Manitoba

Women who gave birth during pandemic depressed by lack of family supports

After two years of lockdowns, masks and mandates, some Manitoba mothers whose infants have known nothing but the pandemic say they're grieving the loss of what they expected motherhood to look like.

Mental-health concerns among new parents skyrocketed: psychiatrist

Erin DeBooy plays with her twin boys, Charlie and Theo. She gave birth to them in June of 2020 and says it's been difficult to parent during a pandemic. (Submitted by Erin DeBooy)

After two years of lockdowns, masks and mandates, some Manitoba mothers whose infants have known nothing but the pandemic say they're grieving the loss of what they expected motherhood to look like.

Carmyn Campbell, who had her third child in July of 2020, says she experienced waves of depression knowing what her baby daughter was missing out on — things she took for granted when her other two children were younger.

The first Christmas was a particular low for Campbell, who could neither bring her daughter to her first holiday service at church, nor sit with her grandparents or great-grandparents.

"They opened presents over a camera and then we closed the computer. Then it was just us in the house and that just felt so foreign and so strange," she recalled.

"You can't get that first Christmas back. You can't get those first moments back. And there was no way to grieve that."

Campbell decided to seek counselling to help cope with isolation during the pandemic.

She isn't the only one feeling the weight of the pandemic.

Carmyn Campbell is a mother of three in Winnipeg. Her youngest was born in July 2020. (Submitted by Carmyn Campbell)

When Erin DeBooy became pregnant with twins in 2019, she looked forward to her support network surrounding her and her little ones. But when they were born in July of 2020, those plans were dashed.

"They always say it takes a village to raise a kid, right? So we expected a village and and there was no possibility of a village. It was quite a shock," said the Brandon mother.

Every time DeBooy and her husband began to get more comfortable with introducing their babies to more people — entering them in swimming lessons and other activities — the number of COVID-19 cases would go up, more people would be hospitalized with the virus and more deaths would be announced.

"It almost felt the same as it was when COVID first hit for us … It was almost cyclical — like a cycle of panic coming up again and again," she said.

Ferro Krysko holds her daughter, Ramona. Krysko found out she was pregnant a week before the pandemic started. (Submitted by Ferro Krysko)

First-time mother Ferro Krysko also got pregnant right before the pandemic, and says she suffered through a long bout of morning sickness prior to the first lockdown. When she began to feel better, she suffered another blow.

"Right when the morning sickness started to go away was when the pandemic started," she recalled. "So I was like, 'Oh, I can't wait to go and go do things and see friends and tell everyone that I'm having a baby,' and then we went into lockdown," she said. 

After she gave birth, there was another reason to grieve — the lack of regular contact with family.

"It does feel like there is some sort of like a sense of loss," Krysko said, "almost that my child doesn't know my extended family as well as they would have known my nephew or my other cousins.

Postpartum issues surged

Although Campbell, DeBooy and Krysko were not diagnosed with postpartum depression, all three say they experienced distress related to the pandemic during and after their pregnancies.

They aren't alone.

Dr. Simone Vigod, the head of the department of psychiatry at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, says studies show mental health concerns among people who had just given birth surged across Canada during the pandemic.

Many sought medical attention.

Dr. Simone Vigod,the chief of psychiatry at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, says more needs to be done to support mothers who suffer from postpartum depression. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

In Ontario, during the first nine months of the pandemic, there was a 30 per cent increase in visits to doctors for postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and postpartum substance and alcohol use disorders, compared with data collected in previous years.

"That's pretty much the same thing that I'm hearing from my colleagues across the country," Vigod said.

The doctor says access to mental health services have been inadequate since before the pandemic and she wants to see federal standards in place for postpartum depression, because it affects one in five people who give birth.

Vigod wants to see specific pregnancy and postpartum mental-health assistance become accessible quickly under universal health care, and the creation of standards so people know what to expect.

"If we can catch people having problems early, then there's more chance we can treat them with psychological treatment because their symptoms are milder," Vigod said.

"If they weren't, you end up with untreated or under-treated mental-health problems that can have pretty significant impact on parents and their children and their child's development."

Babies affected by pandemic

The mothers also believe their babies might feel the effects of the lack of socialization required during the pandemic.

Krysko says her daughter Ramona is tentative around people she doesn't know very well, even family.

Prior to her first birthday, she had only met some relatives at a distance.

"She gets very shy around them because she doesn't see them very often … she's still working on establishing kind of more of a relationship," Krysko said.

DeBooy says her one son is quite social, while his twin is very shy.

"It takes a good 20 minutes to warm up to to someone when they come to visit," she said. "I'm worried that if we don't continue to introduce him to new people and and see other people more regularly that might just get worse."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

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