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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Maternity leave: socilizing and isolation

A number of moms have told me that they found their maternity leave isolating. That it was a lonely time for them. I can understand how that could happen. All our daily routines and social interactions are suddenly gone. We are no longer working with our colleagues or going out with out friends. Those first few months are, or they were for me anyways, a vortex of babyness. We eat, sleep (or not sleep) and breathe our baby.

I was afraid of the isolation that having a baby could bring. I was terrified of having postpartum depression. I have always had heavy and difficult periods accompanied by moodiness, crying and sadness and I thought that the hormonal changes after birth would be the same. My family was worried about that too. So I pushed myself and they pushed me to get out with the baby. Left on my own I may have procrastinated, waited until I was "ready" but since I knew they would be watching and waiting for a report I made myself go out.

My first outing on my own with the girl was to story time at the library when she was five weeks old. She was by far the youngest one there. I didn't care though. I was happy that I had made it to the library, happy that she breastfed in public with no problem and thrilled to be meeting other moms. Over that fall and winter I was at the library as many as three times a week for story time. I also went to playgroups, the baby wellness clinic and the park. I went for walks everyday and invited people over. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone in order to make friends for myself and for her.

I made some excellent friends. Getting out and talking to those other moms was so good for me. It helped to have people to discuss concerns with or to laugh with. What really got me through that maternity leave though was my friendship with M. I met her that first day at the library and then again later at a playgroup. She had a daughter ten months older than mine and lived only a few blocks away. Slowly we became so close that we saw each other or spoke on the phone every day. She joked that she hadn't had a friend she talked on the phone with everyday since high school.

M. really helped me to learn the kind of mother I wanted to be. We talked about our challenges with our kids and how we wanted to parent them. There was no judgements, only friendship. At the end of my yearlong maternity leave I went back to work and she moved back to Vancouver with her family. I was so sad to see her go but at the same so thankful for what she had given me. I know it would have been a lonelier year without her.

I haven't met as many new people during my second maternity leave. The moms I have met are those that I run into at the girl's school, our playgroup or at the park. We talk and are friendly but I have made few friends. Some play dates are arranged but not many. I think that there is an added challenge with two kids. My days are much more scheduled and focused on life with a two year old then life with a baby. Like me the moms I have been meeting usually have two or more kids and finding time that works for everyone is not easy.

I don't feel isolated though. How could I when I have the girl to talk to me, at me and with me. She keeps me moving through the day. I think there were some pieces missing though. I was missing some of that interaction with moms that I found the first time I was on maternity leave. I have been surprised to find myself filling those voids with my blog and the blogs of other moms I read. The Internet has made me feel less alone.

The one piece of unsolicited advice I would offer new moms on maternity leave is to talk to other people. Lots of people. Whether you want to or not. I think that in many ways friendship is a numbers game. Like buying a new dress you have to try on lots before you find one that fits.

After a frustrating morning with the kids a few weeks ago, I managed to get ourselves organized enough to make it to the park. There I started talking to a mom I had seen before but never met. When it was time to head home I thanked her for the conversation. I told her how great it was to talk to her and that it was just what I needed. She seemed surprised by that. She said "you seem to know everyone at the park and are always talking to someone". I laughed and said "I have to. Otherwise I would go crazy".

I would.


  1. I don't remember exactly how old my daughter was the first time I took her to library story time, but it was pretty young. I think maybe 8 or 9 weeks, but she was born 6 weeks early so she was also BY FAR the smallest baby there. Getting out of the house saved my sanity, though, and it still does. Interacting with other moms is so important.

    It's taken me 4 1/2 years and 2 kids to get to the point where I can just strike up conversations with strangers. But it really does keep me from going crazy.

  2. Having a dog I was pretty much out of the house prety quickly and at least interacting with the people at the dog park. By summer time I had met another mom and we started seeing each other at least once a week and also got together to go to play group. Play group was great. I was lucky to have another friend on extended parental leave, so I saw her once a week too. But I had to force myself or the crazies would have set in for good. I think that the local play groups are the best thing. They really get you out of the house and talking to other moms, most going through exactly what you are going through. I know it must be a whole different game with two kids.

  3. I was stuck at home for the longest time as our son spent some time in NICU and the doctors asked us to avoid public places with him for over a month after he was released. Even with my parents visiting I couldn't get out for long periods of time because I needed to nurse or pump. It was very limiting, isolating and unpleasant. (The time in the NICU was very isolating too but that is another issue).

    I tried the playgroups, but neither baby or I are morning people so we rarely made it. There are very few afternoon playgroups. I asked a playgroup coordinator once and she told me it was because kids are suppose to nap in the afternoons and play in the mornings. Someone forgot to tell us that.

    We found one afternoon playgroup and enjoyed going, but most of the women were very tight and rarely spoke to new moms - especially those with little boys. We never really fit in. Then I got into an argument with the La Leche League lady (despite the fact I was nursing - I was also not the only nursing mom who felt put out by her) - so that was the end of playgroups for us.

    It was frustrating as I felt I followed all the tips and still got the isolation. It is always reassuring to know other women face the same challenges.

    Probably why I was so happy to come back to work!

  4. I had a horrible first year with my son. I was so isolated and I didn't try. I had no idea what was out there for me. I wish it had been different.

  5. Loved you analogy about trying on dresses. To me finding new friends is a bit like jean shopping, I'm always game to jump in and try lots of them on. But I rarely find anything I want to buy and take home. But you just know that if you keep trying you will find the perfect pair that you will wear for years.

  6. I agree with my first I made awesome friends and we all got really close (sadly I moved away!) My second that just didn't happen, although I was really busy and was out a lot.

    Not sure what this little one will bring. I hope to make a few more friends as we are still fairly new here :)

    Getting out and stepping outside my comfort zone was the best thing I ever did after I had children!

  7. I was so lonely the first months after my son was born! I went to some groups just to be around others, but it has taken a long time to make some real friends. I stopped being so lonely when I discovered the support people on the Internet could give me--first with a forum, and then through blogging. It's still great to strike up a conversation with a random stranger, though. And to meet for playgroups. There's nothing like that real-life connection.