At a friend's wedding in May, I had everything in place: a stylish spotty-print vintage dress, a not-so-stylish-but-terribly-fun pair of false eyelashes and a killer pair of heels. I left my liveliest accessory behind: baby D, thinking that babies and weddings probably don't mix too well.
Armed with a glass of bubbly, I was having a blast catching up with friends and chatting to acquaintances I hadn't seen for years. But very quickly, I came to realise no one was really interested in me sans D anymore.
"Where's Diana?" they all asked, looking around. When I explained she had been entrusted to her grandparents for babysitting duty, what with the complications of transporting and then entertaining a baby for a whole night at a wedding, they smiled and said, "Oh, what a shame, we were so keen to meet her. But so lovely to see you here!"
Instead of then launching into a conversation with me about - well, anything really - they fled.
Welcome to motherhood - social Siberia with (and without) the babe.
Of course, people were eager to see D in attendance because none of us (including me) had any real conception of what bringing a baby to a wedding would be like, other than a vague idea that an infant might look super cute in a frilly frock and would provide an easy escape route during a particularly lengthy and soporific wedding toast.
But now that baby D's actually hit the summer wedding circuit, attending nuptials in Worcester and Oxford in a two-week period, I've realised what taking a baby to a wedding entails. A lot of hard work and not actually being involved with any aspect of the wedding, unless you count rocking the babe to sleep as dancing. It's tough.
Illustration by Debbie Newman
I'm not forgetting that D was present at my wedding in December (see the fabulous illustration my friend created above of mum and baby bonding on the night), but a) as I was the bride, she was babysat by just about everyone else the whole evening and b) she was four months old, which meant she only needed milk to calm her every whim and she couldn't actually move anywhere, so being held in someone's arms was her dream. Nowadays, it's vastly more complicated.
Firstly, getting to these out-of-town weddings with an almost-one-year-old on a train? I cannot express how exhausting and stressful an experience it is (and yes, I am taking driving lessons to remedy the situation after three traumatising train journeys in a row). You spend the entire journey time running up and down the aisle, taking out every toy ever invented in an attempt to amuse the babe (NB: none of them will work), offer a variety of foods (which get dragged across the filthy train carpet and then stuffed by the babe into her mouth - yum!) and proffer milk in the hope that sleep will come. It doesn't.
The best case scenario is that your child will spend an hour banging the seat in front of her, to the annoyance of the passenger sitting there, or will find a slightly older babe to harass. Worst case? The train stops for 20 minutes for no apparent reason and your babe is inconsolably shrieking at the top of her lungs during that entire period.
Once you actually arrive at your destination and attempt to wipe the smeared banana off your wedding guest outfit, you pray (you are in church, after all) that the babe will calmly sit through the ceremony. This is yet another pipe dream and you or your partner will more likely spend the entire time sneaking peeks in from outside and hoping that your baby's screeching during the objecting portion of the ceremony isn't taken as a slight against the marrying couple.
After the couple is married, you breathe and think the worst is over and perhaps you may actually be able to have a sip of champagne now. This is when you realise that baby has pooed through her clothes while you're being bussed from church to reception, and all of your old university peers hear you and your husband bickering (or hysterically screaming? Who can tell these days?) about the protocol surrounding nappy management.
You can only smile at the horrified faces on the bus and say, "Ahh, isn't married life bliss!" with a laugh before realising the situation is dire and you will have to change your baby on the street (as your husband curses you under his breath) in front of various passers-by. You resist sobbing. Those false eyelashes (yes, you're wearing them again) are the only thing on your side now.
Your best bet at a wedding is for other children to be present; Diana was a skillful toddler stalker at the Oxford wedding and spent the whole weekend in hot pursuit of a three-year-old boy, attempting to imitate everything he did. Of course, the babies have to all be in the same sort of mind frame at the same time, so if one is sleepy and the other playful, it's useless to attempt to make an alliance in the hopes of getting a bit to eat at dinner.
During the Worcester wedding, baby D was well-behaved throughout the meal but absolutely refused to sleep afterwards, so the wedding ended for us at 10pm with the three of us watching Dolores Claiborne in our hotel bed. And we actually had a great time, particularly D, who views getting into her parents' bed as the greatest triumph she can achieve and attempts to recreate her early co-sleeping bliss.
The Oxford wedding was a bit more complicated - I was in the bridal party and a co-giver of one of the speeches, so D's father was mainly in charge of her. However, D behaved impeccably despite being rather out of sorts from teething and exhaustion: after several walks, she slept through the entire after-dinner portion of the evening, which allowed us to hang around (people wanted to chat to us! The baby was there!) and even dance a bit.
Oh, and drink. I was terrified of giving the speech, so needed some champagne to get me through the nerves before... and then some celebratory bubbly after. All in all, I had about three glasses of champagne, which made me the tipsiest I've been in over a year and led to a rather embarrassing hangover (I'm not actually embarrassed about the hangover, just that I managed to get one from so little alcohol). It was also rather unfortunate because I needed to look after D the next day, and get a wedding-weary baby back on the train. I found a false eyelash plastered to my chest upon my return home.
We have one more wedding this summer, and I'm afraid I'm going to risk being the baby-less mother nobody's interested in. Not only will it make for an easier day for all of us, but I think D would vastly prefer a night in - she's more a rotter like her mum than a party animal anyway.