When you have an extra person in your life the last thing you expect to feel is lonely. But that’s exactly how new motherhood makes so many women feel. I’ve heard various statistics – 9 out of 10, 62%, 82% – but whatever the variety in the stats it shows that feelings of loneliness are felt by the majority of mums and new mums.
Why? After all the majority of new mums are with their babies 24/7.They dote on this new little person, they have barely any time for anyone else. They are never actually alone. I have to say that I used to think that the initial few weeks and months of motherhood must just be the happiest time in anyone’s life. And then I became a new mum. Whilst it was and still is wonderful I have been surprised at how lonely I have felt at times.
I’ve wondered why I’ve felt this way. And I’ve naturally felt a little bit guilty for feeling lonely when I’m with my, very longed for, little man (this “mum guilt” is a wonderful thing isn’t it? Always there in the background). But then, as someone pointed out to me, babies are initially not exactly great company. After all, they can’t talk to you or even really communicate with you except to cry when they need feeding, winding or changing (and in those first few days and weeks you’re always to trying to work out which cry it is). Of course it’s great to have visitors in those early weeks but that eventually trickles off when actually it’s still so important for the mum to have people coming to see her. Many women are used to being out at work, talking with other adults and engaging their brains in things other than feeding and changing, although becoming a mum sounds blissful it actually can be hard to suddenly have your life totally turned upside down.
However I think one of the big things that seems to be forgotten is that new mums are still recovering. Ok, everyone has different experiences, some more traumatic than others, but giving birth to a child is a massive thing to go through which I don’t think anyone appreciates until they actually go through it themselves. I know I certainly didn’t. Now I know women’s bodies are designed to give birth but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s hard – it’s not called labour for nothing! Plus there are the dreaded hormones too. So not only is a new mum physically recovering they are also going through massive changes mentally thanks to the hormones and the fact that their lives have completely changed overnight. For all these reasons it might make a new mum not feel much like getting out and about or making the effort to socialise.
Something I’ve noticed living in Sligo, Ireland is that there seems to be very little out there for new mums to get together and meet up. Believe me I’ve looked. I ended up going to a parent and toddler group where, although it’s very good, my little man is the youngest there by a good few months and I seem to be the only new mother there. Of course if I had the money to spend I could have done classes like baby massage where I may have possibly met other new mums but the cost of things like this priced me out when I’m in a job which will only give you statutory maternity pay. And trying to combat loneliness as a new mum is not something that you should be priced out of.
So how have I attempted to combat the loneliness when my husband is at work? Well, admittedly some days I don’t. Some days it’s been too much of an effort. But I have to say that most days I’ve tried to get out of the house, even if it’s to just walk around the shops on my own. Just being in an environment with others helps. I’m also very lucky to have my mum a twenty-minute drive away who has been amazing, I’ve also seen a lot of my friends which has made all the difference. A big problem for me is that as I’m originally from England a big part of my support network is still there. Now they’ve been wonderful with texts and phone calls plus we’ve had quite a few visitors over the summer which has been just fantastic. Of course, I still wish that they were more accessible. But the thing is, no matter how difficult I’ve found it at times, I know I’m lucky, there are new mums out there who are doing it completely on their own with very little or no support at all. I am in awe of those women.
However, I do think that loneliness for new mums needs to be recognised more. I thank my lucky stars every day that I am a mum, after all I was starting to think I’d never become one, and it was something that I wanted more than anything. But at the same time, even though it’s something that is wanted so desperately by so many it doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
So what can be done to help the loneliness? Well, I know that I for one wish I’d realised years ago just how lonely it can be. I’m one of the last of my friends to become a first-time mum and if only I’d known I think I could have been of more support to them when they were in my shoes as so many of them have been to me. But really I think that there should be more groups out there aimed at new mums. I might be wrong in saying this but I think, from what I’ve heard from family and friends, that it is better in the UK and maybe it’s better in parts of Ireland but in Sligo there seems to be nothing. Even a group that meets up for a coffee with their babies once a week would be something. Although maybe there is something out there and I’ve just missed it. There’s so much emphasis on breastfeeding groups and antenatal classes, which is all wonderful, but I think that the authorities are forgetting about the new mum’s actual mental well-being. Let’s face it, for the baby to be well looked after the mum has to be well too, both physically and mentally. And combatting the loneliness that many mums feel would be a start to this.
I’m sure it would be suggested that new mums could set up a group themselves which is a great idea but I know for myself, dealing with everything else that comes with being a new mum, setting up a group with people I don’t know would just be an extra pressure. However if there was something already in existence I would be all for it. But like I already said maybe there’s something out there in Sligo that already exists and in my new-mum haze I just can’t see it!
I’ll have to keep looking!