Martha Alexander praises the patience of old friends and celebrates newfound neighbours
“Friends show their love in times of trouble,” so said Euripides, and while I’m not given to quoting philosophers or feeling #blessed by sisterhood, I can’t ignore how lucky I am.
I have always felt that I have to perform for my friends, to keep their affection, that I have to sing for my supper and bring something to the table in order to be loved. So the last few months have been a revelation. When I couldn’t speak for my supper, let alone sing for it, when I didn’t ask anyone a single question about themselves because as far as I was concerned life began and ended within a 20m radius of my flat, when I’ve been low – and I have been really, really low at times – my friends didn’t run away. They didn’t say, “call me in six months when you’re fun again”. They didn’t say, “you look like Satan’s sister and I can’t be seen in public with you”. They didn’t say, “can we talk about me now?”
I’ll spare you the “I’ve always been independent…” yawn-inducing yarn, but suffice to say, I wasn’t planning on letting my friends do so much for me.
One friend, Blue, walked two-and-a-half hours in the pouring rain with me in the hope Robin might drop off for a nap. And almost every day I would ring Mary at nap times, hold the telephone up to Robin’s bedroom door, asking, “is this bad crying or sleepy crying?” She never once screened my call.
Antonia would turn up every couple of days with a jolly disposition, bacon sandwiches and her laptop, ostensibly to work from my kitchen but really to keep an eye on me. Katie and Milly, two school friends, got in touch and gave me the type of practical support that could make me weep with gratitude. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t seen each other in a decade.
Amelia served up honesty (“welcome to hell, babe”) that made me snort with mirth at a time when I could hardly raise a smile. Bryony introduced me to the joys of sensory play centres, we ate ice-cream and she told me I was normal. Kate brought champagne. Laura sent nursing bras from Barcelona. There are countless other friends who mothered me through early parenthood.
Poppy, Christie and Nicola had babies within a month of me having Robin, so I had people to compare notes with. But while we all live in London, we’re not next-door neighbours. And this is the thing. You need someone in the same boat, at the same time, in the same place.
I didn’t join NCT. I admit, I thought I was above it. I wasn’t going to pay hundreds of pounds to talk about babies with the sort of women I was sure I’d never choose to be friends with in ‘real life’. I have my own friends, thanks, and we are not interested in talking about lactation and white noise and papooses.
But two weeks post-partum, I was in my local park, staring at groups of mums picnicking and gossiping – who cares what about, they were talking to other adult humans – and felt desperately left out. Would it be uncool to go over and say, “hi, I’m lonely, can we be friends?” I wondered. I looked for other lone wolves like me – dishevelled and creased with Rod Stewart hair. There was one, reading her Kindle as her angelic infant snoozed next to her. She would probably murder me if what might be the first interval of peace she’d had in weeks was disturbed with a friendship proposal.
Luckily I didn’t have to wait long. Georgie and Carly, who live a street away, have babies a bit older than Robin and need applauding for befriending a neurotic, unwashed mess. I feel comforted following in their footsteps – gobbling up their advice about teething powders and blackout blinds, but also talking about lots of other stuff too: telly, trainers, Trump.
Then, there’s my social media U-turn. Since July, I have taken 7,600 photographs of my daughter. I could spend days uploading pictures of her, but I know it’s wrong to be that person. I used to hate that person.
And then you have a baby and realise that this is what you’re doing now. No, I haven’t read any good books recently. No, I haven’t been to any festivals. No, I haven’t been shopping or training for a marathon or having LOLs in the office. I do try to curb it, but I’m in love. And look how cute she looks in this hand-knitted cardigan. Did you see the ones from when we took her to Kew? Wait, I’ll just quickly find them…
Thank you, thank you, dear friends.