The playgroup life-savers
At the weekend I bumped into a mum whose daughter used to go to Xav’s preschool. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and we got chatting about the work I’m doing through Mumbelievable to support mums.
One of the biggest privileges for me since starting all of this is the way people trust me enough to share their private stuff, which can be pretty humbling. She started to tell me that when her eldest daughter was born, she had recently moved into our area and didn’t really know anyone. She didn’t really have many friends going through the same stages at the same time, and she felt alone. Over time, she realised she was suffering from post-natal depression and had begun to feel pretty desperate. In her own words, she ‘wasn’t sure what was going to happen.’
One morning she knocked on the door of that preschool, hoping that behind the door would appear a friendly, understanding face. They told her they ran a group for babies and toddlers on Wednesdays. Thankfully, that day was Tuesday.
The next morning, she arrived 15 minutes early. She clung to every word of everyone who she spoke to, soaking up their kindness, support and company. She found out about another local group and began going along to that one too.
Slowly but surely, she felt herself becoming stronger, better able to cope and more confident. On the inevitable tough days, she didn’t feel alone. She laughed. She knew people who would have her back. She received knowing nods and hugs filled with empathy. She said: “I don’t even want to think about what might have happened without them.”
No-one can change the fact that having kids is hard. People can support us and lend a hand with some of the logistical stuff, but having a baby is like a nuclear bomb going off in your life (a beautiful one, but a bomb – no less) and there’s not all that much that anyone can say or do to change that. But the importance of support from people who are going through the same things at the same time can’t be overstated. To me, that’s why the work of people like the brilliant Sally Oddy, founder of Meet Other Mums is so vital. You can join it for free and find local, lovely mums to hang out with.
We chose to do NCT classes when I was expecting Xav. We only got to do two of them before he arrived early, but thankfully the friendships we made there overcame that and endured. There were six weeks between Xav and his little buddies being born, and looking back on it those were six of the loneliest, most overwhelming and struggle-filled weeks of my life.
When the other babies were born, suddenly everything changed. Those three gorgeous boys and their brilliant mums somehow made those excruciating days easier. They will never know just how much they did, just by being there.
People can offer their advice, love, kindness and empathy (which you’re infinitely grateful for) but somehow if they’re in a similar position to you there’s an extra special chemical reaction. You’re never going to click with everyone, naturally, but you know in your heart that the ones you are drawn to GET IT ALL. They’re with you, right now. Their memories aren’t clouded by time that has passed since their babies were small, and they’re living it alongside you. There’s unspeakable comfort in that.
Broad generalisation, maybe, but the first year of having that precious first baby is pretty damn tough. I don’t want to think about how it might have looked without the support of those women who propped me up when I needed it most. Where would I have found myself without that? I don’t – no, actually I can’t – even contemplate it.
And that doesn’t go away when those babies aren’t babies any more. Some days, a bit of time with those who won’t judge if you let them in on what’s going on inside your head is as good as a full night’s sleep (maybe).
When people dismiss play groups, baby groups, classes and meet-ups as luxurious ways to ‘pass the time’ or think that in some way going to engage with other mums over a cup of tea is part of an ‘easy life’, they’re sadly mistaken.
It can be easy for someone who hasn’t been to that desolate place to misunderstand.
These are the lifeblood of communities.
The people who run them are among the biggest-hearted, most compassionate people I know, and they grossly underestimate the impact of the work they do to bring mums together.
The joy experienced when a baby comes into the world is matched by fear, panic and overwhelm. We feel out of our depth, and we need more than anything for someone to catch our eye or touch our arm and send a silent message to us to let us know that we’re not alone. That’s what groups give us as new mums.
They’re a lifeline. They’re solace. They can be a place where the exhaustion ebbs away and strength can be recharged. They’re where we can learn that we are not alone. They’re where we reclaim some of our power. They’re where we learn how to deal with the overwhelm and start to enjoy the privilege of parenthood.