Tuesday 29 December 2009

Welcome to the Club

One of the worst things about involuntary childlessness was the feeling that everyone else's life was proceeding at the proper pace, in the proper direction, while I waited on my own at a crossroads. Or at a dead end. Or, on the worst days, prostrate under a pile of rubble. If you have been there, you do not need me to describe the roaring pain and frustration that comes from being left out of every.single.conversation. that your friends are having, and the way that you feel invisible when you're standing in the same place as a group of people but they are discussing weaning again and you've just got nothing to add. Again. At that point, I always silently vowed to really put some effort into discovering teleportation, so that the next time it happened I could push a button and- poof - I could be away from the nightmare and on my sofa eating Doritos.

It never worked.

But now I have the babies home. I am officially a Parent. I am officially in The Club. I was really looking forward to this bit - suddenly, I would start going to mother and baby groups, and make friends on the bus! And at the library! And we would all have fun with our babies together! This club was going to be so much fun! But I've got to say - I am beyond disappointed. After all the waiting, it turns out that this is the worst club I've ever been part of.

The first hint that this might be the case was after I met up with two other mothers for a cup of coffee. First official mum-date. I was psyched. They were talking about weaning (of course!!) and I listened eagerly, thinking 'I have babies now! I could actually join in!' And the smile slowly slid from my face as it went on and I realised that I had been waiting to have this conversation for most of my adult life, and now that it was here.... it was really just incredibly boring.

Actually, scratch that. I wasn't just boring - it was boring and judgemental. And it's that second one that takes this motherhood club from tedious to terrible. This is how the conversation went:

[Scene - mothers in a cafe. One mother puts bib on child and gets out food]
Mother A: oh, what are you feeding her?
Mother B: a broccoli and blueberry puree.
A: Oh, that sounds nice. (Pause). But isn't the fruit a bit acidic?
B: No, it's got butternut squash in it as well
A: Oh. Isn't she still a bit young for blueberries though?
B: She's seven months, a month younger than your little Daisy. Isn't little Daisy eating blueberries yet?
A: No, she's not.
B: Oh well. Don't worry, She'll be ready for them soon. I suppose my little Susie was just ready a bit earlier.

And I'm finding that all the conversations - whether they are about sleep, food, development or whatever, follow pretty much the same pattern. It seems like every conversation is just an alpha-dog type jockeying for position - who is the best, most right-on mother? And who has the smartest, most advanced child? Who can slap the other person down with the biggest smile on their face? Who knows the most about how to cram the maximum number of celery sticks down their child's gullet? And who can top that by casually saying that actually, if you feed your child celery, you are putting them at serious risk of ear infections. Or hair loss. Or spontaneous combustion.

I've only had children for two months, and I am sick of it. I always assumed that those conversations I was shut out of were people offering each other support, but it turns out that isn't the case. A few times, I have opened up to someone to discuss some issue I was having with the babies, but every time I end up wishing that I hadn't. I say something like 'The babies are still at the very bottom of the weight chart' and get an answer like 'well, what you need to do is start giving them some baby rice' or (back when the babies weren't sleeping) 'The babies are waking up a lot during the night' and the answer was 'well, what you need to do is not talk to them or turn the lights on when you feed them at night'. And what made me most annoyed, during those particular conversations, was that the person never asked me if I actually WAS talking to them or turning the light on in the middle of the night (NO!) or if the babies were drinking enough milk yet to indicate they might be ready for solids (again, NO!)

And in any case, I only mentioned it because I just wanted to talk about it. I wasn't asking for advice. I'm a smart enough girl - If I want advice, I can get advice from the places I need to, like books, or people who have actual qualifications. Or Google. Or, I will end my sentence with 'What do YOU think I should do?' which I rarely do, because, well, I really hate advice. I just wanted to see if anybody had experienced what I had. And you know, how did it make you feel? I'm guessing those other mothers walked away from those conversations feeling 'wow, I really helped her!' but I felt like they were saying: You must be really stupid. I don't even need to listen to what your problem is to solve your problem, that's how much of a better mother I am.

Also, your kids are ugly.

It was just horrible. I mean, it is just horrible because even when I'm trying not to say anything at all, these conversations still happen. People say things to me like 'oh, considering what a hard start your babies had, they are doing really well, and I'm sure they will be doing [insert developmental milestone here] very soon. And I think 'hey! I wasn't worried about that developemental milestone' and then ten seconds later I think 'wow, should I be worried about that developmental milestone?' and then I can't believe they think my children are anything other than terrific just as they are, and I get upset and offended. Which is obviously very productive.

And at first I thought it was just me - that maybe people were treating me stupid because I adopted, and they thought I needed remedial mothering school. But then I realised that they are all doing it to each other all the time as well. Backhanded compliments abound. And to be honest, I am sick of the way that despite my best intentions, I have found myself being sucked in by the desire to do the same thing. A few days ago, I had to bite my own tongue and swallow my words when I realised: hey, nobody wants breastfeeding advice from YOU, Claudia.

All I can think of is this: when a woman becomes a mother, she becomes the autocrat in a little tiny empire. Suddenly, small people are entirely dependent on her, and the day is filled with the need to make tiny decisions and judgements. Most of these are trivial in themselves, and involve sleep, food or bowel motions. But she has to make every one of them, usually with no other adults around, and the sum of these tiny decisions adds up to a whole life. And when each decision is made thoughtfully, the decision-maker gets attached to those decisions, and her decision making process. In her empire, she alone is possessed of the wisdom to decide when it is nap time, when it is bath time, and whether or not the baby will eat blueberries. I think it becomes easy to forget that this sole possession of wisdom ends at her front door, and other adults do not usually see her as having the sum of all knowledge in the same way that her children do.

