The proverb may well go that it takes a village to raise a child. But comedian Ali Wong was far more blunt when she said of mothers groups in her Netflix special Hard Knock Wife, "When you're a new mum on maternity leave it's like The Walking Dead … you've just gotta hook up with a crew to survive."
I’ve never felt so much a part of my neighbourhood.
I didn't expect that would apply to me. Like every other pregnant woman who blithely says that they couldn't imagine how having a baby would change their life that much, I thought that meeting up every week with a group of women I might have nothing in common with other than having spawned offspring in the same month wouldn't be my thing.
Before having a baby, I used a coffee-ordering app to avoid having a barista know my order, was known to hide behind the baked-goods aisle to escape acquaintances in the supermarket and I definitely didn't know my neighbours. I was not, well, community-minded.
But it turns out that when you've been woken every 45 minutes through the night, have a blocked milk duct and come close to murdering your husband for wearing earphones around the house, you will not just seek out other tired, jangled, new mothers, but will in fact latch on to anybody who is kind to you. The grandmother who fixes your screaming baby's sock amid furious leg thrusts in the post office and says she's "been there"; the coffee-shop guy who gives you your order on the footpath because your pram is too big to fit inside; the neighbour who brings up your deliveries; the woman you met once at a work function and it turns out she lives around the corner and also has a new baby.
In the five months since having a baby I've never made so much chit-chat in my life, nor felt so much a part of my neighbourhood.
And it's a strange feeling in these times of box sets and television bingeing, of internet memes about the joys of cancelling plans and avoiding people, and a world increasingly geared towards making human contact irrelevant.
But this new-found need for neighbourliness is, says Elly Taylor, author of Becoming Us, a by-product of motherhood as it recalibrates who you are and where you fit in.
"For thousands of years women have mothered collectively. It's only in the last couple of generations that women are expected to do it alone," she says.
"Also – and most mothers don't realise this – as their bellies grow, their brains are also growing, being rewired and primed neurologically to bond with their baby, which makes us also seek to bond more with our partner and others.
"Research shows that becoming a mother makes women more empathetic to the plight of other mothers. We really feel the loss of the tribe when we become mothers."
Hence the need to latch on. Especially when, as Taylor puts it, the stakes of not doing so can be high. "Loneliness and isolation is one of the biggest contributing factors to postnatal depression, so feeling that you have enough company and support is so important," she says.
So there you find yourself … in cafes big enough to accommodate everybody's pram (usually the kind to serve a mugachino, which you will gulp down gratefully). And maybe one week you will be the mum with the tears threatening to spill down your cheeks because the baby wouldn't sleep, and you'll know that you can talk about it if you want to, or just sit there jiggling your baby and piping into the conversation. Conversation that will consist mostly of subjects such as poo, gymbaroo, bottle preferences and, occasionally, glimpses of former lives and flashes of new ones taking shape.
Despite declarations that becoming a mum isn't going to change your life, it does. Best it happens, then, with women who are in the thick of it with you. Either them or the nice coffee guy who remembers your order.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald on sale July 8.
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