Post-birth, my most important relationship wasn’t with my baby | Freya Bennett

The idea of a parents’ group sounded ‘a bit naff’ for Freya Bennett. But a new friendship with a fellow mum would help her survive the early months of motherhood

My daughter was born after an epic 50-hour labour and emergency C-section. I was in total shock from the birthing process and subsequently, the bond I assumed would be there from birth wasn’t. I found myself grieving my pre-baby life and dealing with the guilt that followed.

The days passed by with agonising slowness and I filled my time with endless social media scrolling, which only fuelled the disconnect between online and real-life motherhood. If it wasn’t for the reminder from the community nurse about joining a parents’ group, I would have completely missed the opportunity.

My mum had told me about the importance of going to a parents’ group and how finding other parents with babies at the same stage was salient to my motherhood journey. It’s not that I didn’t believe her, but I already had friends. And while I’ve always loved a chat, the idea of parents’ group sounded a bit naff, with awkward interactions and a sprinkling of judgment I feared from other parents.

Nevertheless, I confirmed my attendance, happy to have an activity to fill the long day.

Tired and wired, I made my way to a little room next to the kindergarten up the road. I sat my daughter on my knee, quietly proud she was able to hold her head up at just six weeks old. As I smiled and looked around the room, a kind mum pointed at my baby and whispered: “I think she’s just thrown up on herself.” It was at that moment I realised I hadn’t brought any supplies with me. My confidence evaporated and I found myself holding back tears as I accepted a cloth from another mum.

Close-up image of two women, holding their infant daughters in their arms.
‘What started as a friendship of circumstance became the most rewarding relationship in my early motherhood journey’: Freya Bennett (left) and Kristen with their daughters Photograph: Supplied by Freya Bennett

After a bumbling first session from our well-meaning but spacey maternal child health nurse, I began dreading the walk back home and the malaise of an afternoon of solo parenting.

As mums and babies trickled out of the room with friendly smiles and “see you” next weeks, I struck up a conversation with another mother. Kristen didn’t seem to be in as much of a hurry as everyone else, with her sleepy baby lying quietly in her pram, while mine squirmed and frowned in my arms.

As we walked in the hot January sun and I nervously prattled on about astrology, her interest in the topic calmed me and we bonded over our daughters’ mutual Scorpio signs. As we approached her house, Kristen invited me into her air-conditioned haven and I eagerly accepted.

In the following weeks, Kristen and I met up almost every day with our infant daughters, at cafes and in our homes. We shared our life stories, commiserated over sleepless nights and lamented the mental load that tends to weigh more heavily on women in hetero relationships.

Kristen’s easy nature was either a cause, or effect, of her baby’s calmness; whereas I felt constantly flustered and underprepared, with my baby preferring random, 25-minute catnaps and needed to be constantly held.

Fighting the urge to compare, I tried to take on some of Kristen’s relaxed nature, which helped one day when I visited and her overtired baby was resisting a nap. I offered to try and get her baby down for a sleep and channelled the calm I had been observing. While Kristen made herself a much-needed coffee and watched my daughter entertain herself with the play gym, I successfully coaxed her baby to sleep.

In the evenings, as I prepared to leave Kristen’s house, her partner would call on his way home from work. When she’d tell him I was there, he would say: “I just assumed!” It warmed my new-mum heart to feel I was becoming a part of their routine as much as they were of mine.

Our girls became as comfortable in each other’s company as sisters. First teeth were cut, first words were spoken, and what started as a friendship of circumstance became the most rewarding relationship in my early motherhood journey.

When Kristen’s maternity leave ended and our lazy days of companionship were replaced by organised catch-ups, I reflected on the first year of my child’s life. I had assumed the most important relationship in that time would be with my daughter. And though my daughter was – and is – my priority, meeting Kristen was paramount to my survival as a new mum.

Freya Bennett

The GuardianTramp

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