'Take all the help': New mum lessons from the first year of motherhood

Photo: Alice Monfries and her 'village' of Mother's Group friends.
Photo: Alice Monfries and her 'village' of Mother's Group friends. Photo: Supplied

Nothing was working.

For some inexplicable reason, my son – five-months-old at the time - had woken up half an hour after I'd put him down for the night, chirpy and wide awake like it was 6am.

And NOTHING I did could get him back to sleep

I rocked, fed, tried putting him down and leaving him, shhhh'd, patted, sang lullabies and in the end gave up, strapped him into the baby carrier and set out into the street to walk around until he drifted back off.

As I pulled the front door shut, I cast a miserable glance back at the now cold pizza I'd ordered and now warm glass of white wine I'd poured in those blissful moments of silence after he'd first gone down, making the most of a quiet night at home on my own while my husband was at cricket training. 

It was a pretty wild and windy night, and I couldn't see another soul out chancing it on the streets, so I headed straight to an open oval near our house where it felt a little safer than walking under the fiercely swaying trees.

Standing in the middle of the ground, bouncing my baby in the carrier, I felt incredibly alone. And really, really sad. Like I was the only person in the world going through this. 

Until I remembered that I wasn't.

I pulled out my phone and sent a message off to my Mothers' Group WhatsApp thread. 

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Immediately, it started pinging with supportive, encouraging, heart-lifting replies.

"We're all with you!"

"You poor thing, can I bring you something?"

"You're definitely not alone Alice! A couple of weeks ago I was doing the same thing in the city at 5am!"

Before I had my baby, I didn't think much about a Mothers' Group. I figured I had a lot of friends who already had babies who would help me if I had questions. But I completely underestimated how heavily I would rely on this beautiful group of women.

In the absence of family, who are all interstate, they quickly became my village

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alice Monfries (@alice_monfries) on

I smile when I think back to the first meeting. We were all sitting in a circle with our tiny newborns cradled against our chests. I remember looking around at everyone, wondering which of the group I would connect and form friendships with. Turns out it was every single one of them. 

More than a year on, we're all still in almost daily contact via our prolific WhatsApp thread and try to catch up as often as we can. Admittedly it's getting a little less often now that many of us are back at work and life has moved on past the newborn bubble. 

And while we're all incredibly different, and likely may never have met each other had we not been put together in this group, I was so lucky to get a group of girls who are exactly my type of people – regularly ditching Rhyme Time for "Wine Time" on a Friday afternoon.

When I look back at our early messages, it's clear none of us really knew what we were doing but we all fumbled our way through it together and we had such a solid community to lean on while we figured it all out. 

We've cried together. Laughed together. Asked ridiculous questions (many of them poo-related!). Trouble-shooted and tried to help solve each other's sleep issues, feeding issues, weird leap behaviour. Offered friendship, support and comradery while breastfeeding at 3am. 

When our bubs grew older we shared recipe ideas and developmental/play/toy suggestions. And because they are all pretty much exactly the same age, it was uncanny how regularly one of us would message with a worry or question, and discover many of the babies were doing exactly the same thing, giving us reassurance. 

Photo: Alice relied heavily on her Mother's Group

Photo: Supplied

It breaks my heart that not all women have had access to this incredible resource throughout the pandemic. 

To new mums in that position, I would strongly encourage you to check out Mymothersgroup.com.au

This online resource is putting mums together into groups and connecting them via Whatsapp where it's not possible for them to meet in person. 

Other women I know have swapped numbers with mums they met in the playground or the doctors waiting room. 

Some have also used the Peanut app to create their own mother's group. 

Whatever method you choose, I strongly encourage you to form at least one connection with a mum who has a baby the same age as yours. Someone you can fire off questions to, share difficulties like sleep regressions or leap weeks, and lean on when you need extra support.

And for those who are yet to find that tribe, I've asked the beautiful ladies in my Mothers' Group to share one thing they wish they'd known when they had a newborn.

Things my Mothers' Group have learned in the first year of parenthood

Below is a list of our biggest learnings, starting with my own, from our first year of motherhood. 

  1. "I wish I hadn't fretted so much over Max's cat-napping during the day. The guide said he was supposed to sleep two hours over lunch, but he just wouldn't do it and I tried everything I could to "fix" it. I'd tiptoe in just before his standard 40 minutes was up, to rouse him just enough to "start a new sleep cycle" but not enough to wake him up.
    When that failed dismally I resorted to sitting by his cot for the entire 40 minutes, so I 'd be there on hand to immediately "shhh" and pat his bum to resettle him the moment he looked like stirring, before he properly woke. None of it worked, and one day, at around eight months, he just decided to start sleeping longer on his own. 
    Now I know I should have taken those 40 minutes – often the only time I had to myself all day – and sat outside in the sunshine, or read a book, or napped myself. 
  2. "I thought my baby needed me there at all times. I wish I had allowed my mother and partner to be more hands on. Especially at seven months when I was trying to do sleep training on my own. I thought she needed the consistent message of me always saying no to breast milk during the night, turns out my partner was the secret weapon and much more effective during the night."
  3. "I wish I had thought and researched less about an ideal birth (lol) and more about raising my child."
  4. "The biggest thing I would tell myself is to let go of all your ideas and take help at every opportunity. The clichés are there for a reason, it really does take a village and do whatever you need to do to get through – no one (worth worrying about) is judging your decisions."
  5. "Every baby is really different and don't compare yours to others. I worried so much about my baby's sleep and trying to get her to sleep in the day like everyone else's babies, instead of enjoying her awake times and all the exercise and fresh air I got pushing the pram around!"
  6. "I didn't use the help I had from my mum as much as I should have, as I wanted to 'learn things my own way'."
  7. "I would say not to worry as much in general (much easier said than done). Things like her not loving a dummy or taking a comforter caused some stress and anxiety, especially during the sleep regression, but now at 14 months, it's one less thing to worry about. Trust that you're doing the best job you can and everything will work out in the end."
  8.  "In those early days, when I was really in survival mode and getting no more than three to four hours of broken sleep per day, it used to make my blood boil getting well-intentioned comments like "enjoy these moments, it all goes by so quickly".
    Logically I knew on some level it wouldn't last forever and "eventually" she would sleep more and "eventually" we would fall into some sort of routine, but emotionally I felt very alone and that there was no end in sight – every day felt like an eternity and I felt like an a--hole wishing the time away and for her to get older so that things would get easier.
    My heart aches when I think back to how many of those moments I took for granted. If/when I have another baby I will definitely make a point of being more present with my baby and drinking in all those lovely newborn moments."
  9. "One thing I wish I hadn't stressed so much about and realised there was so much joy in, was daycare. I was so worried I was going to miss all these milestones, but have learnt there's rarely a lightbulb moment something is achieved – they're rather processes that you'll still get to watch even if you're away from your bub for all or part of the day.
    And being so focused on missing out on things, I never paid attention to all the lovely things... such as seeing them light up when they see a carer or little mate, peeking in at them playing with others or putting paintings on the fridge that I'd never have the patience to do!"
  10. "There's two people to get to know in your new life now – your little one and you. Both will take time to understand, love and enjoy. I'm still surprising myself with how I've changed, who I've become and what I'm capable of."
Photo: Alice Monfries

Photo: Alice Monfries

This is Your Village.

Alice Monfries in a reporter for Channel Nine news in Sydney. You can follow her on Instagram or Facebook or email her at AMonfries@nine.com.au