Loneliness and the New Mother
Are you surprised to hear how many new mothers experience crippling loneliness? In fact recent figures (released by Mumsnet and ChannelMum.com) show that more than 90% of mums admit to feeling lonelier after the birth of their children. You could be forgiven for thinking that with so many of us choosing to have children later in life that it would be a time of satisfaction, completion, joy and gratitude. We've planned our lives, our careers, our homes and chosen the optimal time for our family's growth.
Certainly, we're bombarded with enough images of perfect happy families on social media, in magazines and on TV. The reality though is often very different and rarely references the extent of loneliness and the new mother.
In fact 60% of women try to hide their low mood and feelings of loneliness. Feeling down, lonely or vulnerable can make us feel conflicted and determined not to disclose how bad we're feeling, especially if everyone we know appears to be living the dream.
In addition, a quarter of families with young children, approximately 2 million, are being raised by only one parent, usually the mother. Being alone, perhaps away from family, with no partner for support, can further exacerbate the sense of isolation. Or having relocated away from home can result in loneliness after childbirth. 35% feel the loss of close relationships and immediate social network, often not knowing their new neighbours.
Of course, there are many additional factors to consider too.
- The effect of hormones is often forgotten, but pregnancy plays havoc with a woman's hormonal balance, sometimes long after the baby's been born. Plus a newborn child brings much additional responsibility, often compounded once the first few weeks of support have dwindled away.
- When one's been a professional, in control businesswoman it's disconcerting to find oneself becoming overwhelmed and despairing, lost and unable to cope, helplessly feeling 'I can't do this'. Remember that even if it feels like it, you're not alone in experiencing these emotions. Be gentle with yourself, allow others to help, take professional support and give yourself time to heal.
- It can be tough coming to terms with how much your life has completely changed. Yes, you may have really wanted a child, thought through the implications and impact a child would have on your life, but the reality is, living it 24/7, every day of the week, it's often very different. Regularly getting up in the middle of the night because your baby is crying or needs feeding may be assumed as your responsibility. There can be guilt or a feeling of obligation to do everything and do it well because you're now not shouldering the main financial burden and going out to work each day. Motherhood is your role now.
- Appreciate that the baby has brought a sudden and massive change to your identity and role in life. Instead of following your career, making decisions, solving challenges and enjoying stimulating conversations your life is now more ambiguous, dictated largely by a tiny, demanding human. Allow yourself to grieve a little for your previous life. This total transformation may have been an unanticipated revelation, leaving you in limbo, drifting with no advance warning of what was truly involved.
- Once the relentless tiredness, lack of stimulus and frequency of being on your own has set in you may face a stark, lonely reality. 26% of young mums report leaving the house once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month (Young Women's Trust). This can impact hugely on your confidence and self-esteem. Concern at knowing how to be a good parent, as well as coping with the noticeable changes to your body, your looks, the effect on your financial freedom, the very different conversations you now have with your partner, all can be much to reconcile to post-baby.
- The thought of leaving the house makes many new mothers apprehensive. The logistics alone can be daunting. Transporting a baby requires a lot of stuff. Loading and unloading a car or using public transport can be a slow process and if the baby becomes fractious it's even worse, becoming upsetting and embarrassing. 73% of mothers report experiencing rude or unpleasant behaviour and changing facilities in public rest rooms or feeding their child can be fraught with difficulty.
- Financial concerns are a major factor in a new mother's world. Even when money has been discussed and budgets agreed many new mothers are loathe to spend money on non-essential things, like coffees, lunches or personal items like a new lipstick. A lack of cash is a factor in 40% of mothers feeling lonely. Babies are not cheap and concern that three people may now be living on one salary, albeit temporarily, can further reinforce a new mother's decision not to socialise when it entails spending money, pushing her into further isolation.
- Inviting other mums round simply for coffee, may not feel comfortable as home is unlikely to be as tidy as it was pre-baby. Wanting to be a good hostess, whilst maintaining quality standards can deter from issuing invitations. Being overtired, feeling it's too much effort and having little interesting conversation to offer can discourage feeling sociable, so resulting in further isolation and loneliness.
Softly, softly can be the way to move into your new role. Frequent places where other new mums go; the park, soft play areas, leisure centres and gradually befriend those who are on their own. Smile and find some initial common ground. Exchange phone numbers so you can keep in touch, chat and maybe meet for coffee. Source a local 'open house' baby or child group. Negotiate some time each week to spend with people of your own age; it might be a wrench at first to leave your baby, but it's important to retain some of your own identity. Find ways to reduce your loneliness.