Did you feel isolated as a new mother? If the answer is yes then it’s not a surprising given that apparently over a quarter of all mums say they feel lonely after having a baby and embarking on parenthood, according to research from AXA PPP Healthcare and Netmums. Amongst mums who have already been there, it’s well known that many women experience friendships falling away, difficulty in making new friends, and dislocation from families who live too far away to support them in their new found role in parenthood, making their new role as mum – a role which is already so challenging – that much harder.
Typically, many new mums are reluctant to speak out about feeling isolated, trying to battle on with their loneliness until the dark days are done. So today, in this edition of the “What is it really like…” series, I will be in conversation with Aimee Foster, co-founder of the website Mum Amie whose aim is to make it easier for mums to meet other mums for friendship. Aimee will be sharing her experience of what it is really like to be a lonely and isolated mother….
Had you ever thought that you would experience loneliness a mother?
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I tried to prepare myself as much as possible for her arrival. I read book after book, digesting information about birth, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation and routines. Six months into my pregnancy, it became apparent that I was going to have to go it alone – I was going to be a single mum. This fuelled me to try and prepare myself even more for what I anticipated would be a difficult journey.
Books, magazines, websites and health professionals counselled me on birthing, sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, recovering from the birthing etc. Yet no one mentioned the issue that was going to affect me the most – loneliness.
What happened when motherhood arrived?
Before becoming a mother, I was used to studying and then working full time. I had a great social life, seeing my friends after work and at the weekends. This all changed in a heartbeat when Susie arrived. Suddenly, I was alone with her all day. Every day. I was the first of my friends to have a baby. My friends wanted to see me in the evenings but I was usually too exhausted and I couldn’t go out anyway. I was unable to participate in most of their activities now I had a baby in tow. I felt out of place and distanced.
It was very ironic that for the first time in my adult life I was never alone and yet I had never felt so lonely. I had lost my mum five years before Susie’s birth and suddenly felt her absence even more than usual. This was the time I needed her the most.
Can you try and put into words what that loneliness felt like?
What did you do to try to alleviate that loneliness? Did things change?
At a time when my confidence was shot to pieces, I attended a few baby groups but no one really spoke to me and I gave up pretty quickly. Apart from my neighbours popping in now and then and seeing my friends a lot less than I was used to, Susie and I were alone. I started becoming accustomed to the isolation. And then something truly wonderful happened. I met my (now) husband, Frank. I’m not sure he knows this, but he saved me from spiraling into depression.
Fast forward one year and we were living together as a very happy family. Although Susie and I still spent the days alone together when Frank was at work, it was easier than before, but I still longed for some mum friends of my own.
I decided to take action. Baby groups hadn’t worked for me and so the only other option seemed to be to venture online. I joined a popular parenting website and late that evening, I tentatively posted on the local meet-a-mum board. Even writing a quick post introducing Susie and I took me way out of my comfort zone.
The next day I had three messages in response to my post. Within a week I’d had about twenty. Clearly there were other mums feeling the same way I did. I started going on ‘mum-dates’. Some were brilliant and some were just ok – but each time I went on a ‘date’ I felt more at ease. After a few months of ‘mum-dating’ I had finally found my mum friends – my little tribe of mums who were there for play dates, trips to the park, support, advice, laughter and the odd night out. Having found a new type of social life, I felt fulfilled and happy.
One in four women suffer loneliness after becoming a mother – why do you think it has become such a problem in this day and age?
Many reasons. Firstly, because so many mums don’t live near their families anymore. I lost my mum when I was 23 and I know that I would have found motherhood much easier with her support and presence. I think there may also be less community support nowadays. Neighbours don’t tend to talk to each other and a lot of services that were available for mums have been cut.
My mum told me that when I was a baby, a health visitor came to see her once a week. I think I’ve seen one 5 or 6 times since I had both my children. From my experience, I lost my confidence as a new mum. I was coping with sleep deprivation and the huge change of lifestyle that motherhood brings – so going out to meet people and make new friends was not easy.
Tell us a little bit about how you are now trying to help other lonely and isolated mums…
The whole experience inspired me to create my website, Mum Amie, to try to help other mums make like-minded friends. But I want it to go further than that. I strongly believe that mums-to-be should be better prepared for the fact that, as new mums, they may feel lonely and isolated. They should receive advice and guidance on this in the same way they do about breastfeeding and birthing.
Had I realised just how lonely and isolated I was going to become, I would have taken steps to make mum friends before my daughter arrived. After she arrived and I was grappling with the changes motherhood brings plus a huge loss of confidence, it was much harder to be social!
What else do you think could be done to help mums feel less lonely and isolated?
I would love to see midwives, health visitors and the parenting media address the issues of loneliness and isolation with mums-to-be. Luckily, not all mums will experience these problems. But for those who do, it will surely help if they know what to expect and who can help.
What else do you think we, as a community of mums, could be doing to try and alleviate this upward trend?
I would like more pregnant women to be aware of these issues. When I was pregnant, I received so much advice about feeding, weaning, routines etc. but no one mentioned to me the fact that I might feel isolated and lonely. Had I realised this when I was pregnant, I would have made an effort to meet other parents then when I was feeling confident.
I also think we should encourage mums to speak up about how they feel and know where to go to look for support. There’s no shame in telling someone if you feel lonely – be it a health professional, family member or friend.