Mothers’ Group – Anna Spargo-Ryan

Mothers’ Group

Mothers’ Group

I’ve just started reading the widely and highly acclaimed The Mothers’ Group. Obviously, this has given me cause to reflect on my own experiences with mothers’ groups.

When Georgia was a baby, I made a proper effort to make friends with other people with babies. I was twenty, and I had no idea how to do things with babies, so I sought others who would tell me what to do. I went along to my Maternal & Child Health Centre with the very, very best of intentions. I signed up for the First Time Mothers’ Group. I went to that group as if it were a religion.

I lived in Brighton when I had Georgia. Brighton is a beach-side suburb of Melbourne, where people are so rich that they don’t have to use indicators and some of them have servants. Neither of these things applied to me, I just wanted to be close to my parents whilst I tried to figure out what the fuck was happening to my life.

The other mothers didn’t like me. I was young and stupid and uninteresting and poor and ugly and I didn’t drink coffee, so we had nothing in common. I had a BabyCo pram and I didn’t drive a car and I didn’t know how to speak to them.

“Which hospital did you deliver in?” they said, and when I told them, they sort of screwed up their faces and said “is that a … public hospital?” like the very thought might render them poverty stricken.

“How was your epidural?” they said, and when I told them I didn’t have one, they laughed with their throats and said “is that because you couldn’t afford one?”

In the end, they started inviting each other to things while I was in ear shot, so I took the hint.

I tried other tactics. For months.

I took Georgia to a Kindergym that I knew the other mothers went to, and feigned surprise when I saw them. “Oh, you go here too?” “Who are you again?” Then, when it turned out that Georgia was no good at Kindergym, they whispered things to each other. I’m sure they were “That woman who looks vaguely familiar has a child that doesn’t know how to do things that our children know how to do.”

I took Georgia to a music class so I could meet new, different Mothers’ Groups. But instead of sitting quietly and clapping in time, she ran around the circle and twirled and took other kids’ toys. The mothers whispered things to each other like “Where did that girl come from, she is so bad at this, is she even from Brighton?”

I took Georgia to a brand new Mothers’ Group in a different suburb and did a baby yoga class. I was rubbish at it, but the mothers were nicer and they even invited me out for lunch. But I guess I ordered the carbonara and they ordered the salad and I was ex-communicated.

Georgia and I didn’t have any friends. And I had post-natal depression. We spent a lot of time sitting on the couch, crying. Me crying, her crying. Often we didn’t go outside. We made friends with the television.

Every now and then, when I visit my parents, I see some of the women from my original Mothers’ Group. They don’t recognise me, and nor should they. But I wonder how we would relate now. I wonder how having a supportive Mothers’ Group might have changed things for me, but especially for Georgia.

  • Megan Blandford

    April 20, 2012 at 10:25 am Reply

    There is so much division in Melbourne. Where I live (the Dandenong Ranges) birthing naturally is a Big Deal, so you’d be considered cool here for not having an epidural!

    My mothers group was WEIRD. No one talked. Like, at all. I’d walk in and smile and say, ‘How was your week?’ and they’d all just mumble, ‘Good’ and then look back at their babies. OK then…

    • Anna

      April 20, 2012 at 10:27 am Reply

      Oh dear. What hope is there? Are we just being naive in thinking that having children of the same age is enough to give us some reason to engage with each other?

      I know of so few women (less than 5) who have come away from their mothers’ group experiences with anything positive to say.

  • Kelly Exeter

    April 20, 2012 at 10:49 am Reply

    I totally sucked at Mother’s Group too. Possibly because I was a stressed out business owner who used every skerrick of her baby’s sleeping time to send emails and manage projects at the time.

    In fact I only know of two people out of all my friends who really loved their Mothers Group! But still – it is nice that the health centres go to the effort of organising them and keeping an eye on us first time mums :)

    • Anna

      April 20, 2012 at 11:02 am Reply

      It IS nice that the MCHC organises them, I agree.

      I think, though, that I might do a little research into how they are regulated. I know so many women who left their mothers’ groups feeling more ostracised than when they joined, and there has got to be a) a reason this happens so consistently, an b) a way to identify and monitor this reason to avoid those kinds of feelings. The last thing new mothers need is even more reason to feel isolated.

