I am often asked what I think the most difficult part of being a new mum is. Each time, I reply in the same way. First, I set the disclaimer that it’s all pretty darn challenging (think breastfeeding, post-partum uterine contractions, sleepless nights, colic etc… or do yourself a favour and don’t think about any of that stuff at all). Then, I talk about loneliness.
Hand on heart, the hardest thing for me to get used to as a new mum was the loneliness.
Ouch. Even typing that felt heavy.
When my daughter was born I was rarely alone yet deeply lonely. It is only now, after the dust has settled on those early days, that I can talk about it openly. As a new mother, it felt as though I had changed overnight. I became the new me that I’d be for the rest of my life in a (rather painful) flash. It had taken me 26 years to become the old me and less than 26 seconds for her to disappear. At least it felt that way. I didn’t recognise the woman I saw in the mirror. She looked tired, stretched, distant. She was a stranger and this feeling distanced me even further from everyone around me.
Heightened by the hormonal hurricane that is life post-partum, the loneliness crept in slowly. It came after the paternal leave had ended, after the well-wishers’ jolly well-wishing faded, after I appeared to have healed enough to stand on my own two feet – both literally, and figuratively – though I hadn’t, of course.
The loneliness came when it was just me and her. When I thought about how my world had turned upside-down, about how much I had longed for the little stranger perched on top of me…but also about how very afraid I was of this new role, ‘mother’. It crept in slowly when I struggled to remember who I was before she arrived. I would often welcome visiting relatives or close friends with open arms, only to sit across from them anxiously thinking about the moment they’d have to leave and my girl and I would be on our own again.
The days were long and the nights were longer. There were many times I found it extremely hard to be present in the moment because I found myself fantasising about what it would be like when she got a little older, and I got a little better at this motherhood thing.
Throughout it all, I found solace in knowing that I was not alone in my loneliness. Oh, the irony. Although they weren’t close by, there were other mums out there going through the same thing I was. I would scroll through other parenting blogs or Facebook groups at 3am just to feel as though there were people out there who understood me…that I wasn’t going crazy.
The truth is that pregnancy does not prepare you for the intricacies of motherhood. Motherhood prepares you for motherhood. Which can be a bit tricky if you are doing this for the first time, like I am. This means that it’s impossible to truly know just how drastically your life will change. But the good news is that it also means it is impossible to know just how quickly you will learn to adjust.
When I look back on the past year and a half (ish) I can’t help but be amazed at how far I’ve come in terms of owning my motherhood. I’m slowly starting to find the ‘me’ inside of ‘me’ again. I now live in this privileged place where I get to watch Kate grow and flourish into the most amazing toddler, surrounded by family who love her just as much as I do. Family I am eternally grateful for, for making me feel a little less lost when all of this started.
As for the loneliness? It was powerful and in many ways has left its scars. Will it ever go away completely? I couldn’t say, but I don’t think it ever does. One thing I know for sure is that it does not define my motherhood. Kate’s clunky steps, her current obsession with snails and the strange way she says apple…that’s my motherhood, right there.