I have lost my conversational mojo. After almost six years of all-encompassing motherhood, I can still think up witty retorts, but they usually form in my head several hours, or days, too late.
This – like so much else about parenthood – has had a major effect on my friendships. I am so afraid of being boring that I withdraw from certain social situations I would once have relished. While everyone else discusses exciting jobs, exotic travel destinations and current affairs, I do not want to be that woman who talks about her children. Despite becoming adept at gauging who is genuinely interested when they ask about my boys and adjusting my response accordingly, the problem is that for a long time my life has revolved exclusively around the Heir and the Spare. Until very recently (the Spare has just started nursery class at school which has revolutionised things) I barely had the energy to string a sentence together, let alone partake in an intelligent conversation.
I’m not alone. Changing friendship patterns are one of the things all new parents have to navigate, and I don’t know anyone who has found it easy. From the outside, it can too easily seem as though we no longer have time for our single or childless friends, but the truth is much more complicated. For me, somewhere between a lack of babysitter, taking a break from my career, and a crisis of confidence, my casual acquaintances and a number of closer friends fell by the wayside. Bogged down by exhaustion and trying to keep at bay the damaging tentacles of post-natal depression, in the early months I could do little beyond survive on an hour-by-hour basis. Misinterpreting the reasons behind my lack of contact, some people assumed that I no longer wanted to spend time with them. Others weren’t interested in spending time with small children (fair enough) and obviously found the post-baby me less fun to be around. It is true that my priorities had changed, meaning I had less time for, and interest in, some of the things I had previously enjoyed, so friendships based around those activities became less central.
I am, however, extremely lucky to have kept an all-important core of friends from my pre-baby world. Despite often having even less idea what to do with a newborn baby than I did, these people offered unconditional love and whatever support they could, be it turning up at our house and cooking supper, carrying the baby while I slept, or sending regular text messages to make sure I was doing okay. I was a pretty hopeless friend to them most of the time, but thank goodness they cared about me enough to hang in there and wait for a coherent me to reappear. In recent months I have finally begun to emerge from the cocoon of early motherhood (to compare myself to a butterfly would, alas, be a step too far, although in late pregnancy I did share certain characteristics with the post-binge Very Hungry Caterpillar.)
Rather than burden longstanding friends with endless exposure to ankle-biters, the obvious thing is to form new friendships with other parents, but that isn’t always straightforward. Although children are undoubtedly a useful conversational ice breaker and a great way to meet new people, there still has to be that je ne sais quois to spark an enduring friendship. Over the early years I dipped my toe into endless toddler groups and classes, but ironically, having felt at fault for doing too much of it myself, I found the endless talk of nappies and breastfeeding pretty mind-numbing. Usually, I couldn’t get away quickly enough.
When you really click with people who have children of a similar age, it is a wonderful thing, but for me this only happens when motherhood is just one shared bond among many. Some relationships begun during our NCT classes have since matured into real friendships – few things bring you closer than going through late pregnancy, childbirth and the early years at the same time, even more so when those people can make you laugh till you cry along the way.
And when the Heir approached his fourth birthday we stumbled upon another pool of potential friends: school. At a drinks reception to welcome new parents, I found myself discussing a recent high-profile scandal with a small group of like-minded women. From that moment, I felt sure these fellow mums were going to play an important part in my future and sure enough, two years later, they rank among my dearest friends. Turns out the initial basis for enduring friendship had nothing to do with our children: it was confessing that we’d all googled photos of Prince Harry naked.