Mothers’ groups are funny things. Kind of like a cross between speed dating and forming high school friendships. You meet a bunch of women, once a week, for the first few weeks of your bubs life. The only thing you’re guaranteed of having in common is that you all have bubs born within about a month of each other and you live in the same area. These meetings are supposed to ensure you have an instant support network when you need it. You initially meet as a structured gathering, often in an early childhood clinic. After the first couple of months, you’re on your own. If you’ve clicked, you continue meeting, and life-long friends can be formed from these groups. But for a lot of other mums, mother’s groups can be hugely isolating and serve to remind you of how much difficulty you’re having, adjusting to your new role of being a ‘mum’.
I am so unbelievably lucky. My first mother’s group, with my daughter was and still is awesome. It didn’t start that way. Our awesomeness has been years in the making. But my first mother’s group is in stark contrast to my second mothers’ group (I will get into that later). If I had to hand pick the mums in my first mothers group, I wouldn’t necessarily have picked everyone in our group. See, this is the speed dating part. You only get to speak to each mum superficially. Little snippets of conversation in between the whole group discussions about how often babies were feeding, or pooping, or sleeping and all those other really important things they do in the first few weeks. Hold on, eating, pooping and sleeping is all they do in those first few weeks! You try to suss out who you’d get along with, who has similar interests, but often you are so sleep deprived and floundering in your new ‘mum’ role that just turning up to mothers’ group is a feat within itself. I remember looking at one mum and I suppose, in a way, I was envious. She was already back in what was her pre-baby body shape and her bub was only a month old! And yes, she was naturally like that. The kind of person who probably walked out of hospital looking that way. I so wanted to hate her but she was just so nice… although she also made me immediately aware of how oversized my boobs had become. She was also blessed with those perky B cups. I, on the other hand, have the sort of boobs that porn stars would be jealous of. Girls with big boobs will understand how utterly frightening pregnancy is. Little boobed women rejoice (as do their husbands) at their now ample cleavage, that only gets better when the milk comes in. Big boobed girls await with horror – seriously, how much bigger can they get?!? Only to await with more horror as they turn to pancakes after breastfeeding. I digress. Her seemingly perfect after baby body would remind me at our weekly meetings how mine was sooo not perfect, nor anywhere remotely near to what it was like before pregnancy. I was clearly not going to bounce back, even though I’d been very fit and active pre-pregnancy. Little did I know that behind her perfect exterior, hid a baby that wouldn’t sleep and a man that was never going to adjust to being a new dad. I am so glad we are friends, because we’re we on a speed date, my insecurities would’ve prevented me from knowing her better. She is now a friend I hold close to my heart. She truly is one of the most wonderful people I know. Then there was another woman. She didn’t make it to many of our structured meetings as she had some health hiccups after giving birth. I actually hadn’t met her. The first time I met her was when I hosted a catch up at my place. Another mum asked if she could invite her. I really didn’t give it much thought. The more the merrier really? Realistically I knew mums would drop off so our group couldn’t possibly stay this big. But it is this mum that stayed in my thoughts during my second mothers group experience. Because this mum’s experience with her first bub, was similar to my second experience. Things certainly didn’t go ‘as planned’ for her.
Apart from a complete lack of ability to breastfeed my first child (which at the time it seemed like the world was ending – no thanks to the ‘helpful’ Australian Breastfeeding Association who only perpetuated my belief that the world would end if I couldn’t) I didn’t have any problems. My daughter ate, pooped and slept like clockwork. She’d obviously read the book. She was the world’s easiest baby. And even though I was aware of that when I had her, even though I knew there was no chance we’d get another like her, I still wasn’t prepared for how I’d feel with my son.
