Isolation in Motherhood
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how dang isolating motherhood can be. I’ve been there and wanted to share some thoughts on exactly why it’s so important to connect with other mothers during this season of our lives.
To begin with, I understand how difficult it can be to connect, especially if you are more introverted or just plain tired and connecting with others seems to be the last priority. I understand wanting to get into warm pajamas and watch TV at night rather than going out and doing something socially. I understand that new moms sometimes worry about how they might be perceived or judged, which prevents them from wanting to meet other moms. All of this is normal and if you’re feeling this way…you are not alone!
However, one of the biggest factors that I see as playing a role in some of my moms with postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety is that feeling of isolation. This occurs especially in those of us who may not have family close by and really need friendships that can blossom into an extended family for us. So, how do we reach out, especially if it feels unnatural to us?
First, we need to begin by understanding that the need for intimacy is a core basic human need. Now, on this particular blog, I am not talking about sexual intimacy, but emotional intimacy (I’ll save that other piece for one of my couple’s blogs)!
Erik Erikson, a leading psychoanalyst who pioneered many of the ideas around psychosocial development, believes that we have specific stages in our development where certain needs have to be met. In the range of 18-40 we are in the stage he refers to as “intimacy vs. isolation.” During this stage, relationships characterized by closeness, honesty and love need to develop. These relationships allow us the ability to form committed, lasting and nurturing bonds with others. If this is not met, we may be faced with the opposite, isolation, which can stunt our psychosocial development.
Becoming a new mom can feel isolating because of the demands on our bodies and minds. It can be isolating if you are the first or only of your friends to have a baby and others are not in the same place as you. It can be isolating if you have a spouse who works long or odd hours and you are taking on the brunt of parenthood because of this. Even moms with older kids may feel isolated if they move to a new town or start a new job and need to establish new relationships. When a new mom is dealing with postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, it becomes even more difficult to connect as it takes even more effort than it usually would.
This is when it is even more important to push ourselves into those intimate relationships. During those times where we are struggling, we need friendships and need to develop the type of intimacy where we can be open and honest with someone so that we do not drown in the sorrow of isolation and loneliness. Becoming connected is physically good for our mental health. Social support plays a crucial role in the well-being and health of not only moms, but their children as well. Being connected to others can provide us with emotional support where we can talk about our experiences, feelings and concerns with those who are in a similar boat as us and may be able to offer us some knowledge and expertise. Social support is proven to reduce levels of stress and also help with decreasing feelings associated with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. Social connections can enhance our levels of confidence and can actually provide physical health benefits. Our physical health can benefit from socially connecting through walking together, going to a park together, or even just helping each other with household tasks. Most importantly, social connections during motherhood allow us to have some time for self-care and fun and reduce the feelings of isolation, which can be so detrimental in motherhood.
So, if you’re now asking… but how do I find friends? I have a simple piece of advice that worked for me. Take a risk. Even if it feels entirely awkward or out of your comfort zone, you are only going to develop connections if you can take a deep breath and leap out of that zone. Find local mom groups in your area and attend a get together. Be yourself… don’t worry too much about being judged because the people who are attracted to your authentic self are the ones you want to be around anyway! Use social media… every town has a mom’s group you can join on Facebook. Use this as a resource! I am going to tell you a personal story that was a big jump for me and is an example of how taking this leap of faith can really help.
When my daughter was about 4 months old, I was struggling deeply with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. None of my friends had babies yet and it was dead winter - which is isolating enough! I was feeling extremely alone. It was very unlike me to do this, but I decided to reach out to the administrator of a mom’s group I was on via facebook. Back then, there was no way to “anonymously” post and I explained to her how I was feeling isolated and looking for another new mom who might be feeling the same way. She posted on my behalf asking if anyone was feeling in the same boat. I got a reply from another Mom who had a 1 month old. We agreed to meet up at Target (of course!) and walk around the mall together. Again, meeting someone on what felt like a “blind date” was totally awkward and unusual for me, but I knew I needed to get myself out there. Turns out, I was meeting one of the best friends I could ask for. This friend, Beth, became the most invaluable support system to me at that time. It was like it was meant to be! We were both going through all of the newborn phase stuff at the same time and were able to develop such a solid friendship very quickly. Luckily, our husbands became the best of friends as well. Almost 10 years later, Beth is still one of my best friends and we have both added two new kids (again at the same time) to our families. If I hadn’t taken that small leap of faith to reach out, I would’ve been stuck feeling isolated and alone and would’ve missed out on the opportunity to find this friend who is now family.
So Moms, no matter what stage of life you are in, if you are feeling isolated, take that chance! Isolation is not good for any of us and we need to actively take a role in climbing out of our discomfort to connect again. As we are getting into the winter months, I am going to start developing new mom groups in person in my Wilton, CT office. If you are interested in joining, please let me know so I can put you on the list! These groups are meant to combat that feeling of isolation for any postpartum moms and build a solid community where we can come together and support one another.
Whether you are struggling with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, are new to town or are just feeling isolated in general, Quiet Light Counseling can help! Please reach out if you’d like to talk more.