I watched my partner as he tried to put on a brave face and pretend he was OK, but I knew he wasn’t. Anything but.
He was hurting. He was upset. He was angry.
I knew this because, just a few years before, I’d been in his shoes.
I was working as a full-time newspaper journalist when I became pregnant with our first child. Even back then, it was a job so stressful and under-appreciated that a kind of ‘spirit of the Blitz’ prevailed in the newsroom.
My colleagues were my allies, my shoulders to cry on, my friends. We worked long and anti-social hours, spending more time with each other than we did with our families.
The days were full of frustration and stress. At the end of each shift, all we wanted – needed – was to go to the pub across the road to unwind and let off steam. Even at the weekends we were together – going to music gigs and festivals, partying at each other’s houses.
But once I became pregnant, it all changed
Those friendships made the job bearable, enjoyable, in spite of the low pay, ruthless bosses and relentless demands.
But once I was pregnant, it all changed. I was physically exhausted and had no desire to sit in the pub nursing an orange juice while they drank themselves senseless – and eventually they stopped asking me to join them.
It didn’t bother me much. I was happier going home early to have a hot bath, watch television and work my way through a family-sized bar of chocolate. I naively assumed that once the baby arrived I’d be back in the bar, downing pints and performing character assassinations of our boss as though I’d never left.
It never happened.
The invitation to rejoin them never came and, even if it had, now precious Poppy was in my life there was no way I was leaving her to go out drinking.
I’d changed. I was no longer the Gemma who went to the pub on every day that ended in a ‘y’. I was no longer the life and soul of the party, the one forcing people to stay out late, the last woman standing by the end of the night.
I had a new focus. My baby girl may have been a tiny bundle, arriving a couple of weeks early and weighing just 6lbs 4oz (around 3kg), but she’d turned my world upside down.
I’d become one of those people who post photos on Facebook of their sleeping infant, complete with sickly-sweet caption.
I went to swimming classes – something that really annoyed me as a swimmer during my pre-baby days. I signed up for baby massage classes, went to baby groups, talked about breastfeeding and discussed which teething gels were most effective. I was someone I never imagined I’d become, but I didn’t care.
I was happy being Poppy’s mum. My life had a more important meaning than whose turn it was to buy the next round.
Some didn’t even visit after I’d given birth – not even to see me, their one-time bosom buddy, rather than my baby
The problem was, my friends hadn’t changed.
They weren’t interested in the contents of my daughter’s nappies, when she smiled for the first time or how she reacted to solid food. Some didn’t even visit after I’d given birth – not even to see me, their one-time bosom buddy, rather than my baby. That still hurts my heart a little, even now.
So when I watched my partner go through the same thing a few years later just after we had Orla – my second baby but his first – I knew exactly how he felt.
In his case, he became an outcast after telling some friends he’d no longer be able to fly to Thailand for their wedding. His family needed him more, he said. My pregnancy had been fraught with complications and the fear we’d lose Orla before she arrived, and he didn’t want to leave me alone caring for two young children.
He didn’t want to leave Orla, as she became more aware of the people around her – and wary of those who weren’t there often. And he didn’t want to leave Poppy, who he couldn’t love more if she were his own flesh and blood.
He didn’t want to leave any of us for a holiday that would have cost so much money we wouldn’t be able to afford a family trip later on.
Even knowing all this, his ‘friends’ – I’ve given in to the urge to use inverted commas – called him selfish. They told him he was no longer welcome in their home, and made it clear they thought I was to blame by instantly deleting me from their social media accounts.
I was upset by their ignorance and lack of understanding
I hoped for his sake they’d come to their senses once the wedding had taken place, that they’d realise just how unselfish he was being. I was upset by their ignorance and lack of understanding, but I’d been there before – I knew the drill.
Sadly, that never happened. There has been no contact, no apology, no attempt to build bridges. And my partner – one of the kindest people I have ever met – has come to realise one of the hardest parts of being a parent; when you have children, it can cost you your friends.
You change. You grow as a person. Your perspective shifts. But they remain the same, and it’s impossible for them to understand.
As with any relationship breakdown, it gets easier over time. Yes, it still hurts. You wish things could have been different. You see photographs of those former friends lounging on a sun-kissed beach and, as you wrestle with a toddler who wants to throw their food rather than eat it, maybe you feel a touch of envy.
Only for a moment, though. Deep down, there’s nowhere you’d rather be.