      If I had never gone to mothers’ group, I could at least have lived with the illusion that they would have liked me if I had known where they were ;)

  • Christine

    April 20, 2012 at 11:51 am Reply

    I didn’t bother. I couldn’t think of anything worse at the time my son was a baby. Reading this, I think I made the right decision.

  • Karen Lynch

    April 20, 2012 at 9:30 pm Reply

    On the flipside…. I haven’t read the book but this is my experience! I was fortunate enough to belong to 2 New Mother’s Group (I know, it sounds physically impossible!) The first time I lived in Adelaide and joined my local group of 12 or so new mums. About 6 of us clicked, kept in contact, did the pram walks, coffee and play dates etc. Then we moved to Sydney and I knew no-one. I was pregnant again and as my other children had just started school, I was invited to join a group with my newborn. Again, out of about 12 mums, I became close to about 5 or 6 of the mothers. One lived in a beautiful waterfront house whilst I lived in a pink fibro cottage. The youngest was about 20, others in their early 40’s. Now 10 years later, and interstate again, these women are Facebook friends and we get to share our children’s milestones, even though I haven’t seen them for 5 years. I joined these groups with an open mind, an easy manner and with the only expectation being the hope of a real connection with others who wanted to share the motherhood experience. I am happy to say I wasn’t disappointed.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      April 22, 2012 at 8:50 am Reply

      That sounds like a brilliant experience Karen. I must admit, my ‘online mothers’ group’ – women I met on a pregnancy forum while I was pregnant with my first daughter 10 years ago – have always been a wonderful support group and I’m still in contact with them weekly.

  • Andrea

    April 20, 2012 at 9:50 pm Reply

    I’m sorry you had such a shit experience. My MG saved me in so many ways – sometimes they made me feel better about myself, sometimes they really made me question myself, and they certainly taught me to go into things with an open mind.

    My MG started out really weird. The Health centre is such a forced, weird place to start out, especially when the nurses are so so so weird themselves. Our MG has survived though, and 10 months later we look forward to meeting up (despite it being less often due to many of us working) and have regular dinners without children where we drink copious amounts of wine.
    We’re all so so so completely different, and I think I was helped in my relationship with the group by the fact that I met a girl at pre-natal pilates who I “clicked” with and we (made sure) we ended up in the same MG. Having someone to debrief with after the first few meetings is what kept me going.
    I can now honestly call most of these women my friends, and seeing as though none of my “proper” friends have children it has been a godsend. I’m the youngest in the group, and some of the women are more than 10 years older than me. We all work in different professions, move in different circles, come from different socio economic backgrounds and have different interests. Essentially it shouldn’t work, but we’re all easygoing and outgoing and genuinely interested in others.
    And that be my 5 cents. Feel free to contact me if you do write that article :)

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      April 22, 2012 at 8:51 am Reply

      I definitely will :) Your experience sounds lovely. But then YOU are lovely, so maybe that is part of the reason?

  • eeloh

    September 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm Reply

    Just stumbled on this discussion. Yeah I pride myself on being able to get along with lots of people but left my other’s group absolutely defeated. we were poor as church mice, my husband was living in Australia illegally… and all they could talk about was their renovations, what they spent, what they bought, where they went on holidays. I don’t mind talking about any of those things but if you ever tried to talk about something different, it would sink like a stone. it seemed to be a status thing. as individuals quite a few of them were friendly, but the group dynamic was shocking. Good to see I’m not alone. Next time, I’d cut and run earlier.

  • Samantha

    April 4, 2016 at 1:09 pm Reply

    So i guess i have found this website a bit later than everyone else…. hehe.
    But i can completely relate, when i had my first daughter (now 5 and in prep) i also tried going to a new mothers group, i was 20 and the youngest in the group, i was able to talk and get on with everyone but didn’t click with anyone, when the MCHC sessions had ended we had all organised to meet up the next week but then after that all the other mums had formed their own groups and i wasn’t going to go running after people who didn’t seem to care if i was even there. I have just had my second baby girl and im hoping that this time round i might find some mums i could become friends with…. its a bit boring not having any friends my age with kids .

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