Being Pregnant (Or Having A Partner Who Is Pregnant) During The Pandemic’s Second Wave Is Emotionally Overwhelming In A Different Way Than In The Spring
Providing therapy since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve seen firsthand the toll it’s taken on pregnant women, their partners, and their families, particularly recently during this second wave. In the spring, there were so many unknowns about COVID-19, which forced women and their partners to discover new ways to get what they need while pregnant. Now, after seeming to flatten the curve in NYC over the summer, the second wave feels like a real kicker as we experience another surge in the spread and another quarantine. While we know more this time around (wear a mask, stay socially distanced, wash your hands), many of my patients are mourning the loss of what they hoped would be a more familiar, normal moment to be pregnant.
Even in non-pandemic times, pregnancy is a period of unknowns. But now, you may wonder: When will I see my best friend? Or my family? Will I get to leave this apartment to do something–anything–connecting, fun, and enjoyable? Or will I be stuck waiting until winter is over to avoid getting COVID-19 while waiting for this baby? And the joy and levity of planning a trip or a baby-moon is much more complicated.
This has made pregnant women and their partners feel understandably isolated and overwhelmed emotionally. The New York Times recently explored the stress, guilt, and shame that pregnant women who are COVID positive are feeling during this moment, but even for those who are negative, the second wave has been an emotional challenge. Not only is this normal, but it’s also important to name these feelings so you don’t have to go it alone during a time that is already isolating. Because it can be hard when dealing with the daily onslaught of news, rising COVID numbers, increased restrictions, and your own day-to-day of pregnancy, I’ve highlighted five things that pregnant women and their partners are feeling during the second wave in order to help talk about it:
1. Anxiety About The Unknowns, Especially About Our Overtaxed Healthcare System
Although we know more than we did in the spring, there are still so many unknowns about the pandemic, particularly around being in our overburdened healthcare system and how that will affect your delivery. As the numbers rise, it’s understandable to feel fear and anxiety about how you will experience the impact of the overtaxed medical system during childbirth. Watching the hospitals become fuller and fuller is a bit like watching a slow motion car crash, feeling dread about not knowing what this will mean for your care once the baby comes. This naturally causes a ton of anxiety.
Anxiety can hang with what we know, but it clings to the unknown as we try to figure out and solve something that just may not be able to be solved at the moment. What you can do, however, is name that you have anxiety related to the hospital and healthcare system, as well as need more support than you would during more normal times when all you’d have to worry about would be your and your baby’s health. Anxiety can pile up when it’s not addressed so push yourself to be honest with your partner, your birth team, your best friend, and your therapist, while they listen and not wave it away. Sharing with others who are pregnant may also be helpful–not to ramp up the anxiety, but normalize it. And what can be especially helpful for anxiety is to be proactive in advocating for yourself and your baby (it’s okay to be pushy) with your OB so you’re able to get the care you need.
2. Hypervigilance Can Feel Like A Way To Gain Control, But Beware During Out Of Control Times
During a terrifying pandemic that you and your partner thought might be over by now or by the time the baby gets here, your anxiety may come out as hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is an anxiety symptom that is usually founded by trauma in which you maintain or demand an increased sense of alertness to keep you feeling safe because everything feels in danger. This can look like checking (and rechecking) the baby app, refreshing The New York Times, checking your and others’ masks, worrying or questioning if someone is not telling you about how safe they’re being, talking constantly with your partner about your fears, being scared of doing anything while pregnant during COVID-19, or asking a doctor or technician repeatedly whether they’ve cleaned something.
While fears of getting sick, a loved one getting sick, or not having a healthy baby are certainly warranted during the second wave, hypervigilance can be a way to try to control things that we just can’t control. This is understandable–you’re being forced to confront life and mortality head-on during this pandemic while trying to care for this new life and your family’s new life.
In a sense, the goal of hypervigilance is basic survival rather than enjoying or living life. By naming hypervigilant actions or thoughts (they can be either), you can recognize them and start socializing the feelings behind them so you can gain back power rather than being driven by the fear and anxiety. You can start to slow down and confront your anxiety, sadness, or a sense that everything is too much. This can bring you–and your partner–to a more honest place so you can embrace these feelings rather than trying to control or hide from them.
3. Feeling Lonely In This Transition of Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time of transition, which we typically experience socially. But during COVID-19, there’s no longer the ease of simply meeting a friend at a coffee shop or joining a workout group in your neighborhood, especially as it gets colder and you can no longer hang outside as much as the fall or summer. This can make you feel more shut-in and isolated, both in the process of the second wave and your pregnancy. There’s also less chitchat on the train, in the office, or in a store, which can be an underappreciated but positive part of being pregnant. For instance, when you’re no longer commuting daily, you miss someone giving you a seat on the subway because you’re pregnant, which can feel good. Or people may not ask you about the baby since they don’t see your growing belly (on Zoom, nobody can see your belly). This can make you feel like you’re in your own bubble, which can be lonesome and require more effort to connect.
