A good friend and I occasionally laugh about how we met whilst bobbing our tiny babies to the beat of nursery rhymes in the local community swimming pool.
Each week between splashing and happy baby shrieks, she and I would steal every available second to reveal our latest news to each other, founding what would later turn out to be a firm friendship.
Both of us were new mums, both of us had just moved to the area, and although we didn’t acknowledge it, both of us were grappling with the unexpected loneliness that arrived amidst the otherwise joyous occasion of motherhood.
Only years later did we reveal to each other how very isolated we had felt during those first years of being a mum.
Of course, the irony is, had either of us spoken up and mentioned it at the time, we would have realised we were far from alone…
Late last year the news headlines began revealing the extent of Australia’s loneliness epidemic, with a study finding one in four Australian adults are lonely.
The report further noted one in two (50.5 per cent) Australians feel lonely for at least one day in a week, while one in four (27.6 per cent) feel lonely for three or more days, and nearly 55 per cent of the population feel they lack companionship at least sometimes.
This loneliness affects not only people’s mental health but also their physical wellbeing and quality of life.
The situation is so dire, it’s been labelled Australia’s next health crisis.
In 2017, UK parenting website Channel Mum conducted a poll of over 2000 women which revealed 90 per cent of mums felt lonely after having children. Over half also admitted they felt more “friendless” since giving birth.
And if you think about it, this stands to reason. Most of us enter motherhood with high expectations and a career under our belt. We gleefully depart for maternity leave without realising we’re leaving much of our support network behind.
Chances are we also exit an arena where we were pretty confident in our abilities only to embark on a new chapter where we may have little or no clue what we’re doing, with very few friends in a similar situation whom we can share the experience with.
And then, of course, there’s the pride factor. If you’ve waited years to have a beautiful bundle of joy, the last thing you wish to reveal is that some areas of motherhood aren’t quite what you expected.
Channel Mum put this in perspective, noting many women suffer this newfound loneliness in silence, with three in five admitting they have tried to hide their feelings while 38 per cent have never told their partner.
What’s perhaps more concerning is the majority (80 per cent) of mothers surveyed said they wanted more “mummy friends”, however, 30 per cent revealed they had never started a conversation with another mother that led them to becoming friends.
Amidst this rising tide of Australian loneliness, perhaps the message is it’s time to be brave.
To all those mums out there surreptitiously eyeballing each other at the park, the pool or the playground, step up and say hello.
Odds are that woman who looks so calm, confident and reassured right next to you is lonely like you and would welcome a new friendship in her world.
Oh, and 10 years after we met over the bobbing heads of babies in a pool, my friend and I still steal every second available to share our news.
These days, however, we’re a lot more frank about our feelings. Time in the trenches of motherhood has taught us when you share the good, the bad and the ugly, you’re never really alone.