Today I am travelling North. This fact alone explains how eager I am for this meeting to which I am moving, since I have what could be described as a ‘Southern bias’.
I am travelling to spend the weekend with five people who collectively proved to be one of the most positive influences I have ever had on my life. Geography, circumstance and conflicting demands on time mean we never meet as often as would be amazing; and I think it has been eight years since I saw two of them. But when you have been grey-eyed and teary, with everything on your anatomy hurting and leaking, unable to get out of the house before 2.30pm and even then when you do make it out forgetting everything you had to bring with you, and you have then spent quality empathic and entertaining time with people, welcomed and unjudged (and with nappies you can borrow to make up for those you forgot!) that equates to friends for life for me. Eight years will mean nothing.
These five are friends I made ten years ago through the National Childbirth Trust in East London. We had babies within an eight week period, and first met just as spring was risking an entrance, in late April. Following L1’s ‘fascinating’ birth, the end of my lengthy hospital incarceration and self-inflicted troubles such as ‘not being able to get up from the floor when you get down there to play with your baby when on your own in the house'; with M back to work for weeks, and family and friends being amazingly, blessedly supportive but also at work during the week, I was incredibly lonely and incredibly overwhelmed by that period of time, my best of times and my worst of times.
My NCT membership was my life raft in the storm, my promise of people in the same area and same situation to spend time with. I was so desperate for those afternoon meet-ups to start that I phoned the convenor rather than waiting to be phoned; I didn’t say ‘I NEED FRIENDS’ explicitly but I may as well have done.
That first afternoon we met, swapping ‘war stories’ and finding out others too were permanently changed by the process of birth, feeding was tricky, sleep nonexistent and being overwhelmed by tears in Tesco Express quite normal, I felt my horizons open up once again. Here were people who needed to talk about babies and birth just as much as I did.
It was this group, during coffee in a Walthamstow deli, who helped me overcome my terrible fear of L1 choking on solid food, stood by me while I fed her a rice cake, and saved her from a lifetime of monotonous puree, which had I been left to my own neurotic devices would have been the way things went.
And as time passed and we became more capable and adventurous, they were fantastic companions for day-time (and later, memorably, minus-offspring night-time) adventures and for the unique challenges of taking the next step, whatever that ended up being, about returning to work.
So I am travelling to Manchester, excited and grateful, both for these friends in my life and for the work the NCT has done. They acknowledge and understand the universality of those first weeks of motherhood, when perversely I (and countless others) have never felt more isolated and alone, and taken great strides in doing something about it.