“Karl told me about a playgroup in Maraetai. Why don’t you take her there?” My partner stares at me in the bathroom mirror.
I look away, the unspoken words prickling. “They’re not really my cup of tea.”
The baby stirs, sucking on her hand. She’ll need feeding soon.
“How do you know? You’ve never been.”
I watch my partner shaving, each pass exposing fresh, pink skin in a sea of white, and a stab of jealousy twists in my stomach.
“They’re for older children,” I say, pulling my dressing gown across my chest. “Not for little babies.”
“Think about it. You might make some friends there. You know, find your tribe or whatever.”
The razor tapping on the sink wakes the baby, and she cries.
“I have friends,” I say, carrying her out of the room.
I have friends.
Friendships take time to adjust after a baby.
I stand at the entrance to the playgroup, and look at the real mothers inside, bouncing babies on their knees, drinking coffee, chatting, looking happy. The capsule swings in the crook of my elbow as I wrestle with the baby gate, balancing a ridiculously sized bag of baby paraphernalia under my arm.
“Here, let me help.” An older lady with a grey bob and a grey expression opens the gate.
“Thanks,” I say. “Those baby gates shred any self-confidence left after the birth, right?”
Her powdered face remains impassive, and a tingle of apprehension crawls across my confidence.
“Tea and coffee are on the counter, next to the cake. Just help yourself,” she says.
The noise is assaulting. Weeks of daytime solitude have left me unprepared for the hustle and bustle of the room.
A handful of mothers sit on the floor playing blocks with their toddlers. A group of preschoolers squabble over a pram. Two mothers snatch a conversation, while one ignores the snotty nosed toddler clinging to her leg.
A small group of women are enjoying an uninterrupted conversation at a large table near the coffee. I weave my way through the snotty noses and tantrums to the hallowed ground.
“Hi, I’m Anna,” I say, resting the capsule and ridiculously large bag on the floor next to an empty seat.
“Lisa.” The woman gives a small nod.
She doesn't have baby vomit on her shoulder. My fingers creep to the crunchy white splotch on my jumper.
“Jenny.” Her clean, shiny hair cascades around her shoulders.
Lisa… Jenny… I clutch at the names, but they escape.
“That’s a lot of names to remember on three hours’ sleep,” I say.
“Isn’t your baby sleeping through the night, yet?”
“She’s only eight weeks old.”
Another woman raises an eyebrow.
My baby stirs and I rock the capsule, hoping she’ll sleep for at least half a coffee and a piece of cake.
Her eyes edge shut. Success.
“The cake looks good. Do we just help ourselves?”
Several women nod.
The knife is heavy as I cut a piece of carrot cake, sliding it onto my plate.
“Breastfeeding always made me hungry, too.”
I pause, looking at the woman that spoke.
She nods at the cake on my plate. “I was always starving when I was feeding.”
I smile and dip my head, my greasy hair hiding my burning cheeks. I pick up a mug.
“The decaf is on the right.” Someone points to a tin banished to the edge of the counter. “Unless you have caffeine while you’re feeding?”
“No, of course not,” I say.
I sit and listen to their chatter, rocking the capsule with my toe, and hope the baby’s bottle isn’t poking out of the bag.
The bottle, the great thief of self-esteem.
My coffee’s devoid of all joy, but I sip it anyway, learning the intricacies of their reproductive systems and the state of their marriages, but not their names.
“How’s the cake?” asks a woman with plum lipstick.
I nod. “Good.”
She smiles. So does the woman next to her. But only with her mouth. Her forehead doesn’t move. Neither do her eyes.
I’m wondering if she’s had Botox.
I’m staring at her.
Everyone is staring at me.
I realise they’re waiting for an answer to a question I didn’t hear.
“No.” If in doubt, deny.
The women seem shocked. The playgroup, the great social minefield.
One raises an eyebrow.
I glance at my baby sleeping in her capsule, her eyebrows so delicate. Will she wield them as weapons when she’s older?
“Sorry, what was the question?”
“I asked if breastfeeding was going well.”
I think of the bottle in the bag. I wouldn’t say it’s going great.
“Yep, it’s going well.”
My baby stirs. She sucks on her hand. My stomach twists. The timing is not ideal.
I stand. “I need to feed her now, actually.”
I pick up the capsule. And the ridiculous bag. The bottle falls and rolls along the floor.
Plum raises an eyebrow.
Botox picks up the bottle.
“Is this formula?” she asks, brandishing the bottle like I’m feeding my baby vodka.
"No, it’s expressed…” I trail off.
This group of women sitting around the table, staring at me, they are not my tribe.
My tribe supports mothers. My tribe recognises a woman doing her best. My tribe lifts women at their most vulnerable, it doesn’t tear them to pieces.
