I have a decision to make. I am currently sailing perilously close to the RSVP deadline for my friend’s upcoming hen party (she’s already sent me two ‘gently chasing’ WhatsApps), and I still have no idea what to do.
On the one hand, her hen weekend sounds amazing - it’ll feature go-karting, karaoke, dancing, meals out, cocktails and spa treatments, and some of my very favourite people will be there.
It’s also taking place in a town 100 miles away. And, I have a breastfeeding baby.
‘You should definitely go,’ my friend Rachel tells me. ‘The baby will be fine with his dad and a bottle. You’ve got two kids. You’ve been lactating since 2015. You deserve a weekend off.’
With respect to my friend Rachel, who does not have children, that’s not the point. The point is that if I don’t breastfeed for an entire weekend, I risk mastitis and a drop in my milk supply. So the other option is to spend a third of the hen holed up in the loo of some nightclub with only a breast pump for company, which - I’m going to go out on a limb here, and guess - might dampen my party mood.
And if my friend’s hen wasn’t tricky enough, I also need to figure out what to do with my two small kids at her wedding itself.
I think it was Shakespeare who said ‘weddings and babies do not good bedfellows make’, and anyone who’s sat through a lengthy ceremony with - or within earshot of - an unhappy baby or toddler will know this to be true. Babies get bored and wriggly, children can’t sit still and get overtired, and neither group has any idea that it’s not appropriate to fart when the registrar asks if anyone objects to this union.
The author pictured with her partner and baby at a wedding
However, for every wedding reception you feel is spoiled by the red-faced kids racing around, way past their bedtime, hopped up on vol-au-vents and cupcakes, spare a thought for their parents. I couldn’t wait to attend my first post-baby wedding. My baby was six months old and, having been sequestered away on maternity leave, I was looking forward to catching up with all my friends, congratulating the happy couple and, of course, taking advantage of the free bar.
But when it came to it, I couldn’t find a dress that I and my lumpy, postpartum baby body could feel comfortable in. I spent the entire affair sweaty and self-conscious; very aware of how glamorous my friends looked, and constantly either walking a sleeping baby away from the noise of the ceremony, reception and dancefloor - or trying to find discreet places in which to breastfeed him. I missed all the speeches, barely talked to anyone, and didn’t sink a single glass of prosecco.
When you have babies, your relationships with your childfree friends, quite naturally, change. You suddenly have these tiny, clingy, drooling responsibilities who like to throw spanners in the works. Most of the time you can compromise - people generally understand if you’re late, or have to reschedule dinner. Weddings, however, are high-stakes. You can’t reschedule a hen do, or show up late to a wedding ceremony. It’s not about you, and very few allowances can be made for those with children, which - when combined with the wildcards that are small children - can make the situation a bit of a hothouse.
So, what’s to be done? I have friends who, upon learning that a bridesmaid was pregnant, ‘excuses’ her from the bridal party to make life easier. I have other friends who, being in the position of the newly pregnant, newly ex-bridesmaid, felt quite miffed at being ‘sacked’. And I have yet other friends who, having gone through with their bridesmaid duties while pregnant, suddenly found themselves unable to fit into the bridesmaid dress on the day. And I have still more friends who gave birth just before the wedding, then found themselves struggling to breastfeed their babies in quiet corners of the wedding reception, their bridesmaid dress pulled down to the waist.
My friend Ipsita is still bitter about the pregnant bridesmaid at her wedding five years ago:
‘I tried so hard to be not a bridezilla, but one of my bridesmaids was five months pregnant and not feeling great, so she ended up not helping, and instead left me to do my flowers on my own. I definitely thought multiple times "god, I can't believe this is happening to me" about her poor pregnancy sickness!’
My friend Susie has a solution to my hen weekend problem, at least. Take your baby and bribe someone to babysit, she advises, you might even enjoy yourself:
‘I took Milo (her eldest) to my sister-in-law’s hen do,’ Susie tells me. ‘The weekend involved a meal and a night out, and it worked really well! I checked with the bride-to-be beforehand, and booked a second hotel room for my parents.
‘I had to fork out for an Uber to and from the hotel, but only left once to give the top-up feed in a quiet part of the evening, so I didn’t miss any fun. And although I worried I’d want to nod off, I was actually quite keen for the feed to be done so I could throw my heels back on and go dancing.’
My personal take is that, as with so many things, honesty is the best policy. Sometimes when you’re pregnant, all you want to do is dig out your slanket and take up residence on your sofa. Sometimes, when you’re a new mum, the outside world is overwhelming and you just want to stay in your baby bubble. If this is the case, ask yourself if you would really enjoy a wedding. Talk to the bride and groom. If you feel you want to go, make sure they’re aware of how you’re feeling -- and make sure you take some support.
‘We made the wedding into a bit of a holiday -- booked a b&b and arrