Since moving from Sydney to Canberra last month, there are not a lot of things that I miss about my old hometown.
I love my new city – Canberra is like a grand, stately aunt who knows all the best people, places and gossip. Yet, I do feel an absence in my life, and I know that what I’ve lost can never be truly replaced.
Leaving Sydney meant leaving my mothers’ group behind, and all of the warmth and laughter that surrounded us. Nobody could compare with the fabulous group of women I met when I had my second child.
In Sydney, every week, community health centres host groups of parents and babies. Often led by an experienced midwife, parents group (or mothers’ group, if it’s just women) is an opportunity to chat about the joys and hardships of being a new parent. That’s where I met my mothers’ group.
It’s funny to think back to those times, because I didn’t know that the women sitting on hard chairs and nursing mewling newborns would eventually become my friends.
A Facebook group was set up, and one day, I casually suggested that my house was free if anyone wanted to come over for a coffee. Almost all of the group said yes.
At first, I wondered what I had done – I’m secretly introverted, and one of my favourite things to do is to hunch over my laptop, alone, and watch Netflix while eating frozen yoghurt. Why had I invited twenty strangers and their babies AND their siblings to my house?
Well, I knew the answer to that. As shy and hermit-y as I may be, I had just moved to a suburb in bushland Sydney, and my large, empty house felt cold and lonely. I didn’t know anyone, and I was at home pretty much every day and night with my two-year-old daughter and newborn son. I needed friends, and wasn’t afraid to go get ‘em.
The coffee catch-up was a raging success. One of the women happily gave me a bag filled with mandarins she’d picked herself. Another made muffins with cream-cheese frosting, and I was elated when she left the uneaten muffins at my place. Food aside, I’d had lots of nervous, cheerful chats with the other mums, and I felt that maybe, probably, we were going to be friends.
I’d unwittingly set into motion a series of morning teas. Every week, I had the luxury and privilege of visiting another mum at her home. We’d descend upon her house with sweet treats and our babies, and stay for hours, chatting and laughing, and sometimes crying, too.
As our babies got bigger, some of us returned to work, others had more babies, and life just got busier. I often couldn’t make it to morning teas any more, as my son and I faced health issues last year. But it was always a pleasure to run into one of these mums at the local supermarket, or at the park. And our girls’ nights out gave us time to just be ourselves, and not “mum”, at least for a few hours.
Not all new mothers are suited to their Mothers’ Group. Some aren’t suited to Mothers’ Groups at all. And according to perinatal psychologist Kirsten Bouse, that’s absolutely fine. Post continues after audio.
The final girls’ night I had with my mothers’ group was my farewell. One of my close friends from the group, Alison, arranged it. I laughed so much that night. I heard so many stories about how my friends were living their lives powerfully – how they were fighting and pushing to be strong, happy women; women that our children could look up to, and be proud to know.
Moving away from my mothers’ group has been a bittersweet experience. At the park this weekend, there was a dad playing with his kids, and he stood next to me and smiled. I freaked out because I knew that I would have to say hello and be friendly, but I didn’t know him.
I couldn’t say to him, “Hey, are you going to watch the new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race?”, which is what I would ask my friend Cherry if I saw her at the park. I hadn’t met with him every week and seen him struggle through sleep deprivation, or teething, or weaning his baby onto solids. I didn’t know him.
But I smiled back anyway and said hello and made small talk, even though I was a bundle of nerves. You have to start somewhere.
I don’t feel lonely in Canberra. My mothers’ group may be irreplaceable, but I feel reassured knowing that I can make new friends. If a weirdo like me managed to make a solid group of friends back in Sydney, well, anything’s possible.
If you are wondering if you should take that step to meet people, my advice is that you should go ahead and do it. It’s scary and awkward, but it is so worth it. When we recognise our vulnerability and need for human connection, it is a moment of strength, and we are one step away from joy.
Go ahead, say hello, and make a friend.