Motherhood and social isolation

Today’s post is a guest post written by Emma Duke, who visited the café last year while on maternity leave. Many thanks to Emma for sharing her experiences with us. If you’ve visited us and would like to write us a guest post, please get in touch: we’d love to hear from you! And if you’re struggling with motherhood, feeling isolated, or just want to come and have a cup of tea and a friendly chat, come at see us on Fridays at Flo’s from 10:30 am to 11:45 am.

Emma says: I did all the ‘right things’: My partner and I did NCT classes, I signed up for Baby Yoga, identified the best ‘Yummy Mummy’ cafes in the area…maternity leave would be a social whirlwind!

I’m a sociable person, an extrovert, I have a busy Communications job. I’ve had plenty of challenges in my life, but nothing prepared me for the isolation of maternity leave.

The exhaustion and body trauma brought me down like a tray dropped at a dinner party.

But I signed up for the groups, I went along…and was utterly puzzled by my inability to join in, to bond with all these lovely women. I’m gregarious, talk too much, regularly embarrass myself, spurred on purely by my desire to connect, engage, take the selfie.

But suddenly I was adrift. The conversation was on entirely new topics. My normal identity (bright, bouncy PR-person) was wiped and replaced with ‘Another Mum.’ No one praised me for my work anymore. “So you spent all day at home feeding and caring for your baby? Big deal…” My darling baby daughter was adorable, but rubbish at Recognising Her Fellow Employee.

So I slogged on, volunteered, gritted my teeth during some groups and enjoyed others…and emerged from my first maternity leave with a deeply damaged sense of self (in retrospect). By the time I had my second child I knew I wasn’t going to get this wrong again. I made a more balanced plan: more walks, dedicated time to things I enjoy (baby film screenings FTW!). I’d had some counselling by then, so knew the value of connecting quietly to people I trust.  

But still I struggled. Add breastfeeding to the exhaustion and body trauma and there I was with the Health Visitor telling me I had borderline post-natal depression and anxiety.

That ‘diagnosis’ is a tricky one: helpful in the sense that it was a ‘thing,’ unhelpful in the potential to raise more anxiety just thinking about it. Surely every new mother would have a similar diagnosis? No sleep, lower levels of interaction, responsible for a new tiny human? Still, it prompted me to go to a couple of Motherkind sessions, a group designed to support the mother’s wellbeing, rather than over-stimulate the child. A cup of tea, people listening, not judging, maybe even some cake?

The social isolation of motherhood was a sea I got lost in, and still regularly have to grab my lifejacket to cope with…in a world where state resources to support mental wellbeing are diminishing, places like the Motherkind Café provide a welcome space to just be, and feel cared for. For that, I will always be grateful. 

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