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During COVID quarantine, new moms struggle with extra isolation, fear

Isolation for mothers during quarantine means less social support.

Being a new mother would be lonely anyway, even without a pandemic. That’s what Giannina White tells herself.

But White, 33, knows she’s more isolated than she expected. The first-time mother gave birth on March 16 — the first day her hospital stopped allowing visitors. She didn’t have to wear a mask, but she was asked screening questions before being allowed in to deliver.

She had bought tiny suits for her son, Leo, to wear and and made reservations for family brunches. A newborn photo shoot she had booked was canceled. On Mother’s Day, White introduced her family to her son, after asking that they not see anyone else for the weeks before.

“It’s been really hard, because nobody’s been able to come relieve me other than my husband,” White said. “Nobody’s been able to come over, so it’s been really lonely.”

For mothers of newborns during quarantine, regular challenges, emotional ups-and-downs and postpartum depression feel amplified.

Susan Shelton, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse and the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Programs at the Florida State University College of Nursing, said isolation for mothers during quarantine means less social support, which could strain their mental health. Shelton is also on the board for Postpartum Support International.

Up to 1 in 5 mothers will struggle with some form of postpartum mental health issues during their childbearing years, Shelton said.

“Some moms are having to resolve the fact that what you had in your mind is not what you’re living in reality,” she said.

Some have to not only manage their newborn, but older children as well. Emily Sutch, 29, had banked on her 2-year-old daughter being at daycare while she was on maternity leave with her newborn son, who was born on March 12.

That daughter, Layla, also wasn’t able to meet her brother for days after his birth — children weren’t allowed to visit the hospital because of coronavirus precautions.

Daycare was canceled, and now Sutch splits her time tending to both children. Sutch said she hopes daycares open up before her maternity leave ends in August, but she can’t be sure that they will.

Amid all the craziness, Sutch has relied on contact with other mom friends. But it’s not the same virtually. When she had her daughter two years ago, she and other moms would go to the park, doing exercises with their strollers together and enjoying each other’s company.

“We lean on each other for support and not really having that right now has been pretty difficult,” she said.

Candyl Eyster has been caring for her two children, a newborn who she delivered on March 5 and her 6-year-old. She’s only left the house for the doctor and on early morning runs, a piece of comfort that she’s reintroduced to her routine.

She said delivery and labor are hard. The first few weeks postpartum are hard. And she was looking forward to meeting new moms, because her network is small.

But now she spends more time worrying, wondering what would happen not only if her children got sick, but if she or her husband did.

“You’re going over these thoughts all the time, sort of ruminating on them — what would we do if I got sick, how would we care for this person?” she said.

Though Eyster worries, she said she realizes she’s in a more privileged position than other moms and should be grateful that at least she’s still employed and healthy.

Along with regular health concerns, White said she’s been extra paranoid because her baby has bad allergies and acid reflux. Because the doctors are only taking emergency appointments, she said they haven’t been able to figure out exactly what he’s allergic to.

Her baby spits up constantly — she calls the pediatrician twice a week, even though she badly wants to go in person and get her son help.

Shelton said beyond the isolation, mothers may struggle with not meeting their expectations for postpartum life, wondering if they’re making the right choices and having a harder time accessing care. Shelton said Postpartum Support International has online support groups for different types of moms.

“This whole fiasco of COVID has really introduced one more challenge to our moms,” Shelton said. “I think there’s some moms that will dance the dance sort of gracefully, and there’s others that will really struggle.”

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