New moms struggling with mental health during COVID-19

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – Robin Johnson admits she was scared going into labor. It was March 10th and coronavirus had already started spreading across the state. 

“I was so excited,” said the mom of two smiling. “Still, a little scared, but I was glad… to see my little baby.”

Johnson, 34, remembers being screened for the virus and says once admitted no one could leave the hospital. She was able to have her husband and doula with her.

After Jackson’s birth she had a pregnancy complication called postpartum pre-eclampsia, which is a sudden rise in blood pressure.

Johnson said she had also had it with her daughter 18-months earlier. “Reality is I’m scared. I’m scared that with my pre-eclampsia issues that I might have some further difficulties with being in hospital, and in a system that don’t listen to black women and their needs,” explained Johnson. 

After getting her blood pressure under control she was released, but the toll of isolation, unrest in communities across the country, and lack of support added to her postpartum anxiety. 

“I’ve just been really affected by it, being my husband is a black man and I just had a black son,” said Johnson. “I’m really – really just overwhelmed with the thought that my children are going to have to face this.”

Maternal health groups worry about the mental health impacts of the pandemic among new moms, especially black moms. 

Black Mamas ATX, which works to address black maternal health disparities, is seeing the concerns. The non-profit said one in three black women experience postpartum depression.

“We have had mothers report increased anxiety and depression that is in part exacerbated due to the isolation, and the lack of connection to support systems,” explained  Nakeenya Wilson, Executive Director of Black Mamas ATX. “Especially for our new moms coming home from the hospital where you would potentially have family members or friends, helping to provide support during their critical postpartum period, everyone is isolated and so they don’t have that support.”

Adding to their stress has been the fear of exposure to COVID-19 if they have a hospital birth. Wilson said black women are already at greater risk for childbirth complications. 

The non-profit is working with forty moms right now who are either pregnant or have already had their baby.

“If mom is stressed, if moms mental and emotional health is compromised, that actually can affect the health of the baby,” said Wilson. “Even once the baby is born – with older children if mom is experiencing depression and anxiety that has potential negative impacts on the health and well being of the children.”

One way the organization is helping is hosting virtual support groups where experts tackle mental health. Doulas are also checking in more with their new moms and looking for red flags that need to be addressed immediately. 

Wilson said they recently received funding that will allow them to bring in a full time social worker who can provide mental health services at no cost to moms. 

Johnson’s grateful for the organization which has been supporting her and helping her advocate for herself.

She’s a therapist herself and has been cautious about how she’s feeling and processing it all, “I’m just doing the best I can do.”

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