My phone beeped. It was a message from Qantas. My 1 p.m. flight had been cancelled and instead we'd been booked on another, scheduled to leave three hours later. My 10-month-old daughter, Abby, and I had just arrived at the airport. It would now be five hours before we would take off, and we wouldn't make it to our Airbnb in Melbourne until hours past her bedtime.
This was not how I wanted to travel with her for the first time.
We had a family holiday planned, a trip where my partner and I would fly together with Abby, taking turns looking after her, with plenty of time to prepare. I was not looking forward to the long journey, but between us, we would manage.
But then one of my dearest friends suddenly passed away, and so I had to hastily book a flight to Melbourne for her memorial service, at which I'd be speaking. I couldn't bear the thought of being away from Abby for a few days at such a time, so we decided I'd take her with me.
Emotions were already heightened. And then came the wind, which left Sydney Airport operating on a single runway.
A helpful Qantas employee noticed my distress and arranged for us to get a seat on an earlier flight, now due to leave around the same time as the one we'd been on. I went to drop the cheap, light pram I'd bought the previous day — thinking it would be easier than our usual behemoth — at oversize baggage.
With Abby in one arm, I tried to fold it. It wouldn't budge. I asked for a loaner stroller to put her in so I could deal with it, and the gentleman behind the counter said there weren't any available and he couldn't promise we'd get one, even if we waited.
That's when I burst into tears.
But there she was. Another mum. She figured out how to get the stroller folded while I held Abby. She listened to me while I sobbed about my friend and why I was travelling. She helped me get the stroller checked, and then wished me all the best.
Feeling a little better, I carried Abby through security screening. But on the other side, the same mum, who now introduced herself as Jess, was waiting. She had found a loaner stroller and was bringing it back for me. Despite having her own young toddler to look after. Despite the fact she was also travelling alone with him. "We're going to the Qantas Club," she said. "Would you like to come with us?"
And so we spent the next hour chatting. Abby had a chance to play and wander. Jess looked after her while I got some food. It was the help I desperately needed at an awful time. When she and her son left to get their flight, I genuinely could not thank her enough.
When we finally got to Melbourne, Abby went to sleep in a port-a-cot borrowed from a mum I knew through an online group, but had never actually met. She arranged with a Melbourne-based friend of mine for her to pick it up, so it was ready when we got there. The trip was sad and difficult, but without help from other mums, I'm not sure I could have done it.
Before I became a parent, I was worried about the judgement I'd get from other mums. I was worried I'd feel scorn about every decision I made. And while there have been some moments when I've certainly felt that (sleep training, anyone?), for the most part, other mums have got me through the first year of my daughter's life.
I wouldn't have coped without the wonderful women of my local mums' group (with bubs all around the same age) who have been amazing as we shared similar developmental stages. Seeing the other babies grow and learn to play with each other as we share how we're dealing with teething, introducing solids and trying to get them to sleep has been invaluable.
I wouldn't have coped without my online networks of mums, with whom I share some core values, who have given me the confidence to parent in a way that works for our family. The ones with kids who are a bit older who offer words of wisdom without ever overstepping boundaries.
And I wouldn't have coped without the kindness of other mums who I didn't know. The ones who smiled and said it's okay when I apologised for Abby crying on the train. The ones who looked me in the eye and said "it gets easier". The ones who offered baby baths and clothes and advice on which breast pump they found best.
I didn't realise that when I became a parent, I'd also become a member of a new community. But joining the network of mums and sharing the journey with them has been an unexpected delight in the last year.