On my mat leave, I was never the mum who went to baby clubs. I was terrified of them, in fact. Baby changing and feeding rooms were panic inducing for me and soft play completely off limits unless Rob or good friends were by my side. But, why?
The above statement seems dramatic, but it’s totally necessary. You see, there is a mum culture that I have had enough of and want no part in. It’s the school gate gossip, cliquey, judgemental groups. The people who cast their opinions upon you after just a glance. The ones who want to fit you into a pigeon hole, a niche, and want you to stay there.
My first year of motherhood was an unexpected one. It bought with it so much joy, but it was a massive learning curve for me when it came to other mothers and the attitudes of other people. Taken aback from my experiences, I am also so grateful at what it taught me.
I went to a baby group at my local library when Ted was a few months old. Previous to that, I’d never really socialised with mums I didn’t already know. It was daunting and I spent the night before awake and worrying about the finer details- when I’d need to leave the house, how long it’d take for me to get there, how early I’d need to be, whether I needed to set an alarm, what I should wear.
Waking up the next morning, I put on my absolute go-to outfit. A checked mini skirt and a roll neck. I sat and did my make-up on the sofa while Ted was feeding, drank my coffee, and felt excited at who I might meet or who I might connect with. I always remember my mum saying to me beforehand that even though baby classes weren’t my thing and didn’t appeal to me (I’m a massive introvert and find it hard to trust people) that there would be someone there that felt the exact same way as me. That was all the reassurance I needed.
I arrived. Mums gathered in familiar groups. I said hello to each group as I walked in. A few reluctantly said hello back. I smiled. A few smiled back half smiles, the others ignored me. I tried hard to mingle, complimenting other mums. For example, one mum was tandem feeding on a soft play bench and I told her how amazing she was doing. She smiled and I felt safe. I sat next to her and fed Ted too.
Five minutes later, another mum came over, followed by two more. They were friends with this lady, and she introduced me to them.
No hello. No ‘nice to meet you.’ Just, simply:
“You’re a little overdressed for a baby class.’
Silence. I said nothing. I felt weak. I carried on feeding Ted and looked to the floor.
Ten minutes later:
‘How did you have that much time to get ready?’
I replied explaining that I’d been awake very early and that I did my make up while feeding my son.
‘I don’t think this is really your sort of place is it?’
There was an expectation that now that I’m a mum, I should have a messy mum bun and be wearing a hoody, jeans and trainers with sick down the front, minimal make-up, if any at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally okay to be that mum too. I am that mum on some days. But today is made an effort because I was nervous and because that’s how I felt most comfortable meeting new people. The point is it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter.
I distinctly remember at that moment, looking around the room at the variety of faces staring back at me, and not understanding why anyone would be someone who was ‘different’ or didn’t belong there. It was a room full of diverse, beautiful women, all feeding their babies in different ways, all dressed differently too, and I’d never felt so secluded and singled out.
Not long after I was sat at the park where I was told by another mother that I was disgusting for breastfeeding.
And again, not long after that I was sat in the feeding room in Mothercare and a woman told me that I needed to leave because breastfeeding was wrong. Yep. In an actual FEEDING room.
I was then unfortunately put in another situation with a group of women where I overheard them on numerous occasions talking about me. One of their children even said to them in front of me once ‘look who is here mum! It’s her! Shush!’ I apparently believed I was ‘better than them’ and one of them even made comments about Ted’s behaviour (he was just over 1 at the time) when in reality they’d never spoken to me properly, knew nothing about me and were judging me based on perception. Luckily I don’t have to see those people anymore, and I’m also really lucky to have had a good friend who was also involved with this group of women and her and her partner helped me massively with this situation. Never having to see that group again is an absolute blessing.
Firstly, let’s remember that we are all completely different people, with totally different priorities, interests, agendas, opinions, thoughts, the lot! Being different is what makes the world what it is.
Secondly, when was it okay to make other people feel like this anyway?
My perspective on the world changed for a while after all of this. I focused on doing the exact opposite of what others made me feel. No matter how bad someone made me feel, or makes me feel, I won’t stop treating them with kindness. More often than not, people are behaving in that way because they are feeling bad. More often than not, this is a defence mechanism and your kindness with shock them. Be the bigger person and pretend you’re not bothered, even if like me at the time, you really are. The world is much bigger than the pettiness we are forced into. Cry about what has happened. Complain to your friends. And then move on.
There’s a competitive nature to all of this that I am just not a fan of, and it’s something I’ll talk about in a future blog. When mums work together, wonderful things happen. Woman power is like a super power, and oh my god can we change the world when that force is combined rather than a rivalry. Please please please, when you see that awkward new mum forcing a smile and holding her newborn at your next baby class, clearly looking for friendship and a good chat, ask her how she is. Ask her if she wants to sit with you and find out all about her. Ask her if she wants to get coffee afterwards. Be kind and love each other, because being a mumma is tough enough as it is and tearing each other down is not okay on any level.