Colleen Murphy hasn’t had the pregnancy she imagined.
“Pregnancy through COVID has been an extremely isolating experience, without friends or family to share and celebrate with,” said the North Vancouver mom-to-be, who is expecting her first child on July 21.
Although she is deeply grateful to be expecting, she is also mourning the loss of the pregnancy she dreamed of.
“The hardest thing was not being able to share medical appointments with my partner,” said Murphy, who attended ultrasounds solo.
She’s also feeling the loss of celebration and camaraderie with her community of family and friends: there was no baby shower, and most of her friends have never seen her changing body.
Murphy said she is also facing anxiety about how to navigate her newborn’s safety when she finally is able to come together with family and friends in a world changed by COVID-19.
On top of that, she said she feels guilt for even having these feelings of loss, when she is also over the moon about becoming a mom.
So when pregnancy and newborn photographer Kim Forrester reached out to do a special, COVID-safe, photo shoot commemorating pandemic pregnancies, and all their complexities, she jumped on board.
Forrester, a mobile maternity and newborn photographer and Surrey mom of a “tornado” two-and-a-half-year-old Benjamin, said her business didn’t suffer during the pandemic — after all, when you can’t see or celebrate with friends and family, a photo is the next best thing — but she discovered that the moms-to-be she was working with were experiencing unique challenges.
“They were sharing their experiences with me, including feelings of detachment and isolation, and the support, connection and celebration because of social distancing,” said Forrester. “There has been an extra layer for pregnant women, a more complex layer we didn’t have before the pandemic.”
Forrester, who struggled with postpartum anxiety in the months after her son’s birth, felt this was a new and important story to tell.
Studies show that pregnant women suffer a more pronounced response to the isolation and stress of COVID-19, and one in seven experience depression and anxiety. Forrester said getting support through postpartum counselling was crucial for her to successfully navigating the difficult months of new motherhood.
“I felt a calling to capture and illustrate this experience,” said Forrester.
Forrester organized photo shoots that would go beyond just celebrating the joys of pregnancy, and include the personal stories that anchor and commemorate the experience of moving into motherhood during difficult times.
The project, Pregnancy Through a Pandemic, chronicles moments like attending ultrasound appointments alone, of losing a pregnancy at 13 weeks, without the comfort and support of family and friends, of anticipating appearing with a newborn when family and friends never got to share the pregnancy, and of emerging from the “cocoon” of isolation, strengthened and changed.
It also captures the vulnerability, beauty and power of pregnancy.
Forrester said that although the photo shoot had to be quick, and socially distanced, there were moments of deep connection when the women came together.
“It got emotional,” said Forrester, who is now working on a project documenting parenting during a pandemic.
There is one thing Forrester hopes family and friends will remember, especially if they are meeting a new baby born after a pandemic pregnancy, it is that the moms have missed out on sharing the experience of carrying that child — and their feelings matter.
“Remember to ask the moms what her experience was being pregnant, how it felt, what that looked like for her. Ask how you could help, and how you could be a support.”