Imagine giving birth with no family support, and no mama friends to vent to. Singaporean mama Tanisha, who raised a newborn through the circuit breaker, shares tips for other new mamas entering motherhood during Coronavirus
Taking the first steps into motherhood is inherently tinged with uncertainty and anxiety. From the physical pain of recovery to the exhaustion of learning to fulfil the mysterious whims of a newborn, navigating motherhood for the first time is never an easy feat. However, doing it in a world where infection rates and death tolls are part of our daily narrative is just that much more stressful to a new mother.
The Coronavirus pandemic caused major disruptions to everyone’s daily routines and rhythms. Many of us are not only feeling the loss of thousands of lives across the world, but we are also grieving the loss of normalcy in our lives, like simply going to the office or connecting with friends and family over a meal. We are constantly reminded that we’re living in “unprecedented times.”
Under normal circumstances, we seek solace and support in the people in our lives. We might connect with loved ones for emotional support, to share happy memories, or simply spend time together. But because of the pandemic, new mothers were suddenly on their own, and may have found it difficult to cope with their new roles and responsibilities.
One of the rules of the circuit breaker in Singapore was that we were not allowed to cross households. This meant my husband and I could not visit our parents, siblings and friends for about two months. The lack of help around the house and taking care of a newborn has been very trying, but the absence of social connection made the already lonely and isolating experience of being a new mother even more pronounced. There were days I felt like I was living in a different dimension from everyone else.
I found myself vacillating between tears and smiles, contentment and frustration. It took me a while, but I found a few methods that helped me work through my emotions and accept my reality:
Accept that we are living in unprecedented times.
Don’t compare your first foray into motherhood with that of your mother/sister/friend/neighbour/anyone else on social media. The world was a very different place just a few short months ago. Consider the fact that social distancing has its advantages. For me, it meant that my husband could be with our son and me all day long as he was working from home. He didn’t have to miss out on our baby’s first social smile or the first time he rolled over. This wouldn’t have been possible had he been working at the office. The lockdown also meant that I didn’t need to worry about my baby potentially getting infected by visitors coming over, especially when there was increasing evidence that people infected by the virus could be completely asymptomatic.
Focus on what you can control.
For me, the lockdown has brought with it a unique form of mom guilt and disappointment. At times, I do feel somewhat short-changed that my maternity leave coincided so neatly with the lockdown. In fact, the lockdown lifted just three days before I was due back at work. This meant I wouldn’t be able to bring my baby out for little outings around Singapore to make special memories before going back to work. I also worry that I’m not socializing him enough. However, to look at the situation from a more grateful standpoint, I realize I got lots of uninterrupted bonding time with my baby. He’s still too young to realize how big the world is, and for this brief period of innocence, Mommy and Daddy are his world. This shift in mindset has helped me to re-evaluate what I think is important in building my identity as a new mother.
Take care of your own physical health.
As they always say during the emergency briefing on flights (remember when we could travel?), always place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. Likewise, make sure you take care of your own health before you take care of anyone else (including your child!). I learned this the hard way when I suddenly threw out my back and was unable to carry my baby for two whole days. My husband had to do everything for him, stopping short of nursing him (which I had to do at a very awkward angle in order to not aggravate my aching back). I realized that if I wrecked my own health, I wouldn’t be able to properly care for my family. Furthermore, going to the doctor’s office/hospital during the lockdown was additionally stressful because of the fear of unnecessarily exposing ourselves to the virus. Take care of your body. Drink water, take your vitamins, eat a nutritious diet and get some exercise! Self-care is not selfish.
Read more: How these mamas self-care
Embrace technology to connect with family and friends.
While Zoom calls and FaceTime are no match for the real thing, they are effective stop-gap measures until we can meet and embrace our loved ones face-to-face. Call your friends and family and let them meet the little one over video. Send frequent photos and videos of your baby to close friends and family so that they can be part of your little one’s growth at development, albeit from afar and over a screen.
Reach out and find support.
There are many online support groups and mommy forums/chat groups. I signed up with What to Expect and receive daily mailers of the most popular forum topics. Reading about other moms and their babies gives me comfort to know that we are all going through similar experiences and feeling similar emotions, no matter where we are around the world.
Closer to home, you can join one of Sassy Mama’s Due Date Facebook groups to meet mamas with similarly-aged babies in Singapore. Local chat groups are a vital source of information; for example, many mothers discuss the precautions we are taking because of COVID-19, as well as their feelings of restlessness about being in lockdown with an infant and for some, with multiple other children. We also ask questions and clear our doubts about our babies’ sleep schedules, behavioural patterns and even if their poop is normal! Being part of a mom community makes this journey less lonely. While none of these groups can replace actual medical help, it helps calm some of those first-time mom jitters, knowing that it’s normal for my baby to drool or to have a slight nappy rash.
Accept help when it’s offered to you.
This is one of the cliched tips for new moms everywhere, yet it was something I struggled to accept at the start. I felt uneasy asking my friends and family for help as I thought it would inconvenience them. Then, I thought about how I would want to help my own friends and family were they in the same situation. And with that, I became much more receptive to help being offered to me. While it might not be possible (yet) for someone to lend their babysitting services, they might offer to cook you a meal or do a grocery run. Accept their help with a gracious heart. You’ll be so thankful you did!
Get professional help when you need it.
If you suspect you’re under high levels of stress/anxiety postpartum, do reach out to a dedicated medical professional for help. Many hospitals offer postpartum mental health care. Postpartum depression and anxiety are genuine medical conditions and deserve proper treatment. Hospitals such as KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital now offer online Telemedicine video consultation for women who are unable or prefer not to travel to the hospital due to COVID-19.
Read more: Postpartum Depression resources for women in Singapore
Do something for yourself.
Try to rekindle/develop a hobby that makes you happy. For me personally, it was to get back into the kitchen and rediscover my love for recipe development and experimentation. During my baby’s naps, I would take photos and short videos of recipes I was testing, and if they were successful, I would post them on Instagram together with a recipe card. Regularly doing something I enjoy makes me feel fulfilled and able to look past the gloom of being in lockdown, and I feel like a better mom to my little boy.
It’s hard for someone who hasn’t been in this position to understand just how difficult it is. If you know someone who has just had a baby, please reach out to her. A text message, a surprise food delivery or just a short video call could help her remember she is not alone. Remind new mothers to take care of themselves. Most people only ask about how the baby is doing, and not how mom and dad are. Let them know that you can be a source of stability and certainty in these uncertain times. Be compassionate to a new mother. She’s navigating uncharted waters during uncertain times. This double whammy causes a whirlwind of emotions that she’s trying hard to work through.
We are truly are living in strange times. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we should never take ‘normal’ for granted. As we navigate through the next few months and years re-calibrating what normalcy looks like, we must have compassion for ourselves, and for others.
Lead image and image #2 via Getty. Image #3 via rawpixel