01.A circle of friends
You don’t have to search too hard to find a horror story about mothers' groups. Tales of "queen bees" and "yummy mummies" vying to outdo each other abound – with a more expensive pram, a better-dressed baby or even by fitting back into their size-8 jeans first.
But I reckon that’s a long way from the truth for most of us new mums, and my own experience couldn't be more different. In fact, looking back, I’d say my mothers' group was one of the best experiences of becoming a parent, and at times the only thing that saved my sanity.
Not being a fan of organised fun, I wasn't thrilled when the hospital basically assigned me a day and a mothers' group to meet up with in my local area without really giving me an opt-out. The first four meetings were to be held at the local baby health centre, hosted by a nurse. After the first few meetings, we were to head off on our own.
The day of the first meeting it was pouring with rain, I’d had about five minutes sleep all night and was feeling far from social. I even tried to wriggle out of the meeting by calling to say that, as it was raining, I wasn't sure I could make it – but the no-nonsense nurse was having none of it. So, reluctantly, I dragged myself up there.
In retrospect, I'm so glad I did. The mothers in my group were a mixed bunch in terms of age, background and interests, but what we all had in common was that we were all first-time mums, and our babies were all very close in age. We quickly discovered that we could we discuss the minutiae of things like breastfeeding, sleep and yes… even poo. Probably unlike anyone else, though, we weren't grossed out or bored stupid – we couldn't get enough of it.
After our first four meetings at the centre we graduated to a local cafe, mainlining coffees to stay awake and attempting to cut up banana bread with one hand while jiggling a fractious baby in the other. Later, when the babes were on the move, we started meeting in the park and then later again at each other's houses.
Our weekly catch-ups not only provided advice and laughs, but also the only social contact during some of those long days home alone with nothing but the company of a fretful baby and an enormous pile of washing.
And marketers, take note – the other thing we shared was an awful lot of information about what and what not to buy. After a while we began to joke that our houses were interchangeable, as we had all bought the same foods, gadgets and toys based on each other’s personal-research recommendations.
A strong bond
As our babies slowly became toddlers, some of us went back to work, and others moved away, but the bond of those bleary-eyed, scary early days has kept the contact strong. Now our "babies" are experiencing their first years at school and, while we don’t catch up every week anymore, we still catch up every few months to share our stories over a glass of wine.
While groups like mine can be an easy target for clichés about women, what I think mothers' groups do is put back some of that community that modern Australian mums can miss out on. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”. And, in my case, my village is my mother’s group.