First-time moms are waiting with bated breath for the revised COVID-19 restrictions as their newborn babies may finally be allowed to meet their relatives in-person.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” is how the saying goes and unfortunately those proverbial villages have been empty in recent months. According to Steinbach Family Resource Centre Executive Director Jo-Anne Dalton, the primary struggle for mothers since the pandemic set in has been that lack of personal connection.
“Anybody who was pregnant pre-pandemic has had a baby born in this ten-month period,” she states. “These babies who are six months to a year old right now, a lot of them have never even met their grandparents.”
Citing studies done after other global catastrophes, Dalton says grueling and drawn-out circumstances are proven to have a negative impact on the development of fetuses in the womb as well on young babies learning to interpret the world around them. In the case of COVID-19, she expects that this forced isolation from the rest of the world will be a major factor.
“As an infant, you start to recognize faces and build eye contact and if you are only ever doing that with your one or two caregivers, then you are not building that village, and you are not learning to trust other humans which is a critical developmental milestone.”
Dalton adds the mental health of the primary caregiver also has a role to play. Children are remarkably good at absorbing what is happening in their environment and if their parents are not processing their stress in a healthy way, that could also hinder their development.
For both of those reasons, Dalton says it is vital that parents are able to interact more tangibly with those around them, and soon. Of course, no one senses the intrinsic need for community better than the mothers themselves.
“I get lots of quality time with my son and I really really love that,” shares Steinbach mom Holly Teetart, “but we definitely miss seeing our friends and family and grandparents and that is pretty hard to miss out on those first opportunities we expected to have.”
Teetart gave birth to her son Milo in April. Without discounting the hard work that mothers have always and will always go through, she believes COVID-19 has made motherhood an entirely different beast.
“It’s very exhausting,” she says, “not just in the physical sense, but emotionally and mentally as well.”
She credits the Steinbach Family Resource Centre for plugging her into a group of other young moms who can discuss their difficulties and share ideas and says that has been an amazing asset.
Marchand resident Drew Lorette had her baby “Hunter” last January. She says learning how to parent in the midst of a pandemic is not quite what she imagined becoming a mother to be.
“It has been tough,” she admits. “You have a baby and think family and friends are going to be around all of the time, so it’s been an adjustment. Not easy, I would say.”
Like Teetart, Lorette has found her own virtual support group to be a lifeline.
“It is not the same as being in person, obviously, but it does help to talk to friends that are moms that can relate to how I am feeling.”
Acknowledging the benefits that socialization brings to infants, Lorette says she tries to expose little Hunter to the world in ways that are legal, even if seeing friends and family is not.
“There are times I take him out grocery shopping with me when I know it will be a little bit quieter in the stores just so he can get the look of other people and take in different surroundings.”
Both Lorette and Teetart say they are doing what they can to raise their children in healthy and stress-free environments. They also share an optimism that the situation in Manitoba will improve.
If the provincial government’s current plan stays the course, as of Saturday, homeowners will be permitted up to two additional guests inside their household.
“It’ll be really nice to have family and friends over that are really close to us,” comments Lorette, who feels the rule change would lift a heavy burden from her shoulders.
“That will allow us to see little bits and pieces of family members,” adds Teetart. “It will bring us so much joy!”
Dalton acknowledges that many moms, like Lorette and Teetart are doing their best to cope with COVID-19, but she firmly believes the ability to see a few more friendly faces will be essential in recreating the village of support so vital to young children.