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Lots of us will have heard that well-known saying ���it takes a village to raise a child���, but for many new parents this vision of a close and supportive community doesn���t quite reflect their experience or how they���re feeling.
Pregnancy and early parenthood is such a delicate and fragile time of life. Even for those of us who are lucky enough to have thoughtful family and friends around us, we can still feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Especially in the middle of the night and especially when we���re desperately trying everything we can to soothe a crying baby. This loneliness can chip away at our wellbeing and for some it can be a catalyst for worrying thoughts and even serious mental health problems.
Laura Seebohm has 25 years of experience supporting women with experience of the criminal justice system, addiction, and domestic abuse. Now the CEO of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), Tommee Tippee's charity partner, Laura and her team are working with us to shine a spotlight on mental wellbeing during and after pregnancy. Laura has written this post to raise awareness about loneliness during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
The MMHA is a network of over 120 organisations, individuals, and now Tommee Tippee, all dedicated to raising awareness of mental health problems before, during and after pregnancy. We want to make things better for new and expectant mums who may be struggling at this extraordinary time and let them know that they are absolutely not alone.
If life with a bump or newborn is feeling lonely, you���re certainly not the only one feeling that way. In a poll of 500 new mums carried out by the MMHA, it is of little surprise that loneliness came out as one of the most common experiences which respondents said impacted their mental health (43%).
Chrissy Brown, one of MMHA's Lived Experience Champions, shared how outraged she was to find out that at least one in five women experience poor maternal mental health.
���Why did no one tell me? I thought it was just me!���
Chrissy left her successful corporate career to set up Motivational Mums Club, a peer support service dedicated to supporting mums, building a community where they can share what they���re going through and granting access to free mental health sessions with fully qualified psychologists.
���Women need to feel safe to speak about their maternal mental health without the fear of being judged.���
When we feel like we are the only person finding parenting tough, or struggling with the many challenges we face in today���s landscape, our mental health can be hit hard. We become increasingly isolated as it���s all too easy to internalise how we���re feeling. Too often we end up believing there is something wrong with us, and only us. The truth is that whatever you are feeling, there are countless others out there having the same experience.
But there is hope to be had. There is a huge amount of help available once you know where to look and that it's ok to ask for it. For some it will be asking a friend to make time for us in person or over the phone, whereas others might prefer to talk to a stranger or need more formal support from a healthcare professional. Once you find what works for you it���s possible to feel like yourself again.
The MMHA poll also asked new mums whether they had experienced any of the most common physical or mental health conditions during their pregnancy or after their baby was born. We were shocked to find that 100% - literally every single respondent ��� listed at least one health challenge. The list included postnatal depression, postpartum psychosis, maternal OCD and more maternal mental health conditions. This is the reality, yet so many women tell us, like Chrissy, that they had no idea before it happened to them.
The MMHA believe passionately that we need to talk about maternal mental health from the outset just as we talk about the physical challenges of pregnancy and parenting. Support from others with similar lived experience gives us a vital sense of belonging. There is a community for new parents out there and it is our mission to make sure all women, whatever their unique circumstances, feel connected with others on this extraordinary parenting journey.
I had the great pleasure of listening to Kayleigh���s story recently, who set out to build the community she was after.
"In this world of instant and constant availability it is staggering and unfathomable to think that we have the highest rates of loneliness ever. After the traumatic delivery of our second child, I became a statistic, one that I never expected to be a part of. I was one of the 10% of mothers who are diagnosed with postnatal depression.
I found myself completely detached and desperately in need of connection.
I made the decision to bare all and write a social media post that I would either rise from the ashes or continue to lie dormant in the embers. I tentatively wrote, 'If anyone else is finding parenting a little bit rubbish then I am going for a walk tomorrow at 9:30am and I would love to see you there'.
At first, after pressing send on the post, I had an unbelievable sense of relief that I had shared a small piece of my inner thoughts and hoped that it connected with someone else somewhere 'out there'. Unaware of who (if anyone) would show up, I felt a real sense of achievement. I just hoped one friendly face, maybe two, would appear at the location I had set for tomorrow.
Cue a very unsettled night, not due to the baby but to the social anxiety that I had developed about my deeply personal no holds-barred account of how difficult I was finding parenting this time around. But when I showed up and turned the corner, with bated breath, there I saw the most beautiful image I think I had ever seen��� nine(!) mammas standing looking as frazzled as I was, all waiting and wanting this as much as I did.
This is where the Mamma Social Co journey began, what started as a need for me to heal postnatally quickly turned into a community of women healing together.
For me, loneliness is not about the lack of people around us but missing a sense of belonging. At Mamma Social Co everyone belongs."
If this content reminds you of your own experiences or makes you think of someone you know and you feel concerned or uncomfortable, please head to our support page for information about perinatal mental health resources that may be able to help.