When Carrie Anderson got pregnant, she had expectations of what the next year would look like: a baby shower, then the birth with her mother there in the hospital, and later a new mom group to and connect with. But when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the country in March, all these dreams went up in the air. She was five months pregnant.
"The first debacle came with the baby shower, then there was no baby shower, then with the hospital it was just my husband who was allowed," Anderson, who gave birth in June, told Salon. "I'm 39 years old — this was my first pregnancy, I'm an only child and this is my mom's first grandchild — so it was really emotional, and I cried that my mom wouldn't be able to hold her grandchild in the hospital."
The anxiety didn't stop after birth. Could Anderson's parents come over and meet the baby? She was concerned about her dad, who is 70 and falls into a higher risk group for having worse complications if infected with COVID-19.
"We had conversations with the pediatrician about who's allowed to come inside of our home, who's allowed, is it a visit through a window?" Anderson said. "It just was sad — it should be a joyful time and it was all just really emotional."
From giving birth to the postpartum period, the pandemic has upended the experience of having birth and added new complexities to what can already be an overwhelming life moment. Anderson was one of several new parents whom Salon spoke with about the challenges of welcoming a baby during the pandemic.
Many parents felt the experience of giving birth during the pandemic was bittersweet, as changes in hospital procedures and restrictions around visitation and interactions have upended a communal ritual that goes back to the dawn of humanity.
Starting with labor, hospitals have changed their procedures to limit the amount of time parents are in the hospital. Valerie Flaherman, M.D., M.P.H., and an associate professor of pediatrics, epidemiology and biostatistics at University of California – San Francisco (UCSF), told Salon some hospitals are requiring visitor testing, limiting the number of visitors, or excluding visits by children.
"This can be confusing for expectant moms because an individual hospital's guidelines and regulations may have changed several times throughout the course of the pandemic, often in accordance with guidance from the local health department which may fluctuate," Flaherman said, adding that once the pandemic is over normal visitations will likely return.
"I haven't heard anyone in any hospital around the country say that once the pandemic is over, there will still be restrictions on visitors," Flaherman said.
Allie Schmidt is a new mom living with a rare, motor neuron disease that's caused her arm to become paralyzed, something she blogs about on Disability Dame. Schmidt had her son in December 2019, right before the pandemic hit. In an email, Schmidt said it's been hard not having her in-laws be able to visit and spend much time with their new grandson.
"My in-laws live in New York City and have only been able to visit us in Nashville once since Covid started," Schmidt said. "It is tremendously sad watching our son grow up without getting to see his grandparents."
Schmidt fretted over the social repercussions for her son.
"Having my son so isolated during his first year makes me wonder how this will affect him in the future," Schmidt said. "I think all the moms are feeling this way. He's only met a handful of other people; It may end up not affecting him much, but I think it's something that we'll have to wait and see."
Lisa Alemi, who blogs at Move Mamma Move, says that having her second child during the pandemic has in some ways made her feel like a new mom again, as the rituals of motherhood have changed completely.
"I've had the same sort of nervousness, or lack of knowledge, as I did as a first-time mom," Alemi said, who gave birth to her second son in December 2019. When the pandemic hit, Alemi says she felt like it was very unclear what was safe and what wasn't safe for her baby.
"I didn't know where to go to the park, was it safe to walk around the neighborhood, was it safe to do any of these things, and so I kind of felt paralyzed," Alemi said. "Similar to when I was a first time mom trying to figure these things out."
Alemi said she's been trying to thread the needle between caution and paranoia.
"I feel like if we are too cautious, then we're paranoid and if were a little more liberal with our choices, then we are irresponsible and there isn't much of an in between, and that's hard," Alemi said.
For all parents, there remains a persistent fear of their babies getting infected inside and outside the womb. Fortunately, infants born to women with COVID-19 showed few "adverse outcomes," according to a study led by UCSF researchers.
"Overall, the initial findings regarding infant health are reassuring, but it's important to note that the majority of these births were from third trimester infections," senior author Stephanie L. Gaw, MD, PhD, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UCSF, said in a statement. "The outcomes from our complete cohort will give the full picture of risks throughout pregnancy."
New parents say the biggest struggle of all is loneliness. Anderson told Salon she's joined virtual mom groups, but there is a certain emptiness to them. At age 39, she said it's been hard for her friends who already have kids to relate to the experience of having a baby during the pandemic.
"I just found a mom's group that's half virtual, and they will do some small gatherings in person, that has been emotional," Anderson said. "I have friends, but their babies are over the age of eight and so they don't really relate to me — and then of course no one can relate to the whole pandemic thing happening."