In Canada, we know we are lucky to be able to take up to 18 months of maternity leave. We would never complain about this precious time, knowing how good we have it compared to previous generations or parents in the U.S.
Truly, we are blessed and grateful to spend up to a year-and-a-half alone with our babies, and OMG can we please talk about how boring and lonely it is, though?! Because we don’t, yet it is.
WATCH: Oops, you had a baby and now you hate your partner. Story continues below.
A 2018 U.K. study commissioned by BBC Radio 5 found that 47 per cent of women feel lonely on maternity leave. Half, you guys! More than a quarter of the women surveyed said they didn’t enjoy maternity leave as much as they thought they would, and two in five missed their jobs.
And, a 2017 study found that two-thirds of parents felt more lonely since having a baby. Ironic, isn’t it, since you’re rarely, if ever, actually alone?
“The loneliness of new motherhood can stem from a variety of sources, but most commonly, it is associated with feelings of disconnect from one’s past life,” University of Toronto law student Sophie Beaton wrote in her recent essay Never Alone, but Always Lonely: The Social Isolation of Being a New Mother.
But there are ways to get through before you resort to talking to yourself (not that we’d judge. We’ve been there, and frankly, we’re a great conversationalist). We scoured recent research and spoke to a bunch of new moms about how they survived maternity leave to come up with this list.
Here are some tried-and-true methods to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation on maternity leave:
1. Get into a routine
No, not a routine for the baby (although that is also important)— a routine for you.
Get dressed every day, even if you’re just slipping on the same pair of puke-stained leggings you’ve worn all week. If you’re able, have a shower (the luxury!). These small slivers of humanity will add some normalcy to your day and help you feel more awake if your baby isn’t exactly sleeping at night. Plus, it will help with your new-mom stink.
Feel like the days are just one endless diaper change and failed nap after another? Give yourself a bit of a schedule to mark the passage of time and break up the monotony.
Maybe on Mondays, your parents stop by to cuddle their precious grandchild while you take a hot minute to yourself. Tuesdays, you visit the lactation drop-in to see if your nipples can be salvaged or what. Wednesdays, you order in Chinese food for lunch, because you goddamn deserve it.
Thursdays are for pelvic floor physiotherapy, Fridays are for stocking up on diapers on Amazon, and bam! That’s your whole week right there.
2. Get out of the house however you can
There’s nothing like a new baby to make you feel absolutely house-bound. Between their feeding/sleeping schedule, your physical recovery from childbirth and energy levels, and all the shit you need to pack any time you leave the house, it can feel a lot easier to stay home.
And some days, you should do just that and own your hermit-like existence. But not every day, because getting out of the house regularly can improve your mood when you’re feeling down, according to Psychology Today.
It doesn’t need to be a big event. It can be as simple as taking baby for a spin around the neighbourhood in a stroller. Bonus: sunlight and exercise will make you feel more alert. Maybe you’ll even see another mom squinting her eyes in the sunlight, and you can walk together while commiserating about the four-month sleep regression.
Walk to the neighbourhood coffee shop and fuel up. Buy milk. Check the mail. Whatever you feel capable of! And if baby has a blowout all over both of you in the middle of Walmart and then screams like a hyena the entire drive home ... at least that killed two hours, right?
If you’re feeling ambitious, some new moms join gyms on maternity leave, since many of them offer child care. Even if all you do is stretch and then have a shower ... it’s a SHOWER. ALONE.
3. Talk to other parents
Sure, the dream is to have a mat-leave BFF who lives close by, has a baby close in age to yours, and drags you to various mom-and-me activities or shows up for daily play-dates with coffees and donuts.
But even though that’s not the reality for a lot of new parents, there are still ways to connect with others in the same boat as you.
Join some of those annoying mom-and-me classes and drag your own ass there. Hot tip: baby music class and library story hour is not for the baby, who could care less about playing the tambourine in a community centre basement. It’s for you, fool! It’s an excuse to get out of the house and join other mombies for an hour a week.
That mom rocking pajama pants whose baby just barfed on you a little bit? Invite her out for a post-class coffee. Maybe she’s your new best friend.
Join Facebook parent groups and ask questions about sleep sacks and solid foods (but not rashes— admins will be on you like a mom in the Costco parking lot). Call your friends with kids. Go to the free drop-ins in your community and learn about infant massage and nutrition. Compliment another parent at the park on their sexy stroller.
There are new parents everywhere, and chances are they’re feeling as lonely as you.
4. Talk to people who aren’t parents
Hey, remember your friends? You know, the people you met for post-work drinks and occasionally even stayed awake past 9 p.m. with? They’re still out there and probably just a text away.
It’s important to hold onto these ties from your pre-baby existence to remind yourself that you still exist. You, June, not you, Of-Baby.
Message your work wife to ask how that big project turned out and for the latest office gossip. Make an effort to show up at your friend’s art opening, even if you have a baby strapped to your chest and have to leave after 30 minutes. When the baby is old enough and depending on your comfort levels, meet a friend for a drink, dinner, pedicure, latte — whatever you used to do pre-baby.
Maybe you even have a lovely friend willing to come to you for an hour of catch-up while baby has a marathon feeding session.
Yes, it takes effort. Yes, you may feel like you have nothing to say that isn’t about the baby’s poop consistency and the alarming rate at which your hair is falling out.
But try —and if your friends can’t understand that you entire life is baby poop right now, are they really your friends?.
5. Treat yourself
Motherhood is a 24/7 job that doesn’t end until the day you die. Cool. You deserve nice things.
Stock the fridge with your favourite snacks. Brownies for breakfast? HELL YES. A cheese plate to nibble on during baby’s 3 a.m. feeding? You need the energy. Take-out shawarma for the third time this week? You grew a human in your body.
Buy yourself some nice soaps and a loofah to make your showers or baths a little more spa-like, even if you’re tripping over rubber ducks to fill the tub. Pick some flowers to brighten up the house. Sign up for Crave TV so you can finally see what “Killing Eve” is all about while baby naps on your chest each day. Sit on the back deck with a cool drink and a good book when you do finally teach him to nap in the crib (bless).
If you have a partner, take 30 minutes or an hour after they get home from work each day to decompress. Shut yourself in your room for a nap, go for a walk, read a magazine — just do it without the baby. No one can function without breaks.
The treats don’t need to be big (even though we deserve them), they just need to bring you some comfort.
6. Take the pressure off yourself
On the days you can’t bring yourself to get dressed, bathe, leave the house, or do anything except nurse the baby while watching a “Gilmore Girls” marathon on Netflix, just remember this: you are keeping a human alive. You’ve already accomplished more than most people do in a day.
A lot of moms feel like they need to accomplish something on maternity leave, whether it’s taking a course, learning a new language, making a fleet of new mom friends, or finishing the damn baby book. And if you do these things — super!
But if you don’t, don’t you dare feel bad. Maternity leave is hard. The postpartum period is hard. Raising a baby is hard. If all you have to show after 18 months is a happy babe — congratulations!
You did it.
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