I have been working with mums and babies for the last year voluntarily in a perinatal psychotherapy service, working with couples for around five years as a relationship counsellor and am currently 31 weeks pregnant. 7 weeks ago, when the World Health Organisation declared we were in a Pandemic I immediately started to consider how to support my patients and clients -and myself in a new world under lockdown. As a time of heightened anxiety, I expected that the groups I cared for would be in the ‘emotionally vulnerable category’- and so was I.
Why is Pregnancy and Partnership a vulnerability you may ask. Many of us can have a idealised view of the glowing pregnant woman or the romanticised couple. Of course, the experience of bringing life in to the world, and of a longstanding relationship are known to bring increased meaning. Meaning and purpose can be argued as the very fundamentals of happiness; however, with meaning can be loss and difficulty. Pregnancy and relationship related activities- marriage as much as divorce – are noted to bring stress. Being pregnant is the most at-risk time for a woman’s mental health and loss of a partner is the most stressful life event. In a pandemic these stressors are likely to be more intensified as a Pandemic is a time of uncertainty in of itself. So for a pregnant woman arguably moving through more transitions than at any other stage- physically, emotionally and socially– placed in a time when the world is undergoing most change and uncertainty physically, emotionally and socially is going to have an add on effect. Relationships are notably placed under strain in periods of enclosure away from routine- referral rates for couple counselling classically peak around Christmas and after summer holidays. So, in a lockdown the same factors may likely link to increased risk for a couple. Of course, of greater concern is that the worst of times can be seen naturally in relationships during pregnancy- with spikes of Domestic Violence, and currently in lockdown these rates are already seen to be increasing.
Considering how to look after well-being at this time I have reflected on the same basic tenants of my practice before entering a pandemic. The key needs to not make assumptions or judgements, to build reflection and to consider what can be ‘let go’ of, as more is added to one’s list of concerns. Revisiting what worries may look like now and what support means for each woman and couple is imperative. A pandemic focusses on the core human anxieties of illness, isolation and identity and it can be helpful to think of these specifically to consider how they are impacting and for a couple to use communication to emphasis on what vulnerability means, needs are -and how each can support one another. Each woman and couple need to connect to their own ‘good enough’ rather than the set expectations felt to come from society and themselves. From realigning focus away from perfection, a hope can be set to also let go of anything that is not imperative to give basic time for self-care. With things being so unknown the basics of having a structure is also helpful- structure to the day with time boundaries between day and night– work and home; and limits set to a few pieces of trusted information one may review to keep up to date. To not overwhelm I will not expand further in this blog the reflections I have had these last few weeks and instead signpost to a video made with expertise on well-being during Pregnancy (see below) and printable tips for wellbeing and resources list and a Podcast I have recorded on the broader topic of Pregnancy and Partnership.
It may also be useful to see a video made with/by my wider team at Maudsley Learning on working from home well-being and another video on the platform for maintaining sex and relationships. I hope each of these brings some helpful tips and reflections to keep safe and well.
Article author: Dr Camilla Tooley