New families need support during a pandemic. And they’ll still need it after.

By Jocie Fifield

Our Expecting More team is two weeks into working from home. We are all familiar with each other’s household decor and are on a first name basis with our coworkers’ pets. Those of us who are parents are creating new routines and creative work schedules, and the clinicians among us are gearing up for significant changes to the way they provide care. In the midst of so much change and disruption, many things are also staying the same: people are parenting, getting pregnant, and giving birth. 

This situation is making clear to everyone what certain people—particularly those who are more marginalized—have always known about the challenges our health care and social support systems present to many growing families in the United States. We need to be doing more to support families during this crisis but also beyond it, and people are starting to recognize it. In the last week, I’ve noticed people extending a lot more empathy to families and low-wage workers, calling out employers for lack of paid leave policies, and checking in on each other and initiating social connection (from afar). It can be hard to look beyond this moment, particularly with so much uncertainty, constantly changing guidance, and day-to-day disruption, but during this time, I’ve felt gratitude for the empathy that I’ve noticed and hope it may be an opportunity to demonstrate the role that everyone has in supporting growing families.  Here are a few articles Expecting More authors have written over the last few months that are just as relevant—if not more so—today:

Maternal mental health: Last month, Maya Uppaluru wrote about her own experience with postpartum mental health and provided four recommendations for supporting new parents: 1) Routinely integrate mental health professionals into postpartum care; 2) Incentivize participation in support groups; 3) Check on your new mom friends, even those who seem like they’re pros; and 4) Paid family leave for all parents for at least six months postpartum. Integrated models of care—in which new parents can access behavioral health, primary care, and obstetric needs in the same visit—could reduce the number of visits they need to make to health care settings while also providing mental health support for parents facing unique challenges during this time. While in-person support groups may not be possible during social distancing, we can continue checking in on parents (both new and seasoned ones), offering emotional support, delivering groceries (when possible and safe), and even relieving parents with some remote child entertainment (FaceTime charades to keep older kids occupied?). Additionally, New York Times Parenting provides some tips on managing stress for parents. 

Health insurance: In the fall, Katie Breen wrote about the importance of ensuring postpartum Medicaid coverage for new moms for up to a year after delivery. Access to health insurance for new moms is as important as it ever has been, particularly for mothers with chronic conditions that may make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Continuous health insurance can help ensure that women have access to the services they need early with little to no financial risk. Thankfully, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed on March 18th freezes Medicaid disenrollment, including for pregnant people after 60 days postpartum. “The Families First Act does ensure growing families that their health insurance will be continuous after giving birth until one year under Medicaid for the duration of the public health crisis. We at March for Moms have been advocating for a number of pieces of Federal legislation including the bicameral MOMMA’s and MOMMIES Acts that would enable states to permanently make this change in Medicaid coverage and will continue to advocate for this change in the COVID relief packages in development right now.” – Katie Barrett, Executive Director, March for Moms. 

Employer support: Margaret Ben-Or wrote recently about challenges she encountered with her former employer during her first pregnancy. She says, “we must stop thinking about workplace support to parents as a perk, benefit, or favor employers and coworkers provide. Until we do, people will continue to be vulnerable to workplace abuse and mistreatment when starting, expanding, and sustaining their families.” As working parents adjust to changing schedules and having children home from school, paid leave and empathetic employers could be the difference between keeping a job or losing it. In the last week, I’ve received numerous emails from both large and small businesses, sharing how they are supporting their workers and what kinds of paid leave policies they already have or are putting in place. Imagine if employee benefits were transparent and consumers could choose to patronize businesses with favorable benefits and advocate for improvements at businesses that fell short all the time, not just during a pandemic. The coronavirus emergency relief package includes paid leave for American workers—both for their own health and for caring for family members—but it doesn’t cover everyone and only applies through the end of this calendar year. The current national attention on paid leave could be the catalyst we need to keep this conversation center stage post-pandemic.

Last weekend I spoke with a friend who is a new dad and was formerly in the Navy. He reflected on the small ways our current situation is helping many Americans understand what a deployment feels like—for instance, being separated from family, not being able to move freely, and missing big moments with loved ones. I’ve noticed this growing empathy for families as well. When our lives return to how they were before, I hope the care, support, and advocacy we’ve seen in the last few weeks can continue (but with a lot more hugs and gatherings). In the next weeks and months, we hope to bring you stories and information relevant to our “new normal,” leading with hope, empathy, and human connection.

Jocie is a Research Manager on the Delivery Decisions Initiative team at Ariadne Labs and is also the manager and curator of Expecting More. When she’s not coordinating with all of the inspiring Expecting More contributors and focusing on improving empathy and support for growing families, she spends her time doing apparel design and construction and dabbles in illustration.

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