What is Motherhood? is a Brain, Child blog series, with original posts from our writers, and reposts from some of our most favorite websites and blogs, all answering the universal question—what does motherhood mean to you?
I unlatched the bucket baby carrier and heaved it out of the stroller. It was only three weeks since my C-section, and I swore under my breath as I felt a pinch. But the stroller wouldn’t fit into the community center’s tiny bathroom and I didn’t have much choice.
“Oh look at him! How old?” a voice exclaimed over Brennan, and then, “I can take him for you.”
A blonde-haired woman with chic glasses smiled at me. She looked … not crazy. Looked, in fact, much saner than I must have in the moment as I stood there sweating with the adrenaline, exhilaration and exhaustion of brand-new motherhood. She had with her a baby of her own, a girl of about six months old. I left Brennan with her and darted into the bathroom. And I thought about how impossible it seemed that I had just handed my newborn over to someone whose name I didn’t even know.
Days before, my mom had climbed out of my car at the airport terminal for her flight back home, both of us weeping. I had no family nearby, or even close friends with children, and my husband’s two weeks of paternity leave were up. I was looking at a week of ten-hour days, all on my own.
A coworker had given me information on a new moms group months before and I had tucked it away. I’d never thought of myself as the support group type, whatever that means. But when I faced down those first long days alone with Brennan, I looked up the meeting location and set the goal of getting us there.
The blonde woman, Kathleen, led me through a door to where the meeting had already started. Moms and babies were spread out across a sun-lit room with wide windows. Some were cooing, others crying (babies but also, probably, a mom or two.) The smaller babies lay on their backs kicking while others crawled across the rug or even practiced standing; compared to tiny Brennan, the older ones looked like giants. Many of the moms looked more or less like I felt, as though they were seeing the world through the fuzzy veil of sleep-deprivation. But they also looked relaxed.
The group facilitator welcomed me and then said, pointedly, “We usually start at ten,” — it was a few minutes past — and I wanted to punch her in the face, or just leave. But I found a spot and sat down (I was too tired to leave again, anyway). Following the lead of the moms around me, I unfolded a flannel blanket and set Brennan down on the floor.
In the meeting, we simply went around the room and said how things were going for each of us. If someone had a question, the facilitator (who was actually great, despite her initial brusqueness) would respond, and then others might chime in. People had a whole range of ideas and approaches, ways of parenting that worked for them. But we shared a lot of the same worries, big and small. We were on the same learning curve. And we were kind to one other.
You could ask paranoid-seeming questions about eczema or poop frequency or cradle cap or how many layers for sleeping, and no one would roll her eyes and think, First-time mom. You could say, “Will I ever freakin’ sleep again?” “Does yours cry this much?” or, “I think I am losing my mind.” And people would nod sympathetically. No one would judge.
It’s hard for me to describe how these simple discussions and interactions impacted me. If the world opened up when I had a baby, so did my fears, self-doubts and insecurities. That day, the nagging feeling that I wouldn’t get it right — that there was a “right” way to be, as a parent — began to quiet, both during the course of the meeting, and after.
As I was packing my bag up, Kathleen came over.
“Hey,” she said. “We usually go to lunch afterward. You should come.” I hesitated. This was already a big outing for me. Up to then, my boldest destinations were the coffee shop and the CVS near my house.
“Really, it’s the best part,” Kathleen said, convincing me.
At the restaurant a few doors down, the staff exclaimed over us as we came in. “They’re so great here,” someone said. “They’ll even play with your baby while you eat.”
People began to put their baby carriers on the floor or onto chairs wedged solidly between the wall and table. I watched, enthralled. Fidgety babies were nursed or given a bottle or a toy. Menus appeared. Favorite dishes were discussed. And then —then — a couple of moms ordered Diet Cokes. It was like we were regular people.
That day that I had dreaded was the beginning of knowing that I would figure it out. And that I wasn’t, in fact, alone. Those women would go on to be my first real mom friends, and their babies would become Brennan’s first playmates. Most importantly, I realized that we could play both roles — caring, thoughtful, attentive parents, and women who just needed to set their babies down for a while and laugh over a Diet Coke.
Photo by Megan Dempsey