Out in the Open

'It's not something we talk about … but it's a real issue': The isolation of new motherhood

Social media was feeding new mom Audrey Poulin’s loneliness, so she made an app to help other mothers connect.

Social media was feeding new mom Audrey Poulin’s loneliness, so she made an app to help other mothers connect

Audrey Poulin plays with her first child Timothy. (Submitted by Audrey Poulin)

When Audrey Poulin gave birth to her first child six years ago, she knew her life was going to change. She just didn't know how lonely that would make her feel. 

"It was big change in my life," said Poulin. "When I gave birth a lot of friends didn't see me as often as before."

Now with two children and another on the way, Poulin has experienced motherhood in both Montreal, and the much smaller city of Shefford, Quebec. But no matter where she is, she says isolation and loneliness is still a big part of being a mother. 

New mothers have a lot of questions about being a mother, so they tend to be insecure about themselves, says Poulin.

"You want to be a good mom and you don't think the other moms are having difficult times too. And I think it leads to a lot of depression."

To confront the loneliness of motherhood, Poulin created an app called social.mom. The social network connects mothers with each other, encouraging them to meet in person and discuss the problems that are unique to mothers. Its aim is to fight loneliness.

"It's not something we talk about … loneliness. But it's a real issue."

Poulin and her family at home in Shefford, Que. (Submitted by Audrey Poulin)

Online is not good enough

People have got used to making friends through social media, says Poulin. But it was social media that made her feel even more lonely. 

"If I'm chatting with friends on Facebook, it's a little like porn friends. It's not real friends. It's not real life. It's like when you watch porn, it's not real sex. So it does the same thing in the mind. You think you're good. You think you're okay. You think your friends approve [of] you, but more often it's not their real life on Facebook and they only show what looks great."

This creates more pressure for moms to be perfect, says Poulin, and flies against a real need for people to connect in person, relate and share.

Social media fed her loneliness, so it may seem ironic that Poulin chose to solve her problem by creating another social network. But 60 per cent of social.mom's users are millennials, says Poulin, and they are online.

"I think because they grew up as teenagers with social media ... They are connected, but lonely … so I think that's the place where we answer their needs. Then they start to realize that they need real-life connections."

According to Poulin, 80 per cent of millennial moms say they feel or felt lonely in the first years of motherhood.

Audrey Poulin in her first year of motherhood with son Timothy. (Submitted by Audrey Poulin)

The need to relate

While Poulin has a good relationship with her husband and has family living close by, she says she still needed to connect with other mothers.

"I couldn't connect that much with my mom because their generation didn't have internet, so they had real connections. And it was much easier because there were bigger families." 

Poulin's mother had five sisters she could share motherhood experiences and concerns with. Growing up, Poulin remembers playing with her cousins every week. 

Poulin found her son's colic period to be particularly painful. He wasn't sleeping, and neither was she. 

"It was very hard. I was crying a lot. And just to know that other moms don't sleep like me, and that they're going through the same thing and that they just need to get out of the house for a couple minutes just to breathe, just to know that they react the same way … is so relieving."

Poulin says moms socializing with other moms allows them to discuss just how imperfect being a mom can be, how hard those sleepless nights are, and how much they need coffee, fast.

"You know you're not a bad mom because you feel bad about it. You know you're not a bad mom because you couldn't tolerate them crying one minute more."

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "The Lonely Road"