November 27, 2018
“With what price we pay for the glory of motherhood.” – Famed dancer Isadora Duncan
Motherhood is complex and the experience of becoming a new mother can be overwhelming. The incredible joy of being a parent to a newborn is mixed with anxiety and worry (“Am I doing this right?!”). Plus, there is the physical recovery from labor and delivery and intense sleep deprivation. It is widely recognized that bringing a new baby home is both amazing and difficult, but very few mothers talk about what an isolating experience it can be.
Even though you now have your new best friend constantly with you, many new mothers feel really lonely. When you have a newborn, you pretty much only leave the house for doctor’s appointments and errands. When you start to feel stir crazy, it seems like so much work to get out of the house with your baby that you may just decide to stay home. Or, you may feel too worried to leave your baby for a fun date night or lunch with a friend. Even the mothers who feel incredible after having a baby can struggle with feeling sequestered.
The support of friends and loved ones is critical for all humans in effectively dealing with stress, and even more paramount for new mothers. Mothers who have social support have higher self-esteem and confidence, thereby increasing their positive and happy perspective of parenthood which in turn benefits the child. Additionally, long-term loneliness can be really dangerous to your health, as it is linked with hypertension, poor sleep and mental illness.
Mothers need support and community. Here are some ways to keep connected or create a community of support when you are a parent:
If your natural inclination is to become less social when you are going through a tough time, you are not alone. People tend to remove themselves from their support system, like friends, when they are dealing with stressful or unhappy situations, which is exactly the opposite of what we need. Don’t withdraw from your loved ones as a new parent. Stay connected. Those who love you are there to support you, just as you have and will support them when they need it.
Four times a week my son and I attend story times, arts and craft classes, music classes and yoga at our local libraries. Not only are these groups incredibly beneficial to Killian’s development, but they are full of other parents. I have met so many nice people at the library, not to mention developed friendships with the children’s librarians who are literally a wealth of kids’ knowledge. The Free Library of Philadelphia offers thousands of free programs each year, including a ton of preschool story time groups and other activities for kids and parents.
When you see other parents at the library or the grocery store, introduce yourself! Parents want to be friends with other parents. When your kids are the same age you immediately have something in common and that connection can lead to great relationship or, at the very least, a friendly smile of commiseration when your child is having a meltdown in the freezer section. Plus, being friendly sets a good example for your little one and may inspire them to have the courage to make new friends.
Check in with yourself from time to time and ask yourself, “How am I feeling?” If the answer is lonely, share that with your partner and your obstetrician, and reach out to family and friends. You do not have to bottle up your feelings or soldier through them alone. Remember to keep talking to your partner, even when you may feel too tired to speak. Co-parents who communicate with and support each other are happier together and as individuals.
The day after we brought Killian home from the hospital, my Mom encouraged me to put him in the stroller and take a walk around the neighborhood. It became part of our new routine. One day as we were out walking when Killian was six weeks old, a friendly woman with a huge smile stopped mid-run to introduce herself as Lory, my neighbor. She invited me over to her house for a playgroup she was hosting a few days later. Not only has she become one of my closest friends, but she connected me to an incredible group of local families. I did not realize how much I needed a group of mothers as a community of friendship and support, but I cannot imagine my life without them. Thank you, Lory!
As an online columnist, I am all too familiar that the web is not always a nice place to share or find support. But there are some truly great resources and communities online for parents from respected, reputable sources. Peanut, an app that connects like-minded mothers, just launched in Philadelphia, providing an easy way for mothers to make new friendships and tap into positive, parenting groups. Through this app, mothers can access a community of other parents to ask questions, share information and be heard by interacting both online and in-person. Additionally, What to Expect When You’re Expecting has good online community forums and I met many Mama friends through a local chapter of MOMS Club, which my friend Lory discovered on Meetup.com.
Many people are going to be calling and texting with congratulations. It may feel so overwhelming that you want to turn off your ringer, but I encourage you to answer the phone when you can and pick up the phone when you need an adult conversation. One of my best friends is on the other side of the country but no matter the distance in miles, we talk and text all the time. She is one of the most important people in my life and a critical member of my support system.
The idea of having houseguests may feel totally incomprehensible when you have a newborn, but helpful, hands-on visitors are just what you need most. While you are taking care of your baby, your Mom can run to the grocery store and do the laundry; your friend can entertain your other children; your sister can help design your baby announcements; your brother-in-law can figure out why that new baby monitor isn’t working right. Plus, there will be someone to keep an eye on the baby while you take a quick shower or try to catch a nap.
My Mom stayed with us for about two weeks after my son was born. The guidance and support she provided to my husband and I was invaluable. I’ll never know how she ran the house, helped with the baby, took care of me and had a nice dinner on the table every night but every day I strive to be the amazing woman that she is. When she left my home after those first couple of weeks, my Mom hugged me with tears in her eyes and said that Ryan and I were ready to do it without her. Her faith in me gave me confidence in myself as a new mother. It is because of her and my father, my sisters and brother Joey, my attentive husband and my incredible group of Mama friends that I never really felt lonely after Killian was born. I felt supported. That is what every mother needs.
It is important to note that feeling lonely and isolated after the birth of a child is different than postpartum depression, which is a very serious disorder. If you or someone you know may have postpartum depression, there are resources available for support and help.
Have you ever felt lonely as a new mother? Where do you turn to for support? Share your thoughts with me and other parents in the comments section below or Tweet me @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.