It’s possible that baby group was destined to fail to live up to my unrealistically high expectations, which can be best summarised as: Freshers Week. I assumed I’d meet my Best Mum Friend For Life within seconds of walking in and we’d dye our hair some totally mad colour, do six Jaeger Bombs and the whole thing would culminate with all the Mums hanging off each other in a circle, jumping up and down to Mr Brightside with eyeliner running down our faces while all the babies sat quietly watching a DVD about Cambodia (obviously at least 60% of the babies in my baby group freshers week would be Khmerglish). In hindsight this was perhaps a bit much to ask of 45 minutes at my local library.
The list of things which piss me off about baby group is endless, but I have condensed it into the following five subheadings because I know you lead a busy life, presumably attending a shit tonne of shitty baby groups. Buckle up this is going to be a bumpy ride.
1. Shit advice
When you give birth, the midwife hands you your baby and says “Congratulations! It’s a girl! Do you take her to any baby groups?” Confused about still being alive after 24 hours of unfathomable pain, this question stumps you. “…B-b-b-baby groups?” you whimper, stunned to realise that you’re 1 minute in and already totally fucking everything up.
Your fatigued mind tries to rationalise the situation: how could you have taken her to baby groups already? You’re still joined together by the umbilical cord! It’s ok, you’re hallucinating, maybe the pethidine was a bad idea. You’re exhausted, you’re not thinking straight, you don’t need to go to baby group. You need to deliver the placenta. You’re doing a great job. Breathe. You got this.
WRONG. You are not hallucinating! You really are a terrible parent! A medical professional really has just asked you if you take your minute old newborn to baby groups, which it would be in every sense impossible for you to have taken her to yet. This question is real. This is how much people need you to take your baby to baby groups. Get used to it, people are going to ask it more and more often, at increasingly higher pitches, until eventually they phone Social Services, screaming into the receiver, “well she’s always clean and fed and looks fairly happy but I personally don’t feel it’s necessary to still be breastfeeding a nineteen month old child and for crying out loud THE LUNATIC IS NOT EVEN TAKING IT TO ANY FUCKING BABY GROUPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Rather than risk your precious baby being placed in the foster care of some unfashionably dressed people who are, undeniably, much better parents than you, it’s a good idea to give baby groups a try. You can trust me, I know what I am talking about because in the past 19 months, I have been to a baby group twice. That’s two different groups, one time each, and I am here to share my valuable and extensive knowledge with you.*
2. Shit people
A blind man walking into the library at midday today would have chided his usually dependable dog. “For fuck’s sake, Sally! I told you to take me to the library, not the perfume counter in Boots! You are worse than satnav, you shit!” This is the legacy of the veritable cloud of Chanel No 5 left in the library by the participants of “Bounce and Rhyme Time”. You will think I’m exaggerating and, while that blind man thing was completely made up (wtf is a blind man doing in a library?! Braille, you ignorant arseholes), the perfume smell really was stunning. People who have so much money that they literally have nothing better to do with it than exchange it for a smell are not the kind of people who have ever noticed that the newsagents discounts all their bakery items after 8pm on a Tuesday. Much less have they strategically planned their toddler’s bedtime routine around this knowledge. Ergo: these people are not my people.
3. Shit music
May I suggest we replace the inaccurate, belittling and, frankly, inconducive to gender equality “Mums on the bus go chatter chatter chatter, chatter chatter chatter, chatter chatter chatter” with the more factually representative “the Mums on the bus go paranoid delusions, sauvignon blanc, cook the fucking dinner, less pay for equal work, nips IN tits OUT, weird bread substitute for bread which is less calorific than bread because it’s not really bread, what the fuck, what the FUCK.”
This morning, choking back my ideals, I made it through the first few nursery rhymes without incident, resisting the urge to sing about the little boy who, as we all know, actually lived down the drain, said fuck you to the master and fuck you to the dame. So far, so tuneless. To my horror, after the usual suspects, there followed a cascade of further songs. Panicked, I looked about me, only to observe that all these pashminas with designer flip flops knew the words, melodies and the actions, which their perfectly manicured hands sliced through the air with a fierce, robotic force. Imagine a cult gathering. Wide-eyed women singing at an almost imperceptibly slightly too high pitch. They move in flawless unison, perfectly synchronized, like something off Britain’s Got Talent. Tune after tune, rhyme after rhyme, the dance goes on. These are kids’ songs I didn’t even know when I was a kid. Where do they get this knowledge from? It’s not Cbeebies, it cant be. I know all those songs. Even the Glaswegian nurse one. Maybe it’s from books. But we’ve got some books, we read books, we’re not animals! We look at books.
4. Shit ethnic diversity
As a middle-class white woman in rural Buckinghamshire, I was devastated to find that baby group is full of white, middle-class women. Stony faced grown women, eerily raising their newborn children to the sky in the centre of a circle as they chant “OH, the okey cokey” in the manner of an ancient tribal ritual, except it’s happening in the village hall and everyone in the room, with the sole exception of my baby, is white.
Black people with babies, where are you? Please can you invite me so I can go there too? In all my wealth of experience of baby group, I have never seen a black person there. You are probably all too busy being structurally oppressed and murdered by the police. Cambodian people don’t have baby groups because they’re too busy being traumatised by genocide and working inhumanely long hours making clothes for H&M in borderline slave labour conditions. In this context I’m reluctant to say that exclusion from baby group means either of these groups of people has “lucked out”. Baby group is an undeniably first world problem experienced only by rich white people. It’s not a real problem. But real problems aren’t funny so stop judging me and laugh at my jokes, just one more subheading to go:
5. Shit outcome
Contrary to the impression you may have got thus far, I’m not actually slagging off people who go to baby group, or even people who enjoy it. Baby group is not about the babies, they get enough of that baby shit in their normal daily life as a baby. The baby group empire is built upon the desperation of millions of parents, teetering so precariously on the precipice between mental illness and full blown alcoholism that they voluntarily pay to sit in a cold church hall at 10am, simply to not be the only grown up in the room. It is therefore both remarkable and depressing that baby group is essentially a 40 minute masterclass in how to avoid making eye contact.
In summary, baby group is shit because the music is shit and it’s at a shit time of day and everyone’s sober and white and no one is laughing with their eyes. If I wanted to spend more time with my kid not laughing, I would stay at home. Would men do it? Would men pay a fiver to sit in a circle with other men, self-consciously nodding to shit music for 45 minutes? Yes, and you should too, but in the pub.
*Since initially drafting this blog, I have become a convert to baby group. We now go to two separate clapping clubs on a weekly basis. I even pay for one of them. We went this morning and it was fucking brilliant. The group leader was totally on one, big mad eyes and singing really, really hard. You have not lived until you’ve witnessed a church hall full of toddlers when the bubble machine is on. However, I urge you to suss out the vibe in the room before bellowing, “look at them! They bloody love it! The bubbles are like baby crack!” To describe the response as ‘lukewarm’ would be generous.