I first took my son to a baby group at 9 weeks old. Some may say that this is too early but for me, I wanted to get out there and start meeting other mummies.
Christmas had been lovely, we’d had heaps of visitors wanting to meet Raife and we had just been basking in our newborn bubble. My husband sadly went back to work and although I loved my new days, I started to feel a bit isolated. We live in the middle of nowhere where there’s not a great deal going on, so I felt it was time to start getting out and about.
My health visitor had told me that there was a local group on a Monday morning at the local school and that it was very popular. It wasn’t too far away and started mid-morning. Perfect, I thought. This gives me enough time to get Raife and myself ready, eat breakfast and maybe get the house in order before heading out.
Getting ready on that Monday morning, I felt ridiculously nervous. I’d heard how some of these baby groups could be quite difficult to make friendships and to feel included. I didn’t really fancy sitting in a cold hall for 2 hours, feeling so distant and isolated from all the other mothers whilst they stared at me and my baby without saying a word. I almost bailed but my husband encouraged me to go, saying it would be good for me to chat with other adults whilst Raife could enjoy other children’s company. So reluctantly, I went.
I arrived at group right on time. Instantly, I was met with stares. Nobody said good morning to me (except the group leader) and nobody asked about my son. I led my baby down on a mat, in a corner, sat on my own with a cup of tea and looked around. I was met with plenty of eye contact, but still, nobody initiated a conversation. It was awful. I was too nervous to make the first move and it looked as though lots of the other mums already knew each other. Fortunately, around half an hour into the session, another mum came to sit next to me. She had a little girl who was a few months older than Raife but she was absolutely lovely. She asked questions, gave advice and we even swapped numbers. She saved the whole experience for me.
I left that session feeling quite sad that my first experience of baby group was not a positive one. Perhaps naively, I had thought I’d make a whole group of new friends and that we’d spend sunny mornings in the local coffee shop, complaining about how little sleep we’d had and sharing funny baby stories. Raife is now 6 months old, and this still hasn’t happened. Although I still haven’t made any stand-out mummy friends, I will have a friendly chat with some of the other mums that I see regularly and this has really boosted my confidence. I don’t attend that particular group anymore, but I have since joined a Wednesday morning session in our local library which I absolutely love. Everyone is super friendly and Raife loves the singing and stories.
My experience got me thinking about how many other mummies (and daddies) out there have been through what I’ve been through and spent the rest of their maternity leave feeling lonely and isolated at home. Probably quite a few. Now, I’m not exactly the shy and retiring type – I love meeting new people and will happily chat to anyone. So my first experience was definitely far from ideal and I can completely understand why new and not-so-new mums can end up feeling nervous about attending these groups.
If I could give any advice to new mums, it would be to put yourself out there. I know – that’s so much easier said than done. Say good morning/afternoon when you arrive at group, smile and make eye contact, especially towards those sat on their own. Chances are they’re feeling exactly the same as you. There are also apps such as Mush and Peanut that you can download to your phone where you can meet other local mums. This option is perfect if you’re nervous about meeting people face to face – that initial contact has already been made! Don’t forget that if you do have a negative experience, there are other groups out there you could try. We like groups that have a definite format with a group leader rather than just sitting there, leaving us to our own devices. This may work for some, but not others. So shop around as it were.
Likewise, if you’re a dab-hand at baby groups, how about making everyone feel welcome and included? If you spot a newbie or someone who looks a bit nervous or unsure, offer a smile and say hello. Ask questions and explain how the session works. You all have something in common – YOUR BABY!