Q&A with COVID 50/50 Taskforce - "It takes a village"

In this Q&A Interview, Julia Marzioch shares her birthing story with the WGH Norway COVID 50/50 Taskforce and reflects on what it was like to embark on a journey as a new mother during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Image may contain: Shoe, Snow, Comfort, Cap, Plant.“I think everyone knows the proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ and I guess no parent has experienced this as much as a pandemic parent.” – Julia Marzioch relocated from Germany to Norway in 2019 to work as a Postdoc at the University of Oslo. In 2020, she gave birth to a son who is now 10 months old. 

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Germany and moved to Norway in 2019. I am educated as an engineer and finished my PhD back home in Germany in 2019. Shortly after, I received a job offer from the University of Oslo (UiO). My job here in Norway was the main reason to relocate with my partner. Besides the job opportunity, I felt that Norway offers better opportunities for women in academic research, especially when it comes to compatibility of family and work. Last year, I gave birth to our son who is now 10 months old. Now, we are a family of three here in Norway. 

2. Can you share your prepartum and postpartum experience during the pandemic?

The pandemic reached Norway when I was about 12 weeks pregnant. In the beginning, I was mostly worried about the risk of infection with COVID-19 during my pregnancy. With the first lock down, I slowly realized what major effect this pandemic would have on all of our lives. Suddenly, my partner was no longer allowed to join for any pregnancy appointments. That meant that I, for example, attended the ultrasound appointment alone during which we would find out the gender of the baby. For a long time, it was unclear if my partner was going to be allowed to join for the birth and if he could visit or stay at the hospital after the birth. After I gave birth, I experienced that many of the usual mother support systems were no longer in place. It was, for example, difficult to receive support with breast feeding, as voluntary associations that often provide such support were no longer available. Another thing was that it was rarely possible to meet other mothers with their babies. As an expat in a new country, you do not have a big social circle and then parenting groups and baby meetups were no longer occurring. Everyone stayed isolated, as none of us wanted to become severely ill while caring for a newborn or in the worst case infect your child. Overall, I would say the isolation was the biggest challenge during the postpartum period. Our son has, so far, rarely met other children. We recently had our first play date with another baby. For me, as a new mother, it was challenging not to have the support of our family. I think everyone knows the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and I guess no parent has experienced this as much as a pandemic parent. 

3. What were the most challenging aspects during the pregnancy?

The most challenging aspect during the pregnancy was that everything was unknown. I was very frightened that I would have to give birth without my partner and was relieved when it was announced that fathers would be allowed to join. However, during the birth, I learned that attending during the active phase of the birth is not enough. Our baby was born 4 weeks premature, and I was admitted to the hospital shortly before giving birth. This meant that I had to do the opening phase on my own in the hospital. Most of this time I was alone in my room with a nurse checking on me when I called for her. My partner joined me in the delivery room when I was already far into labor. I would have wished for more support during this time, especially with the premature birth. I was simply scared whether the baby was going to be all right and needed a lot of encouragement. After our son was born, we were admitted to the maternity ward and my partner could only visit for three hours per day. Due to the prematurity, we had to stay at the hospital for a little over a week. We found this very challenging. My partner would have liked to be there and support me, but due to the shortened visiting hours, his options were limited. 

4. Did you face any disruptions in receiving healthcare and/or access to facilities?

I received the necessary healthcare, but I had to attend all of my appointments alone. This became more challenging after the birth. It was difficult to receive help and support, for example with breast feeding. Our baby had many check-ups in the first months, and it was mostly me alone attending them. That meant that only I could raise questions and decisions were made by me alone as there was not always time to call my partner. 

5. How did you overcome these challenges?

During the pregnancy, we simply accepted our situation. I recorded with my phone when I had an ultrasound or when the midwife listened to the heartbeat. Sometimes the doctors and midwifes made exceptions from the strict rules and allowed both of us to attend an appointment with our son.

7. In your opinion, how is the management of pregnancy in Norway and how is it different from your home country?

I have not given birth in Germany, so I can only compare my Norwegian experience with what I have seen and heard from friends and family in Germany. However, in my opinion, the care is quite similar, with some exceptions. Pregnancy care in Norway is done by midwifes. In Germany, your gynecologist provides all check-ups and they can have very busy schedules. I personally feel more comfortable with a midwife than a doctor. My midwife here in Norway always had time for me; she not only performed my medical check-ups, but also cared about the emotional part of my pregnancy. Most women I know in Germany had a midwife in addition to the gynecologist, which brings me to another difference. In Germany, a midwife visits you at home during the postpartum period to help you with all the small and big challenges that come with a newborn. Norway offers home visits as well, but these visits are more focused on the development of the baby. I think what surprised friends and family back home most is that I got a midwife assigned automatically, whereas finding a midwife is a common problem in Germany. During the birth, I experienced another major difference. Although my son was premature and in a breech position, I had a vaginal birth, while in Germany most breech births are done by C-section.

8. How is the pandemic disproportionately affecting pregnant women?

In my opinion, pregnant women are especially vulnerable. Pregnancy can be scary especially for first time mothers. You need all of the support you can get. During the pandemic, all healthcare was reduced to the necessary minimum. However, a pregnant woman and soon-to-be new mom needs more. She needs support from friends and family, and exchange with other mothers. She needs her village. Giving birth is scary and painful. No woman should be doing this by herself. It takes hours of contractions until you reach the active phase and you need your partner with you the whole time, not outside in the parking lot. Recent studies have shown that postpartum depression is on the rise since the pandemic. Many women are experiencing loneliness and isolation. Having a baby is already a challenge in normal times, but during a pandemic, it gets even tougher. Expats like us are separated from our families at a time during which we need them the most.

9. What advice would you like to share with pregnant women who may face similar challenges during such a crisis?

First, sit down with your partner and determine what is most important for you during and after the birth. Based on my situation and possible challenges at the time, such as a pandemic - choose a hospital keeping in mind their regulations. Some hospitals are more open for the partners to join than others. Some even offer family rooms, so that the father can stay overnight. If you have no family nearby that can support you, find close friends and make them your family. I was surprised by how many of my friends and work colleagues would like to babysit. You might be worried about possible COVID-19 infections if you have visitors with your newborn, but you need contacts outside of your home to avoid isolation. The most important thing I learned is that it needs a happy mother for a happy baby. Do not exert yourself and take care of yourself.

Interview Credit

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Chelsea Ranger | WGH Norway COVID 50/50 Taskforce

 

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Urusha Maharjan | WGH Norway COVID 50/50 Taskforce

 

The WGH Norway COVID 50/50 Taskforce serves as a national hub for COVID-19 and gender equity actions and activities. This ad-hoc taskforce is in support of the WGH Global's #COVID5050 Campaign, which introduced the Five Asks for Gender-Responsive Global Health Security in 2020 to help confront power and privilege. Both of which undermine global health by preventing women from contributing equally to the fight against challenges like COVID-19.

Published Oct. 19, 2021 2:35 PM - Last modified May 23, 2022 3:15 PM