When I had my first baby, he didn’t leave the house for three months, save from a few from walks around the neighborhood and his doctor check-ups. I was overprotective to the max, from babyproofing my entire house to fretting over my son’s every move to checking his breathing multiple times a night. I now recognize those behaviors as unhealthy, potentially even signs of postpartum anxiety.
So, during my second pregnancy, I swore I’d be different. I told myself that with this baby, I would still live my life, get myself and my toddler out of the house, and welcome help from others, even if that meant giving up some control and potentially exposing him to germs.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
While giving birth during a pandemic wasn’t ideal — think getting a COVID-19 test while 5 centimeters dilated and in the throes of labor — bringing a baby home amidst rising case numbers, lockdown restrictions, and mask-wearing was a whole new ballgame. Here’s what it was really like to have a newborn during a global pandemic, and how I stayed sane. Well, sort of.
Rely on Data
From the constant case count to mask debates, back-to-school plans, and even the pandemic’s inevitable economic impacts, the news coverage of COVID-19 can be overwhelming at times, even to a news enthusiast like me. I realized I had to make a change when the coverage stopped being helpful and started becoming anxiety-inducing.
So I shifted away from watching the news and more towards relying more heavily on data. I have four different COVID-19 data-tracking tools on my phone that tally both local and national case numbers. I allow myself one daily check of all four data sets, plus one national news site and one local, and that’s it. That way, I feel informed enough to make decisions for my family and my baby, but also not overwhelmed by the news.
I also don’t read news stories about children or babies who have contracted COVID-19. Instead, I exclusively rely on data regarding pediatric and infant cases. For instance, the CDC offers a weekly surveillance summary that I’ve found very helpful.
Divide and Conquer
Although I don’t like leaving the baby more than I have to, getting a break now and then is good for my mental health. My husband is a fairly hands-on dad, so I feel comfortable leaving him alone with our newborn while I take the toddler to the park, a small playdate with friends, or out for a special treat, like a trip through the Starbucks drive-through for a cake pop.
My husband gets to bond with the baby, I give the toddler some much-needed one-on-one time, and I don’t unnecessarily expose the newborn to germs.
Limit Social Media
Another key to maintaining my sanity with a newborn in the midst of a pandemic? Limiting social media. After a recent COVID-related post I published on my feed became inundated with comments, some that argumentative or not very kind, I decided that my time and energy could be better spent elsewhere.
So I signed off, and haven’t looked back since. Once the urge to check Facebook daily faded, I realized that it added very little to my happiness or quality of life. My anxiety is lower and my mood is better. This makes me a better and less distracted parent.
Cutting out Facebook also helped me more easily make decisions regarding our family’s “COVID-19 rules”—in other words, the level of risk we’re comfortable taking on in terms of school, traveling, and social gatherings. It’s so much easier to make decisions and stick to them since I’m not constantly comparing what we’re doing to what everyone else is doing.
Find Your Pod
When the pandemic first started to take hold, some experts advised finding your “pod,” aka like-minded families who agreed to only socialize with one another, thus fulfilling their children’s need for social interaction while also limiting risk. I already had my mom tribe, so we just sort of seamlessly evolved into a pod of families who were comfortable hanging out and spending time together.
What’s great about my mom pod is that if someone travels, is ill, or has another extenuating circumstance, they will generally take a few days out of rotation to limit risk to others. The pod has been absolutely integral in staying sane these past five months.
And while I generally feel comfortable having my infant around my pod, I almost always wear him to limit exposure. Plus, baby-wearing for us almost always equals a really good nap, while his big brother plays and his mama drinks coffee and chats. Can you say win-win-win?
These steps have certainly helped me deal with anxiety in a very uncertain and sometimes scary time, and I know that the pandemic and its stress will eventually wane. But I do plan to continue to use these coping mechanisms in the future. After all, with two children, there’s probably always going to be something to be anxious about, right?