Angst, isolation and despair: The grief of having a COVID baby.

The other day I was visiting my sister-in-law, who has just had her second baby. As a new mum myself, I know how lovely it is when visitors bring a delicious, home cooked meal. So I had prepared a nutritious and wholesome dish (spinach and ricotta cannelloni) and I brought the same ‘breastfeeding snacks’ that I had also loved (cookies and freshly squeezed juice).

I felt a little nervous before driving to her house, a bit on edge. I realise now that I was feeling floored; that with all the treats, I also brought an open wound, which was in the process of healing. 

And by caring for my sister-in-law, I was also caring for myself. 

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More than 300,000 women gave birth in Australia in 2021. I was one of those women, who was pregnant, gave birth and cared for a newborn during the strict COVID lockdown regulations that year. 

It was a time that was full of fear, stress and anxiety. It hung over me like a big, fat cloud. I felt isolated, lonely and sad at a time in my life when I was literally creating life. I remember feeling upset to be so far away from my family who are all in Denmark, which is also where I’m from. It was not all bad, of course. There were glimpses of light and moments of true joy. But when I look back, it feels like there were more moments filled with angst and despair. 


Now, a year and a half later I feel like I’m only just starting to grasp what the experience of growing and birthing a little human during a global pandemic has been like. And I’m feeling an unexpected sense of grief creeping up on me. 

The other day, I met another mum at the playground as our 18-month-old sons were making contact and throwing a ball at each other. We started talking, and she told me she gave birth to her son in London during the pandemic. 

At the time, she was really worried that the relationship between her child and her parents - her son’s maternal grandparents - would suffer because they could never bond with him early on. She was yearning to have her mother and family close by, so they decided to move back to Australia when her son was seven months old, even though it wasn’t a part of their original plan. 

It has taken her a while to find her feet as a mother, she told me, adding that it’s only recently that she has started to feel like the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.

Clinical psychologist Dr Kate Renshall at The Boundary Street Rooms, who specialises in parenthood and children, says that, “having a newborn baby takes up all the emotional capacity that you have, and things like processing trauma, your brain doesn’t see as a priority. So it’s not unusual for the grief to be pushed down and to the side until we have the space to reflect.” 


Dr Renshall also says that we do our best processing with our ‘safe others', whether that’s a personal network of people that are close to you or a professional network of healthcare workers you feel supported by. 

“If you had your child in the beginning of the pandemic and were cut off from your usual support people, you may have not had that safe place to start to unpack what has actually happened to you. And because of the lack of safe space, your mind again said ‘not now, we’ll do this later’”. 

It makes sense in hindsight that being separated from family and close friends during one of the biggest changes in your life, amid a global pandemic, had the potential to be traumatising. But, as with most big life changes, it’s hard to know what will come back and haunt you until you’re on the other side.

I remember feeling like we were living in a parallel world to the real world after I gave birth, and we now had a newborn in our possession. Not being able to have people come over to our house and share this unique experience of becoming parents for the first time with any of our family members or close friends felt just so wrong. 

I was so hung up on the smaller issues that I felt were in my control and spent hours researching different ways to approach sleeping and feeding routines. This is something Dr Renshall has heard many of her clients do, too. 

“The way we gained information during the pandemic was different to ever before. We got so much information from so many sources. It became really hard to trust what was right for us, for the general population, for our family. When you’re a new parent, you research everything from sleeping, feeding and milestones.” 


But with the tsunami of COVID information available, it made it harder for new parents to choose their sources when it came to baby-related content, too, because they had learned that they could gain information from so many sources. 

“Too much information on those topics [feeding, sleeping, milestones] is overwhelming and can lead parents to feel paralysed in their choices, to feel blame and shame, that they’re not a good enough mother. When we narrow down on those smaller issues and feel like those are what determine if we are a good parent or not, that can make for us to feel really anxious and not enjoy being a parent,” Dr Renshall said. 

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When we were visiting Denmark after we were allowed to travel again, I met a mum in a playground in Copenhagen. She had her baby during the dark and cold months of winter in Denmark during the pandemic, when social distancing regulations were still in place. 

She told me how, wrapped up in layers of wool, they proudly showed their baby to their friends on a street corner in the freezing cold. Her eyes filled with tears as she brought herself back to that time. The experience was so far from what she had imagined in her mind: sitting on the couch with their friends, having a cup of tea and enjoying the experience of watching their new world integrate with the old and familiar.


I’d only just met her, but it moved me, feeling we had shared this experience in two different parts of the world, both unable to verbalise at the time what it was we had been going through. Dr Renshall says that one way to help process this experience is to, “focus on the common humanity of it all”. 

“How hard was it for all of us as mothers who did this during the pandemic? And how much grief might we feel as a collective group for the things we missed out on?”

My story of being pregnant, giving birth and caring for a newborn did not unfold the way I thought it would. It was not the story I had hoped for, but it is my story, and I know I share it with many other women.

I’m finally starting to feel more connected to motherhood and more confident in my way of mothering. It has taken some time, but it feels like the wound is starting to heal.

Mie is Danish, a mum of one 'busy-bee' toddler, a writer, content producer and journalist. She has a marketing and communications background focusing on travel, lifestyle and food. She has recently completed a Master of Journalism at the University of Technology Sydney, and since becoming a mother, she loves exploring and writing about all the nitty gritty corners of motherhood. 

Feature image: Supplied/Canva.

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