COVID-19 Changed The Way People Have To Organize Caring For Their Needs While Pregnant
For the pregnant patients I’ve spoken to in my remote therapy sessions, preparation for a baby, whether it is the first or second (or third or…), is stressful on a good day–not to mention during a pandemic. COVID-19 changed how pregnant women get care for both their physical and emotional needs seemingly overnight.
Though pregnancy itself often brings some anticipated unknowns that can be anxiety provoking, pregnant women now have to be in public less, and are stuck at home with even more questions and less answers. All the in-person prep you anticipated or care you planned went right out the window. Prenatal yoga classes, birthing classes, doula meetings, OB appointments and therapy sessions are best and safest when done remotely. While staying at home as much as you can, pregnancy means that you may not be able to avoid having to go to the hospital or a doctor’s office entirely, which can double the anxiety and fear of getting COVID-19 while pregnant. It can also be scary not to be able to have the support of a partner with you in the room when getting an anatomy scan or in the OR. Even routine tasks like shopping have been taken away or altered, and planned gatherings like a baby shower or a friend or family member’s visit from out of town can’t happen.
And this is, understandably, incredibly stressful and anxiety producing, which can leave women feeling lost in figuring out what they need and how to get it. Pregnant women, as well as their partners, friends and families, have to organize their care in a new way. I’ve talked with pregnant patients over the phone and video chat therapy about the real deal anxiety of these changes, holding these feelings so they can slow down their thoughts and pacing. In remote therapy, we’ve brainstormed ideas together about what they can (and can’t) control in a seemingly out-of-control time, creating plans to lessen anxiety and get needs met, while doing some necessary grieving of having to let go of original pre-quarantine plans. Here I’ve suggested six ways that pregnant women can get what they need during COVID-19:
1. Ask a ton of questions of doctors and other providers
Even before COVID-19, it could be intimidating to ask questions of doctors and providers. But now, with the medical system so taxed, doctors and providers may be less equipped to provide answers or emotional reassurance that may lessen anxiety about the unknown. So ask and ask everything–as many questions as you’d like: What do they know about COVID-19? What do they recommend? If you’re doing a home birth, ask the midwife what their process is. Asking questions can help you feel more grounded rather than being uprooted in uncertainty. I often encourage patients to not be afraid to ask doctors and providers to slow down, and really tell you what they expect, to the best of their knowledge, in hospital situations.
2. Organize friends, family and the people around you for help and support (yes, even remotely)
In my therapy sessions over the phone, Zoom, Google Hangout, FaceTime and Skype, I’ve encouraged women to come up with creative ways to use the helpers in their life–the ones that miss you and want to be there for you even when self-isolating. Organize these folks to help in ways that won’t cause you more anxiety, and acknowledge the loss, change and this time while you’re getting ready for this kid, awaiting a test result or just figuring out how to stay at home more. Ask a family member or friend to make you a mask, order your groceries when you feel overwhelmed, or talk over the phone about how they can best support you while remaining safe. Friends and family that aren’t in your household can still rally around you, cheer you on and provide much needed reassurance, even if not in-person.
3. Let yourself plan (while being ready for that plan to change)
I know this sounds like a funny statement, but planning is still important right now while pregnant, even if that plan may change quickly and frequently. In general when pregnant, planning is a way to lead in a hectic time, and can lessen the anxiety and panic, which is even more necessary now. This plan doesn’t have to be long-term–it can be week-by-week or even a month ahead (while recognizing it’s a plan for now). It doesn’t even have to be a major strategy, but a plan to try a Zoom yoga class, see a friend each week on Skype, figure out how to set up the baby’s room and order stuff online, or simply, figure out what groceries you need and order them on Instacart.
4. Find ways for your partner to “be with you” during in-person appointments, even when they can’t be in the room
Couples may no longer be able to be in the room together for an ultrasound or an in-person doctor’s visit as doctors and hospitals try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This can be disappointing, scary or just plain sad for couples. It’s also overwhelming because you want to make sure the baby is okay, while also limiting both of your exposure to COVID-19. A helpful way couples can slow and take it one step at a time is to have a plan for your partner to hold you and be with you when they cannot be physically present. This can include texting, calling, or driving or taking a cab to the appointment together. Plan a big hug before you go to the hospital (and after), or have your partner wait in a nearby park, the car or at home for your call so you know they’re there even if not in the room.
5. Move what you can online
While I’ve transitioned to doing entirely remote therapy recently, I’ve learned that you can still build a connection online, over the phone or via video chat if you go slow and commit to the building of a relationship. Most of my pregnant patients not only utilize therapy, but prenatal yoga, exercise classes, birthing classes, and other groups where they meet new soon-to-be-moms. These too can be done remotely. Moving what you can online is a method to control what you can, while still getting the care you need, even if different than expected. And it is a powerful way to get care–not in place of or lesser than in-person classes, meetings or therapy sessions. It can be just as helpful of a way to get the care you need outside of your partner and yourself.
6. Create a plan about how and when talk about the fears as they come without spiraling
A lot is scary right now in the world and personally for pregnant women, and it’s understandable to feel afraid and sad. But rather than simply living in fear and feeling saturated by it, you can organize how to deal with the emotions and crisis, leading rather than feeling paralyzed by the feeling or running away from it. One way is to create a plan about how and when to talk about fears rather than letting them overwhelm you. I’ve been helping patients in teletherapy come up with a team of people, whether a therapist, partner, friend or family member, that can acknowledge the realness of the fear and this change, and help you talk it through without feeling isolated and alone. It can also help to schedule a time to talk about these fears, giving a limited time frame so you don’t spiral and so you have a container to put the fear in. In particular, therapy is one of the main times that you can talk about fears–their origins, their triggers, etc.–and have someone sit with them and help you not be completely driven by them, particularly during challenging times.