I’ve never been very good at making friends!
As a child I was always too shy and awkward and tried too hard to be friends with the popular kids, but ended up sticking out like a sore thumb! My mum had my hair cut into some kind of triangle shape, which when coupled with my nhs glasses and braces made me different to all of the pretty girls I so idolised. As I grew up I had friends that I stayed with for years, but branching out beyond that small group was extremely daunting for me. It contributed to a fear of change and affected me going to new places and starting new jobs. I was always afraid of what people would think of me and how they would act; would they like me? Would they ignore me, or worse, mock me? I tried to be funny and casual but inside I was a hotbed of nerves suffering from a mild form of panic.
This has subsided somewhat since my teenage years, in part because of being more comfortable with myself; but still the idea of talking to a stranger and not coming across like a complete goon is always a slight challenge. Starting uni was awful for me as there were so many people around that could judge me, and I missed most of the first week of lectures due to a self induced fear of being ostracised for being me. Over the three years there I did make friends, who I value highly and still talk to now, but I knew that I was never going to be one of the sociable sorts that knew everyone, and that everyone knew. One good reason for this was that I lived at home, ten minutes away, with my fiancé and I was desperate to get pregnant. I was extremely aware that this did not go hand in hand with going out all the time to get wasted or taking a year out to do the above whilst travelling.
But since working at the cafe I have also changed a lot. There are hundreds of regular customers that I talk to frequently, if not daily, and this has done wonders for my confidence. I am also able to talk to strangers without looking away and mumbling like a shy child. I don’t know how I would have survived getting married, being pregnant and having a baby if I wouldn’t have become a more confident and sociable person as all of a sudden people wanted to talk to me about what was going on. People that I have not spoken to in years have spoken to me and I have rekindled friendships that are years old.
Having made and lost friends over the years, I now have some really wonderful people in my life, but having a baby has opened up a new work of social friendships. As with taking Savannah swimming, I knew whilst pregnant that I didn’t want her to be like me, and so I try to make sure that she is around other babies and that I am taking her to groups. Overcoming both my laziness and crippling fear of new situations I take her to things, and I have met people there that are in the same boat as me. To these women, I can moan about not having enough time in the day and about not being able to out Savannah down without receiving rolling eyes with no compassion behind them.
I’ve found that women, and men, tend to open up more easily when they have children. There are so many shared experiences that allow you to bond; whether they are first time parents such as myself, or experienced mothers of a brood, being able to relate to even the smallest thing has enabled me to talk to strangers in the most casual way. It’s like Savannah has given me a confidence that I never thought I would have. I think I am safer in the knowledge that with her around, even if I act like a tool, I can quickly switch topic and talk about what she is doing. And mummy and baby groups are perfect for this as the plethora of instruments and toys scattered around you ensure that there is no lull in the conversation. She has definitely made me less of a neurotic mess and helps me to be a more calm and sociable person.
I scold the pregnant me who thought that I didn’t need friends who were pregnant or had children. Admittedly sometimes I get unwanted advice, but there is also a fair amount of helpful guidance that mums can pass down to other mums, so that they can avoid certain situations and overcome others. Nothing makes a new mum feel better like finding out that it’s not just your child that doesn’t sleep or feed like the books say! And you also have to appreciate as a mum that non-mummy types don’t always want to hear about cracked nipples and your lack of sleep, and it it is only fair that you don’t frighten them into clamping their legs closed forever by telling them all of the gory details, even if they ask. That kind of material can be saved for play dates and coffees with fellow sufferers.
Although I still love my “other” friends very much, and don’t necessarily always want to talk about babies, I also appreciate being able to moan and chat about poo, sick, crawling and crying with someone that feels my pain and sympathises with me.