One of the many things I really wasn't prepared for when becoming a parent, was the gaping, black-hole of loneliness which sucked me in. After the initial terror/euphoria of birth, getting our new daughter home and settling into the 4 hourly marathon of existence (feed, sleep, change, repeat), I was completely left to my own devices with minutes, hours, days and whole weeks to fill.
Yes, we did NCT classes (National Childbirth Trust antenatal classes largely focused around birth) so I had a group of other local mums to meet up with. And nice as they were, they weren't really my friends. We barely knew each other and aside from having given birth and living in roughly the same part of London, we didn't have much in common. Our weekly meet-ups in a local cafe were seriously marred by the fact that my baby went completely nuts for the 15 minutes or so in which I managed to inhale a coffee and scoff a cake before retreating (of course she calmed down as soon as I left). The baby-massage course I embarked on, more for something to do than anything else, was yet another trauma as, of course, mine was the only baby who detested having her clothes off and screamed blue-murder for the duration of the class, whilst I sweatily, tried to feed her, calm her - anything so that the poor teacher could be heard and the rest of the class could get some benefit or enjoyment!
Like many people, I also don't have close family around, as well as being one of the first of my local friends to have a baby, so no-one I knew was kicking around in the day, looking for baby-friendly company. I tried coffee mornings and baby-groups, but when you're tired, vulnerable, hormonal and finding life a real challenge, the last thing you feel able to do is, firstly, just go to an activity with a bunch of strangers and introduce them to you and your (screaming) child. Secondly, even if you do pluck up the courage to go, you then have to take an extra step and speak to groups of people who all seem to know each other and have nailed the parenting-thing so that their child doesn't scream whenever they are in a social situation (I have since discovered they didn't really feel like that - but they seemed like that to me.)
The supermarket became my go-to, as there would be some minimal but low-pressure human interaction and even... (drum-roll!!)...the possibility of a chat with someone I bumped into, knowing I could quickly skidaddle if bubba decided to exercise her lungs. I also took to travelling to meet my partner after his working day to kill another couple of hours and bring the time when my solo-parenting was over. Braving rush-hour with a small baby wasn't a patch on that ever-threatening black-hole - actually it was quite an effective antidote being crammed into a confined space with a load of people with a "purpose".
But what really saved me was two things: an exercise class where I could take my baby. It was outside on Tooting Common, and wasn't just new mums, but a bunch of down-to-earth people with children of varying ages and stages. So the perspective they had on a screaming newborn, was one I was seriously lacking, and helped me so much. They didn't mind that my baby cried a lot, they didn't think that meant I was a bad mother or doing something terribly wrong - they knew that lots of young babies are unsettled and "colic-y" (don't get me started on that nonsense-term!!) and it being outside also meant that by baby's cries didn't have the stressful impact on me or anyone around me. Tess, the teacher was so helpful too, rocking the buggy so I could finish whatever exercise we were doing, without worrying that my baby crying for 20 seconds was going to scar her for life. Obviously the exercise itself also helped.
And that in turn was the inspiration for Pram Chorus, my second saviour - so that I could combine my previous professional life as a choir-director, with my newfound existence as a parent. A choir for parents: not just mums but dads too (a subject for another blog-post, but poor Dad-carers are implicitly and explicitly excluded from so many baby-activities) - ANYONE looking after a pre-school child, to come and take part themselves in a stimulating and fun activity. You don't have to talk to anyone, or be able to sing or even especially like singing. But you and your baby/toddler, screaming or not, are welcome to come and take part in something. I won't promise you friends (although there's a strong chance you'll make some) but I will promise you an hour of pure, healthy escapism; where you and your voice are valued and appreciated. You will come away with some new songs to sing, having exercised your grey-matter, having had a laugh and with a spring in your step, to keep you going for the week between classes.
So if you are struggling and doing your best to dodge that black-hole, please take that first step and come along.