me the biggest challenges were my kids’ desperate need for play opportunities with their friends and my own desperate need for time away from my children. We opted for a double bubble scenario to meet those needs. My kids can now have normal social interactions with the kids from one other family and I get one afternoon a week off while they’re over playing at their friend’s house. We have family health concerns to consider, so keeping our circle very small for the time being makes sense for us. For others things might look very different, and that’s okay. My biggest hope is that we can all extend empathy and understanding to our friends and relatives as they are forced to make impossible decisions in the next weeks and months. On the other side of this perhaps we could all hit a giant re-set button on our relationships, knowing that we all did what was best for us, even though it was hard, and even though others chose a different path. Wishing you the strength to choose your own way forward with confidence in these unprecedented times! And we’re here if you need to chat!
Pacific Post Partum Support Society remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of our staff are currently working from home but the phone and text services are still available. Please call or text 604-255-7999 between 10-3 Monday to Friday and someone will get back to you.