The Baby Books Don’t Prepare You For This: How 7 New Moms Navigated Pandemic Pregnancy at Home
Navigating motherhood and a new baby is a wild ride, regardless of when it happens. You might be dealing with body changes, hormones, little to no sleep, and a host of other potential changes — while simultaneously figuring out what kind of parent you want to be and hearing opinions from everyone about how to best care for your baby. The pressure is enough to leave your head spinning. Now factor in a global pandemic, and you’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime experience that many parents would tell you was completely beyond anything they’d ever thought possible.
I welcomed my first child, a baby boy, in January, and the pressures and constant changes of pregnancy were a lot to deal with. Add in all of the new rules at the clinic and hospital to slow the spread of COVID-19, and suddenly everything I imagined would happen during my first pregnancy was flipped on its head, bringing with it a rollercoaster of emotions, including disappointment, loneliness, elation, guilt, contentment, and confusion.
Things that were supposed to be joyful, like baby showers and visitors, were also fraught with anxiety. Was it irresponsible to gather outside, masked, for a small shower? Who would be allowed to come see the baby when we got home? Trying to stay connected to the people I loved was difficult, and lingering in the hospital after my C-section birth with no visitors except nurses was lonely and sad. I had imagined my post-birth experience to be full of friends and family popping in to see my son for the first time, but instead, it happened over FaceTime. But we adjusted and learned to navigate our new life as a family given the circumstances.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I connected with other new pandemic moms to see how they felt about this unprecedented time not only in the world, but in their family life. While there was a lot of sadness and hardship, there were also lots of moments of joy and appreciation.
Heightened Healthcare Risks During a Global Crisis
In the early days of the pandemic with so many unknowns, even clinic visits brought extra stress and fear. “I had a high risk pregnancy [with] bi-weekly and weekly ultrasounds for my first child, born in November,” shared Emily Murto of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She called the experience “stressful, especially in the beginning when less was known about virus transmission and I was worried every time I went into the hospital that I could put the baby at risk.” Around the world, pregnant people and their partners and families navigated strict hospital protocols, and plenty of worry.
For Claire Egner-Rothe of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, testing positive for COVID-19 17 weeks into her second pregnancy was understandably stressful. “I tested positive the day that a study about the risks of COVID in pregnant women came out,” she said, and the study’s findings heightened her fears. She had mild to moderate symptoms and had to take care of her toddler son as he quarantined alongside his parents.
Ultimately, she was able to get vaccinated at 24 and 27 weeks, but dealing with illness and lack of daycare was stressful for Egner-Rothe and her family; they were also involved in a car accident, and she was very happy to see the month of November end. “Having COVID aside, I feel like the absence of socializing with people and being able to celebrate a pregnancy in person [made] the negative aspects of pregnancy seem to far outweigh the positive,” she added. “I’m a generally positive person but the last year has been exhausting. Adding nausea, heartburn, general discomfort, trouble sleeping… felt like a much bigger burden than I remember my first pregnancy feeling.”
Navigating Boundaries and Bonding Time
For myself and many other new moms, working from home also meant adjusting to the first trimester of pregnancy was a bit easier than it would be in person; the pressure of hiding symptoms and emotions until I was ready to share the news was gone, as was unwanted attention from strangers and acquaintances. While I didn’t have to deal with extreme morning sickness, I was extremely tired, and even found myself falling asleep during a call — and I wasn’t alone!
Danielle McGovern of New Jersey also appreciated handling the first trimester at home, plus the lack of bump-touching from well-meaning but invasive acquaintances and strangers alike. “As a highly sensitive person, I am very averse to being touched, so being pregnant during the pandemic really worked out as a positive for me,” she shared. “No one touched my belly without asking!”
And some new mothers found that work-from-home requirements meant more time spent as a family unit, especially for partners who may not get more than a few days off from work for parental leave. Kate Northway of New York City notes that her husband, who has worked from home through the pandemic and during her maternity leave, was able to pitch in more than he would have had he still commuted to the office. “It was a huge help to me personally if I needed him to take our son for a moment,” she said. She also thinks the increased time spent at home helped the two find their own rhythm. “I do believe they have a stronger bond than maybe they would have had if the circumstances were different,” she added.
Increased facetime, even during the most menial tasks, can strengthen bonds between parents and their babies. “While parents are at home more frequently, some parents are finding they have a better work-life balance due to a lack of a commute to and from work and an easier ability to involve themselves in the day-to-day life of their children,” said Paige Love, a mental health therapist in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Parents working from home may be able to involve themselves in parts of child-rearing that they weren’t necessarily involved in before when they worked out of the home, [such as] meals, naptime, [and] play-time.”
