First-time mothers are especially susceptible to feeling lonely during their pregnancy, primarily due to inaccurate, often unrealistic, representations of what pregnancy is really like and perceived expectations that it will be a time of blooming, relaxing and nesting in complete happiness.
One of the common misconceptions with loneliness is that you have to be by yourself to feel it. For the record you don’t. We can feel lonely at any time in our lives even if we have family and friends around us; and it can creep up on us when we least expect it and during times when you’d expect to be at your happiest, like during pregnancy and once you finally have your baby in your arms.
So if you’re feeling lonely right now, know this… you are certainly not alone. Although there’s a lot of information about a mother’s mental health after delivering her baby (baby blues and postpartum depression) there is very little discussion about mental health before the baby arrives. However, research shows that it is extremely common to feel lonely when you experience something for the first time and pregnancy and new motherhood present exactly that opportunity.
So let’s take a look at why these feelings of loneliness arise when you are supposed to be happy, glowing and buoyant and enjoying this exciting time in your life.
- You’ve lost your tribe – You feel like you’ve lost your friends. Your previous friendship group are not pregnant or not mothers and you’ve gradually drifted apart as they are unable to relate. You don’t receive the same invitations to join social events anymore or are not interested in late evening catch ups.
- Drastic physical and lifestyle changes – These changes are alien to you and leave you feeling isolated. Changes in hormones can cause a significant decrease in energy, affect your sleep quality, and send you through a rollercoaster of emotions. This cocktail of pregnancy hormones makes you more sensitive to stress and anxiety. Not to mention, you are swollen and exhausted much of the time. It can be challenging to feel like your usual self when you’re so uncomfortable and can make you feel like no-one understands what it’s like. You feel out of control. You’re alone at home during the days and the hours stretch out empty in front of you each day.
- Expectations – everyone else seems to be breezing through pregnancy while you’re suffering with nausea and countless other pregnancy related ailments and it feels like you’re the only one not enjoying it. You thought pregnancy would be different and didn’t expect it to be this hard. Your partner is not as focused on the baby as you are so you feel isolated in your excitement. You know you are supposed to be happy and feel guilty about feeling like this.
- You’ve lost yourself – a drastic physical and lifestyle changes can make it challenging to be your normal self. Maternity leave, moving to a new city, and not being able to keep up with your friends’ social gatherings can mean that you are no longer doing anything related to your life before pregnancy. It is hard to understand who the new you is. You used to have a busy job and career and a buzzing social life and now you’re on maternity leave you have nothing to occupy your time. Being at home all the time feels remote and strange.
- Responsibility – you feel overwhelmed with the responsibity for the baby you are carrying or looking after and it feels like a huge burden resting on your shoulders. The night time feeds are taking their toll but there is you know you’re the only one that can do it.
- Your support system – Your partner is busy with work and you’re bored on your own. Your family all think you need to rest so are trying to leave you in peace. Even those closest to you may not be able to fully understand or empathize with what you’re going through. You might feel like they don’t or can’t care enough. Your body is changing in ways no one else can understand unless they are also pregnant.
There are so many reasons why women feel lonely at this time but it’s a conundrum that we mothers are never prepared for. No-one tells you that you might feel this way… Although these feelings are often normal, they may be signs of prenatal depression. While postnatal depression is widely talked about, pregnancy depression isn’t and it’s much more common than you might think. However, these are not feelings that you have to endure and here’s what you should do if you are experiencing these feelings of overwhelming loneliness.
- Open up to someone you trust – loneliness can create an invisible wall between yourself and others but by talking to someone you will break down that wall. It could be a close friend, family member or a therapist
- Normalise what you’re feeling – know that these are very common feelings and completely understandable under the circumstances. You are not alone feeling like this.
- Find ways to connect – don’t wait for others to reach out to you. Look for small ways to make contact with people each day. Text a friend or family member, speak to people you see everyday at the grocery store or in the park
- Go online – if you can’t connect with anyone in person then try the internet, through Facebook groups or online communities. You’ll be sure to find some women feeling exactly like you. Finding others who are going through what you are is one of the best ways to tear down that wall for good.
- Don’t feel guilty or ashamed of feeling lonely – you are going through a huge transition physically, mentally and environmentally and it is hard to adjust
- Find your new tribe – while you may have lost touch with old friends don’t be disheartened. A whole new world of friendships awaits you and you just have to be open to finding them.
So it turns out that it is completely normal to feel alone during pregnancy and in the early days as a new mother. Pregnancy is one of the most challenging times in a women’s life. However, it is important to address these feelings because if you don’t deal with them early on, they may intensify down the track. Break down those loneliness walls and do what you can to connect, communicate and receive the support and love you need. After all, you may not yet know the new you, but we know she’s worth knowing and fighting for.
Note: Occasionally these feelings of loneliness are a symptom of prenatal depression and it’s important to be aware of this. If you experience any of the following alongside your feelings of loneliness we strongly advise you to reach out to your doctor and seek advice and the support you need.
- Feeling of overwhelming helplessness
- Poor fetal attachment
- Withdrawing from friends and family