Thursday, October 25, 2007


For various reasons too complex (and medical) to explain, I am not a mother myself. But I do get thousands of letters every year from mothers who are struggling with some aspect of parenthood. I have no doubt that while it's the most rewarding role in life, it's also the hardest job in the world.

So I was unsurprised last week to read that a recent poll by Mother and Baby magazine suggests that the first 'baby year' in any new mother's life is the worst. Women approach motherhood - much as they often approach marriage - in a romantic haze, believing that while giving birth might be painful, what follows will be demanding but joyful. The reality can be very different.

New mothers, says the survey, are incredibly lonely. Once loving partner is back at work and supportive grandparents have gone back home, what remains is simply you and baby. Cut off from family, friend, work colleagues - trapped in a shiny house on a shiny and deserted estate - new mums can go stir crazy.

It didn't used to be like this, and to be frank, I don't think it should be like this. New Mums need regular, and nearby support - of the sort that was there when, 100 years ago, we lived next door to our own mothers and just across the road from our peer group who, like us, were busy giving birth. Now we mainly live hundreds of miles from our families, and are surrounded by neighbours who are gone for most of the week Overall, the average new mother spends only 90 minutes a day with other adults.

Yes, this too will pass. Babies grow and go to playschool. Children grow and go to big school. Mums go back to work and pretty soon are usually once more a happy part of society again. But during that first crucial year - when they deserve all the support society can offer - far too many women feel lonely and abandoned.

Two glimmers of hope here. First, Tesco supermarkets' latest scheme to get mothers and toddlers meeting up in their stores. Second, the Meet-a-Mum organisation Mama, which provides a befriending service for new, particularly postnatally depressed, mothers.

Great ideas both. But according to the Mother and Baby figures, just a drop in the ocean...

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