Well, I don't, anyway. And a cacophony of voices all finding different ways to say 'hey, I know a lot more about this mothering stuff than you do' just makes me want to retreat into my own little kingdom and lock the door and never go to one of these United Nations motherhood conventions at the coffee shop ever again.

And now I kind of feel stupid for expecting anything different.


  1. can i just say that i love you?!?! and can i also say ... i think we have a different club for better or worse, i think for much better, we're each other's club ... but not a club, an actual listen to it all, feel it all, step back and reflect, produce true emotional connections albeit through networks and routers, but the real ... this is what i need, deal!!!

    i love your babies. i think they are so adorable i can hardly stand it. and you are beyond fabulous. i hope that i would gain entry into your kingdom. for tea and digestives and holy shit let's deal with this stuff and be free to vent sans judgment. yep, i think our kingdoms have a superb alliance.

  2. oh my! You are sooooo right. I'm a bit slower than you because I've only just figured it out.

    you're right though about the one upmanship and I for one am DONE with it. I wrote about that one friend on my blog. well... I've decided I'm just going to talk about her to her, not about the babies because mine are apparently sooo behind in everything AND they're 8 weeks ahead.

    I have a post in drafts somewhere because I've been wanting to write about the competition thing. Now I don't - I can just link to your fabulous post.

  3. If you could see me right now you would see that I am reaching through the internet to give you a high five. This post rocks.

    I keep getting mommy advice on how to raise my child, how to feed him, how to take care of his hair, how to get him to sleep better...and my kid isn't even home yet!!!

    I'd like to start a new club and invite you to be the president. :)


  4. thank you for this post... because I am soooo tempted to be envious of the Mama Club some days. Now I can think of this post and ward off those jealous thoughts.

  5. I'm sorry you had to deal with this! I am absolutely dreading this and I suspected this was how it will be for me. It's really sad, though, because I have two Mother's groups I'm about to join as I am in desperate need of the companionship (and not assvice or competition) of those in my shoes-getting up at the butt crack of dawn to 'feed me!!' screams and now considering brushing my teeth to be a luxury. You know how it is and I'm sure you were looking for the same.

    I'm wondering if you have considered or know of any adoptive parent groups and if those might be any different. Perhaps I'm biased or even naive but I suspect women parenting after IF might not play those games? It might be worth a shot...

    By the way, your little ones are absolutely beyond beautiful. Those doe eyes are to die for!

  6. Ack. Please come here. And I think Shelby is right-Adoptive Moms group. Totally different I think, at least in my experience.

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  8. I love your blog and your words and your ability to make me laugh with your accounts of things. You just rock.

    I'm not in the club yet, and I'm glad you're giving me the heads up...but I have always kind of witnessed that backhanded compliment thing and wonder why we're so hard on each other?

    PS Do you have an email?

  9. So funny. I remember sitting in a coffeeshop with Abe when he was a little baby and listening to the conversation of two moms across from me, and just feeling bored to tears. It was exactly as you described. Exactly. I kept wanting to interject, "What book are you guys reading now? What was the last movie you saw? What is your life outside of your child's developmental milestones?"
    And then I felt guilty for being judgmental too. But really: I can see talking about this stuff for a half hour or so, but for the entire coffee? Really?

  10. Amen sister. You figured it out waaaaaaaaay before I did.

  11. I'm with Rebecca. I love you. You sound soooo like my friend Fiona.

    And yes. You had it right the first time... BORING!! It's boring because you are a grown adult who is sitting in on a juvenile conversation. I hear it all the time.. it feels like JR. High all over again.

    You rock

  12. I will invite you once again to move to Oregon. At least in my town, nobody touches a pregnant woman's stomach, mothers are actually and truly supportive of each other and in my experience you have to ask for mothering advice before people offer it to you.
    Although, I will admit, as Lori said, the topics of conversation are often incredibly mundane but at least they are supportive and mundane.

  13. A round of applause from Boston! I LOVE this!! I feel like there is so much of this. I feel that in the adoption community, it extends to how Ethiopian you are raising your child, or how you handle the birth story, or whether or not you used the right agency. BLECH! I am going to link to this post because I love it SO much! Kudos for articulating this so beautifully!

  14. You are right! And I hear you!

    I have a couple mommy friends with whom I can really commiserate. If it wasn't for their perverse sense of humor I do not know how I would make it through. They totally get when I say that my son drives me completely and totally mad at times.

  15. I'll probably get the worst mommy that ever lived award because I all of these new (invented) rules about babies drive me insane!

  16. Ugh, C, that does not sound like a good environment at all. I hope you are able to find a group that is supportive like the women in the AIL blogosphere. You so deserve better, dear.

    Love the pics of your babies a couple posts back. They are just too cute.

  17. I hear you! We haven't even picked
    our 8 month old daughter up from Ethiopia yet and we are already getting stupid advice! I haven't done adoption mother groups either, so I'm not sure if they are the same, but I wouldn't think so. I have been getting really good at ignoring people (just ask my husband!) By the way, your children are absolutely beautiful!

  18. Oh my goodness. This is classic. You should write a column. Seriously. I can't wait to show this to my husband when he gets home. You're like the Ellen Degeneres of adoption. :) Keep it up! Can hardly wait to read your coming blogs!

  19. love this and you are so right on about it all!

  20. Great post - I especially liked the autocrat part. So very true. It's taken me a while to figure out who are real mommy friends and who are not, but the real ones do make all the difference in the world! Good luck with your parenting journey!

  21. There are good ones. But you have to pick them just as carefully as you picked IF support I think. :(

  22. Thank you for saying this out loud.


Over to you!