Lizzie is regularly taking Izzie to mother-baby groups, and for my sins I have accompanied her to a few. I have to say, hats off to her, because it allows the baby to socialise with other babies/become overstimulated/pick up and incubate enough germs to start her own chemical weapons factory. But this is a good thing, apparently.
I say hats off to Lizzie because if it were down to me, Izzie would never set foot in one – or bottom, as the case may be – since I’ve discovered that I cannot stand mother-baby groups.
I thought that I was into babies because I loved Izzie so much, but the truth is that I’m into my baby, not babies per se, so my tolerance for and liking of the screaming, crying, vomiting, farting, pooping, dribbly offspring of other people is not the same as my tolerance for and liking of the screaming, crying, vomiting, farting, pooping, dribbly issue of my own loins. And when there are ten of them crying all at once, it’s damn hard not to tap out and say, ‘That’s me done, my ears are bleeding and my blood-pressure’s so high I can feel my heart beating in my eye-sockets!’
But that’s not the only problem with them. As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I struggle with social situations at the best of times, but good golly gosh, mother-baby groups are hard work. They can be very cliquey, there’s a competition to see whose child is most advanced for their age, and everyone acts like the world’s greatest mother, making it really difficult to ask questions like, ‘How do I get her bogies out of her nose when her nostrils are so small?’ and, ‘Is it normal to have this dreadful fear of inadequacy and the constant spectre of your shortcomings as a parent?’ Because everyone seems to pretend they’re the living embodiment of Mother Nature, and we won’t condescend to talk to you because you’re clearly a beginner in this parenting game.
Being the only adult with a penis, you tend to stick out like a sore thumb too, and whenever I step into one of those groups, I feel my identity slowly sucked from my body and replaced with breastfuls of oestrogen. But that’s not my main issue with these groups, nor is it simply because they’re full of women – it’s because they’re full of mothers.
When you have a child, people stop seeing you as a person and start to see you as that thing that carries the cute baby around and takes it away again when it starts to cry or needs changing. ‘How’s the baby? Where’s the baby? Look at the baby! Ahhh.’ This transition from ‘individual’ to ‘baby’s plus-one’ can be particularly difficult and contribute to postnatal depression. When you’re coping with a momentous lifestyle change – marriage, divorce, coming out, changing career, abandoning the dye-job and letting it go grey – you need the support of the people around you who know you and see you as you to get through it. They remind you who you really are, what really matters, and smooth over the rough edges of your new identity.
But when you have a baby, everyone you know switches their attention to the little one, so not only has your life changed dramatically, your emotional support structure abandons you to focus in on the very thing that’s brought about the change. Frankly, it can be a bummer.
So, you go to mother-baby groups hoping to meet like-minded souls who know exactly what’s it’s like to be seen as nothing more than ‘mother’, people crying out for conversation about something other than nappies, and breastfeeding, and the day-to-day slog of childcare.
Then you get there.
Here’s a typical conversation at a mother-baby group:
‘Baby, baby, baby, I’m a mother, baby, baby.’
‘Ah, baby, baby, baby, I’m a mother too, baby, baby, baby.’
‘Breastfeeding, nappies, weaning, baby, baby, did you know I’m a mother, baby.’
‘Nappies, nappies, baby, I’m a mother, men just don’t understand.’
And so on, and so forth.
The only other topic of conversation is where they’ll meet up during the week to discuss being mothers some more. It’s like they’ve become Stepford Wives, or something – the thing that made them human has been sucked out and they’ve turned into boring child-rearing robots. For crying out loud, ladies, you’re people as well as mothers! You have other dimensions! There is a whole wide world out there filled with art, literature, politics, entertainment, sport, work, relationships, hope, dreams, joy, love – why on earth don’t you lift your eyes from your child for half a minute to see it?
Of course, I’m being facetious – I’m exaggerating. But it’s to prove a point. This morning I walked along the beach with the dog for ninety minutes. Every so often I’d pass a couple of women pushing their babies in prams, because it seems that young mothers love to go out in pairs, walk side-by-side, and completely block the promenade for everyone else. I understand it – nobody wants to stay in all day every day with their baby, and when the weather is nice, a walk along the beach in the sun with a friend is exactly what the doctor ordered.
But here’s the rub: as I passed these people – I must have met six such pairs today – I’d catch snippets of their conversations, and every single one of them was talking about babies and mothering.
The babies are asleep. You’re walking in the sunshine with your friend. The sea is lapping lazily against the shore. The air feels great in your lungs. It’s time to be you. And you’re still talking about babies!?
That’s the thing I struggle with. I guess you’ll say, ‘It’s a mother-baby group, of course they’ll talk about babies and being mothers,’ and you’d have a point. You could also say, ‘But you’re talking about babies and parenting,’ and yes I am, but I’m not the walking embodiment of fatherhood and I never pretended to be – and it’s my blog, so nah, nee, nah, nee, nah, nah!
I’m sure people who enjoy mother-baby groups, and enjoy being earth mothers, will think I’m a silly man, so what do I know, and that’s fine. But we didn’t erase our identities the moment our children were born, and we don’t cease to be adults with adult needs just because we look after children all day. True, it informs a great deal of how we think about things – a couple of people I know died from carbon monoxide poisoning the other day, a mother and her son, and all I could think about was how awful it would be to lose Lizze and Izzie in like manner – but we are not one-dimensional characters just because we’re parents.
With Izzie on my lap I talk about the science behind the new Matt Damon movie, or the latest atrocity on the news, the etymology of the word ‘halcyon’ and how rough Kate Moss looks in her latest advert, if the new Facebook promo is really using the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind? on piano, or why the band PVRIS isn’t better known. If I one day found that all I could talk about was nappies, weaning, feeding, teething, and babies, babies, babies – well, that would be the day I realised I needed to find a new interest, and fast, before I ceased to be a human being and became a robo-nanny. Actually, come to think of it, that sounds rather fun…