The Bad News
One of the most surprising things about being a new mom was the loneliness. After all the excitement of a having a newborn had worn away, the loneliness set in. Prior to having my son, I worked and had a circle of good friends. I liked the balance I had in my social life; I had good, satisfying relationships with women I cared deeply for, and I felt needed and busy with work. While I had always wanted to stay home with my children, I was not prepared for the change. By the time Michael was born, all of my circle of close friends had literally moved across the country, I was living in a new place where I had no social network built up, and 98% of the time my life was contained inside the walls of my home, where I saw only my reflection, my infant son, and my husband. While I was grateful to see my husband, he would come home from work drained and unable to really give me the human connection and interaction I was craving. I felt like I was slowly vaporizing, turning into a non-person in this vacuum of an existence. Yes, I know my son needed me and I was serving an important role taking care of him, but I did not exist. My life caring for him was a series of mundane tasks; feed baby, change baby, hold baby, clean kitchen, do laundry, sleep (if possible) repeat. I loved being a mom, but I had not ever thought that being a mom would be a total extinction of me. I would cry often, just wishing that there was someone near I could talk to, someone I could be friends with, someone I could share thoughts and ideas with and who would do the same with me. I felt stagnant, and I felt like a flickering flame dying out from lack of oxygen. It was miserable.
The Good News
Well, having a newborn is a consuming, time-demanding and energy-demanding job, and it does require much of your personality and being. However, it does not need to be as isolating and lonely as my experience was. Here’s the truth. Women need social connection, and even more specifically, women need other women. You husband loves you. He cares for you and tries to be what you need. But he is a man, and can only empathize so much with what you’re feeling and what it’s like to deal with allllll the many changes that pregnancy and a newborn bring. Not that he doesn’t try, but he is not a woman who has just gone through pregnancy, delivery, and an almost total change of identity. He has his own issues and things to deal with as well, like becoming a new dad, and if you are now a stay-at-home-mom, he needs to be sure his work game is on-point so that he can take care of you and Baby. It’s a lot of pressure for him to shoulder, and while he IS your partner and should care about your feelings and do what he can to support you, we have to realize that we are asking an awful lot from one person. And one person simply can’t deliver everything we need. For that, we need community, friendship, meaningful pursuits and activities that we can grow through and help others as well.
Utilize whatever social resources you have available. They may not be that good at the time; use what you have, then keep moving forward. And I know how hard it is to be proactive when you have become locked in a pattern of seemingly nothingness and isolation, but you must take charge of your own life and go out and make things happen. There are lots of other women out there who are exactly in the shoes you’re in, and would love to find friends who understand the new life they’re living in. It’s also a huge relief for moms to be friends with other moms because, let’s face it, bringing a baby on board changes almost all of the options you have for socializing. You can’t really hang out with your non-baby-owning friends like you would like to. They may still want you, and you may still want them, but there are some big logistical impediments to a social life with baby-free friends. They do things that don’t require considering early bedtimes, naptimes, emotional limits (ever had a screaming baby on a “fun” fishing trip?), and normal things that pose dangers to small babies (no more rock climbing for baby-wearing mommas). So find friends that have the same limitations as you. You can offer each other support and find things to do that work within your new boundaries.
Ways to Build Your Social Network
- Read your local newspaper/magazine. These usually list activities that are family-friendly, and many of them are free.
- Utilize neighborhood groups. The DO exist, and they are close and convenient. Neighborhood clubs, organizations, and parties are an AWESOME resource.
- Get outside. Just being outside of your house increases the chances that you will meet someone else.
- Look for Mommy Meet-ups. You can find these online, and DO THEM. You will find a wide variety of moms who can add lots to your life just by simply knowing them.
- Get a hobby. Ok. So disclaimer. Before my son, I had lots of hobbies. I went salsa dancing, I loved learning and reading philosophy, I was a backyard astronomer, I painted, I ran, I loved yoga and was passionate about education and helping children. I liked people and I like my alone time. I loved hiking, and biking, and even liked the odd thing like going to the movies alone and finding a nice restaurant and reading a book while drinking a glass of wine. When I had my son, I discovered that many of those things were no longer an option with baby-in-tow, and I allowed that to suck the wind right out of my sails. I lost interest in creative pursuits like drawing and painting, and my treasured alone time now felt like punishment. I still exercised and enjoyed it, but it was my solitary consolation in what felt like a sea of otherwise bleak options. But then I discovered that I could trade playdates and babysitting for little “mini” vacations, where I could go out and feel like a part of the larger world again. I would go to a yoga class, or go walk around the city just to appreciate the lights, and I would do something as silly as take selfies and text them to my much longer-for, dispersed friends. It was good for my soul, and I began to find ways to enjoy the things that “I” had enjoyed before, and I would return to being mommy with a much better attitude.
- Use the internet. Technology is an awesome tool. Use it. Connect with others. You’d be amazed at what just talking to a stranger online can do for you, and what you can do for them. If you can’t find the type of online community that suits you, create it. There is nothing that can stop you except yourself. Use what tools you have available. The internet can be used to make many friends all over the world, and you can strengthen and encourage one another.
- Lower your standards. Sounds awful, I know. But my world got a huge shock when I became a mom. I had expected to just pop the baby out and get back to doing “me.” I was very wrong, and it stunned me. I was frustrated and angry that I couldn’t do what I had done before, and I was more than a little resentful. Don’t expect so much from yourself. You’re not going to run marathons, start a new business, go dancing on the weekends and create miraculously gorgeous artwork while having no sleep or free time. To be quite honest, even when the baby would sleep, I still felt so drained that it was all I could do to make it to the couch and fall asleep with Netflix on in the background. Things will change, and it will not always be this way. Be patient. Lower your standards during that first year, and yes, try (it’s hard, I really know) to appreciate the stage you are in.
- Take charge. You can’t rely on others to fix things for you. Not even you husband. Although it may be difficult and hard to put yourself out there and expend energy on building up a social support system, it is vital that you muster up enough vigor and go out and make it happen. No one else can. Only you. So go out and build a community if you don’t already have one in place.
Bottom line, you may have it more difficult than others, or you may have many, many cards stacked against you, but you CAN beat the terrible isolation and loneliness that faces many new moms, and it will only benefit you, your baby, and family life.