A friend of mine called me a “new-mom slut.” She was joking and it was kind of funny, but still, I felt a bit desperate. After my big conversation with Jack — when I made a vow to get stronger, and not rely on him for so much — I decided I needed to branch out. My therapist suggested a new moms’ group, but Simon was 14 months already, and most of those groups started with newborns. Would I have to start one myself? My therapist reminded me I had started plenty of women’s groups in college. I figured if I had done it then, I could do it now.
I began eyeing other mothers on the street and chatting them up. I vetted a few women at the neighborhood park, at the coffee shop in Market Hall, and at the nearby Yasai Market produce stand. I arranged a get-together with the moms I had “picked up.”
I had fantasized about the feminist consciousness raising groups that I had been part of in college, all-night bitch sessions where we discovered similar experiences and the pleasures of sharing strategies for navigating our male-dominated world. My plan was to start something like that, only with other mothers. The women seemed similar enough to the women I had known in college — smart, well-educated, and lefty. Familiar with the F-word. Interested in leading an examined life.
The first meeting was at Lucy’s house, a few blocks from mine. She was about 30, my age. When I walked in the door of her house (oh, how nice it would be to have a house) the first thing I noticed was how much space she had. The house was a modest size on a modest street, but compared to our tight apartment, it seemed like a world of luxurious space and homey décor. I loved sinking into her couch.
I put Simon down on his butt and he began his signature crab scoot across the room. “Oh, Simon’s not walking yet?” Lucy asked. Was that just the faintest hint of concern I detected? Simon was not yet walking, but it turned out all three of the other kids in the group were. Should he be walking? Was there something wrong with him (me) because he wasn’t? Lost in thought, I didn’t participate much in the rest of the group discussion.
The next week we met at Shir’s house, she had a sweet little girl named Rose with carroty red hair. “So,” I ventured, “Have you all read Mothers Who Think? I loved the essays — they really tell it like it is. But the name kind of bugs me. I mean, have you ever seen a book ‘Politicians Who Think’ or ‘Pundits Who Think’?”
They laughed, but never really picked up the conversation. I had so many things I was dying to talk about — I wondered if other mothers had experiences or feelings similar to mine. Since therapy I wanted to venture out, see how other women like me were grappling with becoming mothers.
Sonya, another member of the group, wanted to talk about her little guy Henry’s newly discovered love of biting. Following that we spent the rest of the time discussing poop. Simon had been pooping only once a day. According to Lucy, this was cause for much concern. “Zane poops like five times a day. What have you been feeding Simon?” Afterwards we went home, I immediately called the pediatrician advice line, and was assured Simon was normal.
The next few meetings went nicely, even if they were a little boring. No one seemed interested in venturing beyond kid-talk.
The day of the next meeting, Sonya was the last to arrive at my house. She carried Henry up the stairs and he had his head buried in her shoulder. When she set him down with the rest of the group I noticed a big bruise over his eye. It was the same place as Simon’s bruise after the accident. I asked Sonya about it. “Oh, he fell off the couch. I was crying, he was crying, but he was fine.”
“Oh.” Wow. She had mentioned the accident with her child so flippantly, and with such freedom. But I had a feeling what might be behind it. I ventured into uncharted waters: “Actually, when Simon was just a month old, I tripped and he fell from my arms onto the pavement in our driveway.”
“Oh, my God. It must have been awful. Was he okay?” Lucy asked. Our eyes met.
“He was fine in the end. But we had to take him to the ER. He fractured his skull.” I said it. I looked at the women around me, wondering what they would think. Shir put her hand on my shoulder. Her cheeks were red.
“We were there overnight, then we took him home. He was fine after a few days. But I wasn’t. I was depressed for a good long while.” I said.
“I’m sure you were!” Shir said. “A similar thing happened to me. I turned away from the changing table and Rose fell off onto the carpet. I can’t believe I did that! I called my husband at work, sobbing.”
Suddenly, everyone had a story, like mushrooms popping up on the lawn after a good, hard rain. Rose had fallen off the changing table, Henry fell off the couch, and Lucy’s little boy had rolled out of his car seat onto the kitchen counter. While none of the incidents ended as seriously as mine, each woman ended her story with a similar comment: “I felt so awful, I was sure my partner would blame me!” “I felt so terrible I could barely bring myself to tell my husband what happened!” or “What kind of a mother was I to let this happen? On my watch! Who is looking out for my baby if not me?” I couldn’t believe it. All this time we had been meeting and talking about what stroller to buy or whether to make our own organic baby food. No one had dared talk about feeling like a bad mother.
After the women left that day I felt like a weight had lifted. I couldn’t wait for the following week’s meeting. Judging from the mood at parting, I expected a full turnout. I showed up with Simon at Shir’s house. The familiar group of strollers was not outside. I rang the doorbell and Shir came to the door looking rushed, with a coat on and a bright green diaper bag slung over shoulder. She was holding Rose and looking apologetic. She was going to her mother’s. The others had called and cancelled and she had tried to reach me. To cancel. Rather than just having a playdate with the two of us. Oh.
A couple weeks went by and attendance wasn’t strong enough to keep the group going. Again I wondered if it was me. The days were harder now. I called my mother long-distance to give her a report. “The mother’s group didn’t work out. Maybe I’ll look for something different.” It was hard to open up to her over the phone about how disappointed I was. What would I say, “I feel like a loser with no friends?” I desperately wanted friends to be on this new adventure with. Each day that I spent with Simon alone, without the companionship of other women, I grew a bit more disheartened.
Days later, however, I had another idea. Jack and I interviewed some potential babysitters — maybe a bit of time off to socialize would help me. We went out a few times and had fun, but it was with his friends, not mine. They were upwardly mobile couples without kids. They were always asking “So, Rebecca, what are you doing now?” They seemed so confident, so together. I felt like a high-school wallflower.
When the sitter asked if I wanted time during the day, I arranged for a few hours off each morning because Jack and my therapist said it would be good for me. But really, I had no idea what I’d do. After the mom’s group failed, I was unsure of how to make the friends I really wanted. My old friends were great, but there was no one who really “got” my situation. They either didn’t have kids or already had two. No one was at the beginning of motherhood like me.
What had really happened to end the mother’s group? All the women had admitted to not always being perfect, to having difficult feelings about motherhood. And we had all bonded over sharing our experiences. But my heart still wondered — did I do this? Feeling like a bad mother was so powerful, so shameful. Perhaps the women just couldn’t face that in me or in themselves. I wasn’t sure I could.