The reality of new motherhood can be difficult and really lonely
Not every new mum finds the first few months at home with baby to be as magical as they’ve been led to believe. The reality can be difficult, and very lonely.
Cot – check. Moses basket – check. Preparation for loneliness? Well no, it’s not top of the list for any expectant mother awaiting the birth of her first child.
There’s a wealth of information available to expectant parents who want to know how to prepare – books, websites and friends – all advising on what to buy and what to expect. Baby lists with everything they need, and many things they don’t. But one element that few people talk about is how lonely first-time motherhood can be.
Not everyone is lonely. Many first-time mothers find their true calling during those early months, and embrace it. They may not know exactly what to do all the time, but they don’t let it derail them.
However, some mothers are lonely, and very few are prepared for that. Being at home with a new baby can be an utterly overwhelming experience, and this is compounded when mothers feel they are the only ones who are struggling.
Liza Finnegan (30), mother of nine-month-old Harry, was surprised at how challenging she found her first few months as a parent. “I’d wake up and wonder how long until he would go to bed, so I’d have a few hours for myself,” says the former medical secretary from Goatstown in Dublin.
“Harry had silent reflux, and as a result, he cried a lot. Because of it, he hardly slept at all. I was at my wits’ end a lot of the time because he cried so much. And people would turn around and say, ‘but sure all babies cry, that’s normal’, so I thought it was just one of those things,” she says.
And that’s the problem; first-time mothers are muddling through as best they can, and can find it difficult to know which advice to listen to and which to ignore. Many books set unrealistic expectations about feeding and sleeping, so the new mother who reads that babies nap for five hours a day looks at her wide-awake, crying child and wonders what she’s doing wrong and if she’s the only one struggling. But as Finnegan realised over time, “with babies, there is no normal”.
So why does this happen? How do mothers find themselves feeling unexpectedly lonely?
Lactation consultant and owner of Breastfeedingsupport.ie Nicola O’Byrne feels that a big factor is the sudden change when visitors and excitement ebb away after the initial post-birth stage. “In the first couple of weeks, it’s all new, you’re learning. And then it can become quite monotonous; it’s the same thing every day.”
She points out that tiredness is a factor, and that if parents don’t know people with babies, they don’t know what to expect. “I’d say it’s more common for mothers to have times when they feel overwhelmed and lonely than to just sail through the early months,” says O’Byrne.
Marketing professional Elaine Carroll (36), mum to two-year-old Maya, found that the transition from full-time employee to first-time motherhood was a huge adjustment. “I missed talking to people, I missed my brain working,” she says.
“I remember overwhelming loneliness at times – hearing a car outside and hoping it was my husband. I found maternity leave challenging, and I was looking forward to going back to work.” It’s clear that this is a huge adjustment, but many mothers don’t make allowances for it.
Helen Plass, yoga instructor and owner of Mumandbaby.ie, a website dedicated to pregnant women and new mums, points out that mothers are not used to being on their own during the day. “They are used to using their brains, having hobbies and adult conversation. Any form of social interaction can help. Try mum and baby groups, music classes, baby yoga, baby massage, or breastfeeding groups,” she suggests.
What about the pressure to ‘enjoy’ everything? Finnegan recalls visiting work with her baby, and being asked if it was the best time of her life. “I thought ‘why don’t I feel that?’ You feel you can’t tell anyone you’re not happy every minute of the day.
“Not everybody likes the baby stage and that’s perfectly okay,” say O’Byrne. “The important thing to remember is that it gets better.”
So the message from new mothers is to get up and get out, no matter how hard it seems. And above all else, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not loving the early days of parenthood; it does get easier.
Mother & Babies