“So, have you found your mom tribe yet?” my friend Pam asked me after chewing a bite of her spinach salad. I was nine weeks postpartum and had managed to make it to a restaurant for the first time since having a baby without said baby. I was still nursing my daughter around the clock and was feeling more depleted than ever. I felt raw and empty and puffy everywhere and longed for a night of uninterrupted sleep in a quiet hotel room with a big white comforter that would envelop me.
Pam has two kids and is very matter-of-fact. Before I gave birth, she emailed me a checklist of items to take to the hospital for the delivery. I appreciated it, but I really wanted a checklist for how to be sane, how to look normal on little sleep, how to take my baby outside of the bedroom and living room, and how to keep my relationships and identity from crumbling.
Pam probably doesn’t know much about quitting playgroup or not being able to make new mom friends.
“Um, where do I find this tribe? Does Target sell them?” I tried to make a joke but was afraid that in my exhaustion and postpartum haze, I had lost my sense of humor. I read that sleep deprivation makes it challenging to laugh. Pam ignored my question and told me that a mom tribe was essential for survival, that these moms would become my lifeline, that I must find new mom friends immediately. It seemed daunting to find these lifelines. I am generally an introvert and was struggling to stay connected to the friends I already had. I also couldn’t understand where to find the time or emotional bandwidth required to make new friends. My social life revolved around texting rather than actual in-person conversations.
“Try the playgroup at 11 on Tuesdays,” Pam suggested, sipping her fruit smoothie. I felt a pang of guilt for my milkshake, but the idea of eating healthy had become impractical and time consuming with the intensity of my breastfeeding-induced hunger. “That’s where I met Sarah who then became my bestie. We text every day and email our parenting fails all the time. She saved my sanity,” Pam continued enthusiastically. After lunch, I thanked Pam for the advice and walked to a nearby coffee-shop. I remember it feeling jarring to see folks ordering drinks and standing in line, often looking at their mobile devices in the middle of an ordinary day. I felt like I had been to the moon and back. And also slightly guilty again for not rushing home.
I also remember feeling that similar juxtaposition of watching people living normal lives around me – going to the grocery store, walking to work, buying newspapers and shoes, eating chicken– after my precious dad died. The pain of grief was so vast that I needed emotional armor to go out into the world.
I still often feel as though I need armor to go out into the world as a new mom. There is so much unpredictably and changes and frustrations that come with being a new mom. I doubted my ability to soothe my crying baby, just as I doubt my ability to navigate a grocery store now with a toddler.
As I waited in line on that day after dining with Pam, I started to lactate. I had forgotten to put on a nursing bra and was embarrassed to be seen leaking, so I crossed my arms over my chest and ran to my car, abandoning my coffee quest. In the parking garage, I cried alone in my car. Over the leaking milk. Over how tired I was. Over how hard it all seemed and how hard it felt and how Pam had ended up making me feel worse.
A week later, I decided to venture out to the playgroup. It felt like a big deal.
After a period of time of getting settled in the yoga room and realizing that I didn’t bring my own colorful blanket and I had to use one of the ones meant for yoga classes (which involved my trepidation at leaving my baby unattended in her car-seat while I walked across the room to get a blanket), my daughter was happily positioned on her stomach in front of me and I looked around me. I slowly started to feel anxious. Nothing was exactly happening, but I felt unsure of myself, unsure of what I was supposed to be doing. A few of the moms were chatting and a few babies were crying. The mom next to me scooted backward to lean against the wall behind us and pulled down her shirt and started breastfeeding her son.
My daughter seemed uninterested in the other babies and more interested in her fingers and the patterns on the blanket. And in that moment, surrounded by other moms and babies, I felt very alone. It was painful for me to feel so vulnerable and unconnected to everyone around me. A yoga teacher who “runs” the group walked in and was friendly and passed around pieces of cinnamon bread, but I quickly realized that things that were challenging for me pre-baby (making small talk with strangers) were even worse with a baby. The moms then shared their names and how old their baby is. I tried to be interested in looking at the other chubby and adorable babies, but it all seemed too forced. After the name game, the “structured” part of the playgroup ended and I realized it was just hanging out with strangers, which is very lonely.
I wanted to enjoy the playgroup. I wanted to feel supported and connected. I wanted to be like the moms in Instagram images advertised by the playgroup center as they sat together with their babies, feeling joyful and bonded with each other, but I wasn’t. In that disappointment and confusion, I quietly scooped up my baby and loaded her into the car seat and quietly snuck away. Driving home close to tears, I realized that there is no perfect Instagram playgroup.
There isn’t a requirement to find my “mom tribe,”- although I do hope to genuinely connect with more mom friends.
Having a baby has been a lot for me. It’s taken a lot of my energy to care for my vivacious daughter and it has left me more easily depleted and vulnerable and I need more time to regain myself. I’ve had to learn what’s too much for me and to discover places that aren’t overwhelming for me to go with my daughter.
My daughter recently turned one. We never again went to that playgroup. Instead, since quitting playgroup we’ve found structured reading programs at libraries and enjoyed being outside at the many parks near our home.
I wish I could have gone back to that lunch with Pam and thanked her for her advice, and also let her know that I would find my way, with or without a mom tribe. I also wish I had told myself not to take the advice of others so seriously.
I wish I could have told myself that I was doing better than I realized. That yes, I was tired and weary, but that I had the tools I needed and would learn all I need to along the way. I still am tired and often still need to remind myself that I have all I need to cope, even though the challenges of toddlerhood will require a whole new set of parenting tools. That this is hard, and that the demands don’t end, but there are ways to continue to bring lightness and joy into motherhood even after quitting playgroup.
Guest Author: Molly Ritvo
Molly Ritvo is a Burlington-based writer. She holds a BA from Tufts University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. She has worked as a communications specialist in the non-profit arena and is writing a novel. She loves to be outside, travel to warm beaches, and most of all spend time with her family. Molly is currently embarking on the new adventure of motherhood.
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