Having a baby is both an exciting and nervous time in your lives that you share with those you love. But, what happens when we can’t see our support network at this vulnerable time? Wondering what it’s like to have a baby during the pandemic? Alexandra Parker shares her story with North Shore Mums.
In early March 2020, I was heavily pregnant as Covid-19 started to infiltrate the world. As I was deemed as high risk, my company shipped me off to work at home. I felt so much panic about how the world was changing around me and anxiety started to consume my brain. What if I caught Covid? What if something happened to my baby? What if something happened to my family in the UK? Looking back now I can see why my psychological state started to deteriorate and how I went on this downward spiral. Here’s what it’s like to have a baby during the pandemic.
Giving birth without family during the pandemic
In May 2020, I gave birth to Jack. Having a newborn is isolating all by itself. You go into the hospital as one person (uncomfortable, hopeful, terrified) and you come home as another. You are yanked into hour-by-hour survival mode, physically torn apart and nearly hallucinating from lack of sleep. None of this is conducive to seeing people, apart from the ones you trust the most. In my case, most of those people were 17,000km away in England. A strict Australian border closure prevented them from crossing. I couldn’t quite believe it, I never thought I would go through childbirth without my mum.
Reality hit when I came home from the hospital. How the hell do I take care of a newborn and a three year old with no help? My husband could not take time off work, which meant there was no extra adult to pour water or unload the dishwasher or do the washing when Jack vomited constantly over everything. When I had my check up with the health nurse, she assured me that I was doing well. There was no way I could have admitted to her how I was actually feeling. I was scared I would be labelled a bad mum, or that my children might be taken away.
When Jack was 6 weeks old he was diagnosed with reflux. He would turn red and squirm, with his tummy as hard as a rock. He would hysterically cry in pain, waking up every hour throughout the night for the first 10 months of his life. I would have sold a kidney to have my mum support me through the torture of sleep deprivation. I could barely function as a human, how could I be a mother when it felt like I was living in a vacuum? I started to shut down, close off and retreated into a lonely space.
Christmas came round and I hit breaking point as the reality of having a baby during the pandemic set in. Another year of being apart from my family, with not even a fragment of being reunited on the horizon. Everyday I questioned when this would change. How would I see them again? Would they ever meet my son? Every milestone that my children hit without my family being around to witness overtook my body with grief. I went to a very dark place. In the depths of my despair, I knew I had to do something. I had to get help, but I didn’t know where to go.
I dragged myself to my GP and thankfully she instantly recognised the danger I was in. I was diagnosed with Post-natal Depression and Anxiety (PNDA). I was put on medication and completed a mental health plan with a referral to The Gidget Foundation to see a psychologist.
My irrational brain couldn’t see how speaking to a psychologist would help. Six months later, it is safe to say it has been life changing. My psychologist has helped me put a strategy in place to tackle this new life I am leading with two children. I was able to release all of my locked away emotions, to normalise my feelings and to understand why I felt the way I did. It really has been incredible and a crucial part of my recovery.
At 10 months old, my son’s reflux disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived and he began sleeping reliably through the night. Finally, able to catch up on sleep, plus the medication and talking to a psychiatrist, a huge switch went off in my brain. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I am grateful I have this chance to start over, to climb out of the dark hole that I fell deep into, to rise in the face of adversity. I want to give other people the courage to take that first step and find the right support system for them.
Everyone needs a village
By sharing my story, I hope I can give you the strength to know you are not alone and you can get through this. I have created a platform called We Need Our Village. My mission is to armour parents will all the resources and organisations that are available so you can thrive and build resilience in the face of Covid-19 and beyond. I want to make sure no new parent feels alone or at a heightened risk of perinatal mental ill health.
I have set up a petition, asking the Australian Government to allow compassionate travel exemptions for support people like grandparents to be there during that perinatal period. Perinatal mental health is a major public health concern and the Government must increase funding to perinatal services to ameliorate the effects of the pandemic. You can sign my petition here.
Need support? Get in touch with the Gidget Foundation
If you think you or someone you know may be suffering please reach out to Gidget Foundation Australia. They provide free psychological support (with a mental health plan and GP referral) to expectant and new parents who are experiencing or at risk of perinatal depression and anxiety. Having a baby during a pandemic isn’t easy, it’s important to find the right support.
Download their life changing 24/7 support app here.
- Phone: 1300-851-758
- Website: gidgetfoundation.org.au
Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia is a national helpline dedicated to perinatal mental health. You can find their website here or call their helpline on 1300 726 306.
Watch the North Shore Mums Facebook Live with Alexandra Parker