‘Being a lonely mother inspired me to launch a new career’
‘ When Finlay arrived, he was incredible, beautiful, fragile – but I was scared’
‘Michelle the Mother’. I felt fine about that. I’d bought everything on my list, I’d read a few books, I’d attended NCT classes ( One Born Every
Minute wasn’t going to cover all the bases, right?). At 30, I felt professionally at the top of my game, running a successful dating platform. I had great friends, and my husband and I had been together for five years. Motherhood seemed like just another step, the next chapter in my book.
I hadn’t appreciated how different life would become. When Finlay arrived, he was incredible, beautiful, fragile – but I was scared. Everything was changing and it felt out of my control. I’d gone from working at a million miles an hour and being surrounded by people to being at home all day on my own with this little dude. When my husband went to work every day, I felt like I was being left behind. I was alone, I’d lost my identity – and the very together me started falling apart.
Even one week in, I felt like I was failing as a mother. Finlay was a 9lb whopper but lost weight post-birth, which I had no idea was normal. I’d feel sick in anticipation of the health visitor arriving to weigh him, and I struggled with breastfeeding, constantly worrying he was hungry.
Everything and nothing could reduce me to tears. I was in the queue at Starbucks one morning when a whimpering Finlay prompted some stranger to suggest he needed a feed. I cried, feeling she knew my son better than I did. At that very low, vulnerable moment, I felt more alone than I could ever have thought possible.
With so many questions in my head and so few people to turn to, I’d often resort to googling for advice at 2am, while trying to settle Finlay. It led me to a world of mummy forums I never knew existed. There were all the mystifying abbreviations – everyone discussing their ‘DH’ or ‘OH’ (which I’ve since discovered mean ‘darling husband’ and ‘other half ’) – and lots of judgement flying around. I became so terrified of being criticised that I would lurk, waiting for someone else to ask my questions (like, ‘Is it OK to rock your baby to sleep?’). Those forums aren’t places to make friends, and I had no real way to communicate with and meet mothers. I’d always had lots of friends – but the only one with a baby seemed to have everything so under control, and I didn’t form lasting friendships at my NCT group. I was lonely – an uncomfortable realisation.
My own mother was a godsend. She would often visit and called every day – but whenever I hung up the phone, my isolation felt magnified. The turning point came when Finlay hit five months old. We’d become a team, we had our routine and if he did cry, it was only me who could soothe him. I’ve heard people describe it as a fog lifting, and that’s exactly how it felt. Then when he was six months I returned to work and felt even more connected to the Michelle I understood again.
I also had an epiphany. If we could find partners in love online, then why not friends, too? I realised you could modify the algorithms and features of a dating app to create a product that could help women connect with each other. After another 18 months I left my job to launch a new app, Peanut. It generates suggestions of other women who are a good friendship match and then allows you to ‘wave’ at each other (the Peanut version of a ‘like’) or start messaging. The app launched in February and has tens of thousands of users in the UK and the US already – including me. I have made real friends on Peanut; two in particular I now see regularly. Of course, motherhood can still be challenging, but it’s amazing none the less – and a lot less daunting with like-minded women around you.
Peanut is available from the App Store in the UK, the US, Canada and Ireland (peanut-app.io/ios). Has one day changed your life? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @stellamagazine #OneDay
Left Michelle with her son, Finlay, now three