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Opinion I Becoming new parents during covid-19

Pregnancy and birthing in the midst of a pandemic don’t seem to be getting the kind of attention that they should

Being pregnant at a time when everyone wants to avoid doctors and hospitals is as tough as it can get.
Being pregnant at a time when everyone wants to avoid doctors and hospitals is as tough as it can get.

There is no doubt that ‘pregnancy’ and ‘parenting’ rank high among the topics that are most researched and written about. And yet, pregnancy and birthing during a pandemic don't seem to be getting the kind of attention that they should. This is an unprecedented and a critical situation for some of us. What I am about to share might not be revolutionary—and that is not the goal—but it will serve to reassure anxious expecting and new parents of the strong ecosystem they might have built amidst this chaos.

I have been thinking a lot of the gravity of the situation for pregnant ladies and new moms. Imagine your water breaking, while dressed in a protective body suit in the hospital, or trying to stay calm while breathing through a mask and your husband, similarly suited up, juggling with forms and hospital bags. The scene, which was dystopian earlier, has now become a reality.

Shwetambara Sabharwal
Shwetambara Sabharwal

Being pregnant at a time when everyone wants to avoid doctors and hospitals is as tough as it can get. Navigating appointments, sonograms, hormones, sickness and cravings, and also organising medication in these times, can test one’s patience. There are no leisurely walks to be had in the park or on the beach, no paani puri to be savoured from a street side stall to make the situation more bearable.

While the world is reporting mood swings, sadness, irritability, I really wonder how the elevation in oestrogen and progesterone have treated these families-in-the-making.

Despite my daily search for literature on “therapy for pregnant women through a pandemic", I found nothing to suit the gravity of the situation. So, I decided to focus on anxiety, as it wasn’t hard to imagine what the biggest emotional challenge for these expecting and new parents is.

I would suggest doing the following to take care of nerves and anxiety during pregnancy and post delivery:

Meditate: Taking calm breaths should be the biggest priority for pregnant women. The advantages of elevated levels of oxygen in the lungs, body and brain for immunity and hormonal balance are many.

Careful stretching: Restricted movement means no languorous walks. So, some stretching exercises are a must to develop muscle strength. The effect of exercise and movement on strengthening of the pelvic floor and release of endorphins is immense.

Managing thoughts: Embark on ‘thought silences’ to arrest negative emotions. Focus on the present and what you can deal with practically. Our mind loves to imagine “what-if" scenarios, but reigning those thoughts in can help us relax and stay functional. This may take patience and practice, but it is worth it.

Watch limited news: I’m not the one to dole out armchair advice. Given that I have not counselled pregnant women through a pandemic before, I have tried to put myself in their shoes. And I have realised that I would be happier not knowing the rise and fall in covid-19 casualties, delays in vaccine formulation, conspiracy theories and other grim stuff. But in some of my counselling sessions, no matter what I say, our next session always starts with: “Doc, did you hear what happened on the news?", “I’m shattered to hear this" and “Why did this have to happen!" This one, clearly, is a work in progress.

Read or follow a relaxing hobby: I recently counselled a lady, who took violin lessons though the lockdown. And I feel so happy for her and the baby! Hobbies help us relax, release endorphins and allow us to stay productive. Learning, re-learning and practicing help the brain stay active.

Reach out to friends and family for conversation: This one is an unusual advice for me to give out as I don’t like my patients to depend on anyone else in order to feel happy. However, such are the anxiety levels at this time that I would rather have expecting moms reach out to their friends and family than just depend on their equally nervous spouses.

Discuss a contingency plan with your doctor: Putting a tentative plan in place for unforeseen situations helps relieve some stress. Flexibility, confidence and a willingness to cross the bridge when you get to it is also important.

As the world struggles through this crisis, one can see varying responses emerge —some are going through breakdowns, others are using this as a period of repair and healing. People are reacting and responding to therapy in their own way, and in some cases we have made very little progress.

The ones that have most astonished me the most in their quick response to therapy are pregnant women. They have been diligent, logical, motivated and focused on this beautiful chapter in their lives. They have hardly even been late for sessions—not one has stood me up. They take notes and ask questions. I have realised that if you give the human mind a purpose, we can see ourselves through the biggest of crises.

Welcoming a baby into this world is a joyful rollercoaster ride, with or without a lurking virus. While it comes with an enormous challenge to health and safety, pregnancy to most has provided an urgent, robust and meaningful purpose, which has motivated them to focus on effective coping. And this strength will stay with them for life.

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