I was the first of my friends to have a baby and while the fact that I didn’t have any friends with babies wasn’t my biggest problem (the fact that I had literally no idea what to be doing with an infant definitely ranked higher in the priorities) I still wasn’t prepared for the crushing loneliness of those early weeks and months. Okay, YEAR if I’m completely honest.
Out and about on crisp January mornings with a new baby, random people (everyone from the pharmacist to the old lady at the pedestrian crossing) would stop me to say “isn’t it heaven?”, which I found completely baffling. Unless your idea of heaven is crying out a reservoir of hormonal, frightened tears and googling ‘colic’ every hour then no, seriously, the newborn days are not heaven.
I stayed in the hospital for five days after the birth of my first son, I spent every second of that hospital stay in a state of barely contained terror at the thought that a) I would have to take this tiny, dark-eyed stranger home with me at some stage and that b) life as I knew it was over forever. I paced the halls of the hospital through the nights with the squalling baby clutched in my arms. Other mothers passed with swaddled bundles slung casually up on their shoulders and I felt like I was a different species to them. “They seem fine, they’re not freaking out. What’s wrong with you?” the thoughts hissed until morning dawned and I would smile and pretend all was well to anyone who happened to ask.
I didn’t know how to ask the other women in the beds beside me if they too were truly, deeply, madly scared? Were they literally sick with this fear? Did they not want to run, I mean really run from all this? They were shuffling around in dressing gowns and slippers, changing nappies and kissing tiny toes. I drew the curtain around my island and curled up facing away from the baby. I have never felt more hopeless and I’ve never hated myself more.
The early weeks crawled past and every day I tried not to cry. I tried to hold the baby and feel the love, but all I felt was a terror that roared inside at all times.
What I needed was a mum-friend. I needed someone to nod when I said: “this is mildly hellish, right?” I needed someone else with a similar appetite for examining the minutia of newborn sleep cycles. I needed someone who knew that just because I wasn’t feeling it, I would eventually and reassure me of this. I needed someone to whine with me and wine with me. So in a bid for personal survival, I became extremely calculated and dogged in my pursuit of other mothers. It was verging on predatory but I had to lock in some friends for the sake of my mental health.
And so I took action.
Here’re are the five (sometimes questionable) ways that I made random women be my friend in the aftermath of my first child:
I bribed two of the other mothers in my hospital room to give me their numbers. Seriously. The day I was being discharged I cornered each of them separately and gave them a box of chocolates, demanding their mobiles in return.
I followed other mothers. I’d spy one of these women out enjoying a walk with their baby when I, wild-eyed and sleep deprived, would accost them and after barely a hello grip their forearm and ask if their one ever slept because my one seemed to have unbelievable stamina for screaming between the hours of 2 and 6am. I imagine it was most unnerving for the other mother.
I asked mothers out on mum-dates. One of my other friends acted as my wing woman while I scoped out potential mum-friends in my local café. She practically did the ‘do you fancy my friend?’ thing, an introduction unused since our teenage years.
I joined a bookclub. To date this is one of the best things I’ve ever done. If you’re not in a bookclub, join one as soon as possible.
I even stole a mum-friend from a cousin of mine, reasoning that I needed her more than my cousin did.
This is why we seriously need Tinder for mums, we could call it Mumder (ignoring the fact that looks a tiny bit like ‘Murder’) and, believe me, it would make the transition from pre-baby to post-baby a whole lot smoother and more fun.