I left my dream job to go on maternity leave when my son was born. It became the most isolating and lonely period of my life. But these are the things that helped me pull through and realize how much I really needed this time with my newborn.
Karen Dybis
Courtesy of Karen Dybis

I had planned an idyllic maternity leave from my career as a reporter for a large daily newspaper. I had just celebrated five years at this dream job after slogging it out at two smaller papers, but I was looking forward to some blissful time with my newborn—at least that's what the baby books I read when I was pregnant made me believe it would be like.

One week before my due date, I walked out of my noisy office in full nesting mode. Dreamily, I thought we'd enjoy everything the books told me—we'd bond, I'd nurse, he'd nap, we'd go to "Mommy and Me" classes. Life would be good. Goodbye blaring televisions, constant phone calls, and angry editors. Hello, playdates, peaceful walks, and Baby Einstein.

Then, my son was born. He skipped naps. He hardly ate. He lost weight. I cried during his pediatrician visits and appointments with my breastfeeding expert. I even visited a sleep specialist to find out why my little guy hated closing his eyes. Instead of focusing on recovering, I was entering the strangest, most confusing time in my adult life. For some, it may happen just like the books say. For me, maternity leave felt more like a lesson in loneliness.

My parents came to help, but then they left and went back to their home two-and-a-half hours away. My husband was there for two weeks, but then his employer expected him back at work. Alone with a challenging newborn, I missed a job I adored and had worked diligently to earn. My main friendships had been coworkers—now, they were moving up the ranks with deadlines to make and no time to talk. Meanwhile, I was on diaper duty.

Instead of nesting, I felt entombed in a quiet house in a quiet neighborhood where I knew barely anyone. We had moved to a new house in a new city about a year before I got pregnant. I was hit with the reality that I had no friends to turn to for help. I started calling my mom five times a day, but she was too far away to really do much.

My son and I tried to settle into a routine, but it was difficult to predict if he would nap or eat outside of the home. Easily distracted, he never breastfed while at the mall or anywhere really, too interested in what was going on around him. I was exhausted from lack of sleep, and suffered anxiety attacks if I left the house for too long. At the time, it felt like I couldn't go away from our home without worrying about my son or my own emotional outbursts. There were times when I cried when I had a babysitter to help, concerned my son would somehow miss me on even short shopping trips. I can look back now and see that I probably had a mild form of postpartum depression. But while there's so much more awareness for postpartum depression and mommy blues, people still don't talk enough about the loneliness.

One day, though, I decided I couldn't go on like this. I decided it was time to come up with a new plan. I decided to break out of my introverted shell and find people to make my motherhood journey feel less lonely.

The solutions weren't immediate. But I joined six different support groups, and eventually, I found a club full of moms that were just like me; they were formerly working full time and decided to stay at home. All of us felt a kind of shell shock at leaving the workforce. These women became my friends and mentors. We supported one another with coffee mugs full of warmth and conversations filled with real talk.

Another change I made was to put myself first in terms of exercise. I joined the YMCA and gave myself an hour to work out. I struck up conversations with other parents, a major achievement for me. Childcare at the YMCA was also good for my son, who started learning how to socialize. I started walking more, hoping to run into like-minded parents. We visited every park and shop within walking distance. My son, who was a good-natured insomniac, would smile at strangers from his Baby Bjorn. I smiled as well, realizing that every conversation was a new connection.

What surprised me was finding companionship in the strangest of places. Whenever I took my son outside, the neighborhood kids through some kind of secret system told one another of our arrival and would come out. These kids had one goal: To play with the new baby. Those interactions gave me insights into parenting, how to enjoy my tot, and how to accept support from the most unexpected places.

Maternity leave is much needed, and the time is precious. My maternity leave, which felt isolating at first, has become a years-long adventure. My life feels full now, and I'm able to work from home. I have met moms and dads who have become lifelong friends. I have experienced the highs and lowest lows of parenting. I have seen dark moments, but I also have proven my resilience by trying new things, asking for help, and taking better care of my health.