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When my son was three months old, I found myself on the deck in our backyard, bawling my eyes out. I was upset with my husband because he “NEVER talked to me,” and I was on point number thirty five of how I could prove that to be true. I felt alone, unfulfilled, bored, ungrateful – and guilty.
Growing up in a Christian home in the 90’s and early 2000’s, my idea of “making it” someday in this big, wide world was to become a loving, supportive wife to my hardworking husband (that met ALL the requirements on my future-husband list) that stayed at home with the kids, belting out Steve Green and Sandy Patty tunes while I fixed supper and cleaned the house.
At 26, that dream was a reality for me (sans the Steve Green and Sandy Patty tunes) and at times, I wished it wasn’t true.
This year, I found myself having everything I’ve ever wanted, yet as soon as I got it all I found I was unhappy. That day on the deck was a revelation for me. The new mom hormones were in full force, no doubt, but more than that I was experiencing the classic side-effect of a new stay-at-home mom: loneliness.
It took me a while to realize that’s what it was. Because how could I be lonely when I was ALWAYS with my son? But there’s a difference between being alone and feeling alone.
Pregnancy is a very social thing – particularly for women who are working, like I was. Everyone loves looking at your bump, all your friends want to talk about where you’re delivering, what the name contenders are, what new breathing techniques for delivery you’re learning, and what you received at your baby shower. For the first-time mom, everyone is interested in you and everything is glitter, rainbows and My Little Ponies.
When the baby finally arrives there’s a flood of activity – text messages, cards, gifts, food, visits and 267 likes on the picture of your baby you posted on your Facebook wall. But then, four, maybe six weeks later it all trickles off. Husband is back to work, grandma has stopped sleeping in the guest room, and the new mom is left alone with her baby.
For me, Eli and I had settled into a pretty nice routine, we were deep in the throws of sleep training, regulating my supply, and washing cloth diapers. I had more freedom than in the first couple weeks, but he still needed me every three hours and I couldn’t just “bop out for lunch” in the middle of the day – I only had 1.5 hours between my sleepy son’s naps, which meant I was in nap jail all day, every day. The first couple weeks, when my husband would get home, I couldn’t stop talking when he walked through the door. I hadn’t talked to someone who could understand me all day – I was dying for a social outlet and I couldn’t wait to tell him all about how much Eli had eaten or how well (or not well) he had slept.
But as time wore on, I eventually became silent when Mike arrived home. I found that I was angry at him even though he hadn’t done anything to me. I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to go anywhere, I just wanted to sit and stare, and let my brain turn into mush while watching a TV show – my only relief was knowing that I wasn’t the only one that needed to answer my son’s cries.
It wasn’t like this every day, and overall, if you had asked me, I would have told you that I was happy and I loved being home. Which was true, but there were also lots of times when I felt cut-off, disconnected from my friends and family – not to mention the entire world – and I almost resented that my husband got to leave every day, while I stayed at home, holed up in the house by myself. I didn’t feel like I had a sense of purpose (for some reason, keeping a tiny life alive didn’t count at the time) and I wasn’t even sure who I was anymore. I felt like I had everything I had ever wanted, but that it wasn’t enough – and I didn’t like feeling that way. I felt guilty about being unhappy and didn’t want to admit it to anyone.
I don’t think it had anything to do with postpartum depression. Although that’s a very real thing, deep down, I know I was just lonely. I wondered for a bit if I wanted to go back to work, but I realized that I didn’t miss work, I missed seeing my friends and having adult interaction at work. I loved being home with Eli, but it was hard to live life in three hour increments and there were many times when my days felt monotonous, mundane and repetitive. I hated the feeling of isolation, but didn’t know what to do with it, so I took it out on my husband when he got home, spiraling deeper into myself and trying to blame him – rather than just admit to him how I felt.
That day on the deck, it all came out. It was a huge relief to just admit everything I felt – that I didn’t love being home as much as I always thought I would, but I didn’t know how to fix it – and I also knew going back to work wasn’t the answer for me. And my husband just looked at me and said, “I know; I’m not surprised.” As I looked at him in shock, he also said, “But you can’t take it out on me anymore. So what are we going to do about it?”
To be honest, we didn’t come up with any life-shattering answers, but now I make it a point to leave the house once a day, every day, even if it’s just for a walk around the block. I strike up conversations with strangers more when out on errands, I reach out to other moms I know who are home as well and plan things with them so Eli can nap at their house, I have a semi-regular schedule with my mother-in-law to give me a day out of the house, and we committed to hosting more people in our home – giving me both things to plan for and a social outlet.
I love Eli madly, and truly do cherish this time I get to spend at home with him. It’s gotten so much better with time as Eli has adjusted to a four hour schedule, and the shock of being home alone all day is not so new to me. But every once in a while I feel the loneliness creep in again. I know this time will go in the blink of an eye, as they say, and I truly do find joy in it. But motherhood – particularly for those that stay-at-home – is also an isolating time, cut off from many of the freedoms we enjoyed before, and it can often be a daily struggle to find a balance between the joys and the loneliness.