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Author: 'Nobody told me about the loneliness that comes with having a new baby'

Read a motherhood diary from the author of crime thriller Hide and Seek, Andrea Mara.

Image: Andrea Mara

MOSES BASKET, CHECK. Changing bag, check. Buggy, check. I was ready with a capital R.

It was 2007 and I was finishing work, organising home, waiting for my first baby to arrive. I had lists. I had notes. I may even have had a spreadsheet – I came from a world of spreadsheets and numbers and meetings and rules. I was heading for my first maternity leave with boxes ticked and books read and plans in place.

I knew about the sleepless nights. I knew about the early mornings. I knew there would be no more lie-ins and no more nights out. I knew what to pack in the hospital bag because the internet told me.

The internet also told me that babygros were now called sleepsuits and vests were bodysuits and a muslin cloth, something I’d never heard of before, would be my new best friend.

What the internet didn’t tell me was how lonely I’d be.

I have to caveat all of this by saying I know how lucky I am. Nobody knows if they’ll be able to have children. Nobody knows if the pregnancy will be safe and uncomplicated. Nobody knows if they’ll have a healthy baby.

I was extremely lucky. I left the hospital with my tiny five lbs six ounce newborn and headed for home, nervous and exhilarated and most of all, grateful.

The first week was a heady mix of joy and tears as my husband and I tried to figure it out. The baby blues – I knew about those, a nurse had told me – came and went. We worked out where to put the moses basket and how to bathe the baby and eventually, we ventured outdoors and all was good in the world.

And then my husband went back to work.

And then it was just me and my newborn. A much-loved newborn. An incredibly perplexing newborn. She didn’t want to be put in her basket and left alone for even a minute (I mean, in hindsight, who would?)

She didn’t sleep at night. She didn’t sleep anywhere but in my arms. She cried. All evening, she cried. She couldn’t tell me what was wrong and I couldn’t figure it out.

I tried the internet. I came up with solutions (Too much milk? Too little? Too much sleep? Too little?). I tried routines (ha!), I tried walks, I tried taking her out in the car. And sometimes it worked, sometimes she slept. But the loneliness, the cluelessness – those feelings bedded in and swelled.

I lived for 7 pm, for the sound of the car in the driveway. To hand her over to the my husband, to have my first conversation of the day. And again, I need to caveat this – I know I’m lucky. I know so many people go it alone, with nobody to hold the baby at the end of the day.

But the next morning, every next morning, by 7 he was gone again, and the loneliness was back.

So why was the loneliness such a shock?

For me, it was a few things:

Like so many people, I came from a very ordered, structured work-life to one of baby-led chaos. I worked in a big, open-plan office, full of adult humans and non-stop conversation. I’d been working for twelve years and wasn’t used to being at home, let alone at home minding a newborn baby. I liked order and lists, but it turns out, babies don’t care about order and lists.

I had no community. It takes a village to raise a child, but I didn’t have a village. My sisters and my dad were at work every day. My friends – apart from one lifeline friend who met me religiously twice a week – were also all at work. I didn’t know my neighbours – we’d all been too busy at work with our spreadsheets, long before work-from-home was the norm. So it was just me and my baby, muddling through on our own.

And nobody told me. Or maybe they did, and I didn’t listen. Books and forums were full of practical advice on feeding and sleep, but there was nothing about loneliness. So I simply didn’t know.

And then when it happened, I thought it was just me. I didn’t want to tell anyone. Imagine admitting it’s lonely? You have a beautiful, healthy baby! When so many people struggle to conceive, who would have the audacity to say it’s hard?

It took me two more babies and five more years to admit it – I wrote about it in a blog post, because it was cathartic, and because I wondered if perhaps other new parents might be feeling the same.

It got the biggest response of any blog post I’d ever written. Countless messages from women at home with small babies, feeling guilty about feeling lonely. Humans are social creatures, why wouldn’t we feel lonely going from a busy work environment to all day at home. Previous generations had the “village” in a way that many of us today just don’t. And that can be hard.

There are some alternative villages though.

I wish, when my eldest was a baby, I’d joined some groups and classes – like baby massage, mum and baby bootcamp, breastfeeding groups, or baby cinema. The idea of getting up and out and organised to go and join a group of strangers can seem so daunting, but as I finally realised when my third baby was born, it is absolutely worth the effort.

There’s a village on the internet too – Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups and parenting forums, people you can chat to online during the 6am feed or the witching hour cry-fest. I went on to meet some of my internet pals in real life, and many of us are still in contact today.

And – the thing I really wish I’d known – it’s OK to sit under a baby and watch Netflix all day. If the only place she’d sleep was in my arms, why didn’t I just sit and let her sleep? The sudden switch from work-mode to sit-on-couch mode was too big a leap for me at the time, but in hindsight, I wish I’d just let go.

And finally, the platitude that’s irritatingly true: this too shall pass. My newborn babies are now teens and tweens. They like spending time with their friends, or in their bedrooms, talking to friends on the phone.

They don’t need me every hour of the day anymore, and sometimes, already, I miss them.

Hide and Seek by Andrea Mara (Bantam Press) is out now.

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