I love my kids more than molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. But it’s amazing how lonely motherhood can be. I also have a relatively small social appetite (I like dinner parties and movie nights and having a few girlfriends over to watch bad TV), so you’d think I wouldn’t mind all the alone time. But being alone and feeling alone are two fundamentally different things.
I have two kids under the age of three and a husband who spends roughly four months of the year on the road for his job. I have a couple of babysitters in my iPhone rolodex who apparently have a much more lively social calendar than I, which all adds up to me spending A LOT of time at home with our children. I suppose there are those moms who would say, “I’m with my kids all the time so I could never be lonely!” Those moms are either crazy or lying. Because as exciting and amazing and fulfilling as motherhood can be, it’s also one of the most isolating choices a woman can make.
To be honest, the feeling of separate-ness starts creeping up during pregnancy. Women are advised not to tell a bunch of people until about the 12-week mark because the chances of something terrible happening are highest during the first trimester. This sets us up for that weird feeling that comes with keeping a secret – it can be the teeny tiny crack in the bond of friendship that, later on down the road, becomes a canyon between you and the people you used to rely on.
This can be especially true in the workplace, where you usually have those few trusted compatriots who cover for you when you’re hungover or feeling blue. I remember very well the bummed out feeling I had when I lied to those favorite co-workers during my first few weeks of pregnancy. I was so ridiculously tired I could barely think straight and their genuine inquiries into my well-being were met with my disingenuous response: “Nothing. Just tired. Not sure why…”
Some friends (probably from the never-been-pregnant category) fall away over the course of a wee one’s incubation – perhaps annoyed with the constant mood swings, unable to understand the claims of true fatigue or just due to irritation that you’re not drinking. (It should be noted here that these people were never really your friends. Still, their disappearance from your life does not feel good.)
And then the baby arrives! Cards! Gifts! Three hundred and eight posts on your Facebook wall! All followed by the most intensely intense six weeks of your life, during which you survive only by some miracle of biology that’s designed to support the other miracle of biology that you just brought forth unto the Earth. Even if you had the desire at this point to interact with your friends, it’s unlikely that you’d have the energy.
That was exactly the case just a few days after our daughter was born. Our best friends were having a party and there was very little discussion as to whether I’d be going or not. My husband, of course, was ready to get out of the house and away from babyville for a few hours. So there I sat with a tiny baby on my boob, knowing that all of my closest friends were just a few blocks away, but feeling thousands of miles apart.
Fast-forward several months. Things between your baby and you are pretty well sorted out. Routines are in place and every little bit of independence gained by this tiny human translates to the same for you. But you still can’t dart away for an afternoon yoga class, you can’t say “yes” to girls’ night until you find a sitter and you can’t even really talk to your husband about it because you’re feeling further and further away from him, too.
Which leads me to what may be at the root of this profound sense of isolation; the sad fact that you’re not even feeling connected to your partner anymore. In the beginning, maternal preoccupation is necessary for your baby’s survival. Unfortunately, it also has a tendency to make your husband or partner feel left out and less important. These feelings are likely unconscious but nonetheless can easily lead to resentment. So you find yourself feeling cut-off from your friends, disconnected from the person you thought would always “get” you and ultimately unsure if you even know who YOU are anymore. It’s a real shit storm of loneliness.
As I said at the beginning of this tale, I love my children madly. But they are not capable of being my best friends. Playdates are helpful, though I often spend more time chasing after my kids than I do getting down to the nitty gritty with my mommy pals. Date nights can certainly help you stay in touch with your partner, but I only know two or three couples who are able to stick to their “couple time” with any regularity. Of course, things will change – in the blink of an eye, as they say. Until they do, it’s a daily struggle between the many true joys of motherhood (there are a million) and the sense that I’m the only person in the world who knows how I feel.
(Photo: D Sharon Pruitt)