This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
I've reached the phase in life where it's conceivable that one of my friends might deliberately choose to procreate. Until recently, the idea of being "with child" had been a nightmare to all of us – a baby is a loud, mentally and physically-draining faeces factory, out to take away our freedom and everything we hold dear in life. Then, something happens, around the age of 25: one of your married friends announces their pregnancy and, instead of offering to drive to the clinic with them, you have to buy them a celebratory soft blanket and some special rubber things for their nipples. At some point, the prospect of a baby clunks over from "horror" to "hope", and that changes everything.
Out of the blue, one of my friends and her boyfriend tried to become pregnant, succeeded, and had a baby. Honestly, it really shouldn't be that big of a big deal – had I been born a few generations ago I'd be celebrating my silver wedding anniversary by now, surrounded by my six surviving children and an unfathomable number of grandchildren. But it did feel like a big deal, especially because there seemed to be all these new rules around how to act towards a close friend who has considerably more important things to worry about than you. With help from my friend-turned-new-mother, I've compiled a quick guide to dealing with someone close to you who's having a baby.
Don't make the big reveal about you
When your friend reveals to you face-to-face that she's pregnant, it's fine to be proud and even to shed a tear of joy, but keep it together. No hyperventilating, no ugly crying – that's just awkward, and you're making the whole thing about you. Don't do that. Keep in mind that you're not the one facing morning sickness, leaking boobs and swirling hormones. You need to stay emotionally sober enough to listen and take in your friend's hopes and fears. Just say, "I've heard [repeat your own name back to them] is a nice name," then move on.
Respect the ultrasound picture
In all fairness, ultrasounds aren't that interesting. It's a few blurs in black-and-white, and it's very hard to tell if they're the contours of the beginning of a human, or just a smudgy thumb print. It's irrelevant, though – your friend is probably pretty hysterical about the whole thing, as it's visible proof that she is creating new life from scratch. If she presents the ultrasound picture to you, don't be annoying about it. Just softly mutter "ahhh" and keep the conversation moving.
Make the absolute most of the baby shower
I'd always associated baby showers with gallons of tea, stale cupcakes and maternity wear chats, but that doesn't have to be the case. There is no better reason to get pissed together than the fact that one of your friends is about to pop some fruit out of her loins – her being the only one not able to drink. It's a legitimate celebration and offers one of the few remaining opportunities you will get to spend quality time together without babies getting in the way. And, as a bonus, it gives your friend the chance to practice soberly handling people with no sense of decorum or dignity, which will be useful when the life-changer in her stomach hits the Terrible Twos.
Things not to say in the last weeks of pregnancy
- "Wow, you're really dragging this out."
- "Exactly how many are in there?"
- "Do you think you'll be alright and get your stomach back when this whole thing's over?"
- "Are you sure you're ready for this?"
- *Make the sound of a truck backing up*
- "I read about how much this thing is gonna blow your vagina apart, and boy... boy. I just really hope you're ready to have your vagina blown apart."
Appreciate the priorities of a woman in labour
You may be expecting a personalised text or DM on delivery with a well-lit picture of the newborn, but you’re almost certainly going to hear the news from someone else, on Facebook or, at best, in one of the group chats you share. Again, don't take it personally – it's just that you're not as important as you think you are anymore. Your buddy has just been ripped apart to bring forth someone she instantly loves more than you. Don't take this shift in priorities personally, and absolutely do not send any passive-aggressive messages like, "Yeah I heard. Best x"
Also, you don’t have to ask a huge amount of questions to seem interested. Queries about how long it took and the baby's weight and whether it's true that women actually shit themselves during labour just distracts parents from focusing on keeping their newborn alive.
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Reacting to the first baby pictures
It's an uncomfortable but universal truth that newborn babies aren't a pretty sight – they're a weird blob of squashed and creased humanity. But your friend has likely not had any sleep for a very long time, and has dedicated her spirit and body to actively contribute something to this wonder we call life, so complete honestly about what the baby looks like might not go down well. Just "ooh" and "wow" and "omg" your way through the showing.
I've also found that it works to comment on things outside of the looks of the child – mentioning the lovely name, an adorable outfit or the hilariously surprising wealth of hair on the baby's head will keep the conversation going in a positive direction. It's sort of like talking to someone who loves their cat too much: just say "I bet it has a real personality, right?" and let them lie for ages about how it does.
Don't worry about what present to buy, just buy something
Things that babies like include, but are not limited to: colours, fingers, paper, light, faces, animals, cups, sand, air, hair, clothes, sleep, noses, rugs, thread, spoons, stars, ears, darkness, pencils, straws and eyes. A baby fresh from the womb is literally surprised by anything the world has to offer, and has zero discernible tastes. There's a strong chance they'll prefer the wrapping paper to the thing inside, so don't spend too much time thinking about it. Better to get them something of meaning and value when they're old enough to appreciate how great you are for spending a lot of money on an awesome present. For now, just get them a onesie or a teddy bear for them to ruin with their constant, constant runny shit.
When to visit
Pay attention now, please; there's a lot that can go wrong here. Like with everything in life, it's vital to know your place when visiting new parents. Don't come around uninvited on day one with a tub of Quality Street and the ambition to not miss a second of this baby's life journey. Calling ahead to see if you can pop by on Wednesday in a week around 4PM is also a big no – thinking ahead in time is an impossible concept to people responsible for a creature that needs to feed on a tit seven times a night and keeps shitting without proper warning. So it's important to be flexible.
Also, visiting new parents isn't like visiting your own parents, where you can barge in, crash on the sofa and ask what's for dinner. There is zero chance your mate will feel like serving you as well, so bring some food for everyone, do something helpful like the dishes, and don't hang around for long – three Insta stories and out.
Holding the baby for the first time
Firstly, don't ask if you can hold the child. You're putting the mother in an awkward position if she's not ready to lay what was once in her womb in your arms. So wait for the offer, and when it happens, be ready to step up, with clean, pre-washed hands. Newborn babies are incredibly fragile beings – the last thing they need is to be ingesting whatever freak bacterium you brought along, you slob.
Regardless of how unfit you may be to hold an infant, saying "I'll pass, thanks" can be perceived as a grave insult, so just go for it. Holding the baby can be the best feeling in the world, but it's also terrifying to realise all that can go wrong in that instant. What if you accidentally drop it? What if you accidentally crush its sweet, soft little skull? What if it throws up on you? This kind of panic is perfectly healthy and normal. The worst thing that can happen in this case is that the child starts to cry once it's in your arms – and, frankly, that is an absolute nightmare. There is nothing more humiliating than when someone who doesn't have any experiences or personality starts wailing, simply because they sense they shouldn't be near you. If this happens, it's best to just smile bravely, return the child to its parents, rush home, close the curtains and silently reflect on your failures.
Finally, turn this mother back into a friend
After your mate has spent months creating and nourishing new life and you have been busy getting used to this crazy new reality, it's time to go back to being the friends you once were. No rules or weird do's or don'ts for your interaction, but just you, her and this new kid you've both worked so hard to learn to love. Listen, the kid isn't going anywhere. May as well pretend to start liking it now to get a head-start on liking it in the future, when it's an actual human being that can talk and control its turd output.