I get to spend a lot of time with moms and people who want to be moms. As a PhD candidate writing her dissertation on transitions into motherhood, I’ve spent two years closely following 84 women on their motherhood journeys. As a birth and bereavement doula and childbirth educator, I’ve walked with couples through preparing for, welcoming, and even saying goodbye to their children – and through waiting for a child who never came.
And do you know what the main message I’ve heard in the past year and a half has been?: “I don’t know if I can do this.”
The COVID Baby Bust
As mom to a 15-month-old coronial (baby born during the pandemic), I totally get it. Whatever semblance of a “child-raising village” that American culture encouraged pre-pandemic was stripped down by COVID. And because of gender roles in our society, this unbelievable burden falls heavily on the shoulders of mothers.
One general principle of parenthood is that overburdened moms aren’t eager to become moms again. All of the ways that the pandemic attacked parental support impacts whether women plan to have babies, now or ever. In 2020 and 2021, nearly all of those same women I had interviewed in 2019 mentioned putting off trying to have kids – some even saying that the stress of the pandemic had convinced them to lessen the number of children they had hoped or planned to have. Each one of them talked about fear of a lack of support or community as a driving factor in this decision.
This is reflective of what the media has recently termed the “COVID baby bust.” Remember back when lots of pundits thought that staying at home would result in more babies? What we actually are seeing is the opposite. According to my research and that of others, this is because people usually don’t try to conceive babies when they’re stuck at home together; they try to conceive when they are confident that they will have the social support and material resources they need to parent well.
Creating a new normal post-pandemic gives us the opportunity to form individual and societal habits that provide needed support and resources, but we have a long way to go.
Concrete Ways We Can Help
One way that we can help is by finding an institution that could better support moms and help them step up.
As a sociologist, I often look for how institutions impact someone’s individual “choices” (or perceived lack thereof) - and I see a lot of room for growth in how our institutions can support moms. If your workplace doesn’t have maternity, miscarriage, or stillbirth leave, start a petition for them to institute it. If your church has a culture where people glare at moms of screaming children (or worse, a culture where moms and children don’t even show up), ask those moms what you can do to make them feel more supported.
We can also make a goal to show up for moms in little ways. You can do something as simple as bringing a meal to a family or buying a box of diapers for your local women’s care center. To lend some emotional support, ask a mom friend about how motherhood is going for her and really listen. Listening to her is, in and of itself, an act of beauty and justice - and it might also help you understand how best to pray for her and address the systemic problems at play.
"Momming" is hard - and momming in a pandemic is even harder. As we reshape our societal norms and individual habits, I encourage you to make sure moms and moms-to-be know that you have their back. It’s a lot easier to decide to raise a child if you know that you have a supportive village.