In Australia, local governments have come up with a great way to link first-time mums with babies around the same age together in small groups.
For a period of about six weeks, a maternal and child health nurse facilitates group discussions, with topics ranging from birth experiences to concerns with baby’s feeding or sleeping(or not sleeping!) habits. After bonding during such an intense, emotional period, many of the mums continue to meet weekly – right up until their ‘babies’ start school.
Having heard from friends about these “amazing” mother’s groups, I was keen to get involved. Yet, it was with immense trepidation that I arrived with my seven week old baby son at the local maternal and child health centre for my first class.
When the maternal health nurse invited each mum to introduce ourselves and talk about our impressions of motherhood so far, I felt a mild sense of panic.
You see, after unexpectedly experiencing an acute manic episode five days after my son’s birth, I had spent the past six weeks in psychiatric hospitals. My husband and family had been the ones to wean my young son off breastmilk and onto bottles, they had established a 3-hourly feed-play-sleep routine, and they had ‘mothered’ him during my absence.
When it was my turn to talk, my usual confidence deserted me. I quickly mumbled something about having a “great, natural birth” (the truth) and how much I was loving being a mother (also the truth). Yet, despite the horrific ordeal I had just been through, I couldn’t bring myself to tell the truth about this.
Almost eight years on, and two more children later, the women in this original mothers group are still my good friends. Nowadays, we tend to meet up without the kids, enjoying a dinner out or a weekend away together.
I’ve since told this group of friends about my Bipolar Disorder diagnosis, and the true story of what happened after my first son’s birth. I’ve also listened as many of them have shared stories of illness, betrayal, unemployment and struggles with motherhood.
Through this, I’ve learnt that none of us have perfect lives.
To pretend we do, is to do ourselves – and our friends – a disservice. It is by being honest with each other about our struggles, that we find a new depth to our friendships.
Have you felt comfortable disclosing your diagnosis with other mums in your mother’s group or children’s kindergarten, school or sporting clubs? If not, why?