Motherhood is already unpredictable. And now, due to COVID-19, there's another layer of uncertainty over what lies ahead. A handful of Saskatchewan moms share what it's like bringing a child into this world during a global pandemic.
The CBC's Jessie Anton spoke to Pallavi Andkhoie, who is expecting her first child in November; Megan Bialowas, a mother of two, who had her son, Dalton, in August; Kaitlin Klassen, a first-time mother who gave birth to her daughter, Blakely, in May; Katya Wenc, who delivered her son, Bennett Ronald, in April; and Amy Gabriel, whose son, Bryson, was born in March.
Q: What are the challenges and/or perks of being pregnant or on maternity leave during a global pandemic?
Megan: I would say some perks are the extra quality one-on-one time I am spending with my baby, just having to be at home more. But, for sure, the challenge is the same in that you don't have that option to go out and socialize as much with other moms or babies.
Pallavi: One downside of the pandemic is that my spouse wasn't able to join me for our first ultrasounds or doctor's appointments. However, people at large have been very kind and understanding of safety against COVID while being pregnant.
Katya: When COVID and Saskatchewan's lockdown hit, I was 38 weeks pregnant and very ready to meet our son. Already a nerve-wracking time for first-time parents, COVID added an extra layer of nervousness. It was also very hard to be so inactive.
Also, it was extremely hard to watch the supports I had put in place over the course of my pregnancy (for the birth and postpartum) be taken away. We had hired a birth doula, but family (other than my mother) were no longer allowed to come to visit me postpartum. Positively, the health system was almost more available because doctors and hospitals were limiting the amount of unneeded service they were giving before.
Amy: I was pregnant prior to COVID and because of this I had minimal experience with COVID during pregnancy.
Challenges after leaving the hospital: The public health nurse stopped weigh-ins a few months after Bryson was born, due to COVID protocols. Because of this, I am unsure if important milestones for my child are being met compared to other children or if his development is appropriate.
Instead, the public health nurse advised me to have weigh-ins completed at a doctor's clinic. This creates a catch-22 for a parent. Take the child to the doctor and potentially expose the child to COVID, or don't take the child and have the added burden in the event that the child is not developing appropriately.
Q: What was it like delivering your baby during COVID-19?
Megan: It was definitely different than my first birth. Going to the hospital and having to do post-screening in between contractions, and waiting to get into labour and birth. Also, having to use a phone to get in and out of the ward, and only having my husband in the mother-baby unit. All the nurses and doctors wore masks, which was different than my first delivery as well. It was also very quiet.
Kaitlin: I felt our delivery was very normal. We had known it would just be the two of us and it was nice to know that ahead of time. My biggest fear was if my husband had a fever, or if something came up during screening, there would be a chance he couldn't come. We were in the hospital under 48 hours, and — in all honesty — it was so nice to just be able to bond and not worry about visitors.
Katya: During labour and delivery, COVID was not front-of-mind, so our experience was fairly calm and relaxed. The hospital staff were excellent, especially on the mother-baby unit as I was recovering from a C-section. We spent two nights there, and — I have to say — it was a blessing no visitors were allowed. The ward was quiet and we had no interruptions as we got to know our new addition. We could establish breastfeeding and learn how to care for him.
Q: Do you have any worries about raising your child in the middle of a pandemic?
Megan: I worry about the social development of babies born now, but it's not just babies — all children face the threat of a slowed social development. Not being able to socialize and visit means less people for my baby to meet. I worry this will lead to a more shy child, compared to if we had been out of the house more.
Pallavi: My worry is if my husband starts showing COVID symptoms and is unable to be at the birth of our child.
Kaitlin: Initially, I worried about her getting COVID-19. What does that look like? Do babies survive that? Now, my fears have more switched to the relationships she is making and ensuring we are still exposing her to a somewhat normal first year. Ultimately, her safety comes first.
Amy: I am worried about daycare. It was already difficult finding daycare prior to COVID; this will certainly add an additional complexity. At daycare, I am concerned about the other children and the daycare provider. I cannot control where they have travelled or whether they attended a large social gathering prior to attending daycare. This adds a layer of anxiety that pre-COVID parents would not have experienced. I am also concerned about the negative social impact associated with the lack of programs being offered for mom and baby.
Q: How are you taking care of your mental health amid this all?
Kaitlin: I do see my immediate family often. I go on walks multiple times a week with my family or husband. Spending time outdoors and in the sunshine this summer also really helped my mental health. Heading into winter, it will be important to have a plan on how to stay active and engaged with the outside world to avoid isolation.
Katya: I reached out to family and friends, even if it was over the phone, just to talk. I also reached out to a counselor through public health. As soon as I could, I returned to walking and other activities, like seeing some close friends. My partner and I also are sure to spend time alone together, and to give each other time to go see friends and have our 'me-time' — just as we would whether there was a pandemic going on or not.
Q: Despite the uncertainty of COVID-19, what brings you hope as you raise your child?
Megan: That the children who are being born and raised in this pandemic will be a different 'breed' of children. I believe they will have a different outlook on life and know how to maneuver in something like this, if they are faced with a global pandemic again.
Pallavi: A child always brings joy and responsibility to maintain that joy.
Kaitlin: Although we are currently going through a year of firsts, our daughter is still too young to remember this year. I am hopeful for her future memories to be as they were when I was growing up. I am also hopeful for Thanksgiving and Christmas with our families.
Amy: Recently, Bryson experienced his first restaurant. He was fascinated with all the people he saw. This experience gave me hope that one day Bryson can experience that environment without the masks, hand sanitizer or the contact tracking lists.
Katya: That the world may learn and grow from this time, and that he's too young to remember or understand life is different at the moment. I will tell him just how creative his family became in order to see and love him. And that he was so welcomed, no matter the circumstances.