I grab the bottle.
And make a scathing retort.
I leave their gaping faces and stagger through the blocks and snotty noses to the insurmountable gate.
It won’t open.
I clatter and scramble over the gate with my howling baby and ridiculous bag, leaving the gate openers and the hallowed ground in my wake.
It’s quite the exit. They’ll have something to discuss for weeks to come.
“Did you go to the playgroup today?” My partner shovels her fork into the mashed potato. She always eats her meat last.
She puts down her fork. “Did it go okay? Did you find your tribe?”
I think of the ladies at the table, the shock on their faces, their eyes wide in disbelief.
“No, it didn’t go great.”
“I got hassled about breastfeeding.”
Her jaw clenches as I tell my story and I feel a truth pushing through the hidden space inside me.
“So I made a scathing remark and left.”
She leans forward, her mashed potato abandoned, present and listening.
“What was your scathing comment?” she asks.
My partner. Supporting me. Seeing me. Lifting me at my most vulnerable.
I pick at my nails. “I told them I gave up breastfeeding because it interfered with my cocaine habit.”
She looks at me, her eyes wide and mouth gaping.
A smile plays on her lips, and then she laughs.
I laugh, too.
The weight of the day evaporates, and a truth emerges. We're two sleep deprived women, and we're doing our best.
I’ve found my tribe. She’s sitting right next to me.
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I like the ending it brings all together.
Thank you! :-)
Wow! This was really good. I love the way the characters were portrayed and brought to life! My favorite part was definitely the "Scathing comment" I couldn't help but laugh.
Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Sierra! :-)
I love this well written story. I just became a great gramma yesterday, so I feel well qualified to say this…it is beautifully timeless.
Thank you, Barbara! And congratulations to you!
The ending did a great job of closing this one out - the feelings of frustration, not being accepted, anxiety to "find a tribe" - all absolved with relief at the end. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you, Christopher! I appreciate your kind words! :-)
Breastfeeding is special moment between mother and baby. This was a humorous touching story highlighting the joys and self doubts of mother-hood.
Thank you for your lovely feedback! :-)
This was a really well written story. It captivated my attention and I smiled at the end. A great message too as women and moms should support each other. Really all people. It's a great story.
Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Annalisa. I really appreciate it! :-)
This story deserved to win - I loved how it was tied together in the end with the remark. I love LGBTQ stories, especially ones that empower women with children, just doing their best. Cheers 🎉
Thank you so much, Scout! I really appreciate your kind words! :-)
That was a good story…no, great is more like it. I loved the plot and The way you handled the problem. It was unique and clever-in my humble opinion.
Thank you for your kind comments, Josiah. :-)
Woahho good one, Beth. This is a truly amazing story, a well-deserved win I must say. It's beautiful how you captured the unsaid emotions into this brilliant piece of work. The embedded wicked humour pulled it up. Congratulations!!
Thank you, Keya. I really appreciate your kind feedback. It’s all pretty exciting! :-)
G’day Beth, You got me!:) The beginning was very cleaver. I made the usual assumption of a heterosexual relationship. (Despite being gay myself. Doh!) The shaving scene set up the assumption beautifully. (I had to go back and reread it,) I found it captivating story that was easy to read. (Please take this as a compliment.) Thank you:)
Thank you, Sue! :-)
Yay!! Congratulations, it was about time for the spotlight to be on your work. Great story, hitting all the right buttons as usual.
Aww, thank you!! What a lovely comment! :-)
This is a great story! It was nice to read, and you really deserved the win. Congrats!
Thank you!! :-)
Very elaborate, captivating and deep.
Thank you so much! :-)
I loved this story! So familiar, and you’ve got a great writing style with just enough details and snappy dialogue. Congratulations on your win!
Thank you for your lovely comments! I really appreciate it. :-)
Oh my goodness. I almost cried at how familiar this felt. And then I burst out laughing at the end. You captured the new mom emotions so well. I loved this! And the cocaine comment. So perfect.
Thank you so much! I really appreciate your kind words! :-)
I can see it all. Thanks for this entertaining story. And congratulations on the win!
Thank you so much! :-)
Aha! Loved it... You got me because I was thinking for most of the story that maybe the twist was going to be that it was two men! Enjoyed the read and the clear style of writing. Congrats
Thank you so much! :-)
Well written story! I think our definition of family/tribe certainly shifts and changes after we have children. I think you captured that so well!
Thank you! I really appreciate your comments! :-)
Hilarious and sad. I found both reactions while reading. I like how your opening was written— it was hard to know there were two moms at first. 😀 Then fear of judgement with the mom group was so oppressive I felt myself squirming too. You nailed it. Excellent story.
Aww thank you! I really appreciate your kind comments! :-)