“So, how did you meet?”
It’s the question we always dread, knowing that our story isn’t conventional, that we don’t have a history of shared childhoods, schools, work mates or mutual friends. And despite the fact that meeting a partner via a dating site or on social media is perfectly acceptable these days, when it comes to meeting friends on-line, it still seems to be something that others find quite strange!
I have mentioned before that during my pregnancy with Lewis, as a first time Mum in my early twenties, with none of my friends pregnant or having children, I joined a baby website for advice and support. I found it invaluable to chat with other pregnant ladies, to sympathise over morning sickness, leg cramps and 2am cheese burger cravings, nervously counting down to our due dates, sharing birth stories, announcements, and developing friendships that have stood the test of time.
During my pregnancy with Joseph, it was a given that I would join an on-line antenatal forum rather than go to my local NCT classes, finding it far easier to chat away on the laptop, in the comfort of my own home, during those rare moments when a one year old Lewis napped. My pregnancy with Joseph was very different to Lewis’s in that I was consultant led, having fortnightly scans, being monitored three times a week, and I spent a lot of time seeking reassurance from ladies in the group who had been through similar.
It may seem strange to others but despite being virtual strangers, all of us due in the Summer of 2006, we talked to each other about absolutely everything. Not just pregnancies and babies, but everything else in between, ranging from the mundane to the completely obscure. Some nights we stayed up until one in the morning, too uncomfortable to sleep, chatting about our day, what we had watched on TV or cooked for dinner that night, our plans for the weekend with our “real life friends” as we used to refer to them, never quite knowing what that made each other. We shared countless photos, stories, secrets of our sex lives and cervical positions, and I have some hilarious memories of those days, getting to know each other through late night chats on MSN, laughing ourselves stupid, with Joseph kicking away in my tummy, making plans to meet up in the summer with the babies in tow.
In that final week of July it was those ladies who I turned to for advice when I felt Joseph’s movements reduce. It was them to whom I voiced my concerns on the day before our lives changed irreversibly, and them who I text from the hospital to say that my baby had died. And although I was very fortunate to have family and friends who were beside me throughout the weeks and months that followed, I was also incredibly lucky to have an amazing group of women, from right across the country, holding my hand at a distance.
And I think that going through something like that changes everything, be that in the way it strengthens friendships, or destroys them. I found that afterwards, for some people, my loss was bigger than our friendships ever were, and for others it was the very thing that brought us together; an experience which we shared, bonding us in a way that others couldn’t possibly imagine. And as the years passed, with every baby I lost and every struggle I faced, it was those ladies who held me up and kept me going. When my marriage fell apart and I couldn’t see a way forward, it was them to whom I cried, albeit at opposite ends of the country, and who reminded me that I had already been through worse and I would survive this in just the same way.
I have been very lucky to meet so many of these lovely ladies in “real life” over the years. We have shared coffee dates, nights out and weekends away with, and without, all of the children. And whilst it was hard in the early days to watch their babies meet their milestones, knowing that my own son did not, it has also been an absolute privilege to see them flourish into the most beautiful bunch of ten year olds, growing up way too fast, and I have so much love and pride for each of them.
And whilst I consider all of those ladies good friends, as with any group, there will always be friendships that develop, groups that form, and bonds that strengthen with time. And for me, that was with two of those ladies, Laura and Beth, the kindest, most hilarious, craziest of ladies I’ve ever met, and they fast went from being strangers on a screen to two of my very best friends.
It was them who I turned to when I hit rock bottom, who checked up on me throughout the years I was single, who whooped for joy when I met Gaz, announced our engagement and began trying for a baby. It was them who I tentatively sent a photo of my positive pregnancy tests to, year after year after year, who I text throughout my labours, a running commentary of my induction, and shared the very first photos of our little doves, babies who they went on to meet, and love, over the years.
And it was them who I spent the evening with on the night before my wedding, meeting Beth for the very first time in seven years as she, her husband and children travelled to be guests at our wedding, just dreading the moment when someone asked around the table, “So how do you know Laura?”.
This weekend, when we travelled to Scotland to share in Laura’s hen party, in the same way that my best friend has adopted Beth and Laura as her own, Laura’s friends couldn’t have been any more welcoming. Despite it being just the third time that the three of us have been in the same place in eleven years, it felt as though no time at all had passed since the last.
And it’s safe to say that we had the most fun, eating all the food, drinking far too many cocktails, dancing until the clubs closed, and laughing until our sides hurt. And although I’m still suffering today, and the thought of vodka is turning my stomach, it was completely worth it to spend time with two of my favourite people in all the world.
I always tell myself that although losing Joseph was the hardest thing I have ever been through, having him was the very best. Although our time together was far too short, he left me with two of the best friends I could ever hope for who will be by my side for a lifetime. And despite the fact that we couldn’t live any further apart, or that with such busy lives we don’t get to see each other as often as we would like, if they needed me I would always be there, and vice versa. And so although our friendship may not have began in the most conventional of ways, my on-line friends turned out to be the very best.