I was surprised by how isolated I felt after the birth of our first child. Having been in the workforce for nearly 20 years before becoming a mother at 32, I was not used to being at home all day. Of course, I was busy nursing every couple of hours, changing diapers, doing mountains of laundry, and trying to get myself cleaned up to change from my regular sweats into my ‘dress up sweats’ so I would look presentable if anyone came to visit.
But, after the initial family viewing of our new baby, few visitors came to break up my day. My husband left early each morning for a 45-minute commute to work in Manhattan from our home in Queens. My parents lived in Las Vegas and my in-laws spent much of their time in Florida. There weren’t many stay-at-home mothers in our building, so I had virtually no contact with my peers.
Parenting is Lonely
In Raquel D’Apice’s funny and straightforward book Welcome to the Club: 100 Baby Milestones You Never Saw Coming, she notes at #56 that “Parenting is lonely. I did not know this going in. There were days when being home alone with a baby felt like a game of hide and seek when you realize that no one is looking for you, only lonelier.”
We are not meant to navigate this time alone or with just our significant other. New mothers in other cultures are mentored by elder women and get help with cleaning, cooking, and care of older children. In African villages children collectively belong to all the adults. Compounds in Bali house several generations. In China there is a tradition called “Sitting the Month” or Zuo Yuezi where a new mother stays with a family member so she can have help recovering and focus on her baby.
But, that’s not typical in the U.S. With family members spread out across the country, I needed to find new friends and build a community of support for myself.
The first place I tried was my church. It was a huge parish in Forest Hills where I saw many families each Sunday. I figured some of them must be staying home, too. So I put a tiny ad in the church bulletin inviting new moms and their babies to an afternoon gathering in the church basement. Three days later, 42 mothers showed up!
Well, I guess I wasn’t the only mother who felt isolated and unsure of how to navigate motherhood. We ultimately formed smaller groups and met in each other’s homes at least once a week. We talked about how to soothe a fussy baby, how much our nipples hurt from nursing, and sleep deprivation. It was reassuring to know that others were facing the same issues and I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
Word got out in the neighborhood and we welcomed other women, no matter what family situation or parenting style. When we heard about a preemie mom or someone who was an introvert, we took extra steps to give her the support she needed by calling or leaving treats at her door.
But making new friends as a grownup can be hard. This all happened to me in 1988. Since then, MOMS Clubs have been established in cities all over the country. There’s a Hello Mamas App used by almost a hundred thousand mamas to meet local moms, plan playdates, and get the support every mother needs to really enjoy motherhood.
If you’d like more personalized care, consider hiring a postpartum doula. Doulas can provide information on feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, mother-baby bonding, infant soothing, and basic newborn care. Whatever path you choose, staying connected is essential for good health and happiness. This can make all the difference for new mothers and their families.