Becoming a mother for the first time was the hardest thing I’ve ever done (writing Time Out was a close second!). I had all sorts of expectations about what kind mother I would be and fell short of all of them. Sleep-deprivation and breast-feeding difficulties just added to the sense of shame and guilt. Desperate to find a sympathetic audience, I confided in other local mums about how much I was struggling, how some days I was crying more than the baby, and how I found breastfeeding an absolute killer. But all I received in return was head tilts and judgements, ‘Oh no! Poor you. I’m so lucky that my baby sleeps through.’ Or ‘breastfeeding has been a doddle for me.’
In my experience, the key to getting through those dark, lonely days was finding my ‘tribe’ – the people you instantly connect with, who are as honest and open as you are about the bewildering complexities of being a new mum, friends who recognise that a rant is just a rant (you don’t really want to murder your husband – well, not all the time anyway) and who won’t judge or berate you for doing things differently or ‘wrong’. Your tribe recognises that when it comes to parenting, there is no magic code to crack, no book that will give you all the answers, and that we’re all as clueless as each other.
The first addition to my tribe was someone who lived on my street (I won’t mention her name because she’ll be mortified). Passing by her house one day, I overheard her chatting to the local handyman; I also noticed she was heavily pregnant and had an Irish accent just like me. A few weeks after giving birth to my daughter, I knocked on her door in sheer desperation for company. Her husband opened the door, and I introduced myself. Our first chat was a hasty one because it turned out that his wife had just gone into labour. A few days later, I dropped a congratulations card in with my number and she texted me back not long after. We became fast friends – venting about sleep deprivation and breastfeeding, slagging off our husbands, mourning our loss of freedom…everything that had seemed out of bounds before when talking to other mums.
The second mum in the tribe was a nursery mum. One day, I admired her baby in an effort strike up any sort of conversation outside the nursery entrance, to which she replied, ‘Well, she wasn’t so beautiful at 4am this morning!’ We had a brief chat about the horrors of being a new mum before she invited me for some nursery mum drinks the following week. After that night, I knew I had found my tribe. These are my forever friends and I credit them for their honesty, generosity and kindness. I owe them my sanity.
The haiku that opens Time Out is dedicated to my own tribe:
Motherhood is tough
But loneliness is far worse
Friends help us survive