In my previous blog post, I discussed how loneliness can be a huge part of the postpartum experience. Today’s post will be about how I combated my feelings of loneliness. I made friends. Friends with kids. It sounds so simple but making friends as adults can be really difficult.
When we are children, our social network of peers consists of siblings, cousins and children of our parent’s friends. We go to school and this may be the first time we actively make and maintain friendships that our parents don’t force us to participate in. Fast forward a decade or so, and we do it again when we start secondary school and then again at university, if we choose to study further. We win friends and lose friends over the years.
When people enter adulthood and the working world, making friends is a little different. There are less opportunities to make friends and it becomes more effort to build relationships. Work colleagues come with professional boundaries which can be overcome and often, the best relationships are those with people that you spend so much time with day in and day out. It is also around this time that friendships consolidate and feel more permanent.
Then comes the stage in life that our friendship group becomes bigger with additions of partners and babies. In my case, I was the first of my friends to get married, and then first again to have a baby. My social life changed drastically when I became pregnant. With morning sickness that only occurred randomly in the evening and overwhelming fatigue, I barely left the house in the first trimester bar going to work. I used to live for last minute dinner and drinks in London before pregnancy, and life became more about Netflix and nausea.
I became very aware that I didn’t have any friends locally, and that motherhood could prove to be very lonely if I didn’t make any local friends sharpish. A recent study by Hetherington et al (2018) looked at social support and maternal mental health at 4 months and 1 year postpartum. They found that low social support is consistently associated with postpartum depression, and that if a woman has adequate social support during pregnancy, it improves social support postnatally and reduced risk of depression and anxiety symptoms. From personal experience, I can totally see why. During pregnancy I needed to discuss what on earth was happening to my body and brain… and post birth, I needed to discuss what was happening to my body and brain, and how to keep a baby alive.
I joined a local NCT antenatal group. NCT is a charity organisation that supports parents offering information in pregnancy, birth and early parenthood (the first 1000 days) allowing parents to make informed choices. They are well known for their private antenatal courses, which are similar in content to hospital antenatal courses, but differ in that they only allow around 6 couples versus the 30 couples I met on the hospital course. It meant that we could ask more “stupid” questions about the birth and beyond whilst feeling less judged and get to know people with similar due dates and. We joked that at a price tag of £265 for 6 sessions, we had bought our postnatal social network.
On their annual report, NCT report that 95,662 parents attended their courses or classes and 95% of them rated their course as excellent or good. I was one of them. I genuinely think it was the best investment of my pregnancy. I got to learn about the birth process and discuss the realism of pain relief and managing my own expectations of birth. I would then discuss the sessions further via Whatsapp with the ladies and excitedly tell them about my new buys for the baby. As we approached our due dates, our Whatsapp contact increased as we shared our aches and pains, and frustration that our babies were not here yet.
It was after the birth of Samraj that I came to really value my NCT mummy friends. We would chat on Whatsapp at the most random times of the day, offering support and guidance. One of our group had her baby prematurely, and she is forever my source of wisdom as she has been through whatever I have am going through, just a few weeks in advance. We started our own 3am club in the newborn days, as one or more of us would always be up at that time trying to soothe our babies in the night. It is at this strange part of night, that negative thoughts intruded into my mind and my thoughts became the better of me, and even my otherwise amazing partner couldn’t help me because he was snoring away, and I actively started plotting his murder. But the other Mummy friends were helpful by keeping me awake, and scarily they were also plotting the murder of their partners too.
It is with the help of these amazing ladies that I was getting out of the house regularly. We meet as often as we can. At first it began with meets at cafes and we would sip coffee whilst attending to our newborn’s every need, which often meant our coffees went cold. But we would talk to each other and that was enough. Sometimes we would just complain about our lives. Others we would just coo at each other’s babies. Every single time I would leave with a smile on my face. I felt like out of everyone I knew, they were the only ones who understood, as other mothers I knew had passed these phases. The NCT mums were doing the exact same thing at the same time. There was one night that we were all up soothing our babies with trapped wind. Anyone who wasn’t an NCT Mum told me it was a phase and it would be over soon, which wasn’t helpful because I needed emotional and physical help right then, not perspective. Funny, because that’s the advice I will give to others all the time, including you, dear Reader.
