Friends With Babies


If I seem a little glum, or downright hostile, you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve got post-natal depression. My friends have had the babies. I’ve got the depression.

Admittedly, I’ve got the better part of the deal but I can’t help but feel cheated. I miss them, my friends. I want them back – back to the way they were.
Before the Babies Came.

This has always been how they seemed to me – like a disaster in a B-movie (‘B’ for ‘Babies’); like alien invaders from some sinister sci-fi flick or (more accurately) a horror film: ‘The Babies’ (They Crawled Out Of The Darkness & To Take Over The World). They spread through your life like a virus, or an epidemic. Suddenly they’re everywhere (you’re surrounded !) and your friends are never the same again.

I find myself sitting here in amazement, thinking: ‘Where did they all come from ?’
OK, OK, I know where babies come from, but no-one told me pregnancy was infectious. My friends’ babies are in fact like buses – once one appeared, three or four came along right behind. It’s strange. It’s a fucking conspiracy. Oliver Stone should look into it.

I was 28 before I even knew anyone who had a baby.
People With Babies were conventional, decent citizens, with nice, steady relationships, nice steady jobs: no-one I knew. They were people my parents knew. People whose friends were other people with babies.

I suppose the reason I resented them was obvious. Babies are the first sign – the first living sign – you are getting older.

Although my friends and I were getting older (in our mid-to-late twenties), I always thought we were still basically still young. Too young.

The more friends I knew with babies, the older I started feeling. It was as if it was Not knowing any babies that was keeping me young all along.

But, inevitably, the first of my friends’ babies came along eventually. It was quite nice at the start (nice for them). It was a novelty (a novelty act practically – the way they treated it, constantly performing. ‘Here, look at him do this !’). It was, um, interesting, in a sort of mutant/ experiment sort of way, like having a pet performing circus dwarf hang out with you.

Then another baby came along and another and another. It was as if all my friends had entered some sort of breeding competition – that an expiry date or curfew had been announced, after which babies would no longer be permissible.

Now everything has changed. My friends have no time, no energy and no money. (They become so broke, ask you to pay for so many drinks and dinners now, it’s as if you had become a parent: their parent.

Having them round to dinner isn’t the same anymore (it’s a war-zone). Going out to dinner is different (it’s awful) – the food, for a start, has the faint trace of pureed apricots, mashed pear, or breast milk (they never have time to wash up properly).

Going round to their place has changed (with all those security gates everywhere, the flat’s like an army assault course). When you get there, at least one of them will invariably fall asleep.

All my friends, I am sorry to say, look like shit – huge, hollow bags under their eyes, scraggy unwashed hair, aged 10-15 years overnight. Worst of all, they have developed strange preferences for dungarees , tired baggy old tracksuits and any thing in bright colours. Clothes are chosen to be sick/shit/spit resistant, or so plain that none of these afflictions made any difference.

For the girls, make-up or fashion are things of the past.
They’ve started wearing things like smocks, shawls, papooses and have stopped dressing up altogether. (This is fine as they never go out anyway).

Anything like a mini-skirt has been jettisoned as being inappropriate for the holy state of Motherhood, as has anything showing off their figure (which is probably just as well as they’ve LOST THEM). Instead, they spend all their time waddling round in sensible shoes and long skirts. At least we can put an end to that myth about pregnant women being “sexy”. (As if harassed, rosy-cheek weebles are what every man’s looking for.)

Their behaviour changes too. The party girls all turned into evangelists, sub-Mother Theresas. They’ve given up drink, drugs and coffee and throw a fit every time a cigarette came within a half-mile radius. They have suddenly become the world’s leading authorities on vitamins/car exhaust emissions/gynecology and the entire subject of human development (biology, psychology,
nutrition etc).

As for the blokes, they are now unrecognisable. The ones who used to stay up all night drinking watching gangster movies have started going to bed at, like nine-thirty (now, that is sick). The only videos they ever see are when they make me watch videos of the birth. (A real video nasty.) The only club they go to is The Happy Toddlers Club.

They don’t have time to watch TV or read the papers (they’re are, literally, no longer part of the normal world). None of them have sex anymore (at least not with their partners.)

Once your friends have had a baby, adult conversation with them goes out the window.

As the months go by, they switch automatically into endless reports of ‘when the baby’s due’, what the baby’s sex might be and which names they might choose. Once the little blighter finally appears, it’s which of the two parents he/she/it most resembles or what he might do when he grows up. (Stop crying hopefully.)

After the baby is born, FWBs go downhill at a quite alarming rate. The previous nine months suddenly begin to look like heaven. At least then, the crashing tedium of the conversations took place without the cacophony of bawling and screaming that now annihilates the atmosphere wherever your friends go.

Hopefully this won’t be round to Your house too often.

FWBs leave behind them an area of devastation and debris that El Nino would envy: ruined wallpaper, stained sofas, a video stuffed full of marmite soldiers…. Plus the whole place becomes overtaken by the faintly appalling waft of shit, spit and sick merging fragrantly in with the baby food your friends always bring with them (for the baby to grind into your carpet). Smell of babies can permeate your flat (not to mention your clothes, your hair and your hands) for weeks. (Right up until their next visit.)

Intelligent conversation only seems to confuse them (your friends that is, not the babies – though the difference quickly becomes minimal).

