NCT groups are supposed to be a source of information and support for new mothers, but mum-of-one Joy Persaud found hers was quite the opposite...
The autumn of the year I became a mother was warm and sunny, giving me plenty of opportunities to get into the fresh air with my new baby. Nervous but hopeful, I stepped out with my daughter, Lilly, to meet my NCT group for coffee.
We were all first-time mothers, brought together by a synchronised gestation period and a desire to forge a support network that would hopefully take us forward as sisters in arms. The organisation’s overly long five-hour sessions hadn’t been conducive to socialising, but the mums-to-be seemed friendly and the first couple of meetings, as we juggled tiny babies and coffee cups, were fine. But then, it changed.
Joy was keen for her and her daughter to make new friends (Credit: Joy Persaud)
It was just the one mum who turned this happy group into a hell for me, but then that’s all it takes, isn’t it? The ‘me’ I used to be was nowhere to be seen when Liz aimed barbs at me, so slyly that I doubt anyone else cottoned on. There was the one about how ‘sickly’ my child was because she possetted milk - like every other feeding newborn, ever! There was the stuff, repeatedly, about my baby’s size in comparison to her ‘perfect’ offspring, as she peered down on us, mouth pursed, a phony look of concern across her wide brow.
How I remained calm, I’ll never know, but they were the kind of remarks that you don’t quite compute at the time – especially when you’re a tired and anxious new mum. I suppose I was also thrown by the unexpectedness of her remarks; at times she was perfectly pleasant, and then WHAM! - another bitchy comment came my way. Still, as unhappy as I was I kept going to the gatherings, feeling I should make an effort.
Joy's daughter Lilly is now 7 (Credit: Joy Persaud)
Although my sense of isolation was intensifying - I had no one to turn to, as my dearest friends lived hours away or were working full-time - after a dozen or so upsetting meet-ups, I stopped going to the coffee mornings. Instead, I took Lilly to playgroups and parks, smiling hopefully at other mothers, wondering if they felt the way I did. But by now I lacked confidence, and approached no one. Interestingly, my midwife – a great source of support even after Lilly’s birth - said she’d seen many such groups turn sour once the babies were born.
Uncharacteristically, I remained quiet about Liz’s effect on me, as I didn’t feel comfortable enough to share my upset with the other mums. Another member of the group did however admit she’d noticed the bitchiness, and expressed her distaste in private. We stayed in touch for a while but drifted apart amicably once her maternity leave ended.
Joy feels like the NCT bully effectd her first few months of motherhood (Credit: Joy Persaud)
Eventually, in a moment of clarity, I erased all social media links to the NCT group - even though I’d have liked to have got to know some of the other mothers better. Instead of obsessing over them, I turned my focus to spending quality time with my baby and getting my freelance career up and running again.
That summer was glorious and I relished spending time with Lilly, but it would have been great to have some adult company too - preferably of the mother-of-young-child variety. At times, my insides were heavy with loneliness, and I was disappointed at myself for being ground down by that woman. When I think back, my overwhelming emotion is anger; anger for not addressing her offensiveness, anger that she affected my first few precious months of motherhood.
Joy and Lilly eventually made friends with a new group (Credit: Joy Persaud)
Realising I had to create a healthy social life for both me and Lilly before winter kicked in, I looked online for ideas. A local woman I didn’t know, Maria, was setting up a Netmums group and the first meeting was just days away. Although she sounded lovely in her post, I must admit I was anxious as I pushed Lilly’s buggy to the venue. Thankfully, my fears dissipated as I saw Maria - who was holding a balloon while cheerily chatting with the women I now credit with saving my sanity.
Though we were strangers ranging from our 20s to our 40s, with different backgrounds and babies of varying ages, we all instantly clicked. We laughed together, not at one another, and when we spoke about our children it was with solidarity. There was no comparison, bar the kind where you’re reassuring one another that, yes, most babies do this or that.
Joy with some of her lovely mum friends (Credit: Joy Persaud)
Our babies grew into toddlers collectively and I was thankful to be out of the dark place that dominated my early months of motherhood. When I recall our picnics, children’s birthday parties, nights out and the day-to-day support we provided each other with I smile, always, and feel pangs of nostalgia, not pain.
I also signed up to an NHS-run group and met a lively, lovely mum-of-one called Harriet, with whom Lilly and I enjoyed many happy times.
These new friends reminded me of who I am and I’ll be eternally grateful to each of them for their many splendid qualities. And I didn’t have to pay £350 to get to know them, either!