Of all the things I expected motherhood to make me feel, lonely was definitely not one of them.
You would think it was a matter of simple mathematics. When you add a baby to the family, surely that decreases the odds of you feeling lonely, because there’s another person there to keep you company?
Not only that, but this person clings to you for dear life from the second they arrive in this world, screaming for you to hold them and never let go.
And yet it was loneliness that was one of the toughest things for me to deal with during the early months with my first child.
The feeling first struck me about four weeks after she was born. I had made it through the baby blues – an utterly rubbish phase that often saw me weeping as I sat hunched on the edge of the bed while pumping my boobs at 6am. I was trying to find my feet, and struggling with lots of worries.
All of my energy, attention and focus was going into being the very best mother that I could be to my new baby.
That meant I spent hours worrying I was getting it right, Googling for information about baby routines, and how to tell if your baby is eating enough. I thought about my baby morning, noon and night. When I slept I would dream I had accidentally brought her into bed with me, and woke with a start frantically digging through the sheets to find her, panic-struck she was suffocating somewhere under the covers.
My rigorous pumping schedule kept me tied to the house for many hours each day, and outings could only be short affairs, if I went out at all. In those early weeks I relished in the feeling of safety that came from being at home.
At home it didn’t matter if my baby cried, threw up, had a leaky nappy or refused to nap. At home I could attempt to deal with all of that without prying eyes staring at me and judging me for being a terrible mother.
And while being at home made me feel secure, it had the effect of isolating me from the outside world and my old life. I was a prisoner in my own home, because I felt when I was there I had some semblance of control, or I could at least pretend to be in control.
Of course we cannot expect to retain all of our old life, including our social life, once a baby has arrived. But being at home for hours every single day with no-one else to talk to but this tiny thing that not only doesn’t talk back, but spends most of the day appearing as if they hate everything you’re trying to do for them, is a shock to the system.
So while I retreated to the safety of my bunker, aka the living room sofa, that lonely feeling grew. With my brain totally occupied with my baby’s needs, I stopped thinking about my own and I forget to breathe, to just enjoy motherhood.
That intense desire to be the perfect mother wasn’t something I really discussed with anyone. I touched on it with a small number of close friends, but I didn’t really open up to anyone about how overwhelmed I was feeling. And so that loneliness grew.
In the initial weeks after having a baby you ride on the high of attention from adoring relatives and all the lovely messages of friends. But as the novelty wears off, it’s back to normal life for everyone else, while for you everything has completely changed. And as those important people return to their lives, it makes the massive alterations to your own feel even more of a shock.
I found that days would go by where I hadn’t talked to anyone, not even my very supportive other half, about how I was feeling inside. Everything was so much about the baby, that there was no room for me and my feelings.
And worse still, I beat myself up for feeling that way, because I had made the choice to have this baby, who I loved with every part of me, and here I was being selfish about my needs.
Having gone through all of that with my first little one, when I was pregnant with my second I didn’t expect this bleak feeling to strike again, and yet there it was.
While it didn’t feel as intense this time around, the stress of trying to cope with both of them and the intensity of every day life trying to cater to both of their needs, meant I isolated myself again.
I made my home our fortress of safety once again, not wanting to venture too far, because I told myself I didn’t want to up my stress levels anymore then they already were.
But what’s interesting to note is that while I was at home feeling all alone, the reality was that all over the country there were thousands of mums feeling exactly the same way.
Research by the British Red Cross in 2016 found new mums were among six groups of people most at risk from loneliness.
It can feel like the best course of action to simply get on with it, tough it out and break out the stiff upper lip. But in actual fact, these early years, while among the hardest of your entire life, are also among the most precious you will ever get to experience. Why then should we brave it out and suffer in silence? As mums we deserve to be happy, and we need to be happy, because that makes us better parents.
If you are reading this and can relate to anything I’ve written about, I feel your struggle. I have been there and I know what it is like.
Here are some of my tips to beat the new mama loneliness:
Make time to talk to your other half, or maybe your own mum, whoever you feel comfortable expressing these emotions to. Tell them how you are feeling. A loving relative will not think any less of you, they will want to help.
I’ve had bad experiences of baby groups when I’ve fled with my tail between my legs and vowed to never emerge from my house again. But for every bad baby group, there are 10 good ones. Try a different group every week. They are a good place to meet new mums. If you’re really nervous about trying a new one out, find out if they have a Facebook group and put a message on there introducing yourself and asking who else will be at the next get together, this can be a good way to break the ice when you arrive.
Connect with friends
You may be lucky enough to have a group of pals who have had a baby at a similar time to you. If that is the case, keep in contact with them. Create a WhatsApp group and use it to air your daily thoughts, struggles and just have a chat. Try to meet up regularly, even if only for a 30-minute walk.
Find friends online
Social media is not a replacement for face-to-face contact with another human being, but it’s a good start. When we see that others are going through the same feelings and struggles as we are, it makes us feel less lonely. We feel understood.
Join networks, such as my Facebook page The Mummy Bubble where I also have a groups called Mama’s Outnumbered where you can connect with fellow mummies and ask questions.
Write a journal
I cannot begin to tell you what an amazing release writing this blog has been for me. When you write down your feelings it can be a wonderful way of releasing pent up negative emotions. Try writing a journal. While it can be great to have a good old rant in there, also try to make room for the positives in your life. Write down three good things that happened that day, even something as simple as getting the baby to sleep in less than an hour.
If any of this has struck a chord with you, please know you’re not alone. You’re more than welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.