In a world where millions of people can be reached in the time it takes to post an emoji, these are meant to be the most connected, the most engaged of our history. And yet despite all of these advances, these opportunities and methods of communication, people, including new mothers, are still suffering in silence from something that you would think no longer exists in the 21st century: loneliness. Myself, as a first-time mother, included.
According to the Office for National Statistics this year: "In the UK, 5% of people aged 15 and over reported feeling lonely most or almost all of the time in the week (...)"
I'm a happily married 31 year old who had her daughter 'R' fifteen months ago. For context, I live with my husband in a lovely small town in Cheshire but sadly, our closest family live 120 miles away. My friends consist of a mix of ex and current colleagues, university friends, and a new social group of local mums who had babies around the same time I had mine. Little R is my only child and I have felt repeatedly lonely since she was born.
A few hours after my daughter was born, she was taken away from me and admitted into Special Care with suspected meningitis. Even writing this, I can't stop the tears smarting my eyes. It should have been the most joyful, love-filled memory and yet I can still picture myself sitting in a side room of the hospital, with an empty chair where my husband should have been (he was sent home), and an empty cot where my baby should have been. That was the first, but not the last, moment I felt truly lonely.
Loneliness should not be confused with being alone. You can easily be alone, or be just you and baby, and not feel one iota lonely - in the same way you can be in a room full of friends or other new mothers and feel so desperately isolated from everyone in that space that you hide in the toilet with your baby and cry (she says from experience.)
An article by the Daily Mail said: "In a new survey, commissioned by AXA PPP healthcare and Netmums, more than a quarter of first-time mums admit to feeling lonely, with 24 per cent also admitting they had no family nearby to help with the workload of caring for a young child."
Yep, that'll be me then! But at the time, I didn't realise I felt this way as I was trying to overcome separation anxiety from my baby (you can read my blog post on this here) and I hadn't really thought about loneliness as a first-time mother. After all, how can you be lonely when you have another human being with you 24/7I had a rough start with Little R being in Special Care, and also with a multitude of breastfeeding complications (tongue-tie, mastitis, low milk supply, bleeding that caused R to vomit blood...) but the love I felt for my daughter meant my every waking (and often sleeping) moments were about her, what she needs and wants above my own needs and wants. Feeling lonely was just 'one of those things' - and that it wouldn't stop me doing the activities I felt I *had* to do with Little R.
Then one day I had spent a whole day at home because R's sleep was so erratic and I didn't want to disrupt her routine (are you nodding along there?) Out of the blue a friend dropped in for a cuppa on her way home from work to see how I was and I preceded to sob my heart out and utter four life-changing words: "I feel so alone." That was the breakthrough.
After finally admitting it to myself (and my poor friend), I was then able to identify what triggered those feeling, and know when I needed to ask for help. My triggers were trying to fit in all the chores during baby's very short nap times, often crying in the sink and desperately wishing I wasn't doing this on my own. I was also worst in the period between my husband leaving work (which is erratic, as he works away a lot) and waiting for him to come home; that countdown was my nemesis as I felt chained to the house due to feeding/nap time routines but was very ready for someone (anyone) to be there, talk to me, make me a cup of tea or simply provide enough of a distraction that I could 'let go' whatever was overwhelming me at the time. Once I had established a pattern, I was able to put things in place that made me feel supported when I suspected I may need that the most, with the love and support of my husband, friends and family.
If you're reading this and feel the same then I urge you to do what I did and speak out. Whether it's to your partner, a friend, your GP, your health visitor, or even a neighbour, everyone deserves to feel like they have someone to turn to in a moment of need. You'll be surprised just how many people will be there for you, so long as you are brave enough to speak out. I urge you to be brave. After all, becoming a mother is the bravest thing you will ever do and you've already done that bit.
Styles by nature (no longer by name)