“Childless” is a weird word, isn’t it? It’s very loaded. Quite often, the people the word is used to describe (usually women) either hate the word with a passion, or it’s used to imply that they’re some kind of selfish, unfeeling monster. That’s why I prefer to think of my friends without kids as – well, as exactly that. They’re friends who don’t have kids, for whatever reason.
Being a pregnant student and a student parent is weird and difficult, and not just because it is an extra obstacle to completing uni work. It also does some really crazy stuff to your friendships.
It’s only now, as I’m coming out of a two-year baby-induced daze, that I realise the very different paths our lives took in April 2014, when my daughter was born. Before then – even through my pregnancy – I’d still been “Maddy, the student”. I didn’t drink, but I still went out from time to time. Still had a laugh, still messed about, still worked hard. I was a normal student – well, about as “normal” as students get, anyway!
Then I became a mum, and it was like a fork in the road. Everyone else carried on down one road, and I took a big ol’ turn into uncharted territory. The first summer was scary and lonely, as everyone else went back home to their families and their pre-uni lives, and my family were two hours away, and Daf was working. I had to adjust to being a mum; to my entirely new life. One of my biggest worries was that when I went back to uni in September, my friends would turn their backs. Why would they want to be friends with someone who foregoes partying for watching the Cbeebies bedtime hour?
All I can say to my friends in that respect is “thank you”. Thank you for taking SB in as part of the “family”. Thank you for never telling me to shut up about her – even though I’m sure the thought crossed your mind more than once! -, for distracting me on her first day of nursery, and for helping me to catch up when I had to leave class because she was poorly.
Oh – and thank you for calling me out whenever I came out with twee crap like “You don’t know love until you’ve had a baby”, keeping me on the straight and narrow and stopping me from becoming a Smug Mummy. I’m sorry that sometimes my mind forgot its manners, and sometimes I’ve dismissed your struggles and thought “You’ve got it easy – try doing this with a baby”. We’ve all got our own battles to fight, and yours are no less valid than mine.
I’m also sorry if the words “You’ll understand when you’re a parent” have ever crossed my lips. Those slightly dismissive, verging-on-smug thoughts are part and parcel of being a new parent – you’ll understand when you’re a parent (I’m kidding! Please don’t kill me!).
Thanks for amusing me with your declarations of what you’ll do when you’re a parent. I was the best mum in the world too – until I had a kid. I promise now that in years to come, when you’re on your third week of sleepless nights with a screaming newborn, I won’t remind you of how you once swore you’d never give your child a dummy.
Thank you for being a part of my family’s life, and for letting me rejoin your student life now and then – and not letting me humiliate myself too much in public (seriously, how many times can the words “Maddy, you have a CHILD!” be uttered in one drunken evening?!).
So I may have seemed like an absent friend over the last couple of years. I’ve declined party invites, and turned down dinner outings in favour of spending time with SB. I don’t regret a second of it, but I’m grateful that through all the smugness and the cancelled plans and the twee phrases, you’ve stayed my friends. You made a very isolating time for both Daf and I feel a little less lonely.
In return, I can only promise you this.
When you or your partner is pregnant, I’ll be there with advice and support – but only when you ask for it (and only as part of a free 30-day trial, after which you can purchase my book… kidding!!). I won’t force unwanted advice or suggestions on you because trust me, you’ll get enough of that from others. Don’t worry about TMI – I’ve written a book about pregnancy; I’m not going to shy away from talking placentas and cervixes.
When you’re a new parent, I’ll be there if you need guidance, or tips, or even just someone to agree with you that yes, the nappies are grim and the nights are tough, but I’ll also remind you of the great bits too. Oh, and don’t be alarmed if I sit there sniffing the baby’s head. It’s normal, I promise.
It’s not an obsession.
If you are unable to have children, I won’t roll out the tired old sayings of “It’s just not meant to happen”. I’ll support you and be there for you, even if I don’t always know what to say.
If you choose not to have children, I won’t say things like “You don’t know what you’re missing out on”. If idiots criticise your decision, I’ll defend you. Plus, you get to reap the benefits of having a young mum as a friend – while all your other friends wrestle with nappies and puke, I’ll leave my teenager at home and we’ll go drink vodka together. Deal?
Honestly, I’m sitting in a coffee shop writing this, and a group of mums are sitting nearby with their kids, all of whom are about SB’s age. Sometimes, watching them drink coffee together and discuss their lives and their kids makes me feel slightly envious. I didn’t have time for NCT or any groups like that. I feel like it’s some kind of exclusive mum club, that I wasn’t allowed to join.
Then I remember my amazing online parenting friends, who I can talk about development and toddlers with until the cows come home, and my uni friends, who – even though we’re now spread across the country – will always help me rediscover my “Maddy” side, rather than my “Mum” side – and I know I wouldn’t change that for the world.