PALMER AND NGUYEN, NCSL STATE LEGISLATURE NEWS
Priyanka Premo anticipated facing a lot of unknowns as a first-time parent. That’s why, before her son Rami’s arrival in June 2020, the Minnesota Senate Counsel staffer prepared as much as possible.
“I had planned everything out,” she says. “I had done all my research. I had secured a spot at an amazing day care a year in advance. I thought I was on top of it.”
Despite her planning, Premo’s entry into parenthood has been nothing like she expected.
“Risk mitigation, anxiety and isolation … those are the themes of my experience of motherhood so far,” she says.
Fears of contracting COVID-19 and losing employment, housing or child care have caused stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression to skyrocket among parents. Low-income families who struggle to afford basic needs report the highest levels of emotional distress.
Since the onset of the pandemic, federal and state lawmakers have passed historic funding and policy measures with direct implications for families who welcomed a child during these strange and stressful times.
Trends in state legislation affecting parents and their “pandemic babies” are summarized in this two-part State Legislatures News series. Here in part one, we explore legislation that supports maternal health.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting During a Pandemic
The coronavirus upended nearly every step of the birthing process for new parents. Lockdowns led to disruptions and cancelations in pre- and postnatal care. Partners could not attend ultrasounds or pediatric appointments. In locations with severe outbreaks, mothers gave birth without a partner present, and if they tested positive for COVID-19, they sometimes were separated from their newborns.
All of this uncertainty weighed heavily on expecting parents. Research shows maternal depression and anxiety rose significantly among expecting mothers in the last two years. Maternal depression is linked to numerous adverse health outcomes for mothers and infants alike and can negatively impact bonding. Early research shows babies born during the pandemic are at increased risk for developmental delays and lower motor, social and cognitive development.
Such adverse outcomes can be mitigated by strong social connections. For many parents with “pandemic babies,” social support was hard to come by. Lacy Ramirez, reading clerk for the Oregon Legislature, became mom to Rosalia in May 2020. At the time, she was concerned about exposure to COVID-19 for herself, her child or her parents. Now she considers herself lucky to have had the support of a colleague, Mandi McGowan, who was also pregnant at that time.
Though McGowan’s twins, Evelyn and Connor, will soon be turning 2, they have only recently begun to meet friends and extended family.
“For the first year, no one really met our kids, which was really sad,” McGowan says. “I do feel robbed … I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, ‘We did it! We made it! Here they are!’ It was not the experience I imagined or was hoping for.”
In recent years, over 20 states have enacted legislation to raise awareness of maternal mental health issues; require screening and treatment in various settings; expand access to and coverage for care; and create task forces and committees to improve maternal mental health services.
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