Practicing Self-Compassion: Parenting a Newborn in a Pandemic
Parenting is one of the most exciting, challenging, joyful and exhausting times in a person’s life. The adjustment to bringing home a new member of the family is a time typically filled with big emotions and learning to understand one another in this new space together. Even if you’ve read all the books, taken all the courses, talked to all your friends who have children and scrolled through all the social media groups on parenting or babies you can possibly find, it’s likely this sweet bundle is going to change every aspect of your life in unexpected ways.
The pandemic has added another element to this experience. Mask-wearing, social distancing and the desire to protect baby, grandparents and other family and friends from getting sick have created additional uncertainty and worry around who will be able to provide additional support and when you can share this beautiful new human with your loved ones.
During a time when you would normally have the option to rely on a caregiver or grandparent’s help making meals, taking care of your home, watching siblings, allowing you to catch a couple hours of rest… we find ourselves in the midst of a time and circumstances that can make that feel even even more challenging, if not impossible.
Here are a few things to help guide you with a sense of kindness and ease, as you set out on this parenting a newborn experience during a global pandemic:
This is a time of getting to know each-other and deciphering a new language together. Baby is trying to figure you out and you’re trying to figure out baby’s needs with every coo, cry or fuss. Try letting go of any notion that you will be a perfect parent. The reality is, parenting is a journey. With every age and stage, there is so much to learn and no one expects you to get it right every single moment of every single day. You will make mistakes, you will misinterpret cues, you will forget some of what you’ve read and learned and it’s all ok. There is no such thing as flawless parenting . Every moment, interaction, realization, awareness is an opportunity to learn about your child. By welcoming whatever shows up with an open mind and a sense of curiosity, you’ll be able to enjoy this time of getting to know your baby more fully.
Flexibility is key
In the first days and weeks, your day will likely lack routine and predictability. It’s a period of adjustment for both you and your baby. Acknowledging that the day or moment may not go as anticipated and fostering a willingness to adapt can help this time feel like less of a struggle. Consider leaving the dishes or the laundry and sleep when the baby sleeps (some days it may be the only rest you get)! As baby gets older, it will become less complicated to establish a schedule that allows you to carve time out for work, household, meals, shopping, connecting with family and friends and anything else you’re looking to accomplish. As much as you can, enjoy the wonder of this special time.
If you think of crying as a form of communication, it becomes an invitation to respond with a sense of compassion and curiosity. A baby’s brain is in the earliest stages of development and they can only express very basic needs… discomfort, hunger, fatigue. Their cry is a cue that the baby has a need to be met – changing their diaper, wrapping them in a warm blanket, placing baby on your body, providing a feeding or gently rocking them to sleep are the typical things baby asks of you during these early days. It can take time to understand what your baby is telling you. Allow yourself space and patience to learn their language.
Ask for help
You don’t have to do this alone. Even in the midst of a pandemic! Take full advantage of your ability to connect through technology. Reach out to a friend, facetime a grandparent, call your pediatrician… rely on your web of support to guide you through any challenging moments or times when you just need to connect with another adult human. Friends, family, caregivers and care providers are there to help, but they don’t know what you need until you ask.
It may be difficult during this time to rely on a team of family, friends or caregivers to provide consistent in-person support. So it’s essential to grab a moment for yourself whenever possible – perhaps when your partner is holding the baby or you have had success in getting your little one down for a nap. Savor a cup of tea, wrap yourself in a cozy blanket, linger in the shower a little longer. Those small moments of self-care throughout the day can add up.
Remember to breathe
In the first days, weeks and months of baby’s arrival, it’s impossible to have a fixed routine. Your baby is trying to understand and communicate to you in this very different realm out in the great big world. Your ability to keep yourself regulated, calm and at ease will help your baby do the same. Take a few deep breaths before you pick up your baby, as you hold your baby and as you begin and end each day. Engaging a purposeful breath (or a few!) can go a long way to helping you feel more in-tune with yourself and your child.
When you’re able to be kind, gentle, patient and compassionate with yourself, your child also benefits by tuning into that feeling of softness and care. It prepares you to adjust to this new experience of parenting with a sense of openness, discovery and learning. And, it becomes an invitation for your child to nurture these same qualities, as they grow.
Interested in online support? At Birthways, we are here for you. Connect with our community of doulas and educators through our Virtual Service options!