There is no greater leveller than having children. Previously awkward situations where me and an equally awkward individual, with whom I have absolutely nothing in common with, are rescued with the topic of offspring. Instead of letting them think I have a leaky bladder and have to pee every 15 minutes, I can finally start a conversation that might not run out after three exchanges and an exasperated nod. Not only that but I can get stuck into all the important issues – poo consistency, developmental milestones, the impact of the chavvy kid at school (assuming they’re not the parent of said chav, if you don’t know who the chavvy kid is then this just got awkward….). The conversation is still likely to be superficial though, as we have our Mother image we present to strangers and then our actual Mum style – the one that only your friends see.
My friends see and hear the truth. They are the ones I can break down to and cry over whatever has happened. The fact my baby has poo’d over my favourite cashmere jumper; or my toddler prefers Husband to me and asks for him when she cries; or that I locked my baby in the car with my car keys and it took me a full ten minutes to stop running backwards and forwards alongside the car hoping it would miraculously open itself (it did not). The friends I can tell these embarrassing stories to are the ones that really matter to me and I just couldn’t be without. People think it’s mental that Husband and I drove 50 miles out of South London to attend NCT pre-natal classes in the town we would be living in when we had our baby. In fact I drove because Husband didn’t have his driving license at this point. 100 miles (there and back) 5 or 6 times, often late at night, at 7 months pregnant. I questioned our sanity at the time but now I know I did the right thing. It cost me two speeding tickets, 3 points and hundreds of pounds in fines and insurance but you were worth it, buddies!
I don’t know if anyone can prepare you for the helplessness that comes with those first few months of a baby. In particular the weeks after Husband had gone back to work and I was left with an angry, screaming spider monkey that made me cry all the time. This was the time when I needed good friends who really understood what I was going through. I needed someone in the same boat as me, it was the only real pacifier, the only thing that convinced me I wasn’t such a bad mother that my child was about to be taken away by social services. I needed friends that were also two hours late to every appointment because the baby poo’d, then was sick, then was hungry again and fed for an hour. I needed friends to drag me out for a walk because I had spiralled into a Kardashians black hole for 3 days on the bounce. I needed friends with which to drink copious amounts of tea and eat kilos of cake, the whole time complaining that we shouldn’t be and asking how we would ever get our pre-baby bodies back. Friends with which to drown in prosecco when we finally went out, cheers-ing each other on what a great job we’re doing keeping these little people alive. Actually, I was just another new mum with the same doubts and the same problems as millions of women before me, but being with people in the same boat to be remind me of that was vital. My friends have been my saviours. The number of times we have arrived on each others’ doorsteps in tears. It happened two weeks ago after Girly no2 cried almost non-stop for 48 hours apart from the odd 40-minute nap – my friends listened to me moan endlessly and pontificated with me over what might be the cause. One of them took Girly no1 to the park while the other held Girly no2, getting her off to sleep for three hours. They did this because they have been there very recently and they know how much it hurts when you’re in the thick of it. When someone isn’t in it, I think it’s easy to forget just how stressful it is at the time and they can be too practical. Your friends-in-the-same-boat know, and they understand. It’s not just the bad things, it’s the little tips and techniques too. How to massage teething gums; how much time to play with your little ones versus letting them get on with it; the exact angle to shoot calpol into your little one’s mouth to stop them spitting it back in your eye. It’s so important to have someone to compare notes with and make sure you’re not ruining your children’s chances at becoming the next Bill Gates. Or a nun. Or whatever they want to be. They’re the ones to drop a fresh bottle of calpol round when you’re all ill. Or to bring you lavender oil for your bath to help heal after childbirth. Or to lend you the toy bar for your baby Bjorn bouncy seat. Or to recommend the least offensive soft play places. How to handle your child biting someone at a playgroup. The list is endless!
If you’re to narrow it down, as a minimum I think these are the friends you need:
- One who has done it all before – Cuzzie has 6 children and there’s nothing she hasn’t seen. From eczema behind their ears through to phlegm in their nappy, chances are one of hers has been through it and it’s nothing to worry about.
- One who has a medical background – the Paramedic is normally my first consult before a GP or health visitor. She diagnosed bronchiolitis in Girly no2 using just her ears – telling us what signs to look out for and when. She will happily look at any rash picture I send her telling me not to worry or to get to the doctors now!
- One who has a child exactly like yours – really useful for checking you’re not missing anything. How are we going to tackle this (lack of) sleeping through the night? How did you make it through that 5-hour flight? Can yours unwrap a babybel on her own yet?!
- One who has it much worse than you – you feel bad around this one because your baby is an angel in comparison but not only does this serve to convince you you’re doing some things right, you then have a new found love for your child. How could I ever have thought you were a bad baby?!
- One who has done it a few months before you and remembers everything – oh yes, use this for teething. Put this in the bath. Don’t forget to chase the health visitor for that check.
- One who does it a few months after you – this makes you feel learned so that you can impart wisdom, crucial to the build up of your mum-esteem.
- One who does everything completely different to you – “You did what with your breast milk?! And served it at your fire worship festival? Wow!” less of a friend, more one to challenge your thinking. And when all else fails, one for you to laugh about with your normal friends.
I am lucky enough to have all of these, and I hope they each recognise themselves as being my very dear friends. The past 3 years would have gone very differently without them and I am thankful for every conversation, smile, tear and hug. If being a mum has taught me anything, it’s that we’re all the same when you strip us down and hand us a baby. All we want is for our babies to be well and turn out to be the best they can be. It’s scary and incredible and you need all the non-judgemental support you can get.