Loneliness can feel extra upsetting when we keep stewing in it without sharing this feeling with others. You acutely feel loneliness both physically and emotionally by yourself. But when you name it to a partner or a friend, they can say, “Me too,” as well as ask to know more or help you find new ways to connect safely.
4. The Second Wave Of The Pandemic Brings Many Different Kinds of Grief
The COVID-19 pandemic is a time of many losses, but because we’re in such a heightened state of uncertainty and panic, we tend to skip over grief and mourning. We’re collectively grieving the loss of more than 300,000 people in the United States, as well as the personal losses of loved ones. The second wave also brings grief that this is still happening and the realization that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic we thought was almost over. When pregnant, you’re also mourning the loss of the experience of pregnancy that you and your partner anticipated.
Our culture in many ways teaches us how to be pregnant–pregnant and proud, pregnant and sexy, pregnant and still able to highly function at work or with friends. Now, with the pandemic, we can’t do a lot of those rituals that NYC or America laid out for pregnant women–or at least, we have to do them differently. We can’t have in-person baby prep classes, baby showers, or workouts. There’s no asking your mom to come visit to help prep or shop. Instead, experiencing pregnancy during a time of isolation, quarantine, and winter can feel like a real loss–one that needs to be mourned.
Naming what you’re mourning can be a way to start grieving it. For instance, if you and your partner decide to not travel to see family prior to the baby coming because it feels too risky or unsafe, you’re grieving that it’s going to be just you for a while. You’re sad, flustered, and disappointed–maybe you won’t get the care and love you wanted from your mom or in-laws. Even if you have a pod, you might be feeling like this just isn’t enough. Sometimes just talking about the reality that just is can be a part of grieving and feeling that loss rather than trying to immediately solve it with another Zoom call or hangout.
5. There’s Also A Lot To Be Angry About While Being Pregnant During The Second Wave
Like grief, anger as a response to the second wave is rarely talked about or acknowledged, especially during pregnancy. Though you may have chosen this moment to get pregnant, there can still be massive anger because of our larger political culture–a culture that has been in denial, as well as happening medically to expecting parents and families. You might be angry at a political system that let this virus catch like wildfire or that it’s so out of control. You may also be angry at a culture that’s struggling (again), not shutting it down, or teaching us how to do things more safely. In a sense, this is the first anger that a pregnant parent feels about the world and their child (and it won’t be the last).
Healthy agitation or anger can actually be part of a cure for anxiety, whether you’re pregnant or not. It can help us deeply know ourselves, as well as the things we fear and are mad about. However, it’s important that you allow yourself to name and feel this anger without misdirecting it at others, particularly in your relationship. Sometimes both partners just need to vent and gnash their teeth together that the pandemic keeps going and that they’re mad about a lot of things. Some of these things couples may align on and others they won’t. But both partners can hold and hang with that anger together without throwing it at each other.
Therapy Is A Place For Pregnant Women And Their Partners To Be Honest About How They Are Feeling About The Second Wave (And What To Do About It)
While naming these emotions to your partner and others around you is key, it’s worth noting that therapy can be an especially useful container to feel, be, and mourn. Pregnant women often take care of their partners and family members without taking the time to deal with their own feelings. And therapy can be a way to take time to unpack these feelings without either doing it alone or having to take care of someone in the process.
Pregnant women’s feelings can often get brushed off, even though they’re reasonably upset, uncomfortable, or anxious, especially during a scary time. It’s “easy” for society to see your worry about a hospital delivery or the baby coming during a second wave as simply anxiety rather than looking deeper. While these worries are understandable, there may also be more under that iceberg of worry, so to speak. Therapy can help see past the initial worry and anxiety, as well as let these feelings be uncontained for a portion of the session. This way you can feel these feelings while a therapist can translate or push you to communicate either to the therapist or your partner how you really feel.
Therapy can also help couples suss out what they’re feeling about the second wave together. Couples often make moves off each other’s feelings and thoughts–they can amp each other up or cool each other down, reality test or get into non-reality and anger spirals, they can come together or make each other feel lonely. And this is happening even more when everyone is cooped-up in quarantine without as many opportunities for friends and family members to act as disruptors, distractors, or regulators.
Couples therapy not only acts as a place to sit and unpack these feelings without running from them and the dynamic that is exacerbated by the second wave, but it can also be a way to be creative and make something new out of the second wave (and after with the baby). It can be a way to say, “We’re smarter and stronger. Let’s blow up the old so we can create out of this. We did the bread thing and the Zoom gatherings. The parks are too distant and cold. We’re sick of this.” In therapy, you can figure out how to shake it up so you can get ready for this kid (or kids) even if they come while we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, as well as really connect rather than isolate, pretend, or dwell in emotions or denial.