Never alone but always lonely
Shortly after birth, we are often overrun with a barrage of visitors, friends, family and colleagues. Cards are sent, gifts are given and meals (sometimes) made. We are exhausted, sore and emotional. Our baby is hungry and totally dependent. Life has changed and so are we. It’s all a whirlwind of love, sadness and anxiety mixed up in a cocktail of sleep deprivation and emotion.
Then the visits stop. The calls are less frequent. Your partner and friends go back to work and text less often. Not because they don’t care but because they have their lives. Maybe you sign up for a baby class or two or message your NCT friends to see if they are free? Speaking from my own personal experience, whilst I loved Baby Sensory and swimming lessons (the latter I felt compelled to do, I’m not sure why?), it felt like speed dating. Clutches of time talking of inane sleep routines and lack thereof, feeding, weaning, ages, names etc etc. I went a whole year without anyone asking my name. Not that I am blameless, I also often failed to ask theirs too.
Or what about the no class days? Or no class weeks? Or weeks that were spent alone, at home, quietly tiptoeing around the house as not to wake the baby that you’ve spent so long trying to get to sleep so you can tidy or do the dishwasher or read or mindlessly scroll on your phone. The days can be long, the nights can be longer and before you know it, weeks have passed and you realise you’ve barely checked in with yourself or anyone else. It’s not just hard, it’s crippling. You suddenly go from work and friends to silence and nappies and the unexpected loss can be overwhelming. In an NCT study, findings suggest that ‘nearly half (42%) of new mothers’ mental health problems did not get picked up by a health professional’ and my guess is, a lot of this lies within the immediate isolation many mothers feel. Fine, fine, I’m totally fine. Because you are, are you?
According to new research by the British Red Cross and the Co-op, over 80% of mums under 30 feel lonely some of the time, while over 40% are lonely often or always.
We live in a world of connectivity, where social interaction is, quite literally, at the tip of our fingertips. We can stay in touch with our circle, comment on photos without having been there. We can order a chair and receive it the same day or upgrade our phone and book a table at a restaurant without having to speak to a human being. Even mum apps like Mush & Hoop with social interaction at its very core are voiceless in it’s implementation. We hide behind profiles and resumes of ourselves and can exist on platforms like avatars without ever speaking to anyone.
Kate Leaver author of The Friendship Cure writes 'We need to relearn the art of friendship because we need each other more than ever’ and nowhere is this Truer than amongst mothers. Our days can be long and hard and lonely - isn’t it reassuring to know that you’re not the only one to have spent the entire day and night in silence? I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say that my baby had very little thought provoking conversation and absolutely no sense of humour at all if it didn’t include jumping out from behind a blanket. And don't get me started on what a toddler thinks is hilarious. I greatly loathe the morning change of clothes and the endless hours it takes.
We discussed a lot of loneliness. The pregnancy 12 week wait, lack of spontaneity, losing touch with friends, having crippling social anxiety, a lack of village, learning how to breastfeed, being surrounding by breastfeeders when you’re bottle-feeding, nap times, meal times, food shopping, the list was endless.
How do we reduce the loneliness and where do we start? For some, the answer did lie in groups and apps, for others it was admitting to others about how we were really feeling instead of dismissing the questions. Perhaps it was reaching out to another mum in a cafe or finding a free library or NCT meet. Or just the simple act of calling a friend rather than texting. Learning how to mum is just as hard as learning how to mum friend. It takes time and patience and energy and knowledge that loneliness isn’t just felt by you. You aren’t alone. Next time you see a mum out and about, looking like she’s got it together and doesn’t need a chat with a friend, she probably does.