For a lot of mums, this will come as no surprise. It certainly didn’t for me. After you give birth, you have a few health visitor appointments and a GP check-in (if you’re lucky), but then it’s very much a focus on the baby and their development from here on out.
You see well-meaning friends and family who ask earnestly about how your child is getting on, but not you. People stop inviting you to events because they assume you’ll struggle to sort childcare.
Then, if you’re the parent who’s not working and doing the majority of the childcare (which in plenty of cases, women are), you start to take on a lot of the mental load, too.
For the unacquainted, that’s the invisible labour involved in managing a household. It’s the shopping lists, the scheduling of baby vaccines, the sorting out who’s having what for dinner, the researching of the various ailments or developmental changes your child is going through.
It’s the washing, the cooking, the cleaning, the life admin, the scheduling of extremely glamorous things in the family diary – like the car’s MOT.
It’s a full-time job in addition to the full-time role that is raising a child – and often your own passions and interests can get put on the back-burner as a result.
The impact of mums feeling invisible
Unfortunately, the repercussions of this feeling of invisibility are far-reaching – particularly when it comes to women’s mental health and wellbeing.
Of the 3,600 women surveyed, 86% say they’ve experienced anxiety as a result of being an ‘invisible’ mother, while 82% have experienced stress or burnout, 80% have felt lonely or isolated and 55% have experienced depression.
One mum revealed: “I’m never invited to social events because it’s assumed I’d have to bring the baby. Or my husband gets [invited] but people tell him I don’t have to go because I’ll be taking care of the baby.”
Another said assumptions that being a stay-at-home mum is “relaxing” made her feel invisible in day-to-day life.
“I have to monitor [my child] full-time and have to plan out her naps, errands, food, chores. I have to deal with physical and mental overstimulation, and no one takes it seriously,” they added.
So, what is making women feel this way?
Here are some of the factors which women say are contributing to them feeling invisible:
- Unfair division of labour in the home
- Trying to juggle a career and childcare
- Lack of empathy and understanding from family, peers and strangers
- Blindspots in healthcare and mental health support
- Struggles to assert identity and independence
- Having to hide the pain of pregnancy loss
- Pressures from institutions such as healthcare, education and media.
Most (93% of) women said since having a child their identity felt minimised to just one: mother, with 94% saying they felt an expectation to put themselves last for the sake of their families, partners, jobs, and other responsibilities.
Much focus is placed on the way partners and close family members fail to support women, however the survey found 46% did not feel supported by the healthcare system post-birth, and 70% expected to have more support from societal infrastructure than they do.
What being invisible feels like
Here’s what some women involved in the survey had to say:
- “My entire ‘fourth trimester’ I felt invisible. It’s such an insane change to go from caring for yourself to caring for a baby. I was struggling with anxiety and it was hell.”
- “I have to mother like I don’t have a job and work like I don’t have children. I’m constantly dealing with the feeling of ‘I’m not doing enough.’”
- “While holding my 3-month-old, I was asked: when’s the next one coming? It’s like... you DO realise I am a PERSON and not just a baby birthing machine right?”
- “I had to keep my pregnancy a secret because I got promoted. When [work] finally found out, I was excluded from team meetings and was treated like I was incapable of doing my job. My supervisor even suggested I quit.”
What can we do about it?
Gender inequality seems to play a major role in women feeling this way – as does a lack of support, whether from family and friends or healthcare professionals.
Flexible, family-friendly workplaces; equal and extended leave for all parents; equal share of parenting tasks and adding changing facilities to all restrooms were some of the factors that women listed as being important in helping to address the issue.
Psychologist Rachel Goldman said: “The invisibility of motherhood is a stark reality many face. The journey begins with frequent visits to healthcare providers, but once the child arrives, there’s a sudden gap, creating a sense of abandonment at a pivotal time.
“Women grapple with overwhelming feelings of exhaustion and stress, only to confront rushed appointments where healthcare professionals don’t have time to adequately dive into concerns. But, the problem is larger than healthcare alone; society needs to change.”
She added that “it doesn’t take grand gestures” to offer support. “A genuine ‘how are you’ or ‘thinking of you’ can significantly shift perceptions, signalling to someone that they matter,” said the psychologist.
“Fundamentally, it’s the butterfly effect in practice – small changes or actions, like compassionate conversations, can have profound impacts. By acknowledging and addressing these issues, we can begin to reconstruct the societal infrastructure to truly support motherhood.”