Loneliness in Motherhood.
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (UK) theme focuses on Loneliness, a pandemic affecting more people, and in more ways, than you might think. So, I decided to write this blog to demonstrate how loneliness has affected me as a new(ish) mother.
A role you may not instantly think of when you hear this word.
Unless of course you’re a mother too. If so, then I see you mamma!
I feel very conscious that I must say the loneliness of motherhood certainly does NOT outweigh that of other partners. Parents are lonely. And this is by no means a competition. However, this is my experience, and I am a mother after all so I shall begin.
Becoming a mum
After a somewhat troublesome childhood myself, I was never sure I was going to be a mum. I didn’t think I had it in me. To be able to care for and love someone so completely and all-consuming just didn’t seem very possible.
I guess the moment hit around the age of 30, when I saw my oldest friend become a parent, and how in fact it was like their hearts had been prized open. A giant gorge of love and oxytocin had swallowed them whole and taken with them everything and everyone around them. This was how they could love so hard. However, this I feel is what can also take you under too.
Things we face that make motherhood lonely:
- Immense PRESSURE & responsibility (even before baby arrives)
To explain, I’m pretty sure there’s no lonelier ‘job’ than being a mum. For me anyway.
Even from the moment I saw those words on that test ‘PREGNANT’; it’s the beginning of your body no longer being just yours. You and only you experience the physical changes that come with growing a human. You and only you manage the pain and discomfort that comes daily with this additional load on your body AND on your mind. Pressure.
The anxiety of first trimester worries, replaced with the anxiety of second trimester worries and let’s not forget the third trimester worries. Did somebody say the word LABOUR? Basically, your body is just not your body at all.
(I won’t even go into labour because there’s too much. Horror, trauma, terror, pain, elation, happiness, relief, exhaustion, numbness etc.) This for me, was very, very scary. Not to mention very, very lonely.
Directly after I had my baby, I was taken to a recovery ward. Alone. Without my partner. The purpose, to ‘bond’ with the baby. Suddenly I’m presented with a tiny human and told to breastfeed. It was about 5am, dark outside, deathly quiet in the ward, and the pressure was immediately back on; to do something my baby was relying on me for to survive, that I had never done before.
Soon after, you get to take them home. The responsibility again feels crushing. It’s all on you.
In your head rings loudly, “I am now a mother. I must keep this person alive. It’s my job. I should know what to do.”
Even though I was recovering from major surgery, only a week later I was doing this all by myself, without my partner as he had headed back to work. And so, you can see how you can soon forget about yourself. And how loneliness can begin to creep in.
Suddenly your non-mum friends don’t really understand you. They aren’t awake at 3am. They can’t see you in the week as they are working, and the evenings you are sleeping — or at least hoping to. In fact, it took me about six weeks to get out of the house before 10AM. Consequently, this is also when you’re ‘allowed’ to drive again after a C-Section. Something they forgot to mention in the flyer. Six isolating weeks of learning how to look after a tiny human by yourself and trying to remember to eat, shower and sleep yourself too.
Sleep. Ha. That old chestnut. So, my baby was one of those that didn’t like sleeping unless it was with a boob in her mouth or physically next to me. Even at two years old not much has changed! Breastfeeding and sleep are two MAJOR things contributing to loneliness as a new mother. Newborns feed every two hours and that’s that. Oh, and hormones go wild. I think those nights were some of the hardest times I’ve gone through feeling alone, many times watching my partner sleeping deeply as I sat there feeding and crying my eyes out simultaneously.
For me, even as things went well with feeling, those first months were a very emotional and quite traumatic journey. To feel wanted/ needed so ferociously, so incessantly, almost all the time is borderline suffocating. I felt like I was doing good to be her life source but in being that I forgot about myself completely.
2. Losing your identity
Losing your identity is perhaps the loneliest part of the whole thing. I was a person before and now I’m a mum. Well, what they don’t tell you is you’re still a person now too. One that deserves just as much if not more allowance of being than ever before.
We didn’t have an extended family nearby. Something I had always realised would be a hindrance, however, never knew just how much this would make things more difficult. The pandemic hit that much harder as there was no chance of even travelling to see our parents, and so it was a make-do situation.
I found SO MUCH solace in mum Facebook groups, baby groups and stay and play sessions. These mums always had your back no matter what. No question was too stupid and no issue too ‘silly’. I again can count myself lucky as I had my baby four months before the first lockdown began, and so I was able to find my community in real life before everything went online.
3. Shame, judgement and mum-guilt (the endless cycle)
Oh yes. These three friends of mine, shame, judgement and mum-guilt often turn up to the party uninvited, and quite often brought about by my own brain as it regularly checks up on my parenting ability.
