Martha Miller (left) is 32 weeks pregnant. Photo submitted

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Martha Miller is 32 weeks pregnant and at home with her two-year-old son in Cole Harbour. She hasn’t seen her doctor in three weeks, even though she’s supposed to have a doctor visit every two weeks now. An appointment she had this past week for a vaccination didn’t happen because her doctor is self-isolating. The appointment has been pushed forward to later dates.

Miller, who’s 25 and married, says she’s worried about the loss of connection with family now and when she has the baby. She has a large family, including her mother, three sisters, and two sisters-in-law who helped during her first pregnancy.

I remember going to my mom’s house just to get a shower. Knowing now I can’t do that is tough, especially with a second child. It’s definitely heightened the anxiety if you’re pregnant.

Miller didn’t have a baby shower planned for this child since she has most of what she needs from before she had her son. She says she has friends who are having their first child who’ve had to cancel showers. She says she also worries about getting diapers and other supplies.

How can you prepare for a baby when you have to stay home and can’t order anything?

Miller’s pregnancy has been a healthy one, but she says she thinks about the women who have gestational diabetes or high blood pressure who need more medical support.

To not be able to see their doctor right now would be terrifying.

Changes at delivery rooms

Being pregnant during COVID-19 means the loss of many of the social and health supports those who are pregnant or new parents rely on.

The new policy in place at the IWK means some supports pregnant people expected to have in the delivery room will no longer be available, at least in person. Currently only one support person is permitted during the birth. Often that one person is their partner.

Renee Curry. Photo submitted.

Other support persons like doulas aren’t allowed in. Renée Curry is the chair of the Nova Scotia Doula Association, which has 35 members, although Curry says there are about 150 to 200 doulas working across the province. Social isolation is presenting a challenge for the support doulas provide, which relies on physical touch of clients. Curry says doulas offer support during delivery, including comforting a client with massage and wiping a mother’s brow to supporting partners who might be anxious in the delivery room. She says doulas also help establish breastfeeding after birth and make visits to new parents when they are home.

We love the families we work with. This breaks our hearts.

There are uncertain times. Some families are quite nervous going into the hospital.

Curry says doulas are using phone calls and Skype to reassure their clients, but also to help guide partners during the delivery process. Doulas are sending videos or blog posts with information and exercises clients can practice. She says they are also available 24-7.

It’s not physical support, but we can provide information. The nurses at the IWK are fantastic. They understand this is a difficult time for families.

Otherwise, Curry says she’s advising families to stay safe, stay away from social media, and enjoy time home.

Social distancing

Michelle Brunet is 40 and had her first baby, George, eight weeks ago. He was born six weeks early, so Brunet had been practicing a bit of social distancing already. She had taken him to appointments with the doctor, a few shops, and more recently, walks outside. Brunet also had her mother-in-law staying with her and husband, Josh, for a month. They had some visitors, too, but Brunet says that won’t happen now.

I said no when George’s honorary Auntie asked if she could visit. I’m not sure if I was being too harsh but it seems like it’s best to be cautious. Auntie has been a devoted presence in George’s life, but she works as a mental health residential counsellor, so comes in contact with several people daily. Also this coming week, I had been planning to start going to some mom-and-baby activities, offered at the library, Nurtured, and Chainyard, but those have been obviously cancelled. This is disappointing, as I had been looking forward to meeting with other babies and moms.

George had a doctor appointment last week for his two-month immunizations and Brunet says new protocols were in place at the doctor’s office.

When we arrived at the clinic, staff took our temperatures before allowing entry. They only let one of us go into the clinic with George to minimize the number of people in waiting room. A row of chairs stood between patients and the office admin’s desk so we wouldn’t stand too close. The doctor ended up deciding to postpone the immunizations since George had a cold. Even though the doctor has since switched to telephone appointments she said George could come in this week for the immunizations. Hopefully that will still work out.

The Dartmouth Family Resource Centre typically offers programs for parents to be and new moms, including workshops and home visits. But all of that has changed since the centre shut its doors

Wendy Fraser, executive director of the Dartmouth Family Resource Centre, says they are now offering individual support by email and phone to families, including new parents, and shifting programs online. The centre is a crucial support for many families and new parents in North Dartmouth.

We are providing individual support by email and phone to our families including new parents. Staff have been connecting individually with everyone who is registered in our family support and child development programs. We are also offering a private Facebook group for families who’ve been attending our prenatal classes to connect and will also be offering the remainder of our prenatal classes on-line through video conferencing.

Lastly, we will be hosting some programs or mini-workshops for families online both as a way to connect and a way to reduce social isolation.

I asked El Jones about the care pregnant women who are incarcerated are receiving now. She sent my message to Martha Paynter, a nurse and nursing PhD student, who is the director of Women’s Wellness Within. Like others who are pregnant now, pre-natal visits are reduced for these patients, too. Volunteer doula service is no longer allowed in the federal or provincial system, but Paynter says they are still working on a system for telephone support.

Another concern for new mothers is post-partem depression and how the lack of social contact will affect mothers’ mental health. Miller remembers struggling with her mental health after having her son when she was home alone too often.

I would have play dates with friends or visit my parents, anything to help me feel connected with others. I needed to (and still do need to) be around others to help keep my spirits up. And as someone who is high risk of post-partum depression it’s scary to think that I wont be able to be around others when I start to feel the weight of depression again with a newborn, and I’m sure many other new mothers will experience this as well.

When hew new baby comes along, she will be breastfeeding. Nursing her son, she says, was easier with the support of visits from the public health nurse. Those options are up in the air now.

She’s thinking about the day she delivers, too. When she had her son, she had a long labour, and went to the IWK a couple of times, but they sent her home. She had arranged for her parents to take their son when she goes into labour, but they are in Ontario now.

It’s scary time, but I’m trying to remain calm and take it day by day.

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Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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