They say that motherhood can be isolating, and I believe that to be true. In fact, those feelings of loneliness can start well before you take your baby home, like the minute that pregnancy test turns positive and you realize your life's going to change. Becoming a mom is exciting, yes, but it’s also frightening, overwhelming, and confusing. After all, you have no idea what to expect, and no way of knowing how your body (or your mind) will react to such a drastic change. So, to be honest, I’ve never felt more lonely than when I was pregnant, and those feelings of isolation were one pregnancy symptom I absolute wasn't prepared for.
I was the first among my group of friends to get pregnant, and my "flagship pregnancy" wasn't intentional. My partner was a person I was still getting to know, so parenthood wasn't even on our radar. My friends liked this new boyfriend sure, and so did I, but I wasn't convinced what we had was love. So when I started to disclose my pregnancy to those I trusted and whose opinions I valued, the reactions I received were pretty mixed. I had a friend who was elated for me, even when I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to continue the pregnancy. I had a friend who was incredibly surprised, but supportive because, well, they loved kids. And then I had a friend who got incredibly angry with me and asked what on earth I could possibly be thinking, as if I had somehow transformed into another person she no longer recognized. Eventually, my friend came around and did her best to be supportive, but the damage was done.
I noticed my friends slowly pull away from me as time, and my pregnancy, went on. I couldn’t really go drinking anymore, or stay out late, or meet them for a bottomless mimosas brunch. They invited me out occasionally, sure, but I could rarely join them so, eventually, the invitations slowly stopped coming. I was also terribly preoccupied with my new status as Human Growing Fetus and Woman Dating Guy Who Helped Create Fetus And Oh My God Is This The Right Guy For Me? Oh, and I can't possibly forget my roll as Am I Sure This Is The Right Thing To Do? Executive and Employee Having To Hide Pregnancy And Failing Miserably Co-Chair. What can I say? Life got stressful, and I wasn’t always the first person to send my friends messages asking how they were doing or checking in on their day-to-day lives. I didn't receive as many "just because" messages, either, and the space between myself and my support system only seemed to grow.
All they could say was that I needed to rest, but all I wanted was to feel less alone.
My family was around, of course, but I didn’t feel like they really understood what was going on. My parents were thrilled to become grandparents again, so they couldn't comprehend the fact that I might have mixed feelings about my pregnancy and my decision to become a paren. If I tried to mention my anxiety, and even my depression, during my pregnancy, but they simply shrugged it off. All they could say was that I needed to rest, but all I wanted was to feel less alone.
My then-boyfriend (now-husband) grew more and more busy with work, too, and our initial whirlwind courtship started to settle. To add insult to injury, around the same time I lost my job. One minute I could rely on seeing my coworkers — and even my partner, since we worked in the same office — and the next minute I was at home and alone with my often relentless thoughts. My partner's cat kept me company, sure, but if you know anything about cats then you know they're not the best at comforting their humans.
I had gone from working the front desk at a co-working space, planning events where dozens and sometimes even hundreds of people would show up and being the office’s social butterfly, to being the loneliest pregnant girl on the planet. OK, maybe not the planet, but it certainly felt like it. Prior to my pregnancy, I was constantly making plans with friends, going out two, three, even five nights a week. I loved traveling and meeting new people and talking to just about anyone who felt as friendly as I did. I was constantly surrounded by people, whether it was at work or in my personal life. So to find myself suddenly nauseous and alone in a tiny apartment with nearly no one to talk to was a rude awakening, to say the least.
The thoughts become so overpowering, so isolating, that you can't help but feel like the world is spinning madly out of orbit.
I spent my mornings making my partner breakfast, packing him a lunch, and then watching TV and doing prenatal yoga alone in our apartment for eight hours and until he finally drove back home. I feel like my core group of friends had all but forgotten about me. I was living in a fairly remote part of town so I didn’t have much of a chance to meet new people. I was alone.
But pregnant people should not be alone, because when you’re pregnant, you’re often stuck in your own head. You are constantly thinking about your life, your body, your baby-to-be, your whole pregnancy, your impending labor and delivery, and about the future and what it might look like. Hell, you're thinking about how much you're thinking. And if you struggle with mental health issues, you’re also thinking about how they're potentially affecting you and your still-forming fetus. The thoughts become so overpowering, so isolating, that you can't help but feel like the world is spinning madly out of orbit.
Pregnant people don’t need constant time alone. They need to feel supported. They need community and compassion from the people around them. They need validation and understanding and, sometimes, advice. As pregnant women we're overwhelmed, yes, but we're not too busy for the non-pregnant people in our lives. We don't have "better things to do" than talk with friends or connect with our partners or work so that we can be around other career-oriented adults. We don't want the people we've come to rely on to push us out of their lives. We want all our friends around, and we need them to be around us. We need people checking in on us, whether we struggle with mental health issues or not. Everyone needs to feel loved and connected, and that need doesn't go away when there's a fetus in someone's uterus.
As pregnant women and new mothers we have to push ourselves back into our communities. We have to do the hard work to reconnect with people or find ways to connect with new ones.
The loneliness of pregnancy subsides because, well, all pregnancies eventually end. But it can also bleed into new-mom life, making the postpartum period just as isolating. Why? Because loneliness, unfortunately, never goes away on its own. As pregnant women and new mothers we have to push ourselves back into our communities. We have to do the hard work to reconnect with people or find ways to connect with new ones. We have to get over the fear of sending an old friend an email, or calling a relative you used to rely on. We have to be vulnerable, and at an already overwhelmingly vulnerable time in our lives.
If I'm being honest, I have to admit that I'm not fully over my loneliness. In fact, I don’t know that I ever will be. But every single day, I make an effort. I talk to my son’s preschool teachers. I talk to my partner. I send the friends I've managed to stay connected to little notes saying I’m thinking of them, and I often get responses back. I make small talk with the cashiers at the grocery store, or the lady at the bank who always recognizes me.
I reach out, and push past the wall loneliness can erect because I know I deserve accompaniment and community. I know that becoming a mother didn't suddenly strip me of my needs, especially the need to be connected and supported and validated and loved. Just like my pregnancies didn’t last forever, I know that loneliness doesn’t have to either.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.