The hidden loneliness of the new mother

Hannah Mallaband with son Albie. Picture: Fifteen Photography.
Hannah Mallaband with son Albie. Picture: Fifteen Photography.
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Nine out of ten mothers feel lonely after the birth of their child, yet over a third won’t tell their partner. Lindsay Pantry meets three mums who overcame their loneliness.

“The loneliness was back, only a hundred times lonelier – the loneliness that can only be experienced constantly attached to another human being and stuck inside yourself.”

Little Sheffield founder Katie Hayward with her children Owen and Athelen. Picture Scott Merrylees

Little Sheffield founder Katie Hayward with her children Owen and Athelen. Picture Scott Merrylees

The words of Sheffield blogger Mumonthenetheredge, who has written candidly about the feelings of loneliness she experienced when becoming a mum for the first time five years ago.

Now a mother-of-two, the freelance writer, who prefers to keep herself anonymous to spare her children’s blushes when they get to the age they are on the internet, has inspired many of her 3,500 Facebook followers to talk about their own mental health through her revealing posts.

They are not alone. Research by Channel Mum shows that 92 per cent of the nation’s mothers feel lonely, with more than half, 54 per cent, feeling more friendless than before they had children.

The parenting site has dubbed today’s mums “the most isolated generation ever”, with the biggest source of isolation being the “cliquey and bitchy” school gate mums or baby and toddler groups.

An image from the Mumonthenetheredge blog

An image from the Mumonthenetheredge blog

Worryingly, three in five hide their feelings and only 38 per cent have ever told their partner - something Mumonthenetheredge relates to.

“Part of the problem is that you feel you have no reason to complain, “ the 38-year-old said. “You have this wonderful thing that you’ve wanted for so long, but you’re stuck in your own head and it’s so difficult to share that experience with other people.

“For me, it started when I was pregnant, I was constantly thinking, ‘please still be there, please still be alive’, and no matter how connected you are with your partner, they can’t be part of that. It’s so isolating.

“And then, in hospital, alone with the baby for the first time, thinking,’what am I supposed to do with this’.

An image from the Mumonthenetheredge blog

An image from the Mumonthenetheredge blog

“When you get home, you are the one who will be up at 4am desperately trying to keep this thing alive, particularly if you are breastfeeding. However supportive your partner is, they can’t feed the baby. Being the primary carer for a child can be so lonely.”

She took solace in the internet, groups of other mums, awake at all hours, not knowing what they were doing, made her feel “normal again”, and then later, sharing her own experiences on her blog.

“It’s been incredible how strangers have responded and how many women feel like this,” she said. “I’ve found a little community that means a lot to me.

“We’re all having the same struggle. At baby groups for example, you desperately want to talk to people but it’s like being back at school with all the cliques - and on top of that you’re sleep deprived and can barely string a sentence together. It’s really tough.”

Hannah Mallaband with daughter Ivy. Picture: Fifteen Photography.

Hannah Mallaband with daughter Ivy. Picture: Fifteen Photography.

For mum-of-three Katie Hayward, throwing herself into baby activities to combat the loneliness she felt as a new mother led to her helping others in the same situation. Her loneliness was compounded by a new wave of grief for her own mother, who died when she was a teenager, and the realisation that her friendship groups were purely linked to her work.

She went on to found Little Sheffield, a voluntary organisation which runs events for parents and a website full of local activities so no one has to be stuck inside on their own.

“I’d been in Sheffield for six years, and suddenly, I had a child, wasn’t at work for a year and didn’t have anyone to see or talk to,” Katie, 34, of Crookes, said. “With mum not being around, I had no one to talk about this little person I was suddenly responsible for.

“You go from living a nice happy life, to living one that’s pretty much out of your control. Everything revolves around your child, around feeding times, nappy changes and nap times. It’s ongoing and relentless, and that’s before the sleep deprivation. It takes so much effort to get out.

“But I soon realised, when I went out, I felt better, and my son was better because of that - and that’s where Little Sheffield came from, the realisation that getting out the house is so good for you, both physically and mentally.”

Little Sheffield’s activities are all based around the theory of getting mums, dads or carers out of the house, and they are all free. She balances work with looking after Edan, six, Owen, four, and Athelen, two - and still makes time for those groups.

“Even if you don’t speak to anyone, just getting out can make all the difference, “ Katie said. “I can be quite a shy person, unless I have my Little Sheffield hat on, and find it difficult talking to people. I always found play groups difficult, but found it easier to talk to people when there was an activity involved, like baby sensory - it relieved a bit of that social pressure.

“When my second son Owen came along, I couldn’t do a lot of activities with a toddler around and became a playgroup convert. Now I help to run three.”

While the Channel Mum research found older mums were more likely to feel isolated than younger mums, that wasn’t the case for Hannah Mallaband.

The mother-of-two, from Greystones in Sheffield, was 19 when she fell pregnant with Ivy, now six.

“Being a mum at 20 was never the plan for me. I wanted to go to uni and felt like I’d let myself down by having a baby at 20,” she said. “When I went to baby groups the paranoia set in and I felt judged by other people - and that was the main reason for my loneliness.

“People seemed so sure of themselves, it was awful. Social media wasn’t helpful. Everybody was sharing how exciting their lives were, but no one shares how hard it can be. Even if you meet up with a friend for a coffee, the rest of the day you’ve been sat in the house on your own.”

“But now I know that everybody was having the same worries and anxieties. With my second, I made sure I talk to everybody.”

Despite being a single mum with a new baby, Hannah started studying for an Early Years Education degree at Sheffield Hallam University when Ivy was just six weeks old.

“I wanted to show myself that I was doing what I needed to do,” she said. “It gave me something else to focus on other than my feelings of loneliness.”

After gaining her degree, Hannah became a primary school teacher, but after giving birth to Albie, now one, decided to re-train as a childminder. She now blogs about her life and has a popular Instagram, both called Childcare Adventures.

“When Albie was born, I enjoyed being at home so much more, maybe because I was older and more sure of myself as a mum,” Hannah said. “Becoming a child minder was a much better fit and working for yourself, even though it can be hard work, gave my self-esteem a boost. I wanted to start my blog to show people that you can change your life around when you are young.

“Becoming a new mum is a time when you’re at your most vulnerable, it should be ok to say that you’re lonely.”

The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to highlight the devastating health effects of loneliness since February 2014.

In February 2016, on the second anniversary of the campaign, we announced that Batley MP Jo Cox was launching a cross-party commission to tackle the issue. Following her tragic death in July last year, the commission was taken forward by her friend and colleague, Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, and Conservative MP for South Ribble, Seema Kennedy.

This month we’re backing the Commission’s bid to get people to take responsibility for those in our lives who may be feeling lonely by simply starting a conversation. Visit The Yorkshire Post website or search #happytochat for more information.