Female friendship often rewards those who go first: teen girls celebrate each other’s first kisses, the first to a Saturday job, the first in their group to pass a driving test, But things can get complicated when people start having babies.
Katie Pardham*, 34, from London, was the first of her friends to get pregnant two years ago. “My friends were happy for me, of course,” she says. But she also felt polarised by the experience. “They assumed that as I was pregnant I was going to go into a black hole and not emerge until my child was two.”
Pardham couldn’t escape the feeling that her friends saw her as dull. “I was still the same person for goodness sake,” she says. “But I didn’t get hangovers.”
When you’re switching nights out for nights in and booze for baby bottles, it’s easy for pregnancy to feel distancing (and sometimes for both sides). While your friends’ priorities might be finding the best happy hour deal on a Thursday night, yours will be getting prepped for bringing a tiny human into this world. And for some women, these differences expose cracks in long-term friendships.
Friends became notably more distant, says Pardham, who turned to local mums for support and with whom she was able to share the journey ahead of her. She also befriended the wife of her husband’s best friend who was pregnant with her second child at the same time that Pardham was expecting her first. And ultimately, she chose her as her baby’s godmother, over her older friends.
“I felt isolated when I fell pregnant first,” says Bianca Riemer, 39, from London, who gave birth to her son Max five years ago. Most of Reimer’s friends were single, childless and super focused on their careers. “I had nobody to share my joy with.” And in the case of her close work friends, she had the feeling they expected her to go off on maternity leave and never come back, and weren’t much interested in babies, anyway. “I felt like an outcast before I had even left.”
Everyone’s experiences are different, of course. Olamide Fujah, 27, also from London, says being the first to get pregnant brought her friends even closer.
She was 25 when she gave birth to her first child Zion, and says her friends rallied around her like they were all having a baby, too. “During my whole pregnancy I was filled with nothing but love,” she says. “My friends were extremely supportive, from taking my partner and me to appointments to planning an epic baby shower.”
Her friendships strengthened, Fujah believes, as her pals invested in the pregnancy. “I saw a different side to them. It was really heartwarming.”
Still, it can be emotional reconciling the change in lifestyle. Hannah Baggs, 27, felt very supported by her friends – “they were constantly asking how I was feeling and if they could do anything for me” – but admits to struggling at times.
It was May bank holiday and she was out on a sunny day with friends. As the guys cracked opened their beers and the girls drank Prosecco, Baggs felt singled out. “I got really upset I couldn’t join in,” she says. “I had to walk away and take 15 minutes to myself to have a little cry and pull myself together.”
Pregnancy is one milestone; joining the parenting club with a newborn baby can segregate new mums from their childless friends even further. But for Fujah, nothing changed. “From the day I announced Zion had been born, they were all pretty much huddled in the hospital lobby taking turns to come in to meet him,” she says. “They came with gifts and an abundance of well-wishes.”
And her friends continue to be supportive, she says – they regularly visit her son, FaceTime him, shower him with gifts and turn up unexpectedly on her door. “Their support goes from strength to strength and they’re always on hand to help out with him,” she adds. “It’s surprising to see how my male friends have been with Zion, too. He’s a miniature version of them, it’s so cute. Zion has honestly been a blessing not only for me, but to my friends.”
For other mums, the arrival of a new baby inevitably leads to friendships tailing off. When Riemer’s son Max was born, she had no contact with most of her friends and depended heavily on the parents she met in her NCT group. Similarly, when Pardham gave birth there was a lot of initial interest – “presents flooded in and it was lovely” – but found her NCT WhatsApp group was better for middle-of-the-night “WTF” baby chats, which she couldn’t reasonably expect from her friends.
Hannah Reilly – mum to Dougie, two, and Phoebe, four months – had a different experience. The 34-year-old from Storrington, West Sussex, says she really had the support of her friends during pregnancy – “They showed a great interest, sent Pinterest ideas for clothes and for the baby’s room, and liked to feel him kick in my tummy,” she says. “I really appreciated their support and excitement.”
After Dougie was born, she saw less of the girls because she was unable to commit to their weekly dinners. “This lead to a short phase of feeling cut off and in a different life to the girls because I wasn’t part of the socialising and going out,” she says. With her second baby, Phoebe, her friends were equally as supportive.
Becoming a parent takes a while for anyone to adjust to, what with the lack of sleep and complete overhaul of life as you know it – and friends without kids are unlikely to understand what you’re going through. “The first few weeks were really emotionally tough for me,” says Hannah Baggs. “No one can prepare you for motherhood and you’ll never know how tough it is until you’ve done it.
“Being the first to become a mum in my group of friends was difficult because no one truly understood how I was feeling. They’ve all been incredibly supportive and loving, but they can’t understand how it feels to become a parent and how much your life really does flip upside down.”
Baggs recalls the time she went for a curry with a group of 14 friends when her daughter was just four-weeks-old. She felt anxious and exposed when trying to breastfeed: “Molly wasn’t settling very well, everyone wanted to hold her and I just wanted to leave.”
Although it’s still early days (Molly is now two months), Baggs is happy she still has her close friends she can rely on. “They really are amazing and I know they will be by my side forever,” she says. “I can’t wait for us all to have children and have them grow up together and be as close as we are.”
“My friends really are amazing and I know they will be by my side forever."”
Whether friends getting back in touch over time is down to mums feeling more settled in their new role or pals being more interested in chatting to a funny toddler than staring at a sleeping baby is hard to call. “As Dougie got older and more settled, I started to take him for weekend coffees with the girls or they would come to me for brunch,” says Reilly. “And when he was sleeping through the night consistently, I was able to rejoin the evening fun.”
Riemer says when her friends had babies a few years after hers, they got closer again and started organising play dates at the weekend. And now Pardham’s daughter is two and “more fun”, her friends without kids are more interested, she says, even if her neighbours have become her real support network.
“Having mums you can call up and say ‘Urgh, I can’t deal with parenting today – can we meet and do a tea together to take the pressure off?’ really is amazing.”
*Some names have been changed