Seeking Connection Through Digital Spaces
But the pandemic also meant things like in-person baby classes, new mom groups, or even time with fellow pregnant friends or coworkers were not readily available. “I miss the visions I had of music or swimming classes,” said Caitlin Williamson of San Diego, California, who has a one-year-old daughter. She also missed feeling safe enough to have company over to lend a helping hand, as well as the ability to connect with other parents in person.
Some moms took to the internet to find support and connection; I have an active group text with a few friends who welcomed babies around the same time, and we rely on each other for advice and encouragement even via phone. “I ended up on a Discord server for moms who gave birth last November,” shared Christine Lepird of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “There’s over 100 moms on it from around the world. We’ve grown quite close and ask each other all our baby questions.”
And thanks to the internet, tight friendships developed despite the lack of IRL face time. “I don’t know any new moms in my city, [but] I have this virtual community of moms who I’m closer with than most of my friends at this point!” Lepird said.
That community, Love says, can be crucial for any mom — and especially for those navigating the firsts that come with a new baby. “Being a new mom is tough enough as it is, and there are unique challenges to being a new mother during a pandemic in which we don’t necessarily have access to the same types of social support we would pre-pandemic,” she said, noting that “research tells us that new mothers tend to feel isolated from others in general due to the significant changes that occur when babies are born…. Finding ways to create a sense of connection to other women or mothers can be especially crucial to combat the sense of isolation that comes with new motherhood, and an increased isolation through COVID.”
Prioritizing the Baby’s Schedule as a Family Unit
For many new moms, there are both positives and negatives to having fewer visitors and houseguests. “The silver lining of a quarantine baby is that we were able to get on a really good schedule,” Williamson said. Her one-year-old daughter is “a great sleeper and napper and I credit that a lot to the ability to keep a strict schedule because we weren’t going anywhere. It was also nice to limit guests in the early days, so we could get our bearings while trying to understand parenthood.”
Murto discovered “pluses and minuses to the pandemic baby” experience after her daughter was born. While she and her husband kept visits to a minimum because they didn’t want to expose their daughter to potential illness, which “exacerbated normal family conflict,” there were bright spots too. Her sister, who had previously lost her job, moved in with them to help care for the baby, a joint decision which Murto saw as a silver lining amid some very dire circumstances.
Having more one-on-one time with baby has helped moms get into the groove of nursing, which can be difficult at first, and begin feeling like themselves again. “The combination of past experience and not having constant visitors has made finding our groove with breastfeeding far more successful than with my firstborn,” agreed Egner-Rothe. “I feel like my healing has also gone more smoothly and not feeling like I have to play hostess has likely contributed to that.”
… and Preparing for Lingering What-Ifs
Postpartum life in the middle of a pandemic can also bring about its fair share of adjustments and challenges, including dealing with America’s less-than-ideal maternity leave policies, health insurance issues, and healthcare disparities which disproportionately endanger Black pregnant people; the pandemic added a new layer to an already-stressful situation.
McGovern admitted that there were definitely “some things” she hadn’t considered would be drastically different from pre-COVID times, such as meeting with a lactation consultant over Zoom. Strategizing in case she ever tested positive for the virus was another: “I also had to return to work [as a teacher] pretty early and I realized if I had to quarantine, I couldn’t use sick days or FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) since I used both for maternity leave, so I’d have to use unpaid days and potentially lose my health insurance,” she said. McGovern’s mother also cares for her son while she works, which was an additional stressor given that older people are at higher risks for coronavirus complications. ‘That added another layer of concern, even though she is very safe,” she added.
Above all, adding a child to your family should be a joyful experience, no matter the circumstances. Having a baby in a pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime event, but so is parenting in any form — and many of the moms I spoke with wanted to shout out other parents who have sacrificed and stretched themselves to their limits during this turbulent year. “A lot of people have told me they cannot believe I have had a baby and nurtured him through a pandemic, but frankly I think that parents — and primarily moms who feel the emotional burden more often than not — who have toddlers or school-age kids are the heroes of this pandemic,” said Northway.
My son is now three months old and starting daycare. While it’s an understatement to say I wouldn’t choose to be pregnant in a pandemic again, I’m grateful for our health and the precious time we had as a family of three. And thanks to vaccines and the relaxing of certain COVID-related rules, my baby has now been able to experience the world in a new way, by meeting my friends and extended family, and discovering the beauty and love all around him. Those smiles were worth the wait.