“I did say you’d have to stop biting your nails before we had this baby,” my husband says.
I stare at my freshly bitten thumbnail. I would quote Fox Mulder right now, but beneath my cool exterior is one very distracting thought: It’s definitely poo.
But that’s Earth Motherly, surely. Ingesting my 6-week-old baby’s poo on the morning of my first mothers’ group is bound to make me some friends. Of course, they may be the kind of friends who eat placenta sandwiches and cry over episodes of Captain Planet, but I’ve been at home in 40+ degree heat, sans air conditioning with a new baby for the last month and a half, so frankly, have we met? I just want to buy some chips. What do you mean you don’t sell chips, what kind of dry-cleaners is this?
I leave the dry-cleaners and drag my body up the hill toward the Maternal Health and Something Nice About Children Centre. Everything is glaring hot and my stomach muscles feel like they’ve been twirled like chewing gum around someone’s finger (possibly Kylie Mole, but that’d be showing my age) and then splodged back into place. Seven of us stagger in with our seven little Bonds Wonder-Suits. I slam my pram confidently into the door frame, waking up my baby. I smile jovially at the other mums as his screams achieve a volume precisely calculated to wake their own sleeping infants, and realise that no amount of fingernail-poo ingestion is going to instantly rectify this particular event.
I have reached my first developmental milestone as a mum: I have pissed off more than five other mums at once. It’s listed in your horrible blue baby book, somewhere after “your baby isn’t putting on enough weight, you are a terrible mother” but before “your baby cannot use a cup or spoon, you are a terrible mother”. You’ll know it when you get to it.
But I’m staying for this meeting. I know why I’m here. I want to hear that someone else’s baby is worse than mine. I want to hear about more colicky babies, babies that sleep less in the day and less in the night, babies that scream for more hours, babies that chuck up more feeds, babies that refuse more and bite more and crap more.
We admire each other’s bundles of bunny-rug. Isn’t everybody’s baby lovely. But mainly we stare at our own babies. All they do is frown and yawn and crap themselves, but they’re like little lava lamps. We can’t look away.
I volunteer an ice-breaker. “I accidentally ate baby poo from under my fingernail this morning,” I say. My kid chooses this moment to make a dramatic violin noise from my lap. I gaze serenely down at him and demand: “Hungry? Sleepy? Tired? Pooey? Distressed about interest rates?” I get some tired smiles.
Another mother speaks up. “Yesterday, this one projectile pooed across the room into the slats of the electric fan.”
Another: “She only sleeps sitting up in her swing chair, but only if it’s in the kitchen. So I slept on a blanket on the kitchen tiles last night.”
A third: “He’ll only feed from the left side, so I lie upside down on the couch to feed him from the right side. Every hour.”
Then they all chime in:
“I fell asleep feeding her and woke up with bite marks all over my boobs.”
“My partner found me sleepwalking in the kitchen. I’d assembled the breast pump and had expressed 120ml.”
“I can’t remember how many bottles he has during the night. I can’t remember if I heat them up or not.”
“She vomited into my brother-in-law’s mouth when he held her up, and it was the best moment of my week.” Pause. “Possibly year.”
We stare at briefly at each other, away from our infants, and it’s almost like we’ve know each other all our lives. Then I feel suddenly warm and the other mothers gasp. I lift up my baby gently and more white milk vomit sprays through my hair, my clothes, onto the Maternal Health and Something Nice About Children Centre’s chair and all across the Maternal Health and Something Nice About Children Centre’s carpet. It’s pure milk, pure volume, and pure yoghurty stench. I’d rather eat all the poo under everyone’s fingernails.
Baby wipes appear from everywhere like magician’s doves. Unspeakable things are mopped up with fairly inadequate Aloe Infused! and Purely Sensitive! squares. The Maternal Health and Something Nice About Children nurse rushes to open the windows, diffusing the Something Not Nice About Children smell. We are all supposedly going out for coffee after this meeting, so I phone my husband at home and urgently ask him to bring me down a new top. Mine was white. It is now extra-white, but also extra-wet and extra-transparent.
“I’m covered in milk spew,” I whisper.
“That’s pretty normal, right?” he whispers back.
“Yes, but so is taking a shit and I don’t generally do that in the middle of a café either. Why are you whispering?”
“I’ll be five minutes.”
He arrives, my knight in shining stretch cotton, gallant husband and saviour. Suddenly faced with six more new-mum pairs of eyes than usual, and six rhythmic hands patting six little romper-suited backs, he looks slightly panicked. He thrusts the plastic bag towards me and edges back toward the door, smiling and nodding.
The other mums murmur their approval:
“My husband would never know what to bring down for me to wear.”
“You’ve got a good one there, very quick wasn’t he?”
Oh yes, I agree, dabbing more vomit from my hair and collarbones. I peer into the plastic bag. I look away. My skirt is passable, doesn’t need changing. My hair could be just be sporting a new, somewhat chunky gel product. I peer into the bag again and smile brightly at the other mums.
I retreat to the bathroom, sniff the vomit-crusted horror I’m wearing once more, just to check, then stuff it into the plastic bag.
I hold out the clean top at arm’s length. My well-meaning husband has brought me down one of my summer pyjama tops.
I pull it on, and stride back to the milky circle of chairs.
Isn’t everybody’s baby lovely.