Scans, appointments and maybe even labour, alone. Few chances to meet, in person, with your circle of tightest mates. Introducing your baby to elderly relatives over Zoom. While there are a million shades of disconnection in the kaleidoscope of pandemic effects, the one experienced by new parents might feel especially grey.
According to data gathered by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's Royal Foundation, 63% of parents of young children said that they now feel lonely, compared to 38% before the pandemic. (More widely, per information collected by Women's Health, collected by polling over 2,000 of you – our readers, listeners and followers – 79% feel more lonely now than you did before the pandemic. For single people, this number rises to 87%.)
'Whilst [social distancing, lockdown and tier measures] have been put into place to protect our expectant mothers as well as prevent public spread of the virus, it has also isolated individuals. This can occur even within houses/flats, between families and friends,' says NHS GP and mum-of-one, Dr Hena Haq.
'Whereas pre-lockdown a mum may have been able to fall back on her social network to help with the care of her new baby, that has become increasingly difficult. Physical barriers can amplify the feeling of isolation or lack of support.'
If you need help with your mental health, call your GP or midwife. You can also ring the Mind infoline: 0300 123 3393
'I was a new mum in the pandemic – and loneliness hit me, hard'
Cleo Felicia 33, is a project manager for a pharmaceutical company, from Middlesex. Here, she shares her story of post-birth disconnection.
I gave birth to my daughter in September 2019 and the first six months of her life were near-idyllic. I shared parental leave with my husband; there were visits from my mother, trips out to meet friends, family gatherings and love coming at her – and me – from all angles. In March, when she was six months, I started at a new job. I only had one day in the office before working from home became mandatory.
Initially, I felt grateful that I’d get to witness my daughter’s milestones in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in ordinary times. But the bubble soon burst as the pressure of caring for our baby each juggling full-time jobs (mine required me to manage teams of people I’d never met from my living room) began to wear. My daughter took to her routine and my husband was patient and caring, and yet a deep sense of loneliness set in. If this year has taught me anything, it's that social contact from meaningful relationships outside of the nuclear family (for me, my daughter and husband) are equally as important for me to feel whole.
At first, the beginning of lockdown felt like a time of healing – for people to slow down from the rat race and to allow the earth to repair from human damage. It's hard to pinpoint when the feeling of loneliness kicked in... it snuck up on me. Living on autopilot does that to you. With everyone experiencing the same woes, you don't quite tune into yourself; how the issue really is impacting you. You tell yourself: 'we're all facing the same struggles, you are no special than the next person. People are ill, dying daily and, against that backdrop, your feelings carry little weight.'
In pre-pandemic life, I was sustained by the interactions with – and energy emitted from – a wide, loving and vibrant tribe of people. Without them, gaping holes of loneliness opened up in the fabric of my life.
Unconsciously, I slowly withdrew: delaying my responses to messages, dreading group video calls, not taking phone calls. I had little to really talk about, no new experiences to share and all I felt I could do was to moan about the situation, which I was bored of doing. My required levels of IRL social contact were not being met, but the 'make-do' virtual approach wasn't fulfilling enough.
Sometime in July, the loneliness reached its peak and I found the most simple of tasks overwhelming to complete, although the practical 'mummy' duties were always in hand. It's a continual journey navigating the new norm, but it's certainly put a lot into perspective for me, highlighting what really matters.
As for now? Daily calls with my mum while I take my daughter for an evening walk in her pram, a phone-less dinner with my husband each night, and long calls with a friend all help patch up my feelings, for a while. As has finally, and not without squeamishness, opening up about the feelings of isolation that I’m learning to no longer explain away.
So, how can you protect yourself at this time?
If you're pregnant or are a new mum, there are certain measures that might help your mental health at this time. Dr Haq offers the following:
1. Look after yourself
'Get as much rest as possible, eat healthy foods, set aside a bit of time to do an activity you find relaxing, like taking a warm bath, meditating, reading a book or listening to music – these are all considered therapeutic. Such activities will help to release endorphins, and boost your mood.'
2. Stay connected
'This may include Facetime, Zoom, Houseparty and Whatsapp. It is great to use these tools in a healthy way by creating a social network of people who can support you.
'Online resources are also available, like exercise and meditation classes, as well as baby classes on the Hoop app, which you can join online. Here, you can meet other new parents, and form some sort of community.'
3. Be aware
'Right now, epecially, it is extremely important to educate ourselves of the existence of postnatal depression, and to be able to identify if yourself or others might be suffering with it, just in case.
'If you have been experienced any of the key symptoms for more than two to three weeks, please contact your GP. The six week postnatal baby check is also a good opportunity for carers to talk about such issues if concerned.'
Keen to inhale more tips to help you to lessen the impact of loneliness? Read up on this advice from a therapist.
What can a partner do, to help?
If you have a partner, they have a serious role to play in supporting you through this stage, says Dr Haw. This might look like actively listening to you and how you feel, sharing night feeds and handling the household chores.
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