While many expecting families eagerly await the arrival of their newest little one and treasure important milestones along the pregnancy journey, none were prepared for the arrival of COVID-19 and how much it would change the entire perinatal experience.
When COVID-19 emerged, North York General Hospital (NYGH) made the difficult decision to temporarily restrict visitors in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. Although exceptions are made for labouring persons, the new restrictions significantly impact the childbirth experience for many families.
Gabriella Carafa, a social worker in the Maternal, Newborn and Paediatric Program at NYGH, wants pregnant people to know there are resources in place and support available to those who need it the most.
“You need to rely on the support of family and friends in different ways, during this especially vulnerable period of your life,” explains Gabriella.
Fortunately, North York General offers patients access to a social worker for ongoing support, for the entirety of their pregnancy. “A social worker can help you navigate the services available in the community and offer counselling by phone or through virtual sessions,” says Gabriella. “Our hospital also offers a telephone post-partum support group so you can connect with other mothers in the community.” Although many resources have been suspended, many have also been moved online or have become available via telephone.
Gabriella wants readers to know grief can occur anytime there is a loss, not necessarily after death. “We’re all grieving the loss of ‘normal’ life and important milestones, like baby showers or gender reveals,” she explains. “I support individuals by providing them with a safe place to express their grief. I try to offer comfort, encourage hope, and help my patients feel less alone.”
“I also think now more than ever it’s so important for pregnant people to keep lines of communication open with loved ones, most notably partners or key support people. It’s helpful to stay connected virtually, even when direct face-to-face encounters are not always possible.”
In a time of such uncertainty, people may be less able to manage thoughts and feelings in an effective manner.
“Those prone to anxiety, depression or other mental health issues are more likely to experience increased feelings of isolation. For some, COVID-19 is only intensifying those feelings,” observes Gabriella.
While the pre-natal experience has changed, Gabriella highlights the difficulties also faced during post-partum.. “Many are balancing life with a newborn, while the other children are also home from school.” She goes on to explain the shift in parenting, with extra-curricular programs on pause, in-home supports limited, and drop-in sessions cancelled, parents have incredibly full plates. “There is a great deal of pressure on those caring for newborns with very little in terms of parental relief.”
Gabriella recommends a few tips for those who find themselves in this position:
- Keep active in a socially distant way
- Stay connected to your loved ones and health care team
- Seek out support, crisis lines are available 24/7
- Indulge in things that bring you comfort, like listening to music or practicing gratitude exercises, mindfulness, sleep
- Recognize your strengths, and don’t be ashamed of your limitations
- Limit news intake and ensure you are consuming reliable information
- Connect with the social worker available to you through your hospital