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Maternal mental health hit hard by the pandemic

A Maternal Mental Health study found expectant moms and new moms were much more likely to experience stress and anxiety during the pandemic.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Lonely, isolated, fearful. Parenting in the pandemic is hard, whether you have a toddler, a teen, or a child in between. 

Pregnant women and those who had babies during the pandemic certainly had unique experiences unlike any other mom in more than half a century and it took a toll. 

"I have this picture of her hanging in our hallway.  We had taken her to Clinch River when she was one month old and the next week everything shut down," new mom, Kara McFarland, said.  

McFarland had her baby, Navy, just before the pandemic and impending shutdown. 

"It went from what I expected to be a little lonely to extremely lonely," McFarland said. 

She struggled and so did moms all over the world.  A Maternal Mental Health study found expectant moms and new moms were much more likely to experience stress and anxiety during the pandemic. 

Dr. Shenika Welch-Charles, OBGYN at the University of Tennessee Medical Center said she saw this firsthand. 

"I have never seen the amount of anxiety in a pregnant woman that I experienced last year.  It was overwhelming," Dr. Welch-Charles said. 

There were the initial fears and worries that come with pregnancy and then came isolation. 

Credit: Abby Ham
The most common words to describe parenting in the pandemic.

"This is one of the most exciting times in a woman's life and to have to not be around people and share with the people you love and care about is heartbreaking," Dr. Welch-Charles said.

Kara felt this in a big way. She went from being a working woman to a stay-at-home mom of a newborn who couldn't leave the house. 

"I am so lucky.  I have the opportunity to be home with my little girl and you start to feel guilty for feeling this way," McFarland said. "Just because you have these blessings doesn't mean that you aren't allowed to feel sad or have these feelings."

Kara was lonely, yes, but it went beyond that. 

"Women are exhausted after they have a baby.  If there is no one there that can help watch the baby, to help while they take a 10 or 15-minute nap, that's really hard," Dr. Welch-Charles said. 

But as the COVID fog lifts so do mom's spirits.

"I do feel that not having those walls feel like they're closing in on them during this time and just giving them a little more breathing space has overall improved the mental well-being for a lot of moms going through this right now," said Dr. Welch-Charles. 

"For me, it felt like sunshine on my face and the doors are opening and the clouds are parting," McFarland said.

Kara took Navy to the park for the first time and it was emotional. 

"I remember getting a little teary-eyed, it was the first time I had seen my daughter interact with another kid," McFarland said.  "It was so happy to see her with other human beings.  I didn't realize how much she had missed out on until those doors opened again."