The baby gap: Distancing measures leave new moms feeling socially isolated

Two Edmonton mothers say social restrictions due to COVID-19 have made their maternity leaves more isolating.

‘We're all kind of experiencing a bit of grief and sadness,’ Edmonton mother says

Sheena Pond cuddles with her sons Eli and Sebastian. (Jenny Jean/Jenny Jean Photography)

Socializing was a big part of Sheena Pond's maternity leave three years ago.

As there were other new mothers on her street, Pond would take her son Eli to weekly gatherings, where the women would share coffee and muffins, hold each other's babies and chat about the ups and downs of their days.

Pond's second maternity leave — Pond gave birth to her second son, Sebastian, in January — is different.

Bans on public gatherings, physical-distancing rules and business closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic means Pond must stay at home with her two children.

She can't visit friends or stroll around the mall as a distraction. With both a toddler to entertain and a baby to look after, her days have become more isolating and exhausting.

"I think we're all kind of experiencing a bit of grief and sadness about the fact that people can't hold our babies and love them and get to know them, at least in person," she said Tuesday on CBC's Radio Active.

She also fears her youngest boy is missing out on social interaction.

"Who knows how long this will go on and how much of his little life will be spent separated from others?" she said.

Many parents now find themselves in a similar situation, caring for a newborn in isolation.

Kaj Olafson gave birth to her daughter Georgia on Feb. 23, less than two weeks before Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced the province's first case of the novel coronavirus.

Before the pandemic-related restrictions, Olafson's sister came for morning and afternoon visits. 

Now, save for the girlfriend who dropped off a batch of homemade cookies on her doorstep, there are no visitors. 

Olafson cancelled her baby shower. She shut down the salon she runs, also because of the pandemic. Her family members now watch Georgia grow up over FaceTime.

"It's very strange for us," she said.

Virtual support 

Through her midwife, Olafson communicates other new moms online, while Pond uses the video-conferencing site Zoom to do the same.

"I'm grateful for things like Zoom and FaceTime because I am realizing it's important," Pond said, acknowledging she prefers socializing in person.

"It's pushing me out of my comfort zone a little bit."

Both women told CBC they are grateful when friends or neighbours take the time to drop off diapers or just check in.

"It touches our hearts to know that people are thinking about us," Pond said, "because everyone's going through something right now."

If you are a new parent struggling with your mental health, you can call Alberta Health Services's toll-free mental health help line at 1-877-303-2642.

With files from Julia Lipscombe