Dear Childless Friends,
I already know what you're thinking. This is going to be one of those clickbait-style letters that tells you "if you can't accept my kids, you don't get me", and comes out with twee rubbish like "you'll understand when you have children". I can assure you that it's certainly not the former - but I make no promises about the latter.
Instead, I want to thank you. Thank you for accepting my daughter as part of our university experience. Thank you for making parenthood a little less lonely.
I thought I'd be isolated. Parenting is lonely, but most people have friends who "get it". They've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. When you're the first of your friends to have a baby, you don't get that luxury, and with all baby groups falling on the same days as my lectures, I was sure I'd have no-one to talk to about the night feeds and the nappies.
I was wrong. When times were tough, you offered understanding ears. Even when you didn't understand, you listened and nodded sympathetically. You dried my tears on the first day I spent away from her; spurred me on during tough essays and projects; you accepted us as parents in the same way you'd accepted us as fellow students. You never made me feel guilty for joining you on rare student nights out (although as I got progressively tipsier you'd exclaim "Maddy! You are a mother!"), and you always understood if I couldn't make it to parties.
My daughter was never a burden; never an inconvenience. A group of students in their late teens and early twenties accepted and looked after two frightened young parents and their baby. You put up with me when I was pining for her; staring out of the classroom window wistfully instead of listening to the lecture. When I went through a stage of every conversation turning to talk of babies and nappies, and you only teased me a little bit. I'm sorry for my propensity to come out with rubbish like "you'll understand when you're a parent". Those dismissive, bordering-on-smug phrases sometimes just slip out without thinking as a new parent - ironically, you really will understand when you have kids (sorry!). You never once told me to shut up about my daughter, and though her first smile, teeth, steps and words were infinitely more interesting to me than they were to you, you joined in my excitement and happiness.
I can't thank you enough for the love you showed my little family during that time, but I can make you these promises now.
If you have children, I'll be there for pregnancy and parenting advice (but only when you ask for it). I'll join you in lamenting nine months without wine; or reassure you that yes, it is normal to get hair there; and yes, you do bleed for that long and it is crap but it stops eventually. I'll even accept pictures of nappies, to tell you whether it looks healthy or not (consider it punishment for the "you'll understand when you're a parent" comments). I'll listen to your complaints about interfering family and friends and if you need to shower and sleep, I'll come and make you a cuppa and give you a hug, as long as you don't look at me like I'm a weirdo when I sniff your baby's head (yes, you'll understand when you're a - oh, never mind).
If things don't go to plan, I'll be there for you. Nothing I say will make it feel better, but know that I'm there. I won't patronise or condescend. I won't say "everything happens for a reason", or "it just wasn't meant to be". I'll just be there.
If you decide not to have kids, meet your new drinking buddy. I'll leave my teenager at home and we'll do shots while the rest of our friends are potty-training their toddlers. If anyone criticises your decision or tells you "you don't know what you're missing out on", take a shot. We'll make it part of our drinking game.
If you adopt, your child will be yours every bit as much as my child is mine, and we'll be over the moon for you.
If you find parenting a breeze, you can boast to me. If you find it immeasurably difficult, you can rant to me. I'll be there.
After everything you've done for me, it's the very least I can do.