Navigating our way through motherhood is far more difficult than we're ever led to believe. It’s a tough job and one we're unlikely to be trained in.
During my first pregnancy, I imagined maternity leave to be sitting in coffee shops with new mum friends, laughing and enjoying not ‘working’. It wasn't like that for me at all. I found motherhood to be so much harder than I ever anticipated and incredibly lonely.
Looking back, the loneliness was one of the most difficult things. It was something I hadn’t experienced to this extent before. My expectations of spending maternity leave surrounded by other new mums were not met at all and I blamed myself for that. My anxiety went through the roof. My daughter had severe eczema. I hardly left the house.
I didn't build a community around me. I didn’t know I had to. How I wish someone had told me I needed one.
The friendship of other mums would have made such a difference to my journey. I urge every mum-to-be and new mum reading this to create your own mother's circle. A group of like-minded mums who hold you steady when things start to go veer off track. A friendship circle to check in with when you heap those unrealistic expectations on yourself because you will.
We all need community and friendship. It is a basic human need. We are not meant to mother alone. We need a village behind us to give us all the support and reassurance we need.
Top tips for finding your own mother's circle
Join groups (but don’t put pressure on yourself)
During pregnancy look for local NCT groups, pregnancy or birth preparation classes. These are great spaces to meet other mums and their partners when you have more time to invest in new friendships.
Join local postnatal and baby classes and go regularly, when you feel ready to leave the house. Introduce yourself and ask if anyone fancies going for a coffee outside of the class. A good facilitator will help do this for you.
Join online groups. This can be really helpful if you’re naturally quite shy. There are many supportive groups on Facebook and Instagram.
Find an organised local Mothers Circle; a safe, shared space where mums come to talk about their feelings and experiences without any judgement. These spaces are special and where supportive friendships are made.
But remember, don't put pressure on yourself to find a perfect group of mums. All friendships take time to develop. You're so busy when your baby arrives that it's difficult to set time aside to create friendships, so allow things to evolve slowly.
Don't worry if existing friendships shift and change.
It's difficult for people without children to understand what it's like to have a baby. Think of your expectations before you became a mum. Be kind and forgiving of your friends and of yourself.
Remember that friends come from the most unlikely of places.
Ditch your old expectations around creating friendships and embrace new people into your life. We are all in this together. All mums share a common bond.
Be honest and open about how you’re feeling.
There is something amazing about honesty. Knowing that the mum next to you is also exhausted and worried about almost everything creates empathy and understanding. These are the foundation blocks of friendships. Sharing really is caring. Being connected is crucial for your mental health. Feeling that you have to do this alone is impossible to continue for any length of time.
You don't need to compare yourself to anybody else.
Motherhood is your own unique journey. I know from the mother's circles I create that it is often the most put together mum who is struggling the most. It's very easy to hide anxiety behind clean jeans and a full face of makeup. Don't think you're not doing as well as the mum next to you just because she doesn’t have baby sick on her shoulder.
Friends allow you to be who you are without having to put up any pretences. They put a realistic slant on your own expectations and they help you to laugh. Laughter is the best medicine. Laughter relaxes all the muscles in your face. It generates oxytocin through your body. It helps you to realise that you’re doing a much better job than you’re giving yourself credit for. Friends make mothering fun.
Mums struggle the most without a village, which means that mums are more likely to thrive if they have one. Don't be afraid to reach out. Don't be afraid to make the first move. I can guarantee you that the mum sitting next to you feels exactly as you do, and she would warmly welcome your hand of friendship.
About the author
Mandy Rees is a mum of two daughters and the founder of Mother for Life. She is an expert in perinatal wellbeing. Mandy champions motherhood through Mother Circles; the bringing together of mothers in safe, supportive and non judgemental spaces.
She is a yoga and baby massage teacher, a women’s emotional health coach and birth rewind practitioner. She runs her own unique course training other women to lead their own Mother Circles.
Mandy is on a mission to fill the world with safe, supportive spaces for mums where they are seen and heard. Spaces that empower mums to fulfil their own needs as well as those of their family.