After becoming a mother, I found myself in unexpected need of community, yet the least capable I’ve ever been of building and maintaining that community.
At first I floated through my days trying to reconcile me need for and lack of sleep. I received emails and calls from friends wanting to see me (and of course the offspring) but my exhaustion and the constant needs of baby, coupled with her absolute disdain for car rides, made it near impossible to travel for visits. When people came to me, I spent my time nursing, changing diapers, and rocking the Pie to sleep rather than holding a conversation.
My friendships lived in fragments.
Even for an introvert, the days stacked on days of being alone with a baby became too much. I felt disconnected, isolated, consumed by motherhood. My friendships faltered or occurred in 3-minute spurts. I cried to the mountain man that I was lonely, yet never had any time alone. When I felt that what I needed most was time to myself, I would find more peace in community than in solitary time.
I felt like I would have given anything in those early months to sink into the couch at the end of the day and read a book – that I held with both hands – and enjoy a glass of wine, uninterrupted. I would give anything most days for an hour of relaxed alone time, when I’m not trying to accomplish a thousand things or meet the needs of others.
And at the same time, I had an unfulfilled need to enjoy the company of friends. And the benefits of being around people were greater than the benefit of any alone time I had, because there would never be truly free alone time. There is always something that should be getting done. Time alone is too easily absorbed by tasks and guilt.
In cultures more community-oriented than our own, there is little to no postpartum depression. Mamas are supported, encouraged, comforted, and given a break. PPD thrives on isolation; even as an introvert I found myself in great need of community.
I had to establish a community for myself. I decided that writing about my experiences, inviting others into my conversation with myself, would be a start. It was a one-way conversation, but I could write during moments that wouldn’t be effective socially. I could express things I couldn’t say out loud, and welcome other moms to find a shared experience, or to start a conversation.
I haven’t yet found the perfect balance for maintaining friendships. I am frustrated with my inability to make firm plans, to be present with my friends, to enjoy an uninterrupted conversation over coffee. It sometimes feels like I live on the periphery of my own life. But I hope that by writing about it I make having the conversation OK. I hope that I am creating a sense of shared experience. I hope that my need to find community is also building community. The fact that you are reading is creating community for me.
Community is necessary for new moms, even when the friendships are fragmented, incomplete, messy, and built on postcard interactions.