Coronavirus: Being Parents Today, The Difficult Balance

Families and new parents at the time of the Coronavirus. The difficulties that the pandemic has caused in recent months are not over. The need to continue to respect safety measures and social distancing still do not allow to return to freely live social relationships and, in some cases, even family relationships. As in the case of pregnant women and new mothers.

To our Dr. Simona Di Giovanni – psychologist and family psychotherapist of the Brain Clinic of UPMC Salvator Mundi – we asked the point of the situation and above all some useful advice.

Typically, what emotional problems may arise before or after childbirth?

They are emotional problems often minimized, misunderstood or hidden out of embarrassment and shame. During the first week after giving birth, mothers can experience the "baby blues": they are particularly sensitive, they may have bouts of crying, feel irritated or with fluctuating morale, lose confidence in themselves. It is due to hormonal changes and a little understanding and support from the partner and family are usually sufficient. You don't have to worry.If, on the other hand, the symptoms continue, on average beyond the fourth week, postpartum depression should be considered. It tends to develop gradually and can persist, if left untreated, even for a few months. If left untreated, it can have important repercussions on the child and the whole family. Often these mothers have a personal history of depression before or during pregnancy, difficulties in the relationship with the partner, lack of practical and emotional support, an accumulation of stressful events. Some women with postpartum depression feel anxious, others depressed, others still feel a lot of anger. It is important that the woman is not ashamed of her suffering and that she seeks help, so that she can take care of the child in the best way.

And in this period of pandemic, what does it mean, from a psychological point of view, to have a child?

The period of pregnancy and perinatality is always a very delicate moment in the life of parents. With the pandemic you can add very intense emotions related to the danger of contagion, such as a sense of vulnerability, helplessness, insecurity. To these fears will be added a series of limitations resulting from the necessary social distancing measures: pregnancy experienced in isolation, limitations on the presence of a support person during labor and delivery, contacts with care staff during hospitalization reduced to a minimum and hindered by masks, no visit to the new mother in the hospital and limitations on visits then at home.

The pandemic has induced a change in family and work routine. What psychological and relational repercussions can it have in new parents?

Upon returning home of the new parents, the fear of contagion, given for example by the father who will continue to work or by the presence of an external support figure, can take the form of hypochondria. To the normal concerns for the health of the child will be added that for a fearsome and mysterious infection, which can affect a defenseless being like the newborn.

The pandemic may have resulted in a new family organization. Dad can work in smart working at home and need his own space; in the same house there may be other children, first engaged with distance schooling and now in difficulty due to limitations in social relationships. Or the family can experience work difficulties related to the economic crisis that characterizes this period. The pandemic can therefore become an amplifier of emotions that parents find themselves experiencing, in a period characterized by joy and love for the newborn, but also by great stress and physical fatigue.

The social network that under normal conditions is of great support to the new mother will be reduced. It is therefore even more important the support that parents can exchange with each other and the ability to readjust the couple's relationship, in a moment characterized by conflicting emotions.

What advice can be given to new mothers to face such a complex moment?

The image that most represents the idea of help is that of the matryoshka: the father takes care of the mother, who in turn takes care of the child.

Here are some practical tips for the new mom:

  • Ask your partner for help, even if they don't offer it spontaneously
  • Share your concerns and difficulties
  • Involve the partner in the care of the child from the beginning, appreciating his attempts
  • Suggest how to want to be helped rather than criticize
  • Reasoning on how to divide the domestic tasks trying to make a life as simple as possible, limiting yourself to the essential things
  • Make sure you have pleasant moments during the day and just for herself to "unplug".

The situation today has not yet returned to "normal". What tips can you give to all parents to continue to manage such a complex situation?

First of all, it is important to try to make sense of the emotional responses of each family member. The adult will have to commit to deciphering the emotions that are behind the behaviors, their own and those of family members, sometimes of anger or closure, for example. Once recognized, the parent can legitimize them, without blaming or blaming the other, recognizing that in a very stressful if not traumatic period like the current one, it is normal to accuse negative emotions and symptoms (fatigue, anxiety, sleep disorders, sadness, anger, etc.).

To try to reduce the conflicts that derive from long coexistence at home, it is advisable to negotiate moments of closeness and distance between family members. So it will be important:

  • respect as much as possible the individual spaces (fundamental with adolescent children)
  • involve children in common home activities
  • create family moments of parent-child connection (adolescent children can teach parents to make better use of technologies, play together creating a collaborative climate and healthy competition, do a sports activity together)
  • safeguard moments for the couple

In moments of inevitable fatigue and conflict it will be important to strive to find meeting points, negotiation and repair to overcome physiological divergences.

It is essential to always keep in mind that the home and the family must be, today more than ever, a safe haven to counteract the insecurity that we perceive when we are outside, for fear of contagion and economic precariousness.