By week 3, life with my son was already beyond awful. I mean, let’s be really honest shall we? We had passed the adrenalin that allows you to exist on no sleep and he still wasn’t sleeping for more than two hours at a time. If he was wake, he was screaming. My husband had returned to work, leaving me at home with a newborn and an 18month old to juggle, on no sleep. So I went to my first mothers’ group. Mum had my daughter so all I had to contend with was my son. Yet still, I cried all the way there. I remember sitting in the car, in tears, petrified to get out. But I pulled it together because I knew the awesome nurse, who had helped me with my daughter’s breastfeeding issues, would be there. The room was packed. I faked the whole thing. I sat there with a smile on my face and faked it. Yes I loved my son. Isn’t it great to be a mum again!?! I quickly was able to tell who had already established themselves as the popular mums. These were the mums who would be the ones to continue the mothers’ group after the structured sessions finished. After it ended we were invited to coffee but I went home. How could I tell strangers that just turning up was more than I could handle? That I was barely holding it together. I didn’t know them. They didn’t know me. I felt like they would judge me. They didn’t know that I’d already done it ‘right’ once. All they’d see was how astronomically things were going wrong this time.
The next few weeks ran like that. I would cry all the way to Mothers Group. Pull it together in the car park. Fake it well throughout the session. I put my reality on hold. I laughed with the other mums and went for coffee. Then I’d put my son in the car and cry all the way home. If you know my pre-baby self, crying isn’t my style. I’m more of the laugh it off kind. This was not me. I don’t cry. Yet now… now I couldn’t stop crying.
My husband quickly saw how bad things were becoming. He encouraged me to be honest at the group. But seriously, if I’d opened up, how would I stop the tears once they’d begun? And in all reality, the problems dealt with in that mothers’ group were the safe kind. It was becoming clear that this mothers’ group was more of a popularity/high school clique kind and I didn’t have the energy or inclination to play. This mothers group was too big (quote from another mum not me) and members needed to be cut. I knew that if I was to have a chance of ‘making the cut’ I’d need to regularly go to the mothers’ group gatherings and be my charming, effervescent (pre-baby) self. But when I was barely coping just being awake, that was going to be just too hard. So I stopped going to mothers’ group. The irony is, this was the time I most needed a mothers’ group. But I was too afraid to go because I knew I couldn’t hold it together. See I lived in an area where yummy mummys were the norm. Part of the magic of my first group is that none of us are like that. Sure, we all brush up well, but we keep it real. The women in my first mothers group weren’t interested in being popular, or looking like the perfect mum. They were and are the type of women who would’ve noticed women like me, women who weren’t coping, and included them. Instead, when I stopped going to mothers group with my second child, I ceased to exist. Fair enough, apart from one other mother who I knew before, they didn’t know me – so why should they care? While I faded out of mothers group, I slipped further into post-natal depression. I contemplated how I could end things without lumping my husband with the problems I couldn’t cope with. I was never going to harm my children. I felt the problem was me. I retreated into my own dark world instead.
Life is funny. In some ways I wished this had been my first experience, so I would’ve been more perceptive to mums who were struggling. I’d hate to think that in my first mothers group there were mums who felt like me. Mums who fell through the cracks, unnoticed. But then if it had been my first experience I don’t think I would’ve pulled through and we definitely wouldn’t have had another child. It was knowing that I could raise a child, that I had done it before, knowing that this was a phase and all phases pass, that kept me going through all the dramas with our second child. It was calling on the wonderful mums from my first mothers’ group, that helped pull me through.
So to all my fellow soon-to-be mothers out there, when you go to mothers’ group, take time out to notice the mums who are struggling. Even if you think you can’t possibly pull your shit together, take the time to have a glance around the other mums. Please. They might look like they’re ok, it can be hard to tell, maybe they fake it well like me… But try. Because had my second mothers’ group been my only mothers group, I don’t think my story would have the ‘happy’ ending it has today – because when I desperately needed the support of other mums, I didn’t have it.
This week I’ve linked up with Jess for I blog on Tuesdays. Be sure to check out the other great blogs.