“I love my kid but, today…”
The first time I met a Mum in Hong Kong that said this to me I laughed out loud and immediately I knew that we would be friends.
Straight away, I was reminded of a special group of ladies back in Dublin. We all met after the birth of our first babies and 8 years (and many more babies later), It has become a strongly knit group.
On the surface, beyond living in the same city then, we had little in common. We all came from different places (from Cork to Lithuania) and from different backgrounds (teachers, bankers, scientists). Yet, on the day we met, we all had something in common – we were all holding newborn babies in our arms with looks of confusion, fear and exhaustion on our faces.
Our lives had literally changed overnight and we had quickly discovered that being a new Mum is not like it is in the movies……
Of course, yes, our hearts were bursting with love for the precious little bundles in our arms but we were also overwhelmed, a bit scared and very, very tired.
These ladies were in the boat with me – they got it.
The Birth of the Tribe
Our local health centre had set up a weekly get together in the community centre where you could meet the health nurse, ask some questions and meet other Mums.
We used to sit around in a circle just looking after our babies and trying to make conversation with each other. Over the weeks, I started to recognise some familiar faces returning weekly – they clearly needed some adult company as much as I did.
My little sister volunteers for a fantastic charity in Ireland called Childline (they run a telephone line for kids to call when they need to reach out for help). Every year, Childline run a fundraising campaign where they encourage people to hold coffee mornings to raise some funds. I used this opportunity to try to make friends with some of these ladies.
So I wrote my name and address on pieces of paper and gave them to the girls in the group, suggesting that next week, instead of the community centre, we meet at my house for coffee instead.
The coffee morning was a success and after that the ladies took turns in inviting the group to their homes for coffee.
“Someone passed me a phone and I was asked to enter my number if I wanted to go to a coffee morning at Ailish’s. Who is Ailish??? So I entered my number and those lovely ladies are now stuck to this Lithuanian gal”
Playground and park outings came and later some much needed Mum’s nights out. The group is even off to Portugal for a girls holiday this month – am so jealous…….
I spoke to three of the ladies from our group Corena (now Mum of 2) , Sarah (now Mum of 4) and Kristina (now mum of 3) to share their memories of the early baby days and how our group helped them.
So That Just Happened…..
In the movies, after the comedic dash to the hospital, the parents to be share a warm loving moment in the labour room which is followed by a quick labour. The beautiful newborn baby is then placed in the serenely glowing mother’s arms who somehow knows just what to do – cue happy ever after music.
The reality is often a bit different…..
First of all, labour is a test of strength of any relationship – I would say any midwife could write a bestseller book on conversations heard between man and woman in the labour room!
Secondly, I most definitely did not look like the movie mums who have just given birth- my hair was more dragged through a bush then lightly tousled and I certainly wasn’t wearing any make up!
To be honest, my newborn baby did not look like the adorable little poppets in the movies either – she more resembled a shrivelled little raisen, red in the face from crying at the indignation of being pulled from her warm peaceful little cocoon into this bright noisy world.
Corena’s little girl was born by vontuse (vaccum) and Corena then had to be immediately whisked away to theatre due to post-party haemorrhage. Due to this, she was separated from her new born baby. So for Corena, it was absolutely not like in the movies!
Kristina thinks that after the birth it was like a movie with the happy ending, for about 3 minutes – until the breastfeeding started.
Again, this is something that women assume just comes naturally and, for many, it does. But, newsflash – for many of us, it doesn’t. This is certainly something that I wish there had been more help and support with at the time. Also, in my experience, I do think it’s something that women could be more supportive of each other about – obviously giving baby a good healthy start in life is paramount but let’s not forget about Mum’s physical (and mental) health too.
Leaving the Hospital
I vividly still remember bringing my first born home from the hospital. I remember thinking “Are the nurses really just going to let us walk out of here with this little baby? I don’t know what I’m doing….. ”
I asked the girls what their memories were of bringing their first born babies home from the hospital.
Corena remembers feeling:
“Terrified! I sat in the back of the car all the way home and cried a mixture of happy and scared tears.”
