Combating Isolation in Motherhood and Pregnancy
Isolation: the state of being alone, solitary. An individual who is socially withdrawn or removed from society.
I suppose for me, in my own pregnancy journey, the feeling of isolation was woven into almost everything I did, not necessarily by choice, but by design.
You see, I am an SMBC, or a single mother by choice. My daughter was conceived through IVF with my own egg and donor sperm when I was the ripe age- fertility-wise- of 39.
I’d always known that I wanted to be a mother. I mean, when I was in junior high school, one of my prized book purchases was a baby name book. My best friend and I had our daughters’ names picked out by the time we were 13. (Boys' names were always a little bit harder for us to pin down.)
While I always knew that I would become a mother one way or another one day, my pretty nomadic lifestyle and fierce independence didn’t really invite the partnership that would lead to baby-making.
I didn’t really feel like I needed a partner to become a mother- I still don’t- but I have to admit that I underestimated just how much I would need a solid support system during my journey.
For me, feelings of isolation were very real postpartum, and I think my lack of knowledge of this very real aspect of pregnancy and childbirth led to my own bout with postpartum depression.
Feelings of Isolation During Our Motherhood Journey
Nothing really prepares you for the emotional and physical rollercoaster that comes with the beginning of your motherhood journey. Nobody ever really tells you that this can be quite an isolating experience. Where do these feelings come from? They can come from an endless array of physical changes, circumstances, and experiences. During pregnancy, here are a few things that can make us feel pretty darn lonely:
Isolation Before Childbirth
Feeling like we’re the only one in the world who is pregnant
Sometimes we can be lucky and fall pregnant at the exact same time as a friend or family member. However, there’s a good chance that you are the only one in your circle that is currently pregnant. Even though we know logically that many before us, and after us, will experience the state of being pregnant, being the only one pregnant in your circle can at times feel pretty isolating. After all, while everyone else is worried about work, you’re debating whether to buy a bassinet or a crib, or both!
Our hormones are off the chain
How incredible is it that our little ol’ bodies can do something as amazing as create another human? The idea leaves many of us in awe, especially when it’s our body that’s doing the babymaking.
Well, it’s a little something called hormones that make this creation all possible, but unfortunately, these hormones can majorly affect our feelings and moods. Maintaining a healthy perspective on what’s going on with your body can allow you to be more patient with your hormonal changes as well as others who may be affected by them as well.Physical changes can be challenging
Morning sickness; the waddle that appears during the second trimester of pregnancy; the tossing and turning at night third trimester; need I say any more?
Isolation after Childbirth
Childbirth is one of the most amazing things to experience. Each of us has our own unique childbirth story, yet our stories after childbirth can be remarkably similar.
The baby has been born; now what?
For me, right after the birth of my daughter, I remember being in a sort of new mother haze: I was feeling glowy, content, and in awe of my healthy, brand-new baby girl. I was also experiencing bouts of weepiness, and yes, I was short-tempered here and there as well. The nurse on duty was very attentive and patient to my needs and my daughter’s needs as well. I thought maybe too attentive at the time. “How are you feeling?” I was asked. Each day during my stay at the hospital I had to fill out a survey that analyzed my feelings, specifically focusing on feelings of depression. I poo poohed the necessity survey at the time. It took three weeks of caring for my daughter on my own and a lack of sleep to appreciate the importance of being aware of one’s feelings. Week three was when I started suffering symptoms of post-partum depression, largely due to the isolation I felt. Feelings of isolation after childbirth can be like no other. Here are some of the reasons feelings of isolation and loneliness may arise after we give birth:You feel cut off from the outside world
A newborn baby is super vulnerable to illness because, for one, it doesn’t have a developed immune system. This means that their bodies aren’t equipped to fight off pathogens that can harm them.
Not only that, but illness is physically hard for newborns to handle because of their very small size. For these reasons, it is recommended that mothers limit their newborn’s exposure to the outside world for the first month or two of their lives.
Guess what? If your baby has limited exposure to the outside world, that means you, the mother do too, and that can be hard to handle.
You need somebody to talk to
I would describe myself as someone who definitely values alone time. I can find it draining to be “on” socially all of the time. I found that alone time after the birth of my daughter was quite a different experience altogether, however. There is a difference between being alone and dedicating your time to yourself and your pursuits, and being alone with only your baby for company; this darling being, who, bless, expresses itself through its jerky movements and cries. I couldn’t believe how much I actually missed the small talk with my colleagues at work.
The fact is, human beings are social creatures by nature. For us, communication with others was not only how we were able to obtain food and shelter, but it was also how we helped ease stress and worked through problems. This is still true for us today.
You can’t get up and go
Once your baby comes, spontaneity goes out of the window. The words to live by become, “What’s the plan?”
