Over a month into the COVID-19 pandemic, sheltering in place has resulted in some universal strains, but there are others that are unique to each individual circumstance. Perhaps one of the most challenging is finding yourself at home on maternity leave, just the two of you and your newborn. After months of anticipating the transition to parenthood and trying to plan for it to be as smooth as possible, it’s just you and your spouse, new parents at home with your infant.
Vanishing in the wake of the crisis are the family members who were excited to offer their time helping out with the baby, the doula and the baby nurse you carefully screened and hired, and the new moms’ support group. The ability to spend time with other new moms, the meals your mother in law promised to cook and deliver so that you wouldn’t have to worry about food, the night nurse who would make it possible to actually get some sleep, and your plans to use your support system to make time to get back in shape, are all gone. Furthermore, your spouse may be working full time from home, and not only do they have little or no time to devote to baby care, there’s the additional pressure of maintaining a productive work environment. And you have been advised not to leave your home unless it’s absolutely necessary. All of a sudden, being a new mom has gone from an incredibly stressful life transition to feeling almost unbearable.
It’s hard to know the difference between how hard new parenthood would be anyway and how things are compounded by the circumstances. Part of what makes having a newborn so intense is being on-call 24/7…never knowing when you will have a moment to yourself. The exhaustion can be overwhelming. Taking a shower is a challenge and finding time to have a conversation with a friend is often out of reach. All of this is to be expected, but under normal circumstances you can organize an escape for a little while, or just have a change of scenery to break it up. But now you may feel trapped in endless days with no respite.
I have heard from couples that the intensity of new parenthood, combined with the restrictions of being home without a support system, is putting a strain on their marriages and causing personal self-doubt. They are grieving the loss of how they envisioned maternity leave and are trying to cope with the reality. The fact that their parents, siblings, and close friends can’t meet their baby and share in the moment feels like a painful loss.
But new parents should not despair. There are some significant advantages and opportunities for both the parents and the child if you find yourself in this situation:
- Research shows that time spent with a baby is what produces confidence and connection. The feeling that you know what you’re doing and can take care of and soothe your child creates a bond. Usually the mom bonds with the baby early on and the father takes more time to establish that connection. Sheltering in place is creating that experience for both new moms and new dads simultaneously.
- Couples who only have each other to rely on in the day to day reality of parenting a newborn are forced to bond and work together. Even a parent who is working from home will be forced to take some of the burden from the other parent if there are no other options. The resentments that often occur in the first months of a baby’s life because of role inequality are much less prevalent.
- Without the distractions of the outside world including grandparents, friends and family visits, and with no feeling that you are missing out on social activities (because they simply don’t exist at the moment), new moms and dads are forced to work together to learn how to parent, and turn towards each other for their emotional needs. I’m anticipating that if managed correctly there will be a ripple effect that leads to better co-parenting and stronger marital relationships as the baby grows and develops.
While it’s a universal truth that being new parents requires relinquishing pre-baby life and leaning in to a new reality, it’s especially true now. There is no escaping the loss of freedom and spontaneity while being restricted to your home with your partner and your baby. The best way to cope is to rely on each other, be present for each other, and tap into your own internal resources. Accept that it’s a temporary situation that comes with a gift, an opportunity to bond with one another and your new family member.
This blog was first published on Yours, Mine & Ours.