When I was eight, my family moved house and I – somewhat reluctantly – moved schools. I remember my first day vividly; going into the classroom and everyone checking out my clothes, my face, my hair; deciding whether or not they were going to accept me into their posse. I was lucky; a couple of girls took me under their wings. I showed them my clapping songs, they showed me theirs – we were soon the best of friends.
First days continued with starting secondary school, university, new jobs, meeting people when travelling around India. And again, I had to present the best version of myself – whatever that is – to people so that they could decide whether we were going to get on. (Did you know you have less than one second to make a first impression?).
It hadn’t occurred to me during pregnancy that I would be facing yet another ‘first day’ when my baby came along. I like time alone, my mum and sister live close by, and I had a couple of NCT friends. But after Joni was born, I needed to carve a little life for myself in Walthamstow, where I live. So I gathered all my courage and stepped out into the wild world, armed with a newborn, to try and make some ‘mum friends’.
During those early months, when you’re falling in love with this helpless little being but so keenly crave adult conversation, you’re in a vulnerable position. Especially with the added hormones of new motherhood, and the scars – physical and emotional – of childbirth. It’s similar to that the first day at school feeling when you desperately want to make friends but don’t want to appear in any way desperate.
So you go to the sing-a-long at the library and hang back. Or dive straight in, because nerves turn you into a chatterbox. Either way, you’re the crazed quiet one in the corner or the crazed overconfident once in the centre of the room.
Acutely aware that to make friends, you need to sell yourself – but also that narcissism is an ugly trait – you try to slip something about your former, pre-mum self into conversation. Perhaps a gig you went to, or project you worked on, an overseas holiday. And then you revert to baby talk – poo, sleep – because that’s what the other mums seem to want to talk about.
When, eventually, you meet a likeminded mum – someone you can quickly talk about something other than children with – it’s exhilarating, almost comparable to a blossoming romance. Initially, you might arrange to meet at the same baby group again – toy library, yoga, music class – but soon you’ll be planning trips to the park, or a coffee shop. You might invite them round for a cup of tea.
The friendship can quickly escalate from never-met-before to chatting-about-my-vagina-with-a-near-stranger – and this is the beauty of ‘mum friends’: you can get down to the nitty gritty straight away, after all – you both gave birth fairly recently, what’s more personal and emotional that than?
This friendship may continue and turn from something malleable, that you prod and reshape, into something fairly solid and dependable. Equally, those flames of new friendship may fizzle down to embers that can be blown away by a baby fart. It happened too quickly; like the chemistry of a new relationship sometimes it doesn’t last past date three, when you – for one reason or another – stop feeling that attraction.
Real friendship doesn’t mean someone you can meet with every single day for tea – it is someone who checks in from time to time, sends you a link to an article you might enjoy (because they know your interests) and occasionally, you can meet with and really breath. You don’t have to impress them; they are already impressed. And the same in reverse.
I’m now 19 months into motherhood and I’ve made mum friends, lost mum friends, been disappointed by unreliability, felt hounded by eagerness, talked more openly than ever before, probably let people down myself and now, I’ve whittled it down to a handful of women, who are also mums, who I can really call my friends. And a WhatsApp chat with one of them last night, about love and life and motherhood, reminded me that connecting is so important.
Life works in mysterious ways. Of the enduring friendships I’ve made since Joni was born I met one mum on a bus, one through Facebook, one is married to a guy my sister shares a studio with, another was at the same nursery open day as me. I’ve also connected with so many cool mums and dads since launching The Early Hour – an online culture and lifestyle mag for parents.
So my advice to first time mums, who will be feeling sensitive and scared and judged and judgmental, is this: go out there, be yourself – whoever you may be at that time – wear what you want, talk about what you want and eventually, you’ll bump into a handful of gems who will enhance your life immeasurably. Because, let’s not forget, even if starting school was daunting, the likelihood is that you made some good friends in the end.