Leaving the house involves figuring out when you’ll have that two-hour window of time between feedings to either leave baby with a sitter, or make a mad dash and pack the baby up with the proper allotment of diapers, wipes, creams, blankies, a hat (if it’s sunny), and of course, milk, to go out with you to run x, y, z errand. This can be tough, even for those of us who are self-described homebodies.Physical changes to your body
Your remarkable body had to undergo a series of changes to create your bundle of joy, and those changes don’t stop once you give birth. Your body has to find its “new normal”, and it gets to work on that right away.
Progesterone, one of the most important hormones during pregnancy, drops dramatically right after we give birth. Progesterone not only helps us sustain our pregnancy, but it helps us feel pretty good mentally while pregnant. Scientists believe that post-partum depression may be linked to this big, sudden drop in progesterone levels postpartum.
If you breastfeed after giving birth, your body is undergoing a whole new variety of changes. Breastfeeding mamas have to be mindful of the type of food that they are consuming to ensure the health of their babies. Breastfeeding can be an incredible bonding experience, and ultra-convenient as well. There’s no fuss with measuring and heating formula. However, it can be pretty isolating to sneak off to a bathroom, a corner, or another private area to either feed your baby or pump milk.
Some people say that your body is never quite the same after giving birth.
In terms of weight gain, this may be debatable. A recent study has shown that one year postpartum, about 75% of women were heavier than they were before their pregnancy. 47% of this group were 10 to 20 pounds heavier postpartum. Not only does isolation make weight gain more likely postpartum (think about the challenges of carving out workout time), but weight gain can make us more likely to self-isolate because of dissatisfaction with the way we look and feel about our bodies.
Combatting Feelings of Isolation
By now, all of us have heard that yoga can be beneficial to the body. But did you know that yoga can be particularly helpful to those of us pre- and postpartum in mind, body, and spirit?
Physically, practicing yoga has been shown to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that can weaken during pregnancy and as we age. This can increase the quality of sex postpartum, as well as prevent vaginal and bladder prolapse and incontinence.
A yoga practice can also ease the pesky aches and pains that come out of nowhere during and after pregnancy. When it comes to our mental and emotional health, yoga is a wonderful addition to our “health arsenal.” It can be useful in helping us cope with feelings of isolation and anxiety that we may feel pre- and postpartum. The beauty of yoga is that you can practice in a studio when you have the opportunity, or practice in the comfort of your own home if you don’t have the luxury of a babysitter.
The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as “the awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings.” With mindfulness, there is a focus on staying present without judging or reacting to your thoughts and feelings.
The benefits of a mindfulness practice for mothers and mothers-to-be have been very positive based on research. Around 18 percent of mothers-to-be admit to struggling with anxiety. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness can ease anxiety and help improve the moods of expectant and new mothers.
Probably the biggest adjustment when it comes to becoming a mother is the shift of our focus from “me” to “the baby”. It’s normal to want to do all you can to make sure that your baby is loved and well cared for, but in order for us to be there for others, including our new baby, we have to make sure that we take of ourselves first. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but if we don’t take of ourselves, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, our health suffers. This can mean that we don’t show up as well as we would like to for our loved ones, and it can even have serious consequences if we spiral into postpartum depression.
What does self-care look like?
Self-care can be as simple as having someone watch the baby while you take a long, hot shower, or a long nap! It can be taking the time to practice yoga and mindfulness, calling a friend for a chat, reading a book, or listening to music. What do YOU need to help cope with life’s ups and downs? It’s important that you make the time to do these things even after you have a baby.
“It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”
The exact origins of the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” are unknown, but its meaning and message are all too relatable to most of us mothers. It is believed to be African in origin, and comes from the idea prevalent across the continent that should rely on each other as a community in order to survive and thrive.
When it comes to raising children, it means that we don’t - or shouldn’t- go at it alone. As parents, we often have to rely on the support of our family, our friends, and community to help us raise our kids. This concept can often contradict the value we place on independence and self-sufficiency in the Western world, particularly in the United States. Studies have shown that the biggest single predictor of postpartum success and lower rates of postpartum depression is whether the new mother has an adequate support system.
Support can look like having a friend come over for a chat; mom and/or dad watching the baby while we take a much-needed nap or shower; connecting with other new mothers through a chat group online, or meeting up to take a walk together with the little ones.
The World’s Oldest Club
Motherhood is the world’s oldest club, and it can “look” a million and one different ways. What ties us all together as mothers is the responsibility that we undertake to love and care for another being.
My advice to new mothers?
What’s important to remember is that our feelings during and after pregnancy- ALL of our feelings, positive and negative- are absolutely normal.
We should also remember to do what we can to take care of ourselves so we can be present to savor every moment of the journey.
Join a village! Seek out new mom groups in your area (Facebook is a great place to start), or start at home with a virtual village. The Mama-Care Collective is Yoga Mama®'s online network connecting you to like-minded mamas and offering you a village to talk to, read from and connect with, all from the comfort of home. The best part, it's absolutely free to join! Learn more about The Mama-Care Collective here!