A Rutgers social worker discusses how pandemic creates new stresses in reproductive care

Life is not the same for expectant and new mothers, as well as those unable to undergo fertility treatments during this worldwide pandemic, says Erica Goldblatt Hyatt, assistant director of the doctorate program at Rutgers School of Social Work, who offers tips on how to adjust expectations during these difficult and uncertain times.

How has the experience of trying to conceive changed?

During this time of cancelled treatments, grief and loss at conception planning is understandable and normal. The mental energy, focus and planning around having a baby do not simply disappear because you are no longer able to pursue this goal. Take this time to keep a journal about your feelings, cry, vent and check in with a therapist. Reconsider goals that you and your partner may have pushed aside to make having a baby a reality. Make plans for when you become a parent. Stopping fertility treatment does not mean abandoning your dream. You can plan to be pregnant and parenting while your life is on pause. 

How has the experience of pregnancy changed?

Create some expectations around prenatal appointments and birth planning. Contact the obstetrician’s office to see if telemedicine is an option for checkups and if lab paperwork can be emailed. While some people are considering home birthing during this time, I would strongly advise talking directly to a provider because each pregnancy has its own levels of risk.

Make plans for possible emergency transport with a neighbor or nearby family member should it become a last-minute need, especially because ambulances and other resources are strained.

Hospital restrictions may prevent partners from entering the labor and delivery suite. Make alternate arrangements to have your support person present via teleconference. Encourage your partner to write a letter to be read while you’re in labor. Prepare a music playlist and other comforting items.

Finally, make time to connect with your pregnancy and do “normal” pregnancy-related indoor activities. Buy baby clothes online, take bump shots and play music for your baby. 

How has the post-partum experience changed?

The post-partum period, with its physical, psychological and family changes, can be stressful even during normal times. Creating a schedule for quiet time to rest and bond may require letting older kids have extra screen time and asserting your needs to a partner.

Nursing parents should wear a mask, wash hands frequently and sanitize equipment, particularly if they feel any symptoms of COVID-19. It is unlikely to be transmitted in breastmilk, but it is easily contagious via respiratory droplets.

New parents may feel more compelled to sleep with their baby for comfort, but they should try to avoid doing so at night. Reach out to older siblings or partners for extra affection if you are feeling deprived. 

Keep an eye out for symptoms of postpartum anxiety or depression. With the presence of the pandemic, mental health challenges present a real risk. Be on the lookout for ongoing crying spells, suicidal thoughts, intrusive images of hurting yourself or your baby, panic attacks or feeling completely flat. If these symptoms start to feel unmanageable and interfere with your life, reach out to your mental health provider or trusted support network, call 911 or the Postpartum Support International for help in English and Spanish.