“I love my son, but I hate my life,” my friend Louise tells me, on a rare night off from her 14-month-old. She’d negotiated a complicated deal with her husband to be there, trading a string of bedtime and bathroom duties for a pass to mild drunkenness.
She gives me a pained look: “It’s constant bartering.”
My husband and I got married two years ago and now, as we enter our mid-30s, the social pressure to procreate has reached fever pitch.
Five new babies have been born to close friends in the last six months alone. But instead of making my ovaries ache, my fallopian tubes have shrivelled in fear and I’ve been back to the doctor twice to check my coil is firmly in place.
Why? The no-holds-barred New Mum Chat.
WhatsApp groups that were created to arrange drug pick-ups in Ibiza have become new mum therapy sessions, where everything from cauterised vaginas to anal fissures is up for discussion.
In the week after giving birth, my oldest friend Katie tells me: “Oh my God my vag is a disaster zone. I am mainlining pills for pain and swelling. Enjoy yours while you can.”
Nikki, whose son is 9 months old, hammered the message home: “Sex is off the menu. No one comes near my vagina or cervix. Ever. Again. Closed for refurbishment. Closed for life. I can only liken the whole thing to post-traumatic stress of a wartime era.”
So you see, they’re not selling it.
I appreciate that this chat plays an important role in keeping my friends sane through the monotony of constant breastfeeding and never-ending sleepless nights. For Nikki, it’s a lifeline: “You know you're not alone. It’s fucking lonely. And I think there's a lot of needing to know if everyone hates their baby as much as you do at times.”
But though it might be good for them, is it bad for those yet to take the plunge, creating a peculiarly warped view of parenting? All the struggle, none of the joy? After all, this is the hardest part, with the least reward, and absolutely no perspective. My friends are at the coalface right now, when parenting is all about the long game.
“But no one wants the boring cute stuff,” Nikki insists. “Everyone loves a car crash. Plus you don’t need to share the good bits because you don’t need help through them.”
Sarah, whose son is 15 months, says that if you really want a baby, you won’t hear the truth anyway. “My friends did tell me but all I wanted was to get pregnant. And when I couldn’t, I was furious with them for moaning.”
So would they do it again, knowing what they know now (and have told me in eye-watering detail)?
“I sometimes feel it's my duty to say how shit it is,” Nikki says. “If you don't 100% want them, don't have them – it's too brutal not to want them more than anything. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend anyone lukewarm going into it. Just don’t.”
“Seriously though,” I ask, “Don’t you worry about me and my wasting ovaries?”
“If I knew you were thinking about it I would totally dial it back,” Sarah admits. “Because it really is the most amazing thing ever. You should do it.” She laughs. “It's the best thing to have ever happened to me. I wonder if that’s the hormones talking, because I really can't understand how the two things tally.”
Nikki agrees. “You can never regret having your baby because you just love them so much. And you can’t not do it because the regret would be immeasurable.”
Katie, still just seven weeks in, is less emphatic. “Well...I don’t regret it,” she says, which is something.
This new level of openness is the parenting arm of our modern culture of oversharing. I think it’s great that my friends can connect with and support each other during this transformative and challenging time, even if I end up stuck in the middle with a bad case of TMI. And I’m relieved they don’t have to sugarcoat motherhood, to pretend a stork delivers a bundle of joy and life is suddenly complete.
The secretive world of birth and new motherhood is now an open secret. And it’s a good thing that women can be better prepared, having heard the truth, warts and all. But part of me wants to go back to a time of a little mystery, to the immediacy of dealing with each parenting stage as it comes up rather than fearing it’s only going to get worse.
And as my ears ring with talk of broken vaginas, breastfeeding agony and three hours' sleep in every 24, for the foreseeable future, that coil definitely ain’t budging.