Postpartum Isolation: How a shared experience can help
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
You have planned a huge event. You went completely through Pinterest to find the most perfect decorations. You met with several caterers and tasted all of their menus. You found the most adorable invitations and made sure you sent them in plenty of time for the RSVP. You went shopping for the perfect outfit. You had your hair and nails done. You deep cleaned your house and even did a little remodeling just for this occasion.
The day of the event arrives and everything is perfect. The sun is shining and there’s a cool breeze. You asked a few friends and family to stop by to help you navigate any loose ends. As your guests arrive, you are so excited to welcome them into your home. You find yourself happily busying yourself with refilling glasses and making sure everyone is comfortable. Not long after the event starts, all of the helpers come to let you know that they need to leave. They have other jobs that need their attention. You feel a little frazzled but know that you’ve spent so much time planning that you are fully capable of handling the situation. I mean, people host events all the time and they’re not overwhelmed, right?
As the party continues, you start to realize that none of your guests are speaking the same language. You are completely unable to understand what your guests need. You try a few things, but everything you offer isn’t what they’re expecting. You suddenly become aware that you’re hungry. You haven’t eaten all day. You’re also exhausted. So exhausted. After all of the preparation and planning, the last thing you were able to do was to catch up on rest.
You could call in some backup but fear that everyone probably already has things going on for the day. You might call that one person, but they will probably show up, take over and completely disregard your plans. Some of your guests start to cry. You start to cry too.
This sounds so overwhelming, doesn’t it?
It also sounds like you’ve just come home from the hospital with a newborn baby.
Postpartum Loneliness and Isolation is one of the most common feelings during the first few months at home with a newborn baby. It is also one of the least discussed. Sadly, it is a deeply unexpected response to one of the most joyous occasions.
There is a wonderful article written by Leah McLaren for Today’s Parent (link below). She sites a study that was done in the UK of 2000 women following the birth of their child. That study showed that 90% of the group felt lonely and isolated. 54% felt friendless.
Most of us assume we will spend the bulk of our maternity leave learning everything there is to know about our baby. But just like the lack of communication at the party, you can spend a large part of your fourth trimester feeling helpless and alone. After all, your baby really can’t communicate with you. Sure, they cry. But what does that cry mean? Are they hungry? Dirty diaper? Scared? Too hot? Too cold? They can’t really express what their needs are and you spend much of your day trying to decipher everything. We are, after all, expected to put aside our needs for the well being of our new child.
I had three very different experiences following the births of my children. Each time, without fail, I would battle some amount of this isolation. There was a panic that set in and consumed my days.
At the time my third was born, my friend Lana had a baby that was one week old. We actually took pregnancy tests at the same time, in the same house (different bathrooms) and told each other we were pregnant before our spouses even knew. Once our babes had arrived, we talked on the phone daily. Sometimes all day. At some point, we realized that it would probably be more beneficial to be physically in the same place. There were days that I would load my children in the car and head her way. Maybe we brushed our teeth? Maybe we didn’t? Maybe we wore a bra? Most likely we didn’t. I would stop on the way and grab coffee for us and donuts for the kids. We would spend the entire day together. If one of the babies needed to be changed and the other was busy, we stepped up. If one of the older kids needed a snack and one of us was dealing with a toddler meltdown, we stepped up. We cried together. We were mad at our spouses together. We laughed together. Oh my, we laughed. We had a shared postpartum experience. None of that would have been possible had it not been for her. It made my days so much better.
Recently we met for coffee (imagine that) and we were talking about our coffee days. Our babies are now both 14 so we were definitely reminiscing. She said to me during our conversation, “that coffee saved me”. I suddenly realized that she had benefited from our time together as much as I had.
Interestingly, we are both currently birth workers. She is a Labor and Delivery Nurse and I am a Birth and Postpartum Doula. We have even had the pleasure of working side by side at a birth. We are both still passionate about supporting others in their journey through being a new parent.
Are you in the midst of this loneliness and isolation? Are you navigating your way through the new baby stage with questions and fears? Let’s change this for you.
Start by giving yourself permission to ask for help. Surround yourself with people who are dealing with all of the same experiences. Look in your community for baby-wearing groups, postpartum exercise groups or local mom groups/classes.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone else and offer support. Sometimes support looks like sharing a cup of coffee without your teeth brushed or a bra. It can look like just sitting on the couch together laughing or crying. Maybe binge watching Gilmore Girls.
You don’t have to do your fourth trimester alone. You don’t have to feel the isolation and loneliness so many people feel.
Share your experience.