Maternity leave is arguably one of the most wonderful, beautiful and special times of a woman’s life.
It’s time she gets to bond, nurture and create a plethora of memories with her baby. Long walks in the park, mum & baby groups and an abundance of smiles, laughter & play. It can also be a really lonely time for many women. You’ve traded in cinema dates, nights out and girly pamper days for Cbeebies, night feeds and a ‘relaxing’ hot bath once a week (if you’re lucky).
Lonely seems like an odd word to use because we’re never alone, literally.
I, for one, haven’t spent a single hour totally alone since my son was born. But my son can’t talk to me, he can’t properly communicate just yet. I excitedly wait for my husband to come home and ask him how work was and I want to hit him when he simply replies ‘yeah, it was fine’. No Patrick, tell me about it. As boring as you think it is I want to hear it! I want some mundane adult chat. Otherwise I’ll be talking reams of baby babble in no time.
People don’t forget you exist – but sometimes it can feel that way. You feel totally out of the loop. You even miss work. Yep, said it. You miss work. What I’d give to pitch up for a meeting notebook in one hand, piping hot skinny latte in the other and talk through my to do list followed by a good old chat. Finding out what people did at the weekend, the latest office gossip, where so and so has just booked to go on holiday. I miss the pleasantries – the lift journey hello & goodbyes, the ‘hot water tap’ catch-ups whilst you’re making a cup of tea, the lunch queue convo.
When you’re stuck indoors with a baby attached to your boob, baby clothes washing coming out of your ears and yet another poonami to deal with it can be very easy to feel disassociated with society. It’s like there’s this whole other world going on outside of my window that I’m no longer a part of. My membership card has been updated and I have access to this whole other area but in exchange I have to wave goodbye to the old one – and only on the very rare occasion am I allowed a look in.
People think you’re having time ‘off work’. I wish they realised that I’ve actually never worked harder in my life and trust me that work never stops.
It’s no 9-5. I don’t have lunch breaks, I can’t pitch up to my desk and leisurely check through my emails with a hot brew, christ I can’t even go to the toilet alone! That said it is and will always be the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I get to help grow and nurture another human being. I get to see their firsts, watch them succeed and burst with pride knowing that I played a huge part in that.
A ComRes survey last year found that of the women surveyed, who’d been on maternity leave in the last 10 years, 47% reported that they felt lonely. Another Study conducted by the British Red Cross concluded that 83% of mums under the age of 30 have feelings of loneliness sometimes whilst 43% reported that they felt lonely all of the time. These statistics are saddening. This is the unspoken side of motherhood – the side we’re guilty or embarrassed to admit. Don’t be! It isn’t just you. You only need to google the words lonely and maternity leave to find thread after thread of women reporting these very feelings and questioning why they too feel this way.
Maternity leave and new motherhood can lead to feelings of lost identity – put simply we aren’t quite the same people we were before. Of course we aren’t.
We now have someone who totally depends on us. We can no longer think about just us, we don’t put ourselves first any more. There are a myriad of mum & baby groups etc that we can go a long to and socialise with other women just like us. Though many of these are only for an hour or two and are only once a week. Getting there isn’t always easy! Babies don’t follow a given schedule. I can’t demand that my baby has had his feed, is washed, dressed and ready to go out of the door for 9am. Therefore sometimes I miss these groups and it killsme. Recently Reuben had bronchitis for over 3 weeks which meant I missed my mum & baby group 4 weeks on the trot – they aren’t even going to remember my name by the time I pitch back up! But my baby was poorly and not only did he need my undivided attention and TLC but I also didn’t want to risk making anybody else’s baby poorly.
It’s hard to air these feelings sometimes. Nobody wants to admit they feel lonely, isolated and disconnected. I am absolutely ‘living the dream’ being at home with my gorgeous baby boy having all sorts of fun and feeling more in love than I’ve ever felt. I also feel desperately lonely sometimes. I’m not embarrassed nor feel ashamed to admit that. I seek out other ‘mum friends’ on social media in the hope I’ll find other women just like me. I have been fortunate to meet some incredible ladies, some in ‘real life’ too, and many feel the same way as me. I used to spend my days surrounded by other people, I’d socialise during my lunch break, walk with a friend back to my car. Now some days the only other person I see is my husband.
Friends, family and colleagues I’d like to ask you to bear a few things in mind for that lady you know who’s on maternity leave:
*Call her, text her, whatsapp her. She might not get back to you quickly or at all. Please know that she really appreciated it! She may just be busy right now or she may have read your message before getting projectile vomited on and simply forgot to come back and reply
*She feels really out of the loop right now. Even if you’ve only got 30 mins – pop in for a brew. Colleagues you too! Tell her the office gossip, whether you’d believe it or not she’s kind of missing the place
*You’ve got an event coming up or an evening out planned… whether you think she’ll come or not invite her. It’s nice to know people still think of you when making plans
*Don’t forget her special occasions. Colleagues I’m looking at you as well! If she was in the office you’d probably do a whip around, share a cake etc. She’d love to receive a card from you to let her know you’re still thinking of her. If you’re feeling generous why not some flowers too? Family & friends –do not forget. Pop in when you can, send a card, call her up. The littlest of gestures will always be appreciated
*Make time for her. We’ve all got busy lives but not too busy to make time for others. When your turn comes around you’d hope to see those familiar faces regularly too. Don’t expect her to ask you to visit – she’s waiting for you to offer
This only goes some way to exploring those feelings of loneliness some women feel whilst on maternity leave; though I hope it opens your eyes to this subject even a little. I’d love you to share your thoughts and anecdotes in the comments too if you feel comfortable.