By all accounts, mothers' groups can be a bit hit-and-miss. I can understand why - it's a bunch of hormone-fuelled, sleep-deprived, often hysterical women having very recently undergone an enormous, incredibly emotional life change, all in a room together with any number of screaming babies and boobs ahoy. In the midst of something as big as new motherhood, finding people going through exactly the same thing can be affirming, empowering, even lifesaving. But it can also be a lesson in destructive compare-and-contrast, judgement and bitchiness. And the mere fact of having babies exactly the same age can't always win out if the women are people you have nothing else in common with.
My mothers' group, I'm pleased to say, was all hit. We started as a group of maybe a dozen, which soon whittled itself down to about half that size. A couple have moved out of town but keep in touch. And the remaining four of us have become firm friends - friends of the regular girls' night out, morning play date, Thursday afternoon coffee and whinge, Australia Day barbecue.
This weekend we marked our fourth anniversary, as our babies all turn four in the coming weeks. We met, as we have in previous years, over coffee and cake in the park, and watched our not-so-little kids, and lots of new additions, frolic in the winter sunshine. They're a gorgeous bunch, and I had a fleeting teary moment as six nearly four-year-olds ran screaming across a lawn (chased by a horrible ogre), remembering us all sitting, bleary-eyed, in the community health centre with our newborns in our arms.
We met once a week for four weeks, formal gatherings hosted by a jaded community nurse who had long lost the ability to look interested as a group of women asked the same bunch of questions and told the same stories she'd obviously heard a million times before. When I was pregnant, I hadn't even thought I'd join a mothers' group. I didn't think it was my kind of thing. However, when I was discharged from hospital, I was swept along on the ride that is the efficient, well-resourced local area health system. I was visited at home by a midwife who offered to sign me up and I thought, "What the heck."
From such blase beginnings, my Tuesday mornings soon became the highlight of my week. We moved from the community centre to a local cafe where the laid-back owner let us lounge over a single latte for hours, and provided floor mats, and eventually a playpen and highchairs, for the babies. He was heartbroken when, after a year, those Tuesday get-togethers ended as several of us returned to full-time work.
Most of us were professional working women in our mid to late 30s and married, though we did have a single mother, a new stay-at-homer - even, in the early days, a lesbian. There was cultural diversity - our kids had Greek, Korean, Indonesian and English grandparents. It seemed like a typical inner-west Sydney mix.
We were, formally, a 'new parents' group, and several dads were regular participants. They quickly became used to all the "vagina talk", as we called it, and knew when to wander off to order another coffee. I'm not sure how involved the were in the running tally we kept regarding who would lose their postpartum 'virginity' first. Suffice to say, the dads have formed a strong group too over park playdates and beer nights.
I feel blessed to have this group in my life - blessed for our adult friendships and those of our kids. I remember turning up to our Tuesday morning gathering less than a week after my mum died. Looking back now, it seems a bit odd. I was probably supposed to be holed up at home wallowing. But at the time I didn't want to be anywhere else. I wanted normal. I wanted these women, coffee, babies, conversation, crying, laughter. x