A friend of mine once told me a story. Her surgeon husband was working overnight in the hospital, and she was home alone with her infant daughter and two-year old son. Not only was the baby particularly fussy that night, but her two-year old had broken out in total body hives and was miserable. She was going to give him some Benadryl, when she realized that she didn’t have any in the house. Exhausted, sitting on the floor between two crying children, weighing the options of bundling everyone and leaving the house in the middle of the night or calling someone to help her, “it was the first time I felt really alone,” my friend told me.
After having my own two-kid moment of feeling alone this past weekend, now I understand what she was talking about. After I was done wallowing just a bit in self-pity, it really got me thinking: what is about the parenting of young children that makes mothers feel so alone sometimes? (And also likely fathers; however, I haven’t discussed parenting experiences with very many fathers). Loneliness and isolation, these are themes that recur in my every day conversations with other mothers. I read about them online. I hear my patients’ mothers tell me about them, often without even realizing that’s what they are talking about. I see them in the blank stares and half-smiles of other moms at the grocery and playground: we are all inhabiting our own individual spheres of Motherhood: separate, orbiting around but sealed off from one another.
The reasons for this are probably many: fatigue, time, frustration, our own inability to recognize when we need help and then ask for it. And it’s usually not a feeling that is a poor reflection on the support we receive from our partners (though it often comes across that way). It’s just… different, being a mother, which is about the best I can explain it. Our bodies experience monumental changes in the gestation, delivery, and feeding of our babies, and I sometimes think that the recovery from that alone can take years. And even then some things are never the same. And yes, our own mothers, grandmothers, aunts, mentors, bosses, they are all supportive in their own way, but there is just something about having a community of other mothers of small children, who are in the trenches too, who are living the same challenges and frustrations at the same time, that is so important.
We all have our own reasons that we feel alone, different in every day and every moment. It doesn’t really matter why, all of this is just to say, to my fellow mothers, when you have those moments, those experiences, those days when you just feel totally and utterly alone: you’re not. While our individual parenting narratives are all unique, they are constructed around the same themes. Whatever you’re dealing with, chances are at some point, we’ve all been there.
When you are so utterly exhausted that it’s physically painful: We’ve all been there.
When it seems impossible how much you can love but not like someone sometimes: We’ve all been there.
When the monumental task of caring entirely for another human being threatens to overwhelm you: We’ve all been there.
When all you want is 20 minutes to not be responsible for anyone but yourself: We’ve all been there.
When you don’t know how you can both love and hate breastfeeding so much: We’ve all been there.
When the accumulating piles: of laundry, of unopened mail, of anxiety, of responsibility, of love, start to feel like a crushing weight: We’ve all been there.
When someone has been touching you all day and you reach the nighttime breaking point: We’ve all been there.
When your head finally hits the pillow after the 2AM feeding and you hear your toddler call out for you: We’ve all been there.
When everyone is finally sleeping, and you toss and turn for hours: We’ve all been there.
When you can’t remember the last time you took a proper shower: We’ve all been there.
When your caloric intake for the day consists of string cheese, coffee, three fig newtons, and a banana: We’ve all been there.
When the pile of laundry on the floor becomes an undifferentiated slurry of clean, dirty, and otherwise, and you realize you don’t really care as long as you’re not naked when the UPS man shows up: We’ve all been there.
When you struggle with the fact that someone – your kids, your spouse, your dog, your job, your friends, your family, yourself – gets the short end of the stick every day: We’ve all been there.
When you’re not sure if it’s poop or chocolate: We’ve all been there.
When you wake up every day vowing to be the best possible version of yourself and you go to bed every night thinking of all the ways you failed: We’ve all been there.
In all of those times and in all of the others, fellow intrepid mothers, you are not alone. So I tell you what I told my friend: Call me. Call your friends with small children and just vent for ten minutes. Or email or text or visit or take your babies and meet up for coffee or whatever. So what if it’s the middle of the night? Chances are we’re all awake anyway. This mothering thing is damn hard and it is so important that we realize we are all sort of in it together. In this post-modern world of child-rearing, we have lost the village that it takes to raise a child, and we mothers, we parents, need this village so desperately. We need to reconstruct the village, to create a meaningful and supportive community that exists behind our closed doors and within our sterile suburbs. Let’s be each other’s village. Let’s realize that we are not alone.