This week is #LonelinessAwarenessWeek and it feels like the perfect moment to shine a light on the topic, specifically in relation to motherhood.
A little bit of a taboo subject, loneliness is seldom addressed or prepared for with the impending arrival of a child. However, research by the British Red Cross shows that 80% of mums under the age of 30 report feeling lonely after becoming a parent, 40% suffer chronic loneliness. So, if this is such a widespread issue why are we not talking about it more?
According to The Marmalde Trust (a charity set up to provide support to those experiencing isolation and loneliness) triggers for loneliness tend to be big life changes that can disrupt your normal social routines and experiences. Well that’s new parenthood in a nutshell then! We might have ideas about maternity leave involving endless baby play dates, cups of coffee and park strolls with new friends. And of course those things feature but the full reality can include A LOT of time spent at home, sleep deprived, completing important but repetitive tasks, whilst navigating one of the biggest adjustments in identity you’ll ever go through. It’s wonderful but at times it’s challenging and at times, yes, it can be lonely.
Of course the irony is that mothers on maternity leave spend every day in the company of another person – their baby. But admitting that this isn’t fulfilling all their social needs can leave some mums feeling too guilty to bring up feelings of isolation or loneliness with friends and partners. So the issue is compounded. In the spirit of starting a conversation about it, our very own Sarona describes her experience of loneliness as a new mum and the steps she took to overcome it.
My eldest daughter was born in 2014 and of course, I associate maternity leave with lovely memories, but I did suffer quite badly with loneliness during the course of that year. We moved house quite early on, which was stressful in itself and I really didn’t know anyone in the new area. My mum lived abroad and my sister and friends were mostly on the otherside of London (which may as well have been Birmingham given the travel time door to door) so I didn’t really have a local support network to lean on.
I loved my new baby but I just wasn’t prepared for how dislocated I felt from my former life. I missed work, I missed my friends and I missed having conversations where the other person spoke back. My daughter and I struggled to establish breastfeeding at first, the only way it would work for us was if we lay down which made getting out and about errr, awkward. We could go days without leaving the house, hemmed in by my refusal to consider bottle feeding.
To talk or not to talk
When we did meet with friends I assumed those without kids wouldn’t want to hear about baby stuff so avoided talking about my new experiences. When I met the friends who did have kids it was so kiddi-hectic that proper chats were impossible.
I began to feel incredibly guilty about craving extra connection – surely this amazing little girl should be enough?
It was a really strange situation. I’d acquired this new sidekick and I was virtually never alone but that didn’t stop me feeling isolated. One memorable day I found myself sat in a coffee shop, having fed my daughter to sleep, daydreaming about the place getting so busy that someone would need to share my table and be forced to chat to me. That was the turning point really.
Over time it corrected itself as these things often do. I met neighbours with similar aged children and started regularly attending the same classes at the library so that I would start seeing the same faces who became friends. The biggest thing was being open to talking about it without fear of judgement. It soon became apparent that everyone was in the same boat, being honest about it helped build connections with people.
Maternity leave in lockdown
With fewer (or no!) opportunities to get out in the community and build a social network, lockdown must be proving so difficult for new mums. Certainly risks of feeling isolated are likely to be higher. There are of course digital options that are stepping in to fill the gap left by rhyme time and baby fitness classes. We recommend checking out MUSH who have been holding daily virtual meet-ups and can also help connect you to other like-minded parents in your area. You can also check in with local parent child groups as many of these are running virtual sessions.
If you have any friend who have recently become new mums, taking the time to arrange a video catch up will definitely help combat loneliness and if you’re aware of any new mums in your area consider reaching out to them for a doorstep coffee. It’s bound to be appreciated!
You can find out more about Loneliness Awareness Week and The Marmalade Trust’s guide to loneliness here.