When I first brought my new bundle of joy home from hospital, friends and family were beating a steady path to my door. For four straight weeks, people dropped by, bringing gifts and well wishes, and requests to cuddle my newborn son.
Then, just as I was nearly all cup-of-tea’d out and starting to crave some alone time, the visits dried up as everyone returned to life as normal. Suddenly, I was alone with my baby day in, day out, and the lion’s share of my time was spent singing nursery rhymes to a capricious audience of one.
The lonely life
For many women, feelings of loneliness as a new mum come as a surprise. So much focus is spent on the birth and those first couple of weeks when you bring bub home that little thought is given to what life will really be like when caring for an infant around the clock.
Jancee Dunn, mother to daughter Sylvie and author of the relationship-mending book How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, admits she grappled with loneliness when she first became a mother.
“I started feeling very lonely probably about three weeks after giving birth,” Dunn says. “I spent the first two weeks at my parents’ house, and then I went home, and my husband went back to work.
“I remember it was late spring, and I’d take the baby out in the stroller, and we’d walk all day in my Brooklyn neighbourhood, and sometimes, aside from a phone call or two, I wouldn’t talk to anyone for hours …” says Dunn. “I’d get sort of pierced by feelings of isolation.”
Dunn’s experience is a surprisingly common one, with a survey conducted by ChannelMum.com revealing that more than 90 percent of mums admit to feeling lonely after having their first child.
Despite its prevalence though, many first-time mothers often keep their experience of loneliness to themselves, with the survey finding that three in five women tried to hide their feelings, and over a third kept these feelings from their partner.
“We all know having a child takes a physical toll on your body, but it can take a mental toll too,” says founder of ChannelMum.com, Siobhan Freegard. “It’s terrifying that in our connected ‘always on’ society, nine in 10 mums still feel isolated and lonely, often with deeply troubling consequences.”
Feelings of isolation and loneliness are thought to be risk factors for the development of postpartum depression, which according to Beyond Blue is on the rise – effecting 1 in every 7 women who give birth in Australia.
Why so lonely?
Loneliness and isolation experienced by a first-time mother is usually felt across four key areas:
- Work: Many women miss the daily contact with workmates that comes after a shift from full-time careerist to round-the-clock mother;
- Social: Many new mothers may feel they have to put friendships (particularly with those who are childless) on the backburner while caring for a baby;
- Financial: Many women may find themselves, for the first time in their adult life, without an income and therefore relying on their partner to bring home a paycheck, which may lead to feelings of vulnerability; and
- Geographical: With more opportunities to work or retire interstate or even internationally, family units can be quite disparate, and first-time mothers may find themselves without local family support.
What just happened?
First-time mother to a three-month-old little girl, Genevieve Barrett reveals she was completely blindsided when feelings of loneliness crept in.
“I went from feeling totally capable in my job, spending my days attending meetings, connecting with people and climbing the corporate ladder to sitting at home all day with my baby, and it left me feeling quite isolated,” Barrett admits.
“I missed those daily interactions with coworkers and grabbing a quick dinner after work with a girlfriend. My husband and I started to feel like two ships passing in the night as I would be climbing into bed an hour after he’d got home from work, as I was trying to catch up on the sleep I was missing out on every night.”
How to combat that lonely feeling
1. Identify whether you’re actually feeling lonely
Ask yourself, are you feeling isolated, or are hormones and/or fatigue just getting on top of you? Once you’ve recognised it’s loneliness you’re experiencing, you can look at ways to tackle it.
2. Reach out to friends and family
Many people may assume you’re so busy caring for your new bub that you won’t have enough time to socialise and may steer clear by trying to give you “space”. Don’t be afraid to reach out and assure them that actually, a quick coffee catch-up is exactly what you need.
3. Get out of the house
While it may seem like a herculean task, especially in the really early days, simply getting out of the house can help clear the cobwebs enormously. Some fresh air, sunshine and a quick chat with the cute barista at your local coffee shop can help you feel like you’ve rejoined the human race.
4. Download the Mush app
Dubbed “Tinder for mums” two Melbourne mothers, Felicity Morrow and Antoinette Marshall, launched the UK app Mush in Australia, that connects like-minded mothers in their local area.
5. Reclaim some me-time
It’s easy to fall into the trap of putting your needs on the backburner while caring for bub, but carving out some me-time is crucial for not only your sanity, but for your relationships with both your partner and baby.