The Loneliness of Motherhood
I was sitting at my desk in an open-plan office, high up in a tower block overlooking the city. Pregnant with my first baby and impatiently counting down the minutes 'til I could get the hell out of there and start my maternity leave. Don't get me wrong, I loved my job. I worked in a public service role where I got to work closely with colleagues and meet different members of the public every day, but it often felt as though the long hours went on forever and I never got any 'alone time'. How marvellous it would be not to have to engage in small talk with colleagues on the train, to be able to eat my lunch in peace and to be able to get on with things without someone coming up to ask a question every 10 minutes! In my naive pre-motherhood mind, maternity leave, and the subsequent career break I was lucky enough to be taking, were going to be a holiday from the pressures of inescapable interaction with unpleasant supervisors, demanding members of the public and colleagues. It simply never occurred to me that I might miss them (except maybe my boss!).
A good friend of mine works for a charity (Independent Arts) which aims to improve the quality of life for older people, and others, facing disadvantage or social isolation. You may have seen them on The One Show before Christmas as they aimed for a Christmas no. 1! Her work got me thinking about the loneliness and social isolation facing new mothers. Pregnancy can present an opportunity to create new social networks which provide a "supportive social environment", but this is not always the case. A survey conducted on behalf of the charity Family Action found that one in five mothers lack support networks to help them through pregnancy and are unaware of the services available to help with depression*. In short, new mums are particularly vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation, and this can lead to depression and other difficulties.
We moved house to a different county when our little boy was two weeks old. I didn't know the area, had no friends or family nearby and no clue what baby groups or services were available. I'd obviously not been able to attend any NCT antenatal training as we'd previously been living a couple of hours away. My husband had been forced to spend his paternity leave packing up the house, and returned to work the day after we arrived. This all added to the anxiety of new parenthood and left me feeling overwhelmed and isolated with our new baby.
Those first weeks were really difficult. Even the novelty of not having to interact with my afore mentioned supervisor wore off eventually! I went for weeks barely having a conversation with another adult during the day, and counted the minutes until my husband got home from work. Of course, you're never actually alone. You have this beautiful little person to love and care for. They don't tend to talk back for a while though and, news flash, parenting is tough so you really do need some adult interaction and support.
You may be wondering what loneliness & social isolation has to do with babywearing, and why I'm talking about it on The Wrapping Years. As I sit here on my sofa, 41+ weeks pregnant and eagerly awaiting the (hopefully imminent!) birth of my second baby, I find myself considering what helped me get back out into the world and build those all important support networks. At the risk of sounding as though babywearing is the cure for everything from the common cold to international conflict (although it certainly wouldn't do those causes any harm!), I can honestly say that wrapping was the single most influential factor.
It started with the Facebook babywearing groups. Coveting all the beautiful wraps, learning about the different brands, designs, blends & carries got me through many a night time breastfeeding session. I'm not saying that online social networks are a substitute for real human interaction but, when getting out is just too much of a challenge or you need 'company' at 3am, those web-based interactions can be invaluable. Every group had a different 'feel' to it, and when I found one that felt right for me, I stayed. I began to chat to other mothers in the group, and this led to 'real life' regional meet-ups and the making of real friends.
Living in a rural area, I couldn't walk out of my front door with a pushchair to go anywhere. There are no pavements, and no amenities (excluding the village W.I. meet-up!) within walking distance, although I am surrounded by beautiful countryside. When a car trip out with a newborn seemed too much to contemplate, babywearing enabled me to walk out into fields & woodland to get some air and clear my foggy head. I'll be honest and say that the desire to try out my new wrap or take some selfies to post on a Facebook group were sometimes the only motivation I had to drag my exhausted posterior off the couch!
Buying and selling wraps introduced me to yet more like-minded mums in my area, and 'sling walks' and 'babywearing ballet' followed. I can now say that almost all of the new friends I made locally came through babywearing in one guise or another.
Ultimately, a lovely lady suggested I start up a babywearing blog and I was able to combine my love of writing with that of wrapping. I work when I can, during toddler nap times (as now) or after bedtime, and it gives me an important creative avenue beyond those day-to-day parenting challenges. Certainly, as our little family faces the excitement and upheaval of expanding from three to four, I feel very grateful to have babywearing and the friends and support networks it's brought me.
*Public Health England & UCL Institute of Health Equity paper ' Local action on health inequalities. Reducing social isolation across the lifecourse.' September 2015.