Emily Elfassy is a NYC-based copywriter, editor and mama. She became a mother for the second time in May of 2020, when she welcomed her baby girl, Mia James, at the height of the pandemic. Pregnancy can already be an anxiety-producing time without the threat of Covid. Her story is unique to these uncertain times, and our hope is that it can help illuminate what one might expect if currently pregnant. We asked Emily to share a little bit more about her pregnancy, postpartum and breastfeeding journey through the pandemic. Here's what she had to say...
During the end of your 2nd pregnancy, after the pandemic hit, what would you say kept you calm before the arrival of your baby girl?
Anticipation is the hardest part of the end of pregnancy, in my opinion. "How will the birth go?" "How will I feel physically and emotionally?" "Will the baby be healthy?" "Are we ready?"-- all of those question marks swirling in your mind. In the last month of pregnancy, my anxiety grew as NYC became the epicenter of the pandemic in the US. I found peace in the opportunity to soak up so much one on one time with my son during quarantine and fully realize the intimacy we built as a family of three, knowing that particular dynamic would soon change with a new baby in the mix.
What kind of support were you able to surround yourself with during these times, before birth and postpartum?
My sister-in-law lives nearby and was able to watch our older child while we were in the hospital, which was a huge relief and a total blast for everyone. Unfortunately my local community was on lockdown, but so many of my closest friends and family are spread across the country and beyond, so I am pretty used to phone calls and facetimes. The most valuable support was connecting with mamas who had already made the transition from one to two kids. The network of mamas, from colleges to neighbors, who jumped in with encouragement, celebration, and advice was so major.
Where did you give birth and what was your hospital experience like?
I gave birth at Lennox Hill in NYC, just a few weeks after Governor Cuomo enacted his executive order to ensure no mother in NY would be forced to give birth alone, despite the pandemic. Unfortunately, there were a few weeks when that was the case for many women, and my heart goes out to them. I know a woman who feels supported will have a better outcome, and with so much out of our control in birth, that energy is essential.
I had a repeat C-section and am deeply grateful for the medicine available that allowed both my children to be born safely. C-section birth is just as real and powerful as vaginal birth, and women should be proud of their birth stories, whatever they may be. I had an incredible doctor who delivered both my children, and her empathy and strength was a huge support for me both times. Big shout out to Dr. Lisa Johnson, who has spent her career bringing life at Lennox Hill. Oh, and my husband, of course, his love, joy, and humor in the room cannot be underestimated.
Was there a period of quarantine you went through after your hospital stay so to not expose other members of your family and/or support team? What did that look like if there was one?
We did quarantine at home for two weeks after Mia was born. My mother-in-law and friends weren't able to meet her until she was two weeks old but to be honest, they didn't miss much, and those weeks of going nowhere, doing nothing, were a relief for this postpartum mama.
How are you finding new mamahood for the second time? How is your son adjusting to being a big brother?
Having two kids was something I wasn't totally sure about, and honestly, there were points in this pregnancy when I was feeling ambivalent. I think its good to acknowledge feelings that aren't 'picture perfect', but as soon as she was born, I was flooded with relief and assurance that our family was complete. Becoming a mother the first time shifted everything for me, and I expect this to be a time of great transformation as well. Jonah, on the other hand, has been asking for a sister since he could speak, and while there is some vying for attention, he keeps asking if we can keep her forever, so I'd say he's pretty into it.
Was there a big difference between your breastfeeding journey the first and second time around?
I often felt self-conscious when breastfeeding the first time around because people <still> get so uncomfortable about it - like when a friend's husband walks in the room and acts like he just walked in on you showering. I also felt some judgment with 'extended breastfeeding' because people certainly have an opinion on that which is silly. I would never have expected to breastfeed my son until 2.5, but I took his lead. He is fiercely independent, but at the end of the day always wanted that closeness, and I wouldn't deny him. I want to think this time around I care a lot less what other people think.
As a freelance writer in NYC, how has motherhood affected your career? Are there specific ways in which you find that work/life balance?
The beauty of freelance work is being able to adjust your schedule for the needs of your family. That has been huge. My priorities changed overnight when I became a mother, but my professional desires didn't, so having flexibility is important to me. I wish traditional full-time employment in the US offered more flexibility for mothers, but that just hasn’t been my experience.
Any words of wisdom on breastfeeding for new mamas out there?
Regardless of your level of experience, rest assured that you do have instincts in the matter, and they're ignited as soon as your baby is born. So, take in as much information and advice as you want, but then remember to get quiet and comfortable with just you and your baby. This goes for breastfeeding and most other aspects of motherhood. When I tried to breastfeed the first time, it was surprisingly awkward. Helpful nurses were trying to position my breasts and the baby's head, and everyone was telling me, "do this," "do that," and nothing was working. I wasn't able to get my baby latched until many hours later when everyone had left, and I wasn't feeling any pressure. Of course, professional lactation consultants do incredible work, but find someone who puts you at ease. I think that sense of calm is essential to building your confidence as a first-time mom.
Any words of wisdom or insight for mamas currently pregnant and expecting soon?
I think this is a good time to remember we have very little control in life, except for how we show up. Try to be gentle and loving with those around you, but even more so, with yourself. That's the wisdom I need often.
It seems like silver linings are all around, and we find hope where we can…Any silver linings during this crazy time you want to share?
The pandemic has been a mirror for this country and for individuals/families. It has exposed, once again, the injustices in our system and culture. Real growth happens in hard times, in rock bottoms, loss, and grief. I hope the silver lining is that we make changes, become better people, heal individually and as a country.
Lastly, name your three breastfeeding essentials! They could be items of clothing, specific products or anything else you couldn't live without while breastfeeding!
- The Berkey water filter! It's a cost upfront, but then you always have continuous clean, filtered water with no single-use plastic! Breastfeeding requires so much hydration.
- Mu Mu Muesli. I love this cold oat cereal. It's a quick, nutritious, high fiber breakfast that can be eaten one-handed, and I believe oats & nuts support milk production.
- There are many great options for breastfeeding groups, even virtual now! Connecting with mamas in the same stage of motherhood as you is particularly comforting.