COLORADO SPRINGS — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, health advocates are seeing a larger number of pregnant women and new mothers seeking mental health resources. While being a new parent can be daunting anytime, having a new baby during a pandemic can throw up additional challenges.
Chelsey Solemsaas was in her third trimester when the pandemic hit in March, the virus creating so many unknowns.
"There were a lot of unknowns surrounding giving birth so that was a lot of anxiety-inducing in general," says Solemsaas.
With a toddler and a new baby at home, Solemsaas says it was overwhelming at times, especially with her husband on the road a lot. He's a Field Service Engineer and travels a lot for work.
"His company invested in COVID-19 machines, he's constantly busy, he's constantly traveling, he's in charge of the entire west coast so he's had to travel to California a lot," said Solemsaas. "Not only was he traveling so I'm kinda doing this all by myself. It's also the anxiety of he's going onto planes and into hospitals. How safe is he being? I know he's being safe with all of the PPE, but it's still a lot of risk and exposure that could possibly come to my newborn, toddler, and me."
With most of Solemsaas's family in Hawaii and not being able to see her in-laws, it's been tough during the pandemic without a solid support system. To help, she's been leaning on her counselors at Mindful Springs Counseling.
"It was just too much for me, and I was just way too overwhelmed and she said I was having Acute Stress Reaction which is similar to PTSD but it's an isolated incident," said Solemsaas. "I knew I needed help, I could feel it in my body. We did more EMDR and therapy sessions to unpack things that were going on. She was also great in having my husband be in the loop so he would sit in sessions so he could be an ally in this. even though all of these things were in place, it was still off so she recommended that I go back on antidepressants which have helped tremendously."
Mindful Springs Counseling offers the largest and most comprehensive perinatal services in the city. The Perinatal Wellness Center provides pregnant and parenting families with specialized services around their mental health needs as impacted by pregnancy and parenting.
"Our program provides a unique service in the respect that we have eleven clinicians that are all trained and focused on perinatal means and we have the ability to be comprehensive so we'll have partners and children a part of the same family unit come in and get support," said Amanda Baker, Licensed Social Worker, Perinatal Program Manager at Mindful Springs Counseling.
Since the pandemic began, the practice has seen an increase in parents reaching out for mental health services.
"There's been a considerable rise in mental health services over the pandemic. Especially for moms who are recognizing maybe I would have been a little bit okay if my husband or partner wouldn't have lost his job, I wouldn't have these stressors. Maybe if my children weren't all at home learning and being pregnant at the same time," said Baker. "You're maybe at home, maybe not connecting with friends as you did before, that's been magnified for moms. They don't have the ability to ask family members to come over, they may be worried about COVID restrictions. There is a lot of fear over how safe am I, how safe is my family, how safe is my baby?"
For those experiencing strains before the pandemic, Baker says the pandemic has only made it worse.
"Life is already stressful as it is and then when we add limiting factors. Can't go places, can't access care, people are going to find that in a valuable time and have big experiences. It's kinda like a volcanic eruption, there were already tremors existing and then the volcano has exploded," said Baker.
With more new moms needing support, the practice has expanded their mental health resources. There is now a virtual "Pregnancy and New Parent Group" that is conducted every Friday at noon. That group is donation based to attend and has a designated topic with a therapist as a facilitator. The other group is "Mothering Together," which is a free virtual parenting support group on Facebook that meets the last Thursday of the month.
Baker says its important new moms listen to their gut, if you don't feel right then you probably aren't.
"The second thing is what is your family saying to you, are they thinking you're functioning the same way they thought you would. If you've had children before, are you resting the same way, are you having the same response. If not, that's a good indication that it's time to have something looked at. Always talk to your provider, it's much better to say I don't know if I'm doing as well than I think I'm going to tough it out. Two to three months later it's harder," said Baker.
She encourages new parents to identify their risk factors.
"Do you forget to eat when you're stressed then you would find a little resiliency on how am I going to build snacks into my day, who's going to remind me or cook my meals so I can do that. Those would be tangible resiliencies then another form is social and emotional resiliency. That might be making a list of ways I can take care of myself, what are some excellent grounding techniques that I can use. We do some internal body shifting so some somatic work, scanning inside of you, recognizing what my heart is telling me. What sensations do I have, and I recommend Yoga Nidra to all my new moms," said Baker.
Solemsaas says the techniques she has learned at the Mindful Counseling Center has helped her stay grounded.
"A lot of what we focused on was EMDR. We do a lot of it in my sessions and then you see what comes up and you unpack it then she gives me breathing tips or some sort of EFT. Even supplements, magnesium helps calm and lavender," said Solemsaas. "It's been a great reminder, having that resource and knowing I have something to look forward to. Like on Thursday, this is what happened and I didn't handle it very well and then we'll reflect and see what I can do better the next time."
She says if parents are struggling with their mental health during this time, it's important to reach out for additional support.
"Physical health is important, but so is mental health. If anything has taught us in this pandemic it's that we need each other and need to support each other. We are all going through similar things, and this pandemic is very isolating and very scary," said Solemsaas.
She plans on joining one of the virtual support groups for additional support.