My Musings

The Unicorn Friend

Unicorn (noun): Something that is highly desirable but difficult to find

It’s International Women’s Day and to my mind, that’s something very much synonymous with a celebratory friendship day – so thank you in particular to all of the strong, honest, funny, supportive women in and outside of this community. Though what each of us carries is sometimes unbearably heavy, my heart is (without a doubt) immeasurably lighter with you all in it.

Speaking of friendship, I’ve been thinking recently about what would have been helpful to know during the many, many years I was childless and trying to conceive. Unfortunately, the main conclusion I’ve come to, I wouldn’t have wanted to hear and I’m not entirely sure how I could have acted upon it…

Bruth: Anjulie of 2017 – I can see how your life can be full without children, but spoiler alert: you will need to get new childless friends

Let me rewind a bit.

Let’s first recall that I once wrote a blog about how I was knowingly becoming a total hipster w@nk3r, and it’s true, I was. My life felt so hollow, because I knew I was just gap-filling, waiting to have children. I never fully embraced that it might not happen, so I didn’t do what I think would have helped I.e. made new local childless friends.

Fast forward to becoming a ‘conventional’ mum (I say this because the “am I even a mum?” question is so difficult in the baby loss space, especially with Mother’s Day AKA “Bothering Sunday” approaching), what’s been surprisingly bittersweet is how easy it has been to meet people and to make a bunch of new friends. We have lived in our home for approaching a decade and I have genuinely made more friends from the surrounding streets in the last 10 months, than I have in 10 whole years. I say it’s bittersweet, because I am very friendly, but I clearly needed a child for people to interact.

When you’re a mum and out with a baby, people can be REALLY nice; loads of people stop to chat to you (and I’m the kind of person that loves this sort of thing – more on this later). On one occasion, a bunch of us went out for a golf lesson while the dads parented (I know, my maternity leave was very niche!) and afterwards, a neighbouring table gave us all their leftover cakes as a gift to the “group of mums who made it out to play!” It was a really lovely gesture, but I immediately thought that I didn’t need the kindness of cake right then, I needed it way more when I was sad and struggling, single or childless.

My 14 months of maternity leave (yep, I totally eeked it out for as long as I could) made me realise how important peers are. We all need people who are at the same life-stage as us. And they probably need to be the people we see the most regularly, especially if stuff is hard. Now it’s true that when I was really struggling, this blog enabled me to make a bunch of friends in the baby loss community: a few of whom I continue to meet in real life, and many others I’m still friends with (over the internet, over the oceans, over the WhatsApp voice note!), but it’s not enough – everyone needs their unicorn friends.

Over the past year, I’ve shared this TikTok video a lot, it basically concludes that to be the ultimate mum friend – the so-called “unicorn” – you require three traits: you need to have stuff in common, you need to live close to each other and you need to have children of the same age. But really, we can tweak the mum/children bit, and replace it with “you are at a similar stage of your fertility journey” – and that includes trying to conceive or not expanding your family at all.

When we were struggling to conceive, I never had my unicorn. I had lots of friends, but increasingly few without children. Glancing back, in 2017-2022, I really could have done with making some new childless friends. That would have made me sad to realise, but it wouldn’t have meant friendship ending, just new ones starting.

What I’ve come to realise, is how much I love friendship. It’s not that I’m addicted per se, it’s more that I have a huge capacity for it. It’s one of my passions. It’s not at all that I prefer quantity (I genuinely need fewer!) – I am hugely discerning and definitely value quality (to be a friend, I really have to deeply admire something about your character) – but it’s largely because I’m super chatty. Annoyingly so. Can’t you tell?

Anjulie: I’m a bit of a social animal.
Newish mum friend: Do you mean butterfly?
Anjulie: No, definitely animal.

I’ve since been introduced to a kinder term than referring to myself as an animal –  thanks to Elizabeth Day, I can now label myself a full-on Friendaholic. I’m such a Friendaholic that on my last two days of maternity leave, two mums at new baby groups asked to exchange numbers. Even though my head screamed “no no no Anjulie, too many friends, you’re going back to work, you have no time!” – I did it anyway (I’ve subsequenly staged a self-intervention, and will be attending Elizabeth Day’s Friendaholic tour this month, in the hope it will remind me to narrow my focus again). But being this way, is why being childless without childless friends JUST DID NOT WORK for me.

You need to have a lot of stuff in common with the people you hang out with, you need them to want to do similar things you do, when you want to do them. If however all your friends have children, won’t go out for dinner on any-and-every weeknight or stay out very late, can’t leave their children to go away with you, can’t chat at random times, reply to your texts in a timely fashion, remember your birthday or give you the undivided attention during a conversation that you can give them (this is in part, me now)… then bruth: you need new friends. You really do. This is what I wish I’d known. It would have helped me. A lot.

Also, if the years pass with ALL of your friend’s children growing up around you, although there will be some joy in that, I’m certain there will be a lot of salt in the wounds too – repeatedly bearing witness to something you don’t have. However, if you have another part of your life, other people, other friendships, with people who are more like where you are, well then the salty-joy will run both ways.

The bad news is that it’s easier said than done. It’s so hard to make friends with childless couples – that’s not even a thing (why is that not a thing?!) and I’m aware that much of what I’m saying may land as a frustrating variation of parents saying “you’re child free! You have so much time! You’re so lucky!” However, the good news is there really are aspects of your life which are incredible, that parents can’t participate in. Your grass is in many ways, greener, please don’t forget that. I just know that there are so many nice people, like you, out there. You just need to find them.

So my suggestion? Be bold (you’ve already been brave).

After my NCT group failed to take-off, I put a message on a local Facebook group, asking if there were any new mums in the area who wanted to start a coffee morning. I didn’t really mind if noone replied. But then someone did. And another. Fast forward a year, we’re now a group of 26 ladies! Now, granted we’re not ALL besties, but I have somehow found five or six of the loveliest ladies, quite literally, on my doorstep (they frequently now pop in for tea and cake).

Admittedly, I’m not sure what the message would look like for a childless lady. I would love it to be honest, but I accept that “hi, I’m a childless (not by choice) lady looking to set up a coffee morning for other childless ladies in the local area” may read a bit strange (although I do think I would have responded to something like that. Is this just the niche Friendaholic in me?). Instead, it may have to be activity or hobby focused – setting up a book club, a wine club, a running club, a cake tasting club?  – the ruse is a shame really, as the maternity mum club really is just a “I’m lonely and looking for friends” club.

So yes, on this International Women’s Day I encourage you to remember just how amazing you are, how much you have to offer and how being bold can have a lot of upside. Baby loss has already made you brave and resilient. So if no one replies, who cares? You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain. Like finding a partner, you only need to find one new friend who understands you. And when you do, please stay out VERY late on a regular basis, discuss a lot of the TV you’re watching and the books you’re reading, drink a LOT of wine and book a TONNE of spa breaks – all stuff I can’t easily do right now. Aim to make your grass so green, that it becomes your favourite colour. That’s what I wish I could have done.

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