There is sometimes a loneliness that goes with motherhood. Until I became a mother I really didn’t understand this. I didn’t understand the shift that I would experience going from a coupled adult to a mother. Now I know. I am still surprised though at the moments when motherhood feels most lonely. It is often when I am surrounded by people. It would seem that having others around would help me feel supported, loved, and connected. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes these times that I feel loneliest. I find that combatting the loneliness of motherhood can be difficult in the moment because it involves me admitting that I need help, sharing what’s not going well, and asking people to focus on me in a moment where I might not be at my best. When I ask for help and remember that the challenging moment will pass I usually make it through this lonely moment a little more smoothly.
We are just returning home after 10 days visiting family. This visit also coincided with me learning that my 3mo daughter has not been gaining weight adequately. My first daughter had slow weight gain on breastmilk alone so I wasn’t surprised by this situation, but it is still challenging to find a way to supplement the baby and continue to breastfeed. During this trip I was trying to figure out when and how much to supplement my baby with formula. And trying not to be too disappointed that I need to supplement in the first place. While I was experiencing an emotional and intellectual inner battle about what the right choice to make was – there was a whole lot of family dynamics happening outside my head.
Though this village of family wanted to help as much as they could, I wasn’t sure how to harness their presence to overcome my inner turmoil.
When I’m around family I try to generally keep myself together. I know they love and accept me no matter what, but I don’t really wants to be seen as a hot mess mama. We’re also currently the only ones on either side with small children. Everyone loves our children (as far as I know) and everyone’s great with the 3 year old – which is a HUGE help, but there’s still not a ton of help other people can give for the little baby. I am also admittedly a little controlling (though I hate to use that term because it has a negative connotation) about how things are done. It was hard to let others prep bottles or feed the baby because I wasn’t sure they all knew the “proper” way to do it (i.e. sit the baby up, put the formula in after the water, let baby take the nipple rather than shove it in her mouth, read baby’s signs to know when she’s done, etc). But, when I don’t ask for help or let people know what’s going on – they continue on as if everything is fine. This can also be challenging.
I remember one afternoon when the baby was particularly fussy. I couldn’t tell if she was hungry or tired and my usual tricks didn’t seem to be working. I took her to a room away from others and felt a little resentful that no one was coming to my aide. Then I checked myself. Why would they? I hadn’t raised a red (or white) flag to say I needed help. I hadn’t asked anyone to do anything. I’d just crept away silently. What would I have thought as an outsider? I would have thought that a mom was taking care of her baby and would be back when she was done with whatever she needed to do.
The next day I did share some of what was going on for me with my husband. I told him, “I’m so confused about what the baby needs. I don’t want to over feed her, but don’t want to underfeed her. I’m frustrated that she won’t fall asleep or stay asleep in the carrier like usual. I don’t know how others can help. I’m overwhelmed.” That day when I crept away to calm the baby – he checked in on me and I felt just a little less alone.
I still had trouble opening to door to let the rest of the family in. Part of it is that I don’t really want to be seen as an incompetent mother. The other part is that I can’t really formulate what it is I need them to do. I passed the baby off as much as I could and tried to ask for help with little things like prepping meals, grabbing something for me, or entertaining the big kid.
Sometimes it’s just hard to get people to really understand why things are so challenging. I’m sure as an outsider it doesn’t seem that big of a deal to be giving my baby a bottle. To me, though, it comes with a lot of anxiety, disappointment and resentment. It’s hard to know who will get this and who will try to tell me to brush it off. #wouldificould
Sure enough after a couple of challenging days the baby seemed to turn a corner and we had an easier day. Sleep came easy, feedings went just a little better, and I was just that much less stressed. I reflected on how things do seem to pass pretty quickly these days. The most challenging moments are just that – moments. Motherhood can be lonely sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be desolate. Having caring friends and family really does help, even though sometimes the only thing they can do is be there so I’m not physically alone.