I have a friend who is pregnant with her first baby.
In the last few weeks I have been thinking about what books would be helpful for her to read in preparation for motherhood.
So I read a few.
To be honest there were few such books around that I thought would be helpful at all. My first child was born 16 years ago, but I have been working and thinking (!) as a midwife since then, and there seem to have been few bright moments in the Transition to Motherhood genre.
The books I have just read were a mixed bunch.
I think I can envisage the editorial meetings – “maybe a few more funny stories about the [INSERT: ridiculous health professional] who tried to help you to breastfeed/get your baby to sleep/push your baby out of your vagina/join a parents group”….never mind how hard people may have worked to help you.
Many of the writers who share their stories of becoming a mother oscillate between themes of “I’m special because this is what happened to me” and “my experience is an archetype of what becoming a mother is”.
Most worrying is the theme of belittling health professionals and structured support systems as being “not for them”.
“I’m not much of a joiner”.
What does that even mean?
Several writers talked about their reluctance to join a new parents group where the only thing members had in common was the lottery of giving birth. What was the reason for their reluctance?
New parents groups are a phenomenon of living in the Maternal and Child Health system of the People’s Republic of Victoria, and are also present in other states of Australia.
Maternal and Child Health Nurses, who work for local councils, organise groups for parents to meet when their babies are between 6 weeks and 3 months old. Usually there are structured meetings for 6 weeks or so at the Centre. After that groups may continue to meet informally at members’ homes or playgrounds or community centres or playgroups.
Research about mothers and parents and playgroups indicates the strong social role that such groups play in a context where isolation is more prevalent – especially for mothers and children. These groups have also been found to provide, at the basic level, an opportunity for mothers and families to receive care – different to other modes such as clinic or home visits.
What worries me is that prospective mothers reading these books get the idea that these groups are daggy or a waste of time – especially if they aspire to be the uber cool inner city types that these authors often are.
I also worry that these attitudes add to the ongoing narrative of: “we only like to hang out with people who are like us”.
Isn’t this the narrative of an oppressed group?
My own involvement with the Australian Breastfeeding Association came about at least partly in order to deal with general societal ambivalence about breastfeeding. ABA meetings were a haven where you could breastfeed your older toddler with freedom. [*sorry freaked-out new mums].
Not that my mother’s group were anti-breastfeeding. But I guess I had a bigger aspiration to be involved in community-based breastfeeding support. The added benefit of these meetings was that there were women with babies and children of all different ages attending. Having a child who didn’t walk until he was almost two and breastfed for several years longer than that was definitely less of a drama at ABA meetings.
Grassroots groups like mother’s groups or playgroups are inherently subversive. I wanted to be a part of that – an autonomous collective of sleep-deprived nobodies – no-one could control us (not even the maternal and child health nurse once we busted out of her centre). No-one was interested in us except us. But we were building the sorts of networks that help you when you have another baby or go through IVF or you need a job locally or need someone to have a cup of tea with when these kids finally and suddenly have their first day at school.
Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?
Not a joiner? That’s ok. But your child will need other kids at some point – they can’t play with you in the café for ever.
Nor should they.