As I write this, I’ve logged exactly two weeks at home in self-quarantine due to Covid-19 with my husband and three children. Technically, we’ve only made it through the kids’ scheduled spring break, but they’ll start an indefinite distance learning journey on Monday.
Our socially-distanced days have been filled with laughter of a couple kinds. The pandemic has offered us the opportunity to connect without the distraction of our robotic, go-through-the-motion schedules. We find simple entertainment: puzzles, charades, tiptoeing along sidewalk cracks. The situation has helped me rediscover how to be playful, and I’ve surprised myself and kids with genuine laughter (or maybe it’s because I’m utterly deranged) over things that might have otherwise made me blister in anger.
When I look outside my household, I laugh in discomfort. It’s this disturbed kind of cackle; a psychological response to the panic, the destruction, the trauma, the unknown that this pandemic has burdened the globe with.
My most recent interviews with Nikki Lee about breastfeeding policy in shelters and Healthy Children Project’s Anna Blair and Karin Cadwell about their upcoming webinar on Covid-19, breastfeeding and resilience went this way: we seemed to laugh more than in interviews before the pandemic hit our country.
For me, I laughed because it was a simple joy to hear my friends’ and colleagues’ voices, to connect with those outside my immediate family. But even when the conversations turned dark, still I laughed. I laughed until I actually started sweating. What is the matter with me?
Blair and Cadwell pointed out something about the status of the crisis we’re currently in. When a hurricane tears through a community, we know there’ll be an end to the devastation. With Covid-19, we have no idea when this ends, and that’s sure to threaten mental health.
Cadwell shares that while she does not consider herself a joyful person, she often thinks about joyful things in the future.
“One of the things this has done for me is it has taken away my anticipation of joy,” she says.
Some will argue that we’ve gained something through the shared experience; we’re together by being apart. “Rediscovered humanity,” in the words of the head of my children’s school.
We’ve lost a lot though too. Lives most importantly and second to that, control.
In Hidden Brain’s episode An Unfinished Lesson: What The 1918 Flu Tells Us About Human Nature guest Historian Nancy Bristow recounts, “To remember the flu would be to admit to the lack of control that people had had over their own health. It would be to admit that the U.S. was not necessarily all powerful but was like everywhere else in the world subject as victims to something beyond their control.”
Almost a century later, these words ring true. Where there was opportunity for control, or a fair degree of preparedness at least, our nation failed.
Cadwell has pointed out time and time again that our country has better emergency preparedness plans for our pets than we do for our moms and babies.
“The unfortunate reality of the coronavirus pandemic is that it has shown how unprepared and underfunded the public health infrastructure in the U.S. is to address the basic needs of our citizens,” Monica R. McLemore begins in her piece COVID-19 Is No Reason to Abandon Pregnant People.
Now we’re in what feels like an impossible place.
Kimberly Seals Allers exposes the fact that infant formula quantities are scarce.
“There, I said it! Cue swarm… I have time,” KSA begins in a Facebook post. “Everybody is talking about ‘choice’ & blasting #breastfeeding advocates until there’s a global pandemic, a panic-induced international run on infant formula & quantities are scarce. Now the ‘just give a bottle’ folks want to teach you how to re-lactate.”
Doulas have been deemed non-essential, partners of birthing people considered visitors. (Refer to McLemore’s piece above.)
“We are taking so many steps backward,” Blair comments.
She continues: “We have heard so many times, not just locally, but colleagues around the country that there has been a misunderstanding about what the protocols are for babies being born now. Babies are being automatically separated from their mothers for two weeks in some cases, even if the mother is Covid-19 negative. That is not best for the baby and that is not best for the family. Story after story. It worries us tremendously.”
A member of the Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) from ALPP Facebook group shared this account:
“Mom had baby yesterday and was forced to wear a mask and gloves for all of labor and delivery. She had low o2 sat(91%) when coming into the hospital. No other symptoms. She is now separated from baby. Baby with dad in postpartum room and she in ICU pending covid test. She has not seen baby since and they will not let her until she gets a negative (test pends for 5 days apparently. They gave her a pump but didn’t show her how to use it. She’s a young first time mom and has now pretty much given up breastfeeding and seems highly depressed. She claims the hospital told her the CDC said to quarantine moms away from baby.”
Later, the member provided an update.
“She’s with him now and he is currently latched <3 she’s still mentally in a dark place but things are looking up now that she’s finally got to hold him skin to skin without gloves or a mask.”
Another participant suggested that this mother might need timely birth trauma therapy.
The original poster replied: “I completely agree. She is very flippant and now seemingly unbothered and lacking emotion. Dad is worried and said he’s never seen her like this before.”
In one post Gilliland describes the effects of separation after birth: “The infant experiences loss and has a grief response – that’s the only interpretation – Where did my mother go? And it’s a loss they never recover from because their initial impression is abandonment and isolation. We are screwing up their capacity to trust and creating insecurity. We know this from research and therapy with young children, older children and adults. www.birthpsychology.com (also the Alliance for Infant Mental Health)…”
Toxic stress is bubbling up in mothers, babies, families and equally their care providers.
What’s worse, Cadwell explains, is that many of us have accumulated toxic stress over our lifetime and in the current situation, many of our regular stress relief outlets have been stripped from us.
Gutted by the situation, Cadwell and Blair put together Toxic Stress, Resilience Building, COVID-19 and Breastfeeding, a webinar that focuses on how to build resilience in ourselves and in others.
“How can we find a resilient future?” Cadwell wonders.
The webinar refers to Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg’s The 7 Cs: The Essential Building Blocks of Resilience.
Healthy Children Project and Health Education Associates are offering the webinar at no cost. Continuing education credits for nurses, lactation consultants and lactation counselors are available.
You can request the free module here.
In closing, I offer you this PSA:
“Unless you have prior experience navigating the emotional, psychological, and financial implications of a global pandemic- all while suddenly becoming a homeschool teacher to kids with cabin fever and unlimited snack requests… give yourself some grace.”
And one of my favorite quotes, quite applicable when the entire world is becoming unglued, “As long as there is breath, there is hope.”