You know yourself. Having two babies during a global pandemic, sure we’ve all been there.
Everybody is very kind to one another, considering each others’ experiences of this whole pandemic yoke. And rightly so. But when I am on the receiving end, “Oh it must have been tough for you – having the babies under those conditions” well, I can’t even pretend to have had it rough.
Don’t get me wrong. The circumstances have definitely been weird, and they’ve definitely made it really tough for others in similar situations. But for me, well, to be honest, those conditions have kind of suited me.
I’m an introvert (loud and proud) and having the pressures to socialise removed, during the intense and demanding period of caring for two young babies, has been a bit of a relief, to tell the truth. Gone was the pressure to go anywhere, the pressure to see anyone. No asks from anyone to visit the house were even made, which might have put me in a fluster. While I’ve missed seeing family, and more-so having family see my little girls as they’ve been changing every day, in truth it’s made things somewhat easier. For someone like me.
The other, fascinating, thing has been that all of the mixing that would normally have happened in person, over coffees, during baby and parent classes, has moved online. That means that for someone like me, introverted and also nosey, all of those conversations have become suddenly that much more accessible.
While I can imagine, had I been going along to different groups, that I might have hot tailed it back home rather than having to make after-class small talk, the chats have all been happening online. In a gargantuan effort to replace some of the much desired socialising and support that would normally be provided through these groups, (for someone less like me, that is), some amazing people have worked hard to replace these support networks on facebook and whatsapp and youtube and all sorts.
For a little bug-eyed lurker like me, it’s a bit of a dream come true. Without having to make the actual effort of joining in on conversations, I can have an auld read through them when I catch a moment. Oh – lovely! But wait now, how did such an antisocial cynic like me even get into these spaces, you ask. Well, to trace it back, it would have begun with the NCT group that we went to.
For anyone not in the UK, and more-so London, the NCT is the antenatal course that any middle classed couple sign up to attend. To learn about childcare and the birthing process, yessssss… but also, because since you’ve moved to London you’ve only made friends with work colleagues and unless you can convince them to both move to your borough and have a baby at the same time as you, it’s the best chance you have of making friends at the same stage living close by. (All this in the hope, of course – vain as it turns out – that they don’t all realise that their place is too small and decide to move to Walthomstow.) Duly, we signed up.
This is London. One of the biggest cities in the Western World. Metropolitan, cultured, progressive, international. The group did not let us down. The women and men that we met were from all around the world. They had fascinating careers, they were experienced, they had wonderful perspectives and ideologies. Most were entering this unknown parenting journey with an aim to parent equally.
When the instructor advised us to set up a mums only whatsapp group, in addition to the everybody one, we accepted her advice. She was our guide, we could only trust in her recommendation – after all, that was what we were there to do. (Partially). The women in the group were the ones that were pregnant. We were the ones that would give birth. It seemed to make some sense that we might need a separate platform to talk. “You’ll need it”, she said.
A few weeks later, birth announcements started to pop through in the main whatsapp group. Gorgeous, wonderful and so exciting. Everyone was involved. The announcements often came from the dads – over the moon, awestruck & completely smitten. Those who didn’t yet have theirs, shared in awe and wonder at the arrival of a new little person. Those who had, offered little snippets of wisdom. As a collective, we welcomed the little ones into the world.
And then….. nothing. Total silence.
But just in the everybody group, that is. Meanwhile the mums group struck into gear. Questions and requests for advice came flooding through. Some were about feeding, yes including breastfeeding, but when we’d had the class on breastfeeding the men were told to be really involved in all that too. And others were about sleeping, clothing, bedding, rashes, noises, gestures. All. Sorts.
Of course I was exactly the same as everyone else. The chat had moved over here, and here was where I went when I needed advice or reassurance. This was where the conversation was happening. I didn’t challenge it. I didn’t change it. Somehow, this was the way that it just happened. What I want to know is what was happening with all the dads during all this. No, genuinely, I want to know. Have you seen them? Because I haven’t heard a peep!
