During the first few months of my son’s life – the sleepless, harried months when every item of clothing I owned was caked with spit-up, when my boobs were like leaky spigots and my mind a brain-shaped glob of mud, when the phrase “sleeps like a baby” was as angrily suspect as Creationism, those months that I’ve now come to think of as the dark ages of new momhood, there was a refrain of advice from nearly everyone who witnessed my daily struggle to stay sane. “Go to a new moms’ group,” they’d say.
The wisdom went: meeting regularly with other women experiencing the same major life-transition was the best thing I could do for myself and for my baby. These groups, everyone insisted, were indispensable when it came to both emotional support and networking, to making other mom friends and setting up future playgroups, not to mention putting my new baby on the road to socialization and a happy, well-adjusted life.
Still, I resisted. Did I really want to spend my precious few free moments schlepping the baby through the snow to some stranger’s apartment? Wouldn’t I rather spend them trying to get some work done, or walking off my cantaloupe-sized pregnancy pouch (when did I become a marsupial?), or, if I were to give in to my baser instincts, showering?
“Exactly,” said a friend who had been in the same boat thirty years ago when mothers’ groups and women’s groups of every variety were in their heyday. “This is exactly why women need new moms’ groups, so you can have people to bitch to about how hard it is.” Bitching being one of my favorite pastimes, I was intrigued. Besides, I thought, what was the alternative: spending the rest of the winter marooned in my apartment without adult stimulation, perfecting my burping technique?
The first group I found by accident. I met a woman in a coffee shop with a baby girl a few weeks younger than my son. I was trying to pay for my decaf, sooth my ever-wailing child, and steer the seven-hundred-dollar stroller I’d splurged on, which apparently required extensive NASA training to maneuver. She was sitting calmly in a corner, but had that “Help me: I haven’t slept in seven weeks,” look in her eyes. We started chatting. She mentioned that she hosted a group of new moms from her yoga studio. The next thing I knew, I was instructing little Roscoe about how to play nice with the other infants. But it wasn’t he who needed instructing.
The other new moms were amazingly sweet, amazingly welcoming, and amazingly able to maintain a three-hour conversation on the benefits and disadvantages of soy formula. I participated enthusiastically in this discussion, just as, once, I had participated enthusiastically in discussions of the politics of the Middle East or the impact of global warming. Then I drove home in a stupor, feeling as though I’d spent the afternoon watching soap operas and eating Twinkies. The next group wasn’t much better. Nor the next. At that point, I’d spent fifty-something dollars on pastries and Perrier. I’d learned more than I had ever wanted to learn about cradle cap and sex after episiotomies and breast pumps and nanny background-check services.
My breaking point occurred one drizzly afternoon when the baby and I were on our way to a group. Instead of heading to the host’s apartment, I found myself driving to my favorite bar, enjoying a glass of wine and a few minutes of reading with Roscoe snoozing in his stroller. There was a gay couple at a nearby table discussing Dennis Kucinich’s candidacy, a woman sitting by herself at another table reading Death in Venice. Not a single word about bouncers or strollers or acid reflux or vaccinations or nipple soreness. It was beautiful – like listening to the ocean at night.
At that moment, I realized two things: First, I realized that new moms kind of suck. People generally aren’t at their sharpest and most engaging when they’re getting twenty minutes of sleep each night. Also, they’re usually so busy trying to figure out how to survive the day, they don’t have much energy left to contemplate, much less discuss, the world beyond the cradle.
What I needed most of all in those early months was to be around people whose company I enjoyed, regardless of their parental status. The second thing I learned was this: just because two people are both new moms, that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily have anything else in common. What I needed most of all in those early months was to be around people whose company I enjoyed, regardless of their parental status, people who would talk to me about the things I used to talk about, who would help me remember that in addition to being a new mother, I was still myself.
I ordered another glass of wine and resolved to call up a single, childless friend that night, to let her regale me with tales of hook-ups and art-show openings and spontaneous weekend getaways. Perhaps Roscoe wouldn’t enjoy it quite as much as drooling on other babies’ toys while I discussed his sleep cycles and digestion. Then again, some of my earliest memories involve feeling bored and exasperated with the confines of little-kid-intended activities. I was certainly the sort of obnoxiously precocious kid who preferred Stanley Kubrick to Disney, California rolls to chicken fingers. Maybe Roscoe felt the same. Maybe he thought, in his little baby way, that one new mom was more than enough.