As our babies outgrew our laps and wanted to be free, we changed venues from public places to weekly hosting at each other’s houses. It meant our kids could roam free and we could have a cup of tea in peace, and talk more. There is a lot of talking involved, to make up for the lack of adult conversation we have when we are left alone with the babies on every other day. The NCT dads also have their own Whatsapp group and have been on a few nights out, and it’s nice to know that my husband has others to talk to about his experiences of fatherhood (and how much I nag him apparently). NCT courses are a fantastic way to meet new people in very similar boats to you. Unfortunately some don’t get on with their NCT group, and have to build their social network from other places.
Baby classes are the next go to to build a social network. If you don’t know where to start, simply pop into your local Childrens Centre who may offer free play classes for you and your baby. Once you get into conversation with one mum, they may tell you about further classes. It depends on your personal circumstance and preference whether you go to any classes and how many classes you go to. I started by attending a number of classes: Baby Rhyme Time, Hartbeeps (a sensory class) and Tiny Talk. I had a very busy schedule of classes as I tried to understand my own and baby’s routine. Slowly I realised I had taken on too much and stuck with my favourite which was Tiny Talk.
Tiny Talk is such an amazing class in which I have made some great friends. I recommend this baby signing class to everyone, as I really believe it has facilitated my understanding of Samraj’s needs as well as his cognitive and social development. He learned to sign “milk” at 19 weeks old which was bloody amazing! The class is 30 minutes of signing, singing and playing followed by 30 minutes of free time to chat to other parents with a cup of tea or coffee. What a dream. It’s here that I have made some really good friends, and we sometimes have lunch after the class. With these friends, I feel my least inhibited and we share openly our mutual feelings of frustration related to parenthood. One friend is a male on paternity leave and we talk about the blatant sexism in parenting facilities, and how shared parental leave is offered but there is little offered to support dads who choose to take this leave.
I have also made friends using a “Tinder for Mums” app called MUSH. You input your address and you are shown profiles of Mums nearby. Here I have met a Mum literally down the road who I would never have met otherwise. As I had moved into a new area during my pregnancy, this friend was so helpful in settling in as she was able to share contacts and sharing our notes on local nurseries. For a while, Mush Mums offered free coffee mornings at the local Giraffe restaurants which was a lovely start to our Wednesdays. Since I have started blogging, I have heard about other apps with a similar agenda such as Peanut and Mummy Social.
This list of friends doesn’t include my friends from school, university and adult life who already had kids before me. They have always been my Mummy Guides. Where my new friends are going through everything for the first time and panic with me when I experience poonamis or teething, my Mummy Guides (Mummy Goals more like) impart wisdom and love like “enjoy the good days, it’s only going to get worse when he’s older”. These chums are so important too because they remind me everyday that I will survive just like they did. One particular friend tags me in sarcastic memes about mummy brain, which normalises a lot of my annoyance at my own forgetfulness recently.
Friends with Kids are so important for your mental health when you are on maternity (or paternity) leave. They provide all the reassurance you will ever need in probably the most vulnerable time of our lives. In an age where most of our social contact is on phones, it’s important we also leave our homes to meet people in person. My Friends with Kids are genuinely the best and kept me going when the chips were truly down. I am eternally grateful for their support.
I hope these ideas for acquiring friends have been helpful. How did you make friends in maternity leave? Did you find your Friends with Kids a complete joy, or killjoy? Let me know your thoughts.
Lots of love,
NCT Charity– a charity organisation which supports parents offering information in pregnancy, birth and early parenthood (the first 1000 days) allowing parents to make informed choices. You can find antenatal and postnatal courses online as well as lots of resources on labour, birth, and caring for your baby.
Hetherington, McDonald, Williamson, Patten and Tough (2018). Social support and maternal mental health at 4 months and 1 year postpartum: analysis from the All Our Families cohort. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 72:933-939.
Apps to search for local mummies: @Mushmums @Peanut @mummysocial
TinyTalk: information about baby signing classes. www.tinytalk.co.uk