Navigating Postpartum in the Midst of a Pandemic

Navigating Postpartum in the Midst of a Pandemic

The biggest misconception about having a baby is that after all is said and done, you can simply slip back into your life with a tiny human in tow.

If you’ve already crossed the childbearing threshold, though, you know that there is no “going back.” Being the birthing parent stretches you in unimaginable ways both physically and mentally—you are transformed, born anew. And when you’re caught in the dance between what was and what is, it’s not always clear how to move forward.

The doula in me will help fill your freezer with warming soups and stews; encourage you to room-in with your baby for as long as humanly possible; hold you, see you, support you. The mother in me will tell you that you’re not alone in feeling alone; that the shift in focus from birthing person to baby is abrupt and unexpected; that birth is wild and altering but that postpartum is where your efforts are best fixed.

The fact you have to birth your placenta after the baby—yes, you give birth twice, folks—is rarely talked about. So is learning how to cope when the world finally slows enough for you to see yourself, and you suddenly realize you have no idea who you are anymore. Feelings of longing, isolation, and guilt can be overwhelming—and now, in a global pandemic that thrives on feelings of longing, isolation, and guilt, everything is compounded. Welcome to the 2020 edition of early parenthood.

I was five months postpartum when the effects of the pandemic started to take hold. That might sound like a long time to you, but I still felt like my vagina might fall out every time I stood up. My iron levels were so low that I barely had the energy to walk more than a block, and my postpartum anxiety was so inescapable that I would almost black out every time I left the house on my own. I couldn’t tap into the support network I’d lined up, because seeing people was prohibited at a crucial time in my healing. Of course, I was not alone in this.

Whether your baby was born awake or sleeping, whether they stopped growing in the first trimester or you made it to full-term, I know you’ve felt it too. You can take your grocery shopping online, but moving through one of life’s most challenging transitions is a little harder over Zoom. At six weeks postpartum, most folks have a consultation with their care provider that involves a pelvic exam and the go-ahead for exercise and sex. That’s the extent of postpartum care today. My partner had a more detailed rehab program when he pulled a muscle running than I did after my c-birth.

The pandemic and postpartum are at opposite ends of the spectrum. One demands limited contact and interactions, and the other craves community, touch, and warmth. As a doula I’ve found ways to adhere to the rules without abandoning folk: doorstep food drops, check-in texts, a masked introduction in line at the coffee shop, a friendly message on social media.

But as a mother, honestly, some days I’ve never felt more alone.