Before my son was born, I was ultra prepared for postpartum depression. Having always been a person ruled and driven by emotion, it was reasonable for me to expect a drastic spiral into this now well-known condition. But when the time came and I was sitting on my couch with a month old baby, when all the help had evaporated and I was left to fend for myself day in and day out, I felt…fine. In fact, I was happy. I felt like I had a purpose (though that purpose often felt somewhat redundant and slow to fruition). I felt motivated (though that motivation was continually stifled by exhaustion). But I wasn’t depressed. I had prepared and the challenge of learning to feel like myself again never manifested. However, as content as I was with myself and my purpose, I had not prepared for the loneliness that comes with the transition.
Becoming a stay-at-home mom can be the most isolating experience of your life if you let it. Especially if you are away from family in a relatively new place with relatively new acquaintances. I had never worked a full-time job, only part-time for the sake of getting out of the house, so the transition wasn’t as rocky as I imagine it is for women with careers. And yet, the difficulty of learning to center my life around another person instead of myself remained, despite having no career obstacle. I am still happy with myself and the path I’ve chosen. I only wish someone had told me to prepare less for feeling alone and more for feeling lonely.
As a SAHM, You are lonelier.
My family will soon be moving into a new house, but for the first six months of motherhood, I’ve been living in an apartment, which has only exasperated my feeling of being cut off from the world. I think about the women living in cities with their children indoors all day. There are windows, there are sidewalks, but there is no community. There’s no sense of ownership. There’s a small balcony outside, but once you leave the front door, the space is no longer yours to enjoy, but everyone’s. It’s the classic paradox of being surrounded by people but feeling alone. I can’t help but feel isolated as I sit in a small white box day after day. I imagine that a yard or a back porch with a view would help. My mom friends tell me to, “Get out of the house!”Ah, yes! But…
You have to overcome obstacles to get out of the house.
Once in a while everything goes smoothly. Jonas is in a perfect mood, he doesn’t blow up his diaper as I’m buckling him into his carseat, he’s fed, he’s happy, and he’s ready for a long nap. So I leave the confines of my home and go out into the world, even if it’s just to buy a loaf of bread and cash a check at the bank. However, this may happen two Thursdays out of the month. It’s not that moms can’t get out, but it’s just too much work to get out. A friend called me yesterday and invited me over for coffee this morning and a playdate. I reluctantly said yes and, hallelujah, she canceled this morning. I was disappointed to miss out on the chance to converse with an adult in another tone besides high pitched squeaky gibberish, but also relieved because I was tired, the baby was hungry, my face looked haggard, and I was anticipating a particularly gnarly infant evacuation after feeding him oatmeal for a week. (Turns out, I was not wrong about this climactic fecal event. Note to self: find alternative to oatmeal.) Among all of this dishevelment the fridge is empty, the bills and laundry are piling up (courtesy of aforementioned fecal event), and an apartment inspection is looming on the horizon–prompting me to hit the panic button on house cleaning. Sure, I can get out, but it’s so much easier to stay. Will I accept your invitation to meet for coffee? Yes! Will I initiate an invitation? Only if it’s one of those two perfect Thursdays.
You have to seek out social interaction.
As if getting out of the house is the hardest part, moms have to actively seek friendships. And not necessarily the kindred spirit kind of friendships they may be used to investing in. But I can’t get ahead of myself. Though I was never a career woman, I was a college student seeing and interacting with people every day–probably more than I cared to as an introvert. I never had to go find someone to talk to because people were always there. My social bank was always full and I actively sought solitude. When I became a mom the system flipped. I’ve found that if I’m not careful I will go for an entire week without speaking to another person besides my husband. Luckily, I have a church where something is always going on–Bible studies, church events, services–but I refer you back to my second point: sometimes it’s easier to just grit your teeth and ride the wave of isolation.
You spend more time with people in your demographic.
As moms are forced to seek out interactions and friendships, they are often limited to women they share demographics with rather than women they genuinely feel connected to. Mommy groups are a blessing but also a necessary evil. When a woman becomes a mother she is often obligated to sacrifice her own social comforts on the altar of good mothering. She can no longer hang out in bookstores and coffee shops as an information excavator. Travel to satisfy her wanderlust. Or leave her post for personal exploration. And if she does, she must carry with her a virtual campsite of supplies for her child because he will inevitably get hungry, wet, cold, dirty, and tired. I digress. As a mother, I have found that the majority of my precious-few-perfect-Thursday interactions are spent with women who share my lifestyle, but not necessarily my heart. Though they are friends, they are people I choose to be with out of the necessity of interaction rather than the pleasantry of kindred spirits.
You grow apart from old friends.
Speaking of kindred spirits, many moms like myself have them. But one of the burdens of staying at home with your children is watching your husband achieve his career dreams–some of which may carry you to far away places. And though you are happy to support him and watch him grow, you know moving away can mean growing apart. When my husband’s job took us away from friends and family, it was only a departure of geography. When I became a mother, it was a departure of commonality. No longer was I able to relate to my friends’ freestyle lifestyles, their Netflix and chill days, their climbing the corporate ladder ambitions, or their full-night’s-rest productivity. Though there are some friendships I’ve maintained through the trials of distance and irrelevance, many have disintegrated with time.
If I ever have a daughter, I will warn her about the isolation of motherhood. I’ll tell her how I kept friends and how I made new ones. How I overcame obstacles just to make it to church. How I fought the urge to just stay in my pajamas and eat chocolate on hard days. But most importantly, I will tell her all the wonderful parts of being her mom despite it all. And, borrowing the words of Tina Fey, I’ll tell her, “Being a mom has made me so tired. And so happy.”