I am getting dressed for a date. I have exactly one minute, because my baby is already crying. I put on my favorite silver hoop earrings, my most flattering jeans. I give my hair a last, desperate fluff with both hands, glaring at my reflection. I am nervous. I tell myself I shouldn’t be nervous. This isn’t a big deal. Let’s just see if we hit it off. If we don’t hit it off, there are plenty of others. There will be other chances.
We’re meeting at a coffee shop. I push the stroller like I’m on a mission, only sweating a little. I’m there exactly on time. I glance around, trying to look nonchalant. “Don’t cry, baby, don’t cry,” I beg in a frantic whisper as the baby opens her mouth to complain. “You’re okay! You’re okay!” I check my phone for a text. Nothing.
And then there she is! My new mum date.
She’s wearing a cute vest over her tailored shirt. She’s wearing jeans and boots, like me. That’s a good sign. Maybe. I’m not sure what’s a good sign. Her baby is in a sling. My stroller feels suddenly too bulky. She looks so streamlined. Her baby is obviously asleep. We do an awkward hug around the stroller handle and her baby. My baby begins to wail.
“I’m going to grab a coffee,” she says.
“Yeah,” I say, smiling, wondering why I can’t think of anything more clever to say. My heart is pounding.
Before I had a baby, it never occurred to me that being a new mum can sometimes feel like learning how to date all over again. I already have friends, but because I’m one of the first in my friend group to reproduce, I don’t have friends with babies. And suddenly, after a few weeks of hanging out in my apartment with my colicky baby, I wanted them. But I didn’t know how to get them.
I tried mummy and me yoga. My baby screamed for most of the class while the other babies lay sweetly on their blankets, occasionally cooing adorably up at their fit mothers. I thought about music class, even though my baby is really too young.
I realised: There are no classes that are actually beneficial to babies. They’re all for the mums. I went to a local mummy meet-up, where literally everyone else was a corporate lawyer, and I realized that I don’t know enough about what it means to be a corporate lawyer to even ask relevant questions. I wrote to my midwife to see if she might set me up with other women from her practice. She seemed too busy.
I went to the park alone with my baby and watched a group of four happy new mums chat animatedly on a big picnic blanket. I was filled with a clutching loneliness. I squeaked my baby’s giraffe toy as loudly as possible several times, then looked quickly away. Maybe they’d notice me and invite me over? They didn’t. My baby fell asleep in the grass. Suddenly, a nearby sprinkler turned on, soaking us both in freezing water. She screamed in rage and we fled the scene.
I tried a breastfeeding support group. We sat in a circle on tiny chairs in a preschool, and the two gorgeous women on either side of me started a conversation across me. They exchanged numbers at the end of it. “I’ll call you next week!” one of them chirped. “Perfect!” cried the other. Their babies nursed calmly. I glanced wistfully across the circle at a cool young mum with a jaunty hat and short dark hair. Mums were standing up and bouncing their babies and heading off to change a diaper, so I stood up and inched my way across the room, trying to think of what to say as I went. It felt like speed-dating. I had exactly one minute to charm someone and get her number before the very serious meeting leader barked, “Ladies! Let’s all take our seats so we can continue the discussion.”
I didn’t want to discuss mastitis. I wanted to make friends.
But I did it. I got her number.
“Can I have your number?” I said. “I’m trying to meet other new mums.”
It was totally blunt. Totally uncool. My baby was crying.
But she smiled and said, “Word.” She gave me her number. I left triumphant.
“I met someone!” I told my husband, later that night. “She seems really cool.”
I didn’t want to be so needy. But I was needy. I was surprised by how needy I was. I was caught off guard by how much I wanted to sit in the park with someone else who was going through this shocking, mundane, weird, boringly ordinary, enormous life change.
I wanted to talk about everything. About baby poop and napping tricks and the strangeness of doing nothing and everything at the same time and how we felt now about our identities and how our relationships have adapted and sex and art and existence and pacifiers. You know, everything.
I’ve been mum dating for a couple months now. Sometimes I meet a mum who just wants to talk diapers and baby toys. Sometimes I meet a mum who just wants to talk work. Sometimes I meet mums who I feel like I can sit with for hours and hours and sometimes I meet mums I’d rather just grab coffee with on my way to something else. As it turns out, mums are just people with babies.
I know: shocking. Revelatory. But, interestingly, unlike with people who don’t have babies, I notice that being a mum is a great excuse to get to know someone I’d never have met or talked with in my previous life. It’s clear that I won’t end up being soulfriends with all of the women I’m meeting now, but it’s nice to get a chance to look inside their worlds. I’ve even learned a few tiny things about corporate law.
It’s also occurred to me, after the frantic rush for the first few months, that I have plenty of time. The crazy thing is that I am going to be a mum for the rest of my life.
(God. That’s crazy. I have to take a moment to stare at the screen thinking about that.)
I will meet other mums as I go. I don’t really have to do mummy and me yoga unless I actually enjoy it and my baby is actually not screaming the whole time. I can hang out with my old friends, too, and we can talk both about my experience of being a new mum and their other experiences of doing other things. Sometimes it’s nice to not talk about diapers at all for a good hour or so.
But then, of course, sometimes I have a mum date.
“Hey!” she says, sitting down with her coffee, sipping over her baby’s head. “So! Tell me about yourself!”
I try to clear my head. I want to say something funny. I hope she likes me. I hope that we connect and laugh and afterwards maybe we can make plans to go out again. On a second mum date. Maybe even to dinner, if the babies will allow. You never know. This might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Kate Fridkis is the author of the new book Growing Eden, Twenty-something and pregnant in New York City. You can now find it on Amazon UK and iBooks AU.