How I Found Virtual Postpartum Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Erica discusses how she found connection and community from home after giving birth.
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Erica was 6 months pregnant with her first child when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020. When she went into labor, she and her husband arrived at the hospital in masks, but were able to remove them once a rapid COVID-19 test came back negative. After 12 hours, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Her son’s first few weeks were a bit rocky: he had a fever that led to a 5-day stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). A week later, a diagnosis of a rare stomach condition required surgery. It was a lot to go through, but Erica and her family found support through virtual networks. She joined a local breastfeeding group that moved online, found an online forum for mothers all over the world, and spoke with doulas and lactation consultants by phone and video.
In this edited interview, Erica discusses how important this community and support were for her in her early days of motherhood.
ACOG: Can you tell us briefly about your pregnancy?
Erica: It was a very smooth pregnancy for me and baby, which was wonderful. The pandemic hit and that was the first real bump.
ACOG: How was your prenatal care the last trimester, during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Erica: My prenatal care wasn’t really affected by the pandemic. The practice I went to had already implemented a way for us to connect virtually.
ACOG: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect you after birth?
Erica: I like connecting with other people, but I prefer to do it within my comfort zone. The pandemic allowed me to connect to people I wouldn’t have known through virtual means.
I found out that the Breastfeeding Center in D.C. has a weekly support group, and they were doing it online. I initially joined because the NICU stay meant that my breastfeeding journey involved everything I didn’t expect: pumping and pacifiers and formula. I wanted all the information I could get. I started 2 or 3 weeks after my son was born.
[Read Breastfeeding Your Baby]
The fact that the support group was virtual made it more accessible. I don’t know if I would have packed up my bags and son to get there otherwise. I was able to focus on breastfeeding and talk about what we went through with confidence and pride. It was validating and encouraging as a person who is just entering motherhood to share my story and receive compassion and support. It really affected my confidence greatly.
In fact, I bet the online groups are larger because people are more comfortable sharing at home. Having that standing date—especially virtually, because we could be so comfortable—opens a level of vulnerability. Most women were in their bed, on the floor, bouncing their babies, cooking—doing whatever they needed to take care of themselves or their families. You turn your camera off when you need to. You can join that group on your hardest day. You don’t have to speak much. You can log in, see the faces, and be okay. I received compassion from women all over the D.C. community.
Now that I’m weeks past the hardest part, I can reflect on the grace others provided me. The pandemic has made the support better.
ACOG: What other ways did you find virtual support?
Erica: We had chosen a doula group before our birth. Because of the pandemic, we ended up having virtual doula support. It was really great. We took virtual classes through the group with other pregnant families.
My birth was pretty smooth, but having the doula on the line from early labor into active labor was amazing. She coached us through what was going on. She could hear what the doctors were saying and ask questions. She was also sending messages to our families. It ended up making the moment special in a different way: we had the setting we wanted, with electric candles and music, and instead of another person being there, it was just us in the room.
We also had two virtual visits with a lactation consultant. Lactation consulting is not something I ever expected to do virtually, but it works! My husband held the camera while I nursed. You end up developing a level of comfort with using video in that context.
The last way I found virtual support was through a Reddit group called Bumpers. I associate Reddit with a male-dominated forum, but there’s a group for each month and you can join the group for the month when your baby is due. The only people in the group are women and partners who are due the exact month you are due.
It was unbelievable. I have chills just thinking about how my entire pregnancy and postpartum journey would have been if I didn’t have these women, the stories they told, the anecdotes they shared, the support they provided. It changed my life. Hearing others’ stories reminded me that moms right now around the world are experiencing something similar, and it’s incredibly comforting and validating. People are sharing their best moments and their worst moments, and always with respect.
I joined my Bumper group even before the pandemic, but I hope that groups like this become stronger and wider because of the pandemic. People can find more value in virtual communities.
We’ve now spun off from Reddit into a Facebook group so we can share photos or podcasts. We talk about non-mom things, too. We’ve all grieved the loss of so many things in our pregnancies and postpartum life together. Without that support we would have felt alone.
ACOG: What would you tell other women who are going through pregnancy and early motherhood during the pandemic?
Erica: The first thing is to try to find your Reddit Bumpers group. Second is to allow yourself time to grieve the things that aren’t the way you thought they would be and find ways to make the most of it however you can. Find virtual support, or find ways to connect with the people you care about virtually. Figure out what’s right for your family.
ACOG: What do you know now that you’d wish you’d known at the beginning of your pregnancy?
Erica: There are a couple of comparisons I’ve made between pregnancy and the pandemic that I wish I had realized earlier. First, you have to accept a level of risk that’s right for you and your family. Throughout pregnancy, you’re getting competing advice on what’s right for you or your body or your family or your baby. The same goes for the pandemic. I would ask the ob-gyn every visit, will we be able to introduce our baby to our family? I wanted them to give us a clean answer. I wish I’d realized earlier that no one can give you a clean answer because it’s like a lot of things in pregnancy: you accept a level of risk based on what you feel is right. I wish I had accepted that we will figure it out when we get there and things will continue to change. I would have worried less about things that I had no control over early on.
Second, I wish I had been a little more open minded about how different things can look in 3 months. Up until pandemic times, we had a reason to believe things would look a certain way in a 12-month span. We can’t do that now, but that’s okay. Allow yourself the ability to wait to make decisions until you have to, and use the best information you have at that time. Take care of today’s problems, and do your best to prepare for what’s coming.
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Published: June 2021
Last reviewed: June 2021
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