A little caveat before we dive in. Loads of my foreign friends in Denmark have liked their mothers’ group after they had a baby. It’s the luck of the draw.
In my kommune, the health visitors set you up with a group of local women who have given birth within a few weeks of each other. They leave you to it after that. My health visitor asked if I wanted to be part of one and although I was hesitant, I thought it might be nice to meet some of the local families with babies of a similar age to mine.
Usually, they try to match up first time mums and have second (or more) timers in their own groups but that didn’t happen with ours, so half of us were first timers. This changed the dynamic a bit. There was never any “omg, I don’t know how to make baby work!” for example.
My expectations versus the reality were probably what did for me. I expected that we would meet up, go to the couch and have one drink and one cakey/pastry snack whilst chatting for about an hour and then go home.
How long have I lived here?
The reality was this: we met, went to the dining table and then had Danish breakfast for three or four hours. Of course we did.
On the very first meeting, we were having the suggested group discussion of our birth stories and stuff about our families. When it was my turn to talk about the birth, half of the mums walked away to change their babies/prepare a feed. I tried waiting until they got back, that did not fly at all.
During the second hour, I went into a panic. I could never have them at my house. There was no way I could lay on a spread like the first mum had done. Danish breakfast consists of bread rolls (several types), cheeses, hams, jams, juices, hot drinks etc. I might have half of that in the house at any one time and I don’t drive so I could never just pop to the bakery and pick it all up. I would need to do it in advance and at that stage of newborn life, I was barely doing things on time let alone before I needed to.
Her house was immaculate. All of their houses were immaculate. My house was far from a disaster zone but getting it up to spec would have taken several hours. When would I find the time? My front windows looked like we had used privacy film on them. Our back garden looked unkempt and unloved.
Plus, I have a clingy dog. If I had any chance of keeping her from howling the place down if kept separate from the new guests, I would need to tire her out before they came. When would that happen? I was breastfeeding all the damn time. The baby took unpredictable cat naps.
Where would they put their prams? There was nowhere to put them! I didn’t really use ours and certainly not for outdoor naps like they would expect to do. Where would they put their carrycots inside?
I explained to the group that I would not be able to host but could we instead meet in town? Have a coffee? See a movie at the babybio? There was a mixed reception to the idea but in the end, I swapped “my” day with the mother with the youngest baby who was not feeling up to it which was totally understandable. But then they acted like it was never my turn and we would always meet up at their houses. I was starting to go invisible.
I skipped a few meetings here and there too. I had just had a baby, a baby who woke up several times in the night but slept in sometimes until 10am. They always met at 10am. Obviously, I would be using my second language. On no sleep. Although they were all in my village, it was a good 30 minute walk to any of their houses each time. And I’m foreign, so I cannot just jump in with a witty interjection, I have to really weigh up my words and think about what I want to say for ages which means I do not do a lot of talking at all because the conversation moves on. A group of six is too much for me, even in English sometimes.
One mum was super kind and sweet, and texted me to say I should not feel like I could not come because I could not host and I was always welcome at hers. That meant a lot to me.
But whenever I came, I would just end up talking to my baby. If they were showing photos on their phones, it never got passed to me. If my baby was trying to interact, it was only ever two of the mums who would reply to her. The cloak of invisibility was extending to her too, and I did not like that one bit.
The final straw was after coming one week, they decided to take the group photo of all the babies the next week when we were not there. It is such a little thing. Trivial. But it stung and the message was received and understood. She was not part of the group. Because of me. Again, the super kind and sweet mum texted me to say she was sorry I was not coming back. She is a good egg. And that’s not to say that the other mums in the group were not. They were fine. They just did not know how to be inclusive. They did not know how to deal with diversity.
It seems to me that Danish mother’s groups inadvertently enforce certain standards of being Danish. If your house does not fit, if your face does not fit, if you are not using the “right” brands (they all had the same baby monitor, for example and no one was surprised), if you don’t do the same things with your baby (within a set tolerance range of acceptable practices), then you can start to become unwelcome.
In contrast, my international mother group is still kicking along. We meet in cafes and library playrooms and the cinema and bars. We meet semi-regularly and no one is on the outs if they cannot make a meet up or three. Everyone has their own way of doing things and inasmuch as we discuss it, it’s basically to get inspiration material. For example, did you know, you can cut your child’s fingernails more easily if you put a pre-schooler show on the tv? Did you know you can make porridge fingers with oats and bananas if your baby does not enjoy eating porridge from a spoon?
My Danish mothers’ group were not openly judgemental about me but they also had nothing to talk to me about because I was so different. I did not even tell them that I had been putting the baby on the potty when I thought she needed to go, with great results. We were already too different, you know? They were probably all going to start weaning at four months, and I was going to wait until the NHS recommended six months. These tiny differences that make my international mothers’ group so enjoyable, were massive chasms that separated me from the Danish mothers.
And that’s just my impression of it. I am sure they have their own impressions of me and why it did not work out.