How To Deal When You're A Lonely Mum

Illustrated by Cecilia Castelli.
These days, we're pretty open about all the rubbish bits of motherhood. And goodness knows there are plenty of rubbish bits to be open about.
What with 2am feeds, judgemental mums, being more exhausted than you ever thought you could be, and finding yourself covered in poo in a public place, caring for your darling child can often be the opposite of a magical experience.
There is, however, one area of motherhood that people still don't feel fully comfortable talking about, at least in person, and that's the loneliness. Be the first of your friends to give birth and you're speaking a different language from them overnight. Find yourself on maternity leave after a decade of employment and your daily contact with human beings may go from an entire office of people to just you and your baby. Join an NCT group with women who aren't on your wavelength and you could find yourself feeling lonelier than ever while you stand on the sidelines, watching other mums happily chat away.
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One woman working to change that is Michelle Kennedy, founder of Peanut, the app to help mums make friends. Before having her baby, Michelle was working at dating app Bumble and Peanut embraces the same sort of concept as Bumble's BBF option – linking like-minded women who, without the app, may not be lucky enough to cross paths and form friendships.
Now, Peanut is launching a new feature: Pages. It's kind of like the millennial version of forums and gives Peanut users a chance to ask questions of the community and tap into ongoing conversations on whatever subject they're curious about, from how best to get your baby to sleep to what the hell you need to watch on Netflix right now.
Unsurprisingly, the idea for Peanut came about from Michelle's own experience of loneliness as a new mother. Here, she speaks to us about feeling friendless with a newborn in tow, and how it nearly broke her.
Did you worry about getting lonely before you had your baby?
It was something I hadn't anticipated. You go through this motion of buying everything you could possibly think of buying, you've got a list and you read on forums what you need and you do a big shop and you feel prepared in that way. You're obsessed with the birth, and what it'll be like but then you don't really think of anything past that. I'd worked since I was 15, I was in a very busy, very senior job and I loved what I did, so it was weird for me to think about not working and because of that, I hadn't really given any thought to what it would be like not to be in the office, coupled with the fact that I didn't have girlfriends who were mothers, I was the first.
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When did you start feeling lonely?
It was Christmastime when I had him so people were there, then January came around and everyone was back at work and school and there was me, on my own, and it's not madly comfortable to say at age 30 that you're feeling lonely. It's like, I've got friends, there's nothing wrong with me, I just hadn't thought about how days were so long, particularly when you don't leave the house often. I found that really isolating and boring sometimes, and it feels like a horrible thing because then you feel like a bad mum. But it's nothing to do with that, it's just you've gone from being around people and using your brain, to being around this little person who doesn't give a tremendous amount back at that age. There were often times when I felt I could be anyone to him; it's quite sad to say that but I didn't have anyone to share that with and say, "Isn't it a bit shit sometimes?" I used to scowl at my husband when he went off to work because I was basically jealous.
Illustrated by Cecilia Castelli.
There are mum groups though, right? Did you try those?
The thing no one thinks about is that in the first few months, you're not allowed to go to these classes because the baby hasn't had all their vaccinations so that isn't even an option for you. I did eventually do NCT but I didn't make any lifelong friends in my NCT group as the group was fairly transient. But I know some people who made lifelong friends so it's luck of the draw. It was a very confusing time and I felt like I didn't have anyone to hang out with on my wavelength. And that's the other thing – I don't just hang out with people because they've got brown hair too and it didn't make any sense to me that if two people are mums they should just hang out, that's a very weird logic.
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So what did you do?
I used to make it my mission to get to Hampstead every day and it became like a weird ritual: "If I can get to Starbucks, it's going to be a good day." I'd walk past women sitting in coffee shops with their friends and I was like, "Who are they? How can they know each other and where's my crew?" There was one Saturday in Starbucks and I saw this girl timing how long she'd been feeding her baby on each boob and she was using an app. I said to her, "What are you doing?" and we started chatting and I said I'd love to take your number and hang out with you sometime and she said to me, "Do you know what, I'm not going to take your number because I don't want to not call you and let you down" and I was mortified. I'd never crashed and burned so awfully and my husband couldn't understand it, he sort of laughed – but it was just the worst thing that had ever happened.
Meeting on an app is no longer weird for dating but for friends it still seems a bit... awkward?
I don't know why. I remember when This Morning used to do segments on people who met and married on the internet and it used to be a massive thing and you would think it's weird, right? I remember thinking, "What's wrong with them?" Then I started working in the industry and I realised that it's actually just efficient because people are working longer hours, moving to new areas or whatever – I don't live next to my mum, even my best friend lives an hour and a half away. It's just more efficient, particularly at 2am when you're feeding your baby and everyone's asleep and you feel like the loneliest girl in the world, or you look on Instagram and your friends are in a club and you think, "Where did my life go?" When that happens you might want to talk to someone. I can't go out with another girl but I can message her on Peanut and feel like someone else is doing what I'm doing and feel that support.
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