Jemima Lewis: Is a lonely life inevitable when I have my baby?

New motherhood obliges you once again to bare your thin skin to the glare of public scrutiny

Saturday 20 October 2007 00:00 BST

Perhaps I should just stop reading these surveys. Being pregnant is alarming enough in itself (88 per cent of expectant mothers are plagued by secret anxieties: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, May 2007), especially when you're of a certain age (70 per cent of thirty-something women feel stressed all the time: Top Santé magazine, September 2007). But now it transpires that much, much worse is to come.

The first year of motherhood is, according to this month's Mother & Baby magazine, the loneliest of a woman's life. A poll of 2,000 new mothers found that the vast majority felt cut off from friends and family, and increasingly irritated by their menfolk. Seventy per cent complained that their social life had become either non-existent or a fraction of its former self.

The average new mother spent only 90 minutes a day in the company of another adult, and 34 per cent said they usually spend all day alone. They bitterly resented the fact that their partners' social lives "hadn't really changed", and 47 per cent reported an increase in marital rows as a result. Five per cent said they had split up as a consequence of having a baby, and only one in five said it had brought them closer together.

I am luckier than most (64 per cent, to be precise) in that I live in the same town as my parents. Unfortunately, it happens to be London: a metropolis so unwieldy and congested that it takes me longer to battle my way to my parents' house than to take a day trip to Norfolk. I do at least know my neighbours (unlike 90 per cent of the mothers surveyed), but most of my friends live on the other side of the city.

And, like most modern women, I have become so accustomed to the companionable hum of office life that the silence of the domestic sphere seems positively sepulchral by comparison.

"You'll find new friends," everyone assures me – as if this were as straightforward an endeavour as finding a cleaner, or a therapist. "Join a class," they say, and I have tried. I went to a local pregnancy yoga class, where the mothers were all 10 years younger than I am, with asymmetrical haircuts and curled upper lips. Halfway through the lesson, we were each instructed to partner up with the woman on our right. My putative companion looked me up and down like a farmer assessing a particularly rickety old cow at auction, and then strode wordlessly to the other end of the room to find a more suitable partner.

Just when you think the days of not being picked for the netball team are behind you, the whole appalling scramble for popularity starts up again – only this time on the other side of the school gates. On Mumsnet – a website whose runaway success is partly a testament to the isolation and insecurity of the modern mother – there are hundreds of heartbreaking tales from women too shy, proud or inept to break into the maternal cliques they see gossiping in the park or the playground.

"I never thought being a mum could be so lonely," reads a typical plea. "There are other mums with babies the same age and we do get together at NCT (National Childbirth Trust) meetings but when I suggest to any of them we get together another time they say they're doing other stuff, and I don't want to make them feel like they have to take me. It makes me feel like they don't like me. Isn't that pathetic?"

Alas, far from being pathetic, it is probably true – they don't like her. One of the advantages of being grown up is that one so seldom has to address this problem. You can just stick to those old friends who, whether through laziness or loyalty, are prepared to cast a fond eye over your failings. But new motherhood obliges you once again to bare your thin skin to the heat of public scrutiny. As on the first day of school, you are expected to make friends just when you are most vulnerable and needy, and therefore unappealing.

There is one alternative: resistance. If you have the money and the willpower, you can almost pretend you haven't had a baby at all. The ferocious disapproval visited upon Claire Verity – the old-fashioned maternity nurse in Channel 4's recent series Bringing Up Baby, whose methods include leaving newborns in the garden to cry, and never looking the blighters in the eye – failed to address the reason why such regimes have become so popular.

In last week's episode, a mother whose twins had been tamed by Verity threw a house party while the infants slumbered obediently upstairs. "It's brilliant!" she kept gasping, her eyes glinting with the manic relief of a newly released convict, while her friends gyrated across the sitting room carpet. "It's like I've got my old life back!"

It may not be everyone's chosen method, but at least it keeps the dreaded loneliness at bay. For, as that contemporary sage Lisa Simpson observed: "Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known – then went crazy as a loon."

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