Our digital devices get a lot of bad press these days, but new mum Dominique McMullan found hers a lifeline when she most needed it.
Having a baby can be lonely. That sounds like it can’t possibly be true, because as a new mum, you are quite literally never alone (toilet, shower, everything).
But babies don’t talk back; and some days, until your partner arrives home, the only words that come out of your mouth will be in sing-song. As much as I enjoy narrating lunch to the melody of “Staying Alive”, there is only so long before you start to feel a little loony.
On top of that, there are so many questions that need answers. How exactly should I mix up formula without a Tommee Tippee machine? When will the sleeping through the night finally start? How in God’s name are you supposed to cut those tiny nails? How long can your eye twitch before you should see a doctor? Google is a no-no because life is scary enough, and friends that you normally relied on don’t really have as much interest in bottle temperatures and footmuffs as you. Other new mums are the only people who can help you.
Even before you give birth, people will tell you about baby groups. All across Ireland on weekday mornings, bleary-eyed mums amass in church halls, yoga studios and social centres for baby yoga, massage, sensory, music or whatever you are having yourself. I attended these new-mum- friend hunting grounds with vigour. But honestly, making new friends as an adult is awkward. Add to that three hours of broken sleep while wrestling a baby who won’t take his bottle, and it’s not that easy to come up with sparkling conversational topics with which to befriend Mary, the solicitor from Monaghan.
Mother and baby groups are also only once a week, and brief. They provide great motivation to put clothes on and leave the house, but limited time in which to strike up the kind of friendship in which you can ask intimate questions about Mary’s pelvic floor. And what about the other 167 hours in the week you might like someone to talk to?
Enter my old pal, the internet. I was lucky enough to get pregnant around the same time as two women I knew, and we started a WhatsApp group. I can’t overstate the importance of this group in the first few months of my child’s life. Here, in the safe surrounds of softly illuminated green boxes, we could say the things we might not say out loud. There were times when this group felt like my breathing tube to the outside world. And unlike the stress that getting out of the house for a mum and baby group can cause, you can chat on a WhatsApp group from the comfort of your old, greying pyjamas. From teething tips to midnight moans and weekly Kegel reminders, the group was, quite literally, always there when I needed it.
The group wasn’t my only source of mobile support, though. Something quite phenomenal happened on Instagram too. Even before I gave birth, I started receiving messages from other mums; ones full of support, love and guidance. Some of these women I vaguely knew, some I hadn’t spoken to for years. But suddenly, this previously invisible community of women gathered around me to offer a virtual shoulder. They knew about the loneliness. They knew about tiny nails and alarming squeaks. They rose up and provided a social media balm, just when I needed it. Far from judging and smooth skin selfies, my Instagram DMs were filled with messages of comfort. I felt understood and like I had all the mums in Ireland behind me.
The old adage is true – it takes a village. But that village looks a little different now. As modern mums, we are missing the physical communities and tribes that once surrounded and supported us. This is palpable when you are at home with a newborn. While social media can indeed damage, the invisible networks it allows also sustain. Social media helped me when I needed it most. And for that, I am most grateful.
This article originally appeared in IMAGE Magazine.
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