Parenting in a pandemic

Preparing for life after birth can be intimidating, but it’s a comfort to know there are others who have been through it before and can help guide you along the way. But preparing for life after birth during a pandemic? That’s a whole new ballgame.

As the founder of 4th Trimester Arizona, a nonprofit organization that provides community support for parents during and after pregnancy, Jennie Bever was ready and willing to step up to the plate.

An adjunct assistant research professor in ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Bever launched 4th Trimester Arizona in 2018 hoping to change the culture of new parenthood in a country that still does not mandate any paid leave for new parents and where postpartum depression rates in women have been estimated to be as high as one in five.

Over the past three years, the organization has grown in leaps and bounds. At the onset of 2020, Bever was preparing to expand 4th Trimester Arizona's support “villages” — groups of local parents who meet monthly to share experiences and resources — to three new locations across the Valley.

Then COVID-19 hit.

Not one to back down from a challenge, Bever rallied her staff, and together, they took the villages virtual. This year, 4th Trimester Arizona will also be hosting its annual conference online on Saturday, April 24, with workshops on everything from postpartum intimacy to redefining your identity after birth to self-care and holistic healing.

Ahead of that, from April 8-9, Bever’s colleague and research partner, ASU College of Health Solutions Associate Professor Meg Bruening, will be hosting the virtual Maternal and Child Health Conference for providers, researchers and stakeholders.

Along with Edson College Professor Elizabeth Reifsnider, Bever and Bruening have plans to study the effect of COVID-19 on women’s postpartum experiences over the past year.

ASU News spoke with Bever about the pros and cons of supporting a village virtually, the unique challenges of having a baby during a pandemic and how to get a handle on it all.

Question: What were some of the pros and cons of going virtual?

Answer: It’s hard to not have other people around you, especially when you’re a new mom. But for a lot of moms, this has become even more isolating. They were already alone, and now people can’t even come over, and almost all of the in-person support groups have shut down. So by going online, we were able to provide a place for people to come and talk. For us, as an organization, doing everything on Zoom while we’re at home with our own kids was a bit of a struggle, because we’re also just trying to manage their schedules and online school and everything else. But the cool thing is, it’s our village, too. So the moms are really understanding and supportive.

Q: In addition to your work with 4th Trimester, you’re also doing some research with professors Meg Bruening and Elizabeth Reifsnider, looking at the postpartum experience during COVID-19. Tell me about that.

A: Our first and second year of 4th Trimester, I was really convinced that people weren’t getting the full picture of what the postpartum experience was like. I had been in postpartum recently, and I had seen several patients who had struggled with it, and I’d also heard about it from moms at our conferences. We had what we called a “truth booth,” where we asked attendees to share their experiences of motherhood and just let them talk.

Since COVID, we all know something has changed, but as far as how that changed new motherhood and the postpartum experience, I don’t think we have a clear picture of that; I don’t think it’s being looked at. So we decided to come together and create a way to do that — safely, through Zoom, instead of in-person — especially with moms who had a baby in the last year. We just wanted to ask what that was like: How did you feed your family? How did you feed your baby? What did that look like? Because we don’t have a clear picture.

As we move forward as a country, even if COVID ended tomorrow, there are moms still living with PTSD. Moms who went into the hospital to give birth and had their husbands or partners taken away, or their doulas taken away. All these things that we know are really important were disrupted, and we need to start thinking about how to help them manage the fallout of that. So I’m really eager to see what we find.

Q: Aside from depression, what other concerns/issues might new moms be facing that COVID-19 exacerbates?

A: The biggest one is isolation. You might not be depressed, but it’s still tough to feel like you don’t have someone to help out or even just to talk to. A lot of new moms and dads aren’t comfortable having people come watch their kids right now, so they’re not getting rest either and they’re desperate for sleep solutions. There has been way more sleep training going on, in particular I’ve seen people having a lot of success with the SNOO Smart Sleeper, but that’s causing breastfeeding problems because then the baby doesn’t wake up to feed. But in general, people are just more exhausted because there isn’t anyone to come in and help out. Postpartum is also the time couples are most likely to get divorced, which is just exacerbated now because we’re all so isolated with no one else to talk to. People are also worried about their children getting socialized and how that’s going to impact their development.

Q: What advice do you have for people who know someone who has just had a baby during this time but can’t visit or help out in person?

A: No new parent will ever turn down a meal that is sent to them — or at least they shouldn’t. So DoorDash and Grubhub gift cards are the new great gift for parents. And try to think about things that the mom and her partner might need but might not have thought of. So instead of clothes for baby, maybe put together a postpartum care package for mom. It also helps to just call them on the phone and have a conversation, just to check in and let them talk. Because that isn’t something that’s happening right now, randomly meeting up with friends and talking. Something else we overlook a lot is just simple affirmations, things like saying, “You’re doing a great job.” Those aren’t things your baby tells you. Your baby just tells you, “I’m mad” or “I’m hungry.” They’re not giving you feedback that you’re doing a great job.

Q: Any advice for moms in general during COVID-19?

A: You’re doing great, and you’re not alone in this. So many of us are working to balance everything that’s going on right now, and if you just utilize the right resources, you can better take care of yourself and your family. Because if you burn out, you can’t take care of anyone.

So make sure to take some time for yourself. Build things into your day that you just do. Like, when your kid is fussy, go for a walk. Or maybe turn on the TV for the kids to watch for 30 minutes while you do something else. Because that’s OK; we might feel bad about it, but actually, then you have that much more energy for your kids when you finish what you were doing. I don’t think that’s even advice, I think that’s just a survival skill right now. We’re all just trying to survive, and you’ve got to make sure you’re being there for yourself, too, because you’re the end of the line.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay.com.

Emma Greguska
emma.greguska@asu.edu