Parent Group - Round One
It doesn’t begin well. I am late - though this not my fault.
It is partly the baby’s, as he would decide to feed just as I tried to leave, but mostly it is Canberra’s fault. Specifically, Canberra’s endlessly eccentric predilection for keeping pedestrians on their toes by ending some sidewalks abruptly. No warning, no alternative. (Canberra loves a footpath on only one side of the street. It is unclear why).
The outcome is that I find myself quietly swearing as I take the pram-and-sleeping-baby overland (3 wheels does not an off road 4WD make) next to an arterial road in Canberra’s oldest and mostly densely populated suburb.
I was, of course, the only one stupid enough to walk the short distance, despite a gloriously blue-skied and sunny spring morning. ‘Why walk when you can drive’ should be available as a number plate phrase in the ACT (for the record ‘Heart of the Nation’, ‘The Nation’s Capital’ and ‘Age-Friendly City’ are the current options).
Gripes with pedestrian-phobic planners aside, I’ve only missed the (hateful) nametag portion of proceedings, which makes it easier to covertly stick it to the furniture. I have a pathological distaste for nametags and even used to deliberately loose my ‘professional networking’ ones when I was a lawyer.
It’s a fairly large group of around 15 ‘mums & bubs’ plus one lone dad who is actually not lone and is attached to a mum & bub. I guess none of us are shaking convention in terms of who is the primary caregiver.
Probably too sleep deprived to manage much shaking at all.
In terms of composition, the parents are generally in their mid-late thirties with a distinct preference for active wear (no judgement, it’s the only part of my closet I can confidently fit into) and Breton stripes. The Lower North Shore vibes get stronger as I realise there are actually people who still buy proper prams not strollers pretending to be prams and that those people are also in this room. This decision is remarkable because it essentially requires that you buy two ludicrously expensive items that perform the same function albeit for slightly different life stages (think prone infant and head-swivelling level infant).
We start by, surprise, introducing our offspring and ourselves. This process takes up nearly all of the class time and we learn that one baby has had open heart surgery and another brain surgery which sound equally terrifying and that the lady seated next to me with the incredibly petite baby is actually the same age as L, which makes him look like a right dump-truck of a child. And although we’re told that this is a safe space and of no judgement I’m pretty sure if I admitted to enjoying a sneaky beer while breastfeeding that would change like the wind.
Our facilitator is a pleasant smiley woman with an excellent bob who coos over how cute L is but I suspect she is the type who would be distinctly underwhelmed by admissions of co-sleeping or other ‘dangerous’ practices. (We gave up on co-sleeping because I am a bed hog and refuse to share nicely even with my own infant).
My suspicions are confirmed when another mother with shoulder-length blonde hair and ankle-cut cigarette jeans in the effortless chic style that says ‘forever off-duty cool but actually thinking about my 10am meeting’ admits that she doesn’t really like breastfeeding. Made bolder by my nametag-less state, I throw caution to the wind and agree that it is impractical, uncomfortable and unpleasant and that if you could buy equivalent formula I really wouldn’t bother.
This is too much honesty. The blonde backpedals, explaining her unease comes not from any such selfish reason but from a low supply, which makes the process frustrating, as she can’t give enough. She is excused by the facilitator who commiserates that that must be really tough. I feel suddenly like I’m in an interview where someone has admitted their flaw is that they ‘work too hard’.
The facilitator emphasises the importance of breastfeeding as a bonding activity but then has to gently ease off that high-horse as it becomes apparent that a number of ladies are formula-feeding their offspring (all for medical reasons of course. Only a complete peasant would simply decline to extend the imposition on self that breastfeeding presents).
Not having anywhere to pedal I shrug. I don’t much like breastfeeding. It’s not painful like it was initially and there are moments of enjoyment as L coyly smiles at me or curls his fingers to hold me closer but these I get similarly from playing with him, talking to him and generally being his parent. I don’t get the depth added by a breast.
Then comes the tea-and-mingle portion of the morning which involves polystyrene cups and turning to your neighbour with an expectant air. As my tea brews I (and everyone else) learn that most of the group gave birth at the same nearby private (of course) hospital and at least three had the same obstetrician (‘oh my god I just love her’). The room also learns that the blonde lady had been trying to conceive while she and her partner were on a DFAT posting in a third world country but are really glad she didn’t as the system here in Canberra provides just so much support. First world perks.
I have a brief chat with the lady next to me with the very petite baby who seems sweet (both of them) and another lady, forthright verging on rude joins us and we discuss baby carriers. I know it is the point of the session (to bond over this common experience of expelling a human) but I can’t help but cringe; a room full of educated and successful women talking exclusively about non-verbal barely-functional small humans? I’m not sure if I want in, even if it means I get to leave the house.
The session concludes and I leave feeling distinctly on the outer. I console myself with the knowledge that first impressions are not my strength – I neither make reliably good ones nor find my own reliable, as nearly every close friend is someone I initially disliked. (Often this was mutual). Still, when my mum texts to ask how it was I can’t help but respond “Lower North Shore meets the Public Service”.
“Ghastly” comes the swift reply.
Will it remain that way? Guess we’ll find out come Thursday.