Or possibly a result of the huge pressure put on us to do it all perfectly, when we’ve never done it before is likely the cause. However, news flash it’s not possible to do it all right all the time. You cannot have it all, that is a lie, and I will stick my name on that.
Personally, I am a fan of being in control — it has come from the aforementioned troubled childhood and doesn’t make life easy at the best of times, but motherhood is not an experience to be controlled. Or where you feel in control, ever.
When I can’t be in control and things go wrong, shame pops up. He’s here to make me feel awful and here to say how I should be feeling bad, and how others probably don’t struggle with these things. Sometimes you may even get shame from other mums (NOT OK), be that either about your body not suddenly popping back to pre-baby, breastfeeding abilities, what you dress your child in, where your child sleeps etc. etc. The list goes on. Some mums have told me they’ve received helpful thoughts like these from their health visitors. DEFINITELY NOT OK. Surprise, shame does not change behaviour.
In steps shame’s twin brother, judgment. The two go hand in hand — again back to my own self critic, there’s so much there for a new mother to be judged on, it’s completely out of one’s control. Yay! Or not.
And then when they’ve had their fun there’s mum-guilt. What if I’m not doing enough? What if they don’t attach well? What if my need for a break is traumatising and they grow up with abandonment issues? ETC. ETC.
Let’s not even go there with the whole back to work scenario. Nothing will prepare you to one day leave them in an unfamiliar place, without your boobs, for you to go back to work and feel HAPPY about the freedom you finally have back. It all comes with a great big slice of mum-guilt on the side. Which feels all the lonelier.
4. Lack of support
When you’re pregnant, people can’t seem to get enough.
They are constantly aware of your being pregnant the bigger you become and cannot want to help more. A huge fuss is made about you, particularly in the later stages and it all feels very special. Once you’ve had the baby and the initial excitement is over — everyone seems to forget. Whenever you see people they ask, ‘how is the baby?’ and forget to remember about you.
Then you forget to remember about you.
Perhaps it’s linked with the identity issue, or pressure and responsibility but it all seems so wrong. Mentally, there has just been a huge thing happen to me — and birth was traumatic for both my partner and I too, which is so more often the case than not. And now I’m slowly being forgotten and expected to do everything alone and do it perfectly.
Things were even worse for those having babies post lockdown. All post-midwife support either went online or diminished. I’ve heard of some mums not having seen a Health Visitor until their baby is TWO! Outrageous since they are supposed to be responsible for your baby from 5 days old to 5 years.
Never mind the constant panic and worries throughout babyhood, with rashes, illnesses, vaccinations, middle of the night stresses. Turning to 111 and hoping for the best most of the time seemed to be what was on offer, causing mums to either go through the stress of A&E during the height of Covid or deal at home alone. Good luck finding pharmacies open too.
I urge you to continue to shower your mum friends with love and fuss, just as you would with pregnant ladies. Anyone here up for a ‘Yes-I’ve-had-the-baby-already-but-I’m-still-an-awesome-mum-shower”?
OK, so we have Mother’s Days, but in the younger years this relies a LOT on the relative partners remembering so, which in my mum friend circle can be just as disappointing.
Not all bad
Having said all of this I did feel I needed to say motherhood is not all bad. Babies and toddlers can also make you more curious about the world. They force you to live presently and you can see humanity in more things every day. You can enjoy the tiniest things with so much more vigour when seen through a little one’s eyes.
Being a mother is hard and tiring and it changes you forever.
However, you are never really alone, as you have a small human who will always look to you and rely on you.
What other mums said…
In writing this blog I decided to ask some mum friends to also contribute about their own experiences with loneliness as mothers, and they kindly offered the following responses:
“For me, loneliness is about not having anyone to share the milestones with. As a single mother, I can tell friends and family about the little developments, and they genuinely like hearing about it all; but it is never going to be the same as sharing it with someone who has the same level of love and investment in that little person’s future.”
“I remember looking out of my bedroom window in the middle of the night, thinking all the lights I could see on might be other mothers feeding too, and although I was alone with my baby, I wasn’t alone in the world at that moment.”
“Loneliness is a very difficult situation to deal with, although there’s friends and family around you, the isolation remains with you. People’s lack of understanding when it comes to being a lone parent can make the situation harder to explain and cope with daily.”
Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic. Our connection to other people and our community is fundamental to protecting our mental health and we need to find better ways of tackling the epidemic of loneliness. We can all play a part in this.
So, in May 2022, we will be raising awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental wellbeing and the practical steps we can take to address it.
Reducing loneliness is a major step towards a mentally healthy society.