Loneliness: a feeling most new mothers are very familiar with. And it’s interesting and strange because, of course, you aren’t alone. You’ve got your new baby. Your partner’s around. You’re texting your friends and following people’s lives on Facebook while you feed the baby. You might have family popping around to cuddle and fuss and help. You might have a mother’s group to catch up with once a week.
So why are you feeling so desperately lonely?
Mothering a newborn is a fairly one-sided relationship. You snuggle, soothe, feed, hold, listen to and care for this tiny creature without hesitation. You give of yourself, all that you can give. And though the sight of a calm and placid bub gazing up at you is so rewarding, and the sound of silence when they’re cozy and peacefully asleep is bliss, it’s not a reciprocal relationship. They don’t answer you when you ask them what’s wrong, and they don’t enquire as to your feelings or wellbeing when you’re washing their onesies, running their bath, or carrying their stroller down the stairs.
This one-sidedness – especially for new mothers who find themselves home alone with the baby all day – can be very isolating. Friends and family are most likely not going through the same stage as you, and you may find yourself feeling worlds apart from people you used to feel aligned with.
A lot has been said about our lack of a “village” in our lives as they stand now. Surrounded by tech, our support systems are heavily virtual, and often experienced as a viewer or passive relationship, rather than interactive and mutually supportive. Social media – such a complex beast! People post about having gone through a hard time, or having a triumph in their lives, and the comments go wild. You feel as though you are part of something, briefly, as you add your perspective and offer your thoughts. And then that post or photo is lost in the scroll; the camaraderie vanishes; and you’re left feeling somewhat empty. Where’s your virtual village gone? That’s not to say that many people get a huge benefit from online groups, and being a part of a community can be extremely helpful in keeping the loneliness at bay. It takes commitment; it takes work. But I’m here to tell you that it is so important for your health, and happiness as a new mother, to feel connected to people.
Picture a playground scene. There’s a pile of kids going crazy and letting out their energy. There’s a handful of strollers, parked carefully in the shade, each accompanied by a mother hovering nearby. Each mother has arrived here, by herself, her thoughts wandering or racing, depending on the day and the kind of morning her baby has had. She remembers she needs to make an appointment with the child health nurse. She reminds herself to buy bread and baby wipes on the way home. She kicks herself for forgetting her friend’s birthday last week. She worries that her baby hasn’t slept enough, or is sleeping too long, or that it will wake and be hungry and that she’s nervous of breastfeeding in the park. She observes the other mothers around her. They might offer a hello, a smile. Some might start a conversation; how old is he? That’s a beautiful name. Does she sleep through the night?
As they pack up to return home, the feeling of isolation creeps in. The conversation, though lovely, was fleeting and shallow, and the opportunity for connection has passed. At home, the quiet house feels heavy as the baby feeds and fusses.
Finding a group of “mum friends” is hard. It’s not always a given that you will suddenly bond with someone purely because they had a baby around the same time you did. However, making those first small steps to build a friendship is a wonderfully helpful thing you can do for yourself AND for another mother feeling the same way. This can feel insurmountable. You might feel silly or self conscious. But I guarantee that some other mother will click with you, feel exactly the same way, and be so grateful that you’ve made the step.
Some ways you can do this: offer to lend a book that you’ve enjoyed. Talk about a netflix show you’ve seen, an article you’ve read, something that your mother said to you, a funny thing you saw on the way to the park. (Sure, talk about the babies too – but try to connect over other things). See if they want to come to the supermarket with you after the park. Invite them to come over for a tea – messy house and cranky baby as part of the deal.
I wanted to write about loneliness without resorting to the easy answer: “Just go out and meet people!” because it absolutely is NOT that easy. But I would like to encourage you. To say hello. To smile across a supermarket aisle. To pick up a lost sock and start a conversation. To join a group, to make a plan, to talk. As scary as it might seem. It’s for your health and your happiness – and you’ll find in this parenting journey that almost everything comes back to those two things.