Kristina recalls the incredible love for her little girl that washed over her:
“I wanted to wrap us up in a gigantic bubble and hide under a duvet. I wanted to put my phone in a bin, as the outside world was definitely wiped out from the map by motherhood. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or show my baby to anyone, as if sharing her with the world would spoil that magic!”
But, at the same time, Kristina remembers feeling very unprepared for what lay ahead.
Sarah remembers coming home and getting her little boy settled asleep in his Moses basket and then thinking what was she supposed to do then, just wait for him to wake up?
I see that we all experienced the same mixed emotions – an overwhelming love mixed with fear that we didn’t know what to do.
I am reminded of a clip from Tangled – Rapunzel’s mood swings when she leaves the tower:
The Early Days
The early days were definitely a struggle. I barely even remember the first 6 weeks – what was that all about????
Of course my husband had to go back to work after a week, my family were a 3 hour drive away (no helpers in Ireland of course) and my parents in law lived abroad. I definitely had to pretty much figure things out myself.
And being used to working in a busy office, I definitely found being a new Mom a bit isolating and lonely at times.
Corena reminded me of the sleep deprivation thrown into the mix and we agreed that, without this group of supportive ladies, than we definitely would have struggled more.
For Kristina, the early struggle is still clear in her memory:
“ Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding. BREASTFEEDING!!!! And something else… Oh yes, – did I mention breastfeeding?
I thought about breatfeeding a lot before giving birth. I feared it a little. But then I thought: all mammals breastfeed! Cats, dogs, even mice! Of course it must be the most natural thing for a woman to do! It must come naturally when baby arrives! And, for me, it still didn’t, even on my 3rd baby.”
I also felt the loss of identity that Sarah struggled with:
“You change a lot, physically and emotionally, after becoming a Mum and your needs always come last (and rightly so). But it can be hard on your self- esteem. It’s easy to forget who you were before you were a Mum”
I absolutely agree. I was frequently called “Mummy” or “Izzy’s Mum” and inside I would be thinking – hey, I’m still here too, don’t forget who I am.
I was cocooned in this little bubble with my precious baby and it was a wonderful place to be but I also felt isolated and detached from the world.
I remember being in the car with my husband one weekend and the news came on the radio. The reporter was talking about Brian Lenihan’s funeral (Brian Lenihan was a big name in Irish politics). I said ” Brian Lenihan died?”. My husband looked at me incredulously – pre-baby days I would have read the newspaper every day at work but that certainly wasn’t happening now!
The Best and the Worst Days
We reminisced about our best and worst days of being a Mum.
We all share similar memories of our best days “the cliched moments” when our babies were born and all the firsts – first word, first steps, learned to ride a bike…..
My darling daughter’s first word was bittersweet. I mean it’s rarely “Mummy” – we just carry them, give birth to them……..
It is frequently “Daddy” that is the first word (“allegedly” it’s an easier sound for them to say).
Not my daughter though, o’h no. Her first word?
Now I swear, she was not watching lots of t.v. Being a first time Mum, I was determined that my child would not watch much t.v. and she didn’t. (Of course, that resolve didn’t hold quite so firm when number 2 came along…..)
Her second word was then of course “Daddy” with “Mummy” coming in 3rd place – to Daddy and Peppa let’s not forget…..
Now, the ladies’ stories of their worst days made me laugh but we’ve all had those days and, at the time, I know that for them it was the day from hell.
“Day 4 with Elizabeth – She had screamed for the whole night and wouldn’t latch on well to feed. I was sore and she was hungry. She had been screaming since the early morning and I had been trying to feed her for hours. I was exhausted, sore and sweaty (the boiler was broken so I couldn’t take a shower).
I was desperate. I didn’t know how to help my baby and my husband was away for the night, so I couldn’t even talk to him.
My only hope was that the Public Nurse was due to visit that day. So, we both cried and waited. And the hope when I heard the door-bell!
I flew downstairs and opened the door wide – a young man was staring at my tear-swollen face, instead of the Public Nurse! I feel relieved even now remembering this – the kind, and shocked face of the young plumber! Another HUMAN! God bless him!
