8 min read
This story originally appeared on World Economic Forum
By: Stéphanie Thomson
It usually takes 90 minutes to drive the 10 miles between our Brooklyn home and our daughter's ophthalmologist on the Upper East Side. Two weeks ago we took half the time, as we walked almost empty streets.
The night before, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo had ordered the closure of most public places (bars, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms) . One of the most densely populated areas of the United States was at risk of becoming the new access point for COVID-19, which had hitherto killed 6,000 people and infected another 10,000 worldwide. Thus, the city that never sleeps went to bed.
If we were surrounded by just a few people in what would normally be rush hour, it was because we had no choice. Our daughter was born three months before the scheduled date. During 53 of the 81 days he spent in a neonatal intensive care unit, he received oxygen, since his lungs were not developed enough to function on their own. Oxygen saved his life, but it led to a susceptibility to retinopathy of prematurity, a disease that, if left untreated, causes blindness. So, dressed in masks and gloves, my husband and I ordered an Uber and headed to Manhattan for his date.
Some people complained about the closure of the city; others blatantly disobeyed the rules. As soon as our daughter got the go-ahead from the doctor — she assured us her eyes weren't going to have any problems — we headed straight for home. We have been here ever since.
An experience of social isolation
I know that being able to accommodate as long as necessary, order food at home and take your shopping home is a sign of the privilege we have. However, if leaving home with a baby during a pandemic poses countless challenges, staying home with it can be, too.
“For many people, having a newborn is an experience of social isolation anyway,” explains Jesse Pournaras, a midwife from New York. That may sound contradictory: how can one more person make you feel more alone? However, it coincides with the results of a 2018 survey carried out by the British Red Cross , which found that 82% of mothers under the age of 30 have felt this way. At times like this, says Pournaras, we need a support network to turn to. “It is helpful to be able to go to your mother, aunts, sisters, and friends to ask them why their bodies are behaving this way, why they feel that way, or what their baby wants when they don't stop crying.”
Image: Coop and British Red Cross, via World Economic Forum.
When a person is forced to isolate himself from anyone outside his home, he loses that support system. Obviously, questions can be asked via Skype; all mental health experts recommend that parents find time to do so. “People thrive on social connection and support,” says Andrea Schneider, a psychotherapist specializing in maternal well-being. “So do teletherapy with a trained perinatal professional, join an online support group, and maintain virtual contact with your family.”
All in all, messaging apps aren't useful when what you really need is someone to stay with your baby to shower. “Learning to be parents can be a really tough experience,” says Pournaras. “I know many people who trusted their families or a hired professional, such as a postpartum midwife, to ease the workload and now have trouble coping with it all alone.”
That is the situation that has happened to Kim Flores and her husband Juan. Her son Nico was born prematurely in early March and has been in the hospital ever since. “Juan's mother was supposed to come stay with us for a few months to help,” he tells me. “Now that is not going to happen, because she lives in Colombia and the government has closed the borders. I'm sure my husband and I will manage, but it's stressful. ”
Victims of system gaps
In addition to stripping mothers of their practical and mental support systems, confinement limits their access to a medical system. Does the benefit of giving your baby premium vaccines outweigh the risk of exposing you and your newborn to a life-threatening virus? It was calculations like these that led to increased maternal mortality rates in countries affected by the Ebola epidemic in 2014-2016, according to researchers at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine . Sierra Leone, for example, experienced a 34% increase in its maternal death rate.
“We found that there had been a 22% decrease in postnatal care,” explains Somla Gopalakrishnan, one of the researchers who conducted the study. “Often mothers were too afraid to access medical facilities for fear of contagion. Sometimes they were even told to stay away to avoid further pressure on a health system that is already on the edge. ”
The World Health Organization has found that adequate postnatal care is one of the most important ways to protect the health of mothers and babies, but when women and their newborns are forced to isolate themselves, they can fall into a species limbo that sometimes has catastrophic consequences.
The positive side
Having to experience confinement as a parent can trigger a feeling of pain. While I am grateful that technologies like high speed internet and free long distance video calling allow my parents to see their first granddaughter from the UK, I cannot help but feel that I have been robbed of unique life experiences that I hoped to share with my beloved.
However, as with almost anything negative, it does have some positives. Here in the United States, a country where many people do not have paid maternity or paternity leave, confinement has created opportunities for parents to spend more time with their newborn children, even if reconciling work and childcare already involves juggling.
“My husband has an incredibly demanding job that requires him to travel a lot,” says Linara Davidson, who gave birth to her first child, Ronald Anthony, last November. “It's great to have him at home spending so much time with our son when we initially thought he would be away.”
Rather than focus on the difficult aspects of isolation, Davidson recommends that new parents make the most of this forced break to spend quality time with their baby, time they otherwise would not have had. “We are grateful to be able to enjoy every moment almost without interruption during this period. We will get through this, and we will have a story to tell our little ones. ”