Maybe it’s the earlier beers that have given me courage. Maybe it’s the smile and the banter that accompanied the serving of the earlier beers; whatever it is, courage steers me out of my chair, up to the bar, past the order for the refills and straight into a blunt request for a phone number.
A smile, a big one, and a holding of my gaze, and then the information pertaining to a girlfriend, and the assurance that if he didn’t have said girlfriend he would definitely share his number with me. I pay for the drinks, return to inform my friend of the result, drink a long sip of beer, allow my slightly elevated heart rate to return to normal and wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans.
Maybe if they served alcohol at mum and baby pilates classes I’d have made more mama friends when on maternity leave?
After my first baby, despite a conviction that maternity leave was going to be a constant stream of coffee-dates, companionable walks in the park and parent and baby cinema meet-ups, I made it through ten months of maternity leave with only one additional new-mom contact in my phone. A couple of beer would surely have given me the dutch courage to ask that other Mum at the swimming class out for coffee?
I did somewhat better on baby number 2, but then we had moved house, away from all of my old friends and my husband was away for work, so basic survival mechanisms kicked in and a nearby parent and toddler group proved the starting point for some new friendships.
I read an article about how why working mums are being sold an impossible dream about work life balance and something in it made me pause.
It wasn’t the story of the high-flier mum who self-medicated with 3 classes of wine a night, or the mum who after doing regular office hours all day sat down at 10pm after the kids were in bed to catch up on work until 1am.
Instead the author mentioned a mum who described pushing her buggy round town in winter in the hopes of meeting people because she was so lonely.
Something in that stopped me in my tracks.
Maternity leave in Ireland is long. We are lucky in that, lucky we get to spend so much with our babies when they’re small, and don’t have to juggle sleepless nights and pumping and work when baby is just a couple of months old- like is the case for friends in the US for example.
But the days of maternity leave in Ireland are long when your regular social contact revolves around work, or when friends are busy with their lives or living elsewhere. Or just when you’re spending all day in the company of a human you adore beyond belief, but also craving an actual conversation as much as you crave an unbroken night’s sleep.
I was lucky, in that my then-partner, now husband was around a lot (he worked nights that first summer of the first-born), and we got to hang out in our new family on an almost daily basis, in daylight hours. A luxury not that many get to enjoy (course I did manage more than my fair share of witching hours on my own!)
But even with his company, I had a quiet wish to befriend other new mums. I went to mum and baby yoga and chatted to the others about sleep and feeding and their baby’s name and whether they planned to do baby-led-weaning or purees, but afterwards I had cake alone while my baby slept on my chest in his carrier.
I looked in envy at groups meeting up for coffee at hipster markets with babes in arms and I ate my cake and fed my baby and went home again. I went to the mum and baby cinema and sat three rows behind a group of mum-friends and wondered how I could infiltrate their ranks.
Why did nobody invite me for coffee or trips to the playground or to the baby-jam on a Friday? Why did I find it an impossible hurdle to invite anyone to do the same with me? And even if I did pass the exchanging number hurdle unscathed, what if that first or second time you try to arrange a meet-up it’s not happening with the ease you’d like it to and you worry that it’s not an "I’m so sorry I don’t have time" thing but an "I don’t have time for you thing".
The first rule of loneliness. You don’t talk about the loneliness.
It’s not a desirable state. Who wants to be friends with someone who is lonely? We think to ourselves "There’s a reason they’re alone and lonely". We believe friendship is a thing that happens easily, organically, and if it’s not happening for you then surely there’s something wrong.. with you...
I barely know anyone who was single in the last decade who hasn’t tried online dating. So why can we put it out there that we’re looking for a romantic match, but god forbid we admit we’re looking for friendship too? If romance needs a helping hand through apps and dating sites, then why should platonic friendship be any different?
So, on baby number two, I gathered more phone numbers. I met up with some of those mamas, with and without babies. I put myself out there on the (playdate) dating scene. I gathered phone numbers of people other than mamas too, and met up with them also. I frequently over-committed myself in meeting people and had to cancel (I promise!!, it was always an"‘I don’t have the time I thought I had" thing and not an "I don’t have time for you thing").
So make that first move with the mama from the baby massage class. Introduce yourself. Make a date for coffee. Take up a neighbourly invitation for a cuppa or take a connection online out into the real world. And don't expect every mom date to result in a friendship for life, anymore than you might expect to find your soulmate the first Tinder match you get.
Find your circle, build your tribe. Invite strangers into your home and your life (they will not expect your home to be spotless... they will just be glad they are not looking at the pile of dirty dishes in their own sink).
And some day, in the not too distant future, maybe you'll all make it out into the adult world for a drink while the babes are in bed...