Last Summer our family were under horrific pressure trying to get a nursing home space for my Mum.
I was trying to pack for our holiday and one of my boys peed all over the bathroom wall.
I lost it. It felt too much. I rang my husband sobbing. He had to come home. The whole thing defeated me that day and I screeched relentlessly at my kids for adult problems. Bad parenting 101.
Typical Mum guilt Sarah! We all have bad days and need to be kinder to ourselves!
“One of my worst days was probably the day she swallowed a coin, the judgy looks from medical staff!!!
The day I cried the most was when she was still quite small and suffered from severe reflux. I was just washed and dressed and she vomited into my cleavage – top, bra everything soaked. While I was cleaning myself up she did it again all over herself, so I cleaned her up and then we headed downstairs and she vomited again – this time she got us both and my hair …. Cue tears.”– Corena
I’m reminded of something I saw online as a new Mum that made me laugh:
Got Your Back
I asked the ladies in what way they see the group supporting each other.
Both Corena and Kristina say that they know they can rely on the ladies in the group, always for support and never for judgement.
Support comes both physically , like – I’m late for school pick up, please wait with my kids.
But there’s also emotional support – sometimes you just need someone to have a little moan to.
These ladies are also good for a night out when we need to let our hair down.
The first night I went out with these ladies, I was so excited. It had been some time since I’d dressed up and put on make up. However, it was not to be. My husband had to call me as my little monkey refused to take a bottle for him. I left the restaurant with my dinner “to go”. When I got home and fed her, she smiled up at me – if she could have winked, I bet she would have!
Sarah says that while the group jokingly calls itself “The Tribe” (I think it may have been Sarah’s husband who came up with the name!), it’s true as the group is always there for each other for support and parenting advice. I’m reminded of the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.”
As Corena said:
“I feel like my kids have 10 aunts”
When we started getting pregnant with our second babies, we set up a system whereby, just before the baby was due, everyone in the group cooked a family meal for the freezer. We collected the meals together and dropped them off to the pregnant lady’s house . Then, when she would come home from the hospital, she would have a freezer full of dinners so that it would be one less thing to have to think about about for the first week.
I can’t tell you what a help this was – my husband couldn’t believe it when one night, one of the ladies dropped off 8 containers of lasagne, casseroles and curries at our house.
There have been many particular stand out days of support from this group. Here are just a few:
“When chicken pox struck and Sharon dropped off food to me
When my husband was away for work for 5 nights and I was struggling with things – everyone kept checking in on me.”
“The day when I was packing for a trip to Lithuania and somehow my biggest stress was not having a Peppa Pig DVD for the flight – I mentioned it in our chat group and a Peppa DVD arrived to my door half an hour later.
When I felt crushed and defeated by sleepless motherhood for many consecutive months, and finally arrived at our book club one night, crying and shaking. I got a lot of comfort and encouragement from everyone present. Support continued for months after that night. They made me feel normal through a very subnormal part of my life”.
“Being 39 and pregnant with my 4th when I felt everyone else had moved onto a different space was tough and I was feeling this.
The girls organised a surprise baby shower with my sisters and I remember coming home that evening being blown away by them”.– Sarah
Hail to The Tribe
It struck me (and made me a little sad) how often the word “judgement” came up in my chat with the ladies.
If I were to offer any advice to a new Mum it would be to surround yourself with those who positively support and encourage you.
The Mum who smugly tells everyone how her baby always sleeps through the night? You don’t need that around you……
I was so lucky to have met this group of ladies when I became a Mum. I really can’t express what a fountain of support they have been.
I think Sarah summed up the ethos of our group well:
“Like all good relationships it keeps evolving. We used to bond over breastfeeding and baby led weaning, now it’s how to juggle activities and school commitments. Maybe it’s just the sense that you are not in it alone that binds us together”.
What I love about this group is that not only is it a sounding board for parenting advice and support but it’s about us ladies as the people we are, not just Mums.
The next time you’re sitting next to a Mum by herself with a baby in the cafe or park, give her a smile and say “Hi.” It might be the only adult conversation she’s had all day and you might just make her morning.
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Thank you for reading xxx