In the albeit unlikely event of a conversation about say Bosnia, Timbuktu, or Arsenal, you will look up to see one of your friends is bumbling “and a oootchi-kootchi-woochi-woo” to his baby instead. Go out of the room for ten seconds and you will return to find him crawling round the floor pretending to be an elephant or running around the room making aeroplane noises.

In short, their brains go. (Pretty quick, they start writing their baby’s thank you notes and signing birthday cards for them – in terrible baby-writing, as if you were the stupid one.)

Instead of, say, Martin Scorsese or Paul Smith, my mates are more interested in say, Postman Pat or Oshkosh.

You have to accept your life is now irrelevant. In the middle of your most scintillating/amusing anecdote, whatever the baby does will require your FWBs to point it out immediately to watch it, and turn it into evidence that their baby is, in fact preternaturally intelligent. One friend watching his baby trying to break the chord on my telephone told me she was identifying it with the umbilical chord. What, to me, looks like a baby thrashing maniacally, to my friends/the parents is baby learning to dance like Madonna or tell me he wants his red tractor.

I continue not to appreciate that when a baby yells “yahhhhpphallaghhtposh”, he is actually saying, ‘well bye then, Jim, it’s been great seeing you.”

Any time the baby burps or gurgles, you’d think Oscar Wilde himself was in the room – such are the howls of laughter that follow it. When the baby howls they love it. They look over at it and beam – i.e. do nothing about the howling.

“Ahhhh !” they swoon, melting with wonderment, “look, look, he waved.”
Yeah I think to myself, but he doesn’t Know he did.

It’s amazing how many hours they can spend just watching a baby do nothing – crawling or walking, failing at crawling or walking – rapt by it, as if E.T. had descended into the room doing card tricks.

It’s all accompanied by an often unbearable smugness (or ‘glowing happiness’ as other people see it), as if, to them, getting having a baby was in itself some sort of achievement. (Most people manage it by accident and half the girls in my class did it when they were 14.)

Personally I blame all those old ladies who stop them in the street. It goes to their heads. They get used to being the centre of attention all the time (I’m talking about the parents again, not the babies.)

The girls in particular behave like deities, barging people off the pavement with their pushchairs, pushing to the front when they have to queue up for something, worst of all, insisting on breast-feeding in front of me.

Now as much I used to fancy some of them (before they started going out with my mates, or at the very least, before they got pregnant), I don’t particularly want to see their tits – at least not with a baby blocking the view. (Now if Uma Thurman wants to come round and breast-feed in my living room, fine…)

They don’t even warn you. You turn round to give them a cup of coffee and suddenly there they are. It’s as a non-parent/non-pregnant person, I obviously have no say in it, even if it is my house. The sight of them wielding a breast pump is even more alarming.

What is amazing to me is that, from nowhere, my friends seem to have been blessed with natural parenting skills. They seem to get genuine pleasure tickling their babies under the chin, and somehow know all the words to Frere Jacque.

Me, I just sit there, not knowing what so say or do (apart from try and stop the baby screaming).

Even my closest mates seem to have forgotten how I feel about babies. I have been photographed or videoed with numerous babies uncomfortably posed on my knee and had so many half-arsed conversations with them on the phone that I’ve lost count.

Yet still friends persist, asking me things like do you want to hold him ? (Not really.) Or “do you want to come and change him ? (Absolutely no fucking way). Or “give him a kiss good-bye” (Why would I ?)

The most sinister thing is the pressure that hovers over everything – the pressure to be like them (anyone who’s seen Rosemary’s Baby or The Stepford Wives will know what I mean).

People talk about the peer pressure that is a part of drug-taking or cigarette-smoking, but no-one ever talks about the Masonic intimidation of Friends With Babies.

“He’ll have grown up and left school before you soon him next” one FWB moaned to me recently.
“He’s 8 months old !” I pointed out. “He won’t even know I’m there.”

If I could just see my friends once without them ruining my life by telling my girlfriend ‘your turn next’. I don’t want to be a world authority on baby wallpaper or this season’s must-have’s at Mothercare.

None of them are interested in me anymore. In my work, my love-life, my life. I could have just come back from wrestling tigers in Tibet or having sex with Kim Basinger but if the baby is doing something (by which I also include doing nothing/sleeping), I might as well accept my inferiority.

I recently spent ten minutes pouring out my soul to a girl who used to be my confidant, my guru, only to realise in the ensuing silence that not only was she not listening but she had actually put the baby on the line for me to “talk’ to. (The kid said I should leave the bitch, quit my job and go back to being a baby.)

Whether I could ever afford a baby is debatable, especially after all the presents I’ve bought all the other babies I know. I get them all the things I wish someone had bought me when I was young (a scalextric, some boxing gloves, a boxed set of The Godfather videos – and that’s just the girl babies). Of course the gifts are a transparent attempt to make up for my total lack of interest in them; a decoy.

I suppose I should think about it more seriously – time is ticking after all and if nothing else, it might mean I would get my friends back. I suppose it’s inevitable I’ll have to have one too, though whether I’m cut out for is debatable.

Until then, it’s my opinion Sartre was wrong. Hell is not other people, it’s other people’s babies.

footnote: As a result of this piece, Jim Shelley has lost the few friends he had left.