After my older son was born four years ago, I found myself riddled with postnatal depression. Living in an unfamiliar town, I spent my days behind closed blinds, watching and rewatching all of The Good Wife – eventually, my health visitor told me I needed to start talking to humans or start drawing faces on basketballs, and either way call it a social life.
The trouble was, I was terrified of other mums. I’d seen them on the internet, picking each other apart for breastfeeding, or not breastfeeding, or for calling their kids Quigley or Jaxxxxon or Potato, and I wanted no part of it.
Every mum I’d ever known had been so capable – wiping noses, examining Ofsted reports, being well-informed about world events, having opinions about Orla Kiely – that I felt under-qualified. I was the opposite of capable: a very much a ‘did-I-leave-my-keys-in-the-fridge-again?’ sort of individual.
Reluctantly, I pulled on the leggings with fewest nappy-cream stains and schlepped out to the baby groups. But I found myself quickly discouraged. The snooty glam mums were as shiny as their SUVs, with cliques just as impenetrable, while the ‘local’ mums ignored anyone they weren’t related to by blood, marriage, school or work. I gave up and went to the playground instead.
One day, a woman approached me as I was pushing my son on the swing. She had a kid of a similar age, and looked like the sort of friend I would have had millennia ago, before I’d become a mum. With narrow, slightly suspicious eyes, this woman asked some exploratory questions (‘How many times have you re-watched The Good Wife?’ Do you have a strong opinion about Orla Kiely?’), then straight up gave me her phone number.
I’d like to tell you this was the beginning of a long and rewarding friendship, but in reality, it was the beginning of a short and rewarding one. This is standard mum-friend fare. When you’re in the throes of new parenting, you don’t need a soulmate who loves all the same books and bands as you. You need someone who a) is local; b) you can make sleep-deprived grunting noises at over coffee while your children romp like animals on the floor; and c) doesn’t make you want to claw your eyes out every time she speaks.
Being a good mum friend is often about being the hero we need right now, not 10 years from now. We’re all just trying to get through the day without losing our minds – not assembling a team of superheroes, Avengers style.
These days I have a solid crew of mum friends. We don’t see each other constantly, mostly because trying to get our families together is like wrestling five octopi per person. But we make up for this in other ways. I’ve taken items one friend accidentally shoplifted in her buggy back to the shops; I’ve fashioned a makeshift sanitary towel from one of my baby’s nappies for another.
One of my friends left her house in a rush just to buy a coffee and bring it to my table, because I’d texted her saying my kids had fallen asleep on me in a cafe before I could go to the counter. Another friend, Cecile, came over to watch my sons when my childcare fell through so that I could meet a work deadline.
What I find most impressive, however, is the care my mum friends take with each other. They’re all as tired as me, and equally as likely to leave a set of a keys in the fridge – but not one of them forgets another mum’s struggle.
In our group alone, there are mums battling fertility challenges, miscarriages, mental health difficulties, money troubles and marriage problems. There are also mums who are pregnant, or wealthy, or happy, or about to get hitched. But the sensitivity with which everyone treats each other, and cheers each other on is both a comfort and inspiration, especially when the ugliness of the world gets too much.
I’m so glad I persevered through the bad mum dates, because the mum friends I’ve got now are gold-dust. Not only do they have my back, but everyone else’s, too. So maybe when we make mum-friends, we are assembling a team of Avengers-style superheroes, after all. Just superheroes in stained leggings.