Having already experienced a miscarriage, Montclair resident Cassandra Bodhi was fearful enough when she became pregnant again after another successful round of IVF.

Then came a 48-hour induced labor in December 2019, which eventually ended in an emergency C-section and the birth of her son Zohar.

Little did she know the stress and trauma would become even worse just three months later as a result of a global pandemic.

"I was having probably five to six panic attacks a day," Bodhi told Townsquare Media News. "All I could think of was, what am I supposed to do?"

Bodhi's perinatal mood and anxiety disorder continues today, but not at as extreme levels. The 30-year-old said, thanks to therapy, she can spot herself "going into a downward spiral" and pick herself up again.

"He doesn't know people except through FaceTime," Bodhi said of her son. "He doesn't get to meet friends the way he should be meeting friends. The grieving process, it still happens."

Pre-pandemic, postpartum depression and anxiety reportedly impacted about one in every seven mothers. New Jersey professionals in the field wonder if that rate has doubled or tripled over the past several months.

According to research out of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, 36% of pregnant and postpartum women experienced "significant levels of depression" in May through August of 2020, compared to 15 to 20% prior to the pandemic. More than 20% of women during the pandemic reported feeling significant levels of anxiety, and about 10% reported having post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Isolation is sort of the overlying theme, whereas pregnancy and childbirth, historically, has been a time of togetherness," said Dr. Daniel Finch, co-founder of Care Plus New Jersey's Maternal & Family Center in Paramus.

Finch said people have an idealized vision of what pregnancy and birth will look like, and the threat of COVID-19 stripped most of that vision away.

"There were a lot of women who gave birth without their spouse at the bedside, which is hugely traumatic," he said.

Finch's second child was born in June 2020. At one point during his wife's pregnancy, he said, he wasn't even allowed to come along for OB/GYN appointments. If he had left the hospital room once his son was born, he would have been expelled from the hospital, he said.

Among the services currently offered by the Center is a virtual support group for new parents.

"It's one thing to talk to a professional, but it's another thing to talk to people who are going through the same thing that you're going through, or have just been through what you're going through," Finch said.

Therapy has "always been a perfect match" for telehealth, Finch said. He's hoping it's proven itself enough during the pandemic so that access for patients can continue beyond COVID times. Bodhi sees a therapist through CarePlus weekly, and is on medication to manage symptoms.

"I'm just so grateful because where I was, to where I am today, is two different people," Bodhi said.

New Jersey honored its own Maternal Health Awareness Day on Jan. 23. New Jersey was the first state in the country to designate a day for the cause.

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