Guest Post Series: Loneliness in Motherhood with Emily from MummyLinks

Emily is primarily a stay-at-home mum, but after suffering with PND&A she has been working to reduce the stigma of maternal mental health (see #ShoutieSelfie campaign and http://www.bit.ly/IDIDNTLOVEHIM). She has also set up the social project http://www.mummylinks.com to help all mums meet locally for adhoc playdates safely (it’s invite/approval only). If you’d like to support her work please read more and donate at http://www.bit.ly/MummyLinks. To follow her on social media head to http://www.twitter.com/MummyLinksApp and http://www.instagram.com/MummyLinksApp

Can Loneliness lead to Post-Natal Depression?

When I had my son nearly 2.5 years ago I was looking forward to hours chatting to mum friends in cafes, picnics together in the sunshine, and meeting new friends at baby classes. But it didn’t quite happen like that. We often couldn’t fit a café trip around our various routines. It’s England – so picnics are rare (although not at the moment yay!) and even when it is sunny you’re now looking for a shady spot. And actually baby classes can be scary – if you even make it – they can be cliquey and therefore actually make you feel more alone.

So I turned to social media. My tipple of choice being Facebook. And to start with it was great – I could see what friends were up to and feel connected during the day or night when I was breastfeeding. I could chat friends and know what to talk about (which is great when you’re sleep deprived and need some help!). But it didn’t take long to start thinking that all my non-mummy friends were having so much fun going out. And my mummy friends looked like they were having the rosy motherhood experience I expected. And of course the “why wasn’t I invited to that event” photos which really hit you hard.

Now I had Post-Natal Depression which will have made this all worse, but even if you don’t suffer like I did, it still affects you. You forget that everyone (yourself included) puts up pictures of the special events – birthdays, day trips, sunny days. Ok maybe the occasional poonami, but other than that it’s pretty happy! And don’t get me started on filters!

And I sincerely wonder if the loneliness was one of the trigger for my PND. It was often when a friend (completely understandably – their child being ill or similar) cancelled or changed a plan last minute. I’d then frantically Whatsapp my local mummy friends to see if I could make a new plan. Sometimes I could, but most of the time I couldn’t. And this would make me feel bad. Firstly, what on earth am I going to do this morning – I want to get out of the house as I know that would be good for me and the baby. But secondly, I’d often feel down because “everyone was out having fun and I’m not”. That would often throw me into a downwards spiral of loneliness.

And ironically this would often make my PND worse. And perhaps I’d end up cancelleing my afternoon plans because I’d exhausted and depressed myself in the morning and couldn’t face seeing someone in the afternoon. So then I may have not seen anyone all day. Which then, for me, made it harder to see somebody the next day because I struggled with anxiety too and not seeing people for a while made it harder the next time…

As you can see, I got the loneliness thing a lot. And did exactly what I shouldn’t have done. I hid in my house feeling sorry for myself. I resorted to social media to make myself feel better but it made it all worse.

What I found helped was to create a Whatsapp group of all my local mum friends so I could message them all at once to see who was free. This helped not only me, but also them! Because sometimes they didn’t have plans either, and a few of us to meet up. The great thing then was that if on another day I wasn’t free, they could meet together even if they hadn’t known each other before I introduced them! It’s great to share friends! The app “Hoop” was also useful for finding baby classes in my area that were happening shortly. The only thing to be careful of is that particularly in school holidays it may not be 100% reliable.

I found creating my local Whatsapp group really useful, and it got me thinking. I was lucky to have a good number of great friends in that group. But what do you do if you don’t already have these friends? Or all of your mum friends have gone back to work after maternity leave? How do you find another great group?

I hated the idea of mums at home, feeling lonely, and with no way to overcome this. So I have set up the biggest “Whatsapp group” of local mums! It’s a free website – http://www.mummylinks.com – which enables mums to create ad-hoc playdates based on location. It’s different to the other similar services because it’s invite/approval only so you can rest assured that you are meeting a mum. This makes getting in a tad harder, but through 3 degrees of separate on Facebook if you get your mums friends to sign up too it won’t take long for you all to get in! Then just pop in your postcode to receive notification, or and set up a trip to the park, softplay, café and it will send a notification to Mums closeby.

The other difference which I believe is important in overcoming loneliness is that MummyLinks can’t be used to just collect more online friends. It is playdate focused – and you meet based on location. It’s also specifically set up so that we can’t debate and chat through the website other than to change plans due to rain – or say we are running late. As mums we don’t need more encouragement to debate about routine or breastfeeding vs bottle online! What we need is to get out of the house, in the fresh air, and talking to mums going through similar struggles to ourselves. Or that’s what I believe anyway!

I’ve found MummyLinks really useful, as have those who have used it so far. You can look and see if somebody else has created a playdate, and if not you can pop one up yourself – for right now, later today, next week – whenever! I’d love you to sign up and give me your thoughts on how it works (or doesn’t!) for you. You could even post a quick piccie of your playdate to @MummyLinksApp on Twitter or Instagram! And if you sign up soon you will be one of the first users for the app when we launch it which is really exciting!

Motherhood is tough. And it can be lonely nowadays – we don’t live with our families, we don’t have to pop to the shop daily to get food and have a chat with all the other mums doing likewise, and we can feel connected without leaving our living rooms. But a recent survey said that staggeringly, 92% of mums say they feel lonely. It’s a sad statistic, and one that I hope we can reduce through supporting each other and meeting face-to-face.

Of course, if you think you may be suffering from PND as I did, please chat to your GP. And if you’re not sure, perhaps take a look at this short clip I made of three mums opening up about PND. Do take a look too if you don’t know much about PND. 1 in 5 mums suffer with it, so it’s important we all understand more about it: http://www.bit.ly/IDIDNTLOVEHIM.

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