I can’t believe they weren’t involved in any of that stuff too; the sleeping, the clothing for the weather, the noises and gurgles and burbles. But somehow, for some reason, under the influence of some external force, the women picked up the mantel to be the ones to reach out and talk about it.
Let me confide in you that I have never been a “phone person”. I’ve never liked talking on the phone at all, and even texting doesn’t happen all that much. Luckily for me I have a group of friends from school who are somewhat similar. On occasion I have had moments of panic, thinking that I’m letting my friends down, that I’m not keeping in touch enough. Only to be reassured. They are just the same. We are simply not frequent communicators.
In fact, I used to say that we were quite “like boys” this way. Growing up, it seemed to be a girl thing, to be talking on the phone a lot, constantly sharing, confiding, updating. It just wasn’t something I was ever drawn to. And luckily, like, really very lucky on this one, I found some friends who were similar. By the grand age of 36, becoming a parent for the first time, I had accepted my proclivities without too much remorse. So it is clear to me that this picking up of texting, asking for advice and reassurance, was not coming from any innate femininity of mine. Nope. This was the following of a social order.
We’d been advised to set up a women’s only group, believing and accepting that we might need it to talk about things (embarrassing bodily things I guess?) that we wouldn’t want to discuss in front of the men. When it came to needing some advice, it was an easier space to turn to. It was a smaller group. Because of maternity leave for most, it was the group of people that would be bearing the majority of the caring responsibilities. Probably repeating the pattern of things that we were seeing outside of this group, talking amongst women seemed like the right thing to do.
From this group, I was introduced to more. Women kindly and generously added me to more groups. I went on and followed some breadcrumb trails of my own and added myself to others. I am interested, after all, in learning about what people do within this whole, mad, parenting thing. I want to get some insights. I want to do a good job. But on reflection, it is mums, mums, mummmmmmms.
Andrew hasn’t experienced the same pull. He is in some dad groups, yes, he is. Some of his friends have set up sub-groups, just for the dads among them, to have some special dad related chats. From what I gather they talk about tips on major purchases. Sometimes, at crisis point, they bring up a major problem. Overall, it is by no means the same sort of daily support that I find in these mums groups.
Seeing the continual questions, outside of your own, has an effect on you. When you see new topics and thoughts being raised, things that you mightn’t have thought of yourself, you take them on board too. Your own scope of concern broadens as you see these concerns being raised by your counterparts. I’ll say it again – I want to do a good job at this! So when I see something raised up, I think about it too. Aha, yes, maybe I should be thinking about what way baby’s teeth are going to grow based on the cup that they’re drinking from – why, of course I should!
At home, I can try to get Andrew as interested in all of this as I am now becoming. But I am just one person. I can’t equal the weight, regardless of my importance to him, of what he sees in the culture around him. I can try to tell him that lots of people care about the way a child’s teeth will grow and how it can be influenced, but if he’s not seeing anybody that cares about that in his world, then I really am just one voice. One voice that’s going against the current of what he’s seeing with his own eyes and ears.
And this, I might add, is coming from an environment of a good and healthy relationship. Honestly, when it comes to Andrew and I, I would assuredly say that
we have a great relationship… we have a great relationship most of the time….. we have a great relationship a good bit of the time……. I feel confident that our relationship will stand up once we get through the madness of co-parenting our very young children. I can only imagine what things would be like within a relationship where things weren’t so amicable.
Surely we need to expect men to be as involved from the beginning as women are. We need to expect them to be a part of the conversation. Because funnily enough, when we cut them out, they get cut out. And when we cut them out, women get cut off, onto their own strange world of daily caring concerns, that men just don’t get a part of. Maybe we could worry less about exposing stories of cracked nipples, or better yet find some dedicated space to talk about just those things, while bringing men right back in to the parenting conversation.