IT was baby-changing bags at dawn, when a very special group of mothers and babies from all over the country came together on Saturday for the very first time.
They communicated online for the past year, and the atmosphere was electric at the Maldron Hotel in Portlaoise, as 26 mums arrived from as far away as Donegal and Cork to show off their five-month-old babies in person.
The group first met through an anonymous pregnancy forum on Rollercoaster.ie, and 49 mums-to-be, who were all due in August 2013, subsequently moved to a Facebook group, set up by Cork mum Kelda Ward, who is mother to baby Elin. They went on to have 24 boys and 25 girls, although one baby sadly died at birth.
The mums-to-be supported each other virtually through the emotional and physical maelstrom of pregnancy, labour and childbirth, and are now there for each other as they raise the adorable babies.
"As a first-time mother, I didn't really have a clue about to what to expect, and it was such a comfort to have so many people there who were going through the same thing," says Dubliner Eimear Cole.
"I didn't have a network built up here, as I had been living in Spain with my husband, Jesus, and was only living back in Ireland for a few months before I got pregnant," explains Cork mother Natasha O'Leary, who is mum to baby Diego and toddler Andrea. "It was very exciting when all of the babies started being born."
While some of the women from Dublin, Cork and Limerick have met up around their respective areas, Saturday's fun, noisy gathering was the first time the group has attempted a national meeting.
Judging by the squeals of delight and the close bonds they have already formed, this group and their babies are clearly all set to be friends for life. Don't miss next Monday's 'Health and Living' to meet three of these mothers and babies, whose progress we will be following monthly until next August.
Video from Saturday's event will be available from tomorrow afternoon on www.independent.ie/rollercoaster.