We’re Really Not Supposed To Do Motherhood Alone
There’s an African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”
The idea is that it takes a whole community to raise a child — grandparents, neighbours, extended family, friends.
But, what if we don’t live near our parents, extended family or friends? What if we haven’t made any mum friends? What if we feel like we can’t open up to those around us about our struggles in motherhood?
First time mum
When I became a mum for the first time just over three years ago now, it hadn’t ever really occurred to me that I would feel crippling loneliness when my little bundle arrived. Pre children, I pictured my life with a small baby in cosy coffee houses with other mum friends, sipping on comforting warm drinks while our babies slept next to us as we cooed over them. After all, being at home for a whole year would be lovely right?
And nothing could be more hard work that my job in a busy hospital surely? (Don’t worry, I want to go back to my pre child self and give myself a slap too!)
When pregnant I didn’t feel the need to do the usual NCT classes and didn’t make any real effort to meet other local pregnant women as I had lots of friends already.
Being lonely when baby arrived literally never crossed my mind…
I was lucky…
…to have had a quick, straight forward birth and physically I recovered really quickly. With a mix of left over adrenaline and buzzing hormones, I felt pretty damn good and just wanted to get up and out. The first two weeks of her life my husband was off work and we spent our time in a hazy sleep deprived state proudly pushing the buggy round our village, dropping in to the local for an afternoon glass of wine and generally living in our little bubble. But the visitors soon stopped, two weeks flew by and my husband returned to work and I’ve honestly never felt more alone – physically or mentally – in my life.
I remember sitting in the living room, staring at my daughter in her bouncer chair and thinking ‘right, what do I do now?’ But there was no one to tell me what to do, where to go to meet people or that actually it was perfectly normal to feel so incredibly lonely. Loneliness definitely wasn’t discussed in the antenatal classes or spoken about in pregnancy. So, maybe it was just me?
I’d gone from being a pretty outgoing and confident person who spent my working days making connections with people and patients to spending most of my time within the same four walls with no structure to my day. I don’t think you can ever prepare yourself for that.
I’d seek out supermarket trips for as long as I could (walking down every aisle or purposefully splitting my shopping list across a couple of days) just for something to do and a reason to be out of the house. But it struck me when I started looking, just how many other mums were wondering round supermarkets, taking long walks in the local town or sitting in cafes on their own with their babies.
When I did drag myself out to baby groups, I’d look around and notice how many mums there were sat around the baby sensory mat, knees almost touching, babies within inches from each other and yet apart from a polite smile or ‘hello’ many spent the whole session in silence, barely making eye contact with one another.
For some, it would have been a huge deal to even show up to the class that day and I wondered how many had really pushed themselves to try a class this morning but wouldn’t return after pretty much being ignored or feeling embarrassed because their baby spent the whole session crying.
So, I decided that I would start to push myself to strike up conversation with other mums, more than just the standard ‘ahhh how old?’ or ‘is she your first?’ I started to plonk myself down next to other mums and classes and ask their name and how they were finding things. When they’d ask in return I’d be honest and answer ‘it’s bloody hard isn’t it? I feel shattered and no one warned me how lonely it can be’ The relief or nervous laughter that would spread across their faces was both reassuring and sad. I was relieved that I wasn’t alone in feeling alone but also terribly sad that there was so many suffering this unspoken taboo too.
Friendships soon formed and I’m pleased to say that when my little boy arrived just 15 months after his sister, my experience was completely different. And thank goodness it was with a colicky, silent reflux baby who spent the majority of his first year dreadfully unhappy as I’m not sure what I would have done without my mum friends, Whatsapp groups and kind gestures from my mum tribe.
Now my children are older, I realise more and more than loneliness can strike at any stage in motherhood. The relentless newborn months are oh so hard but every stage has it’s challenges whether it’s starting school, returning to work, deciding to stay at home, having a child with additional needs or suffering with post-natal depression. We all struggle. There’s no manual and often we’re too embarrassed to stand up and ask for help or admit we’re finding things hard for fear of being judged.
And so I urge you to reach out to another mum today
Whether it’s the mum with a tantruming toddler in the supermarket or the mum at the school gates who never seems to engage in conversation with any other parents. A warm smile, paying for her coffee or an ice-breaker comment. You never know how much of an impact your small act of kindness might have on her day.
After all, we’re really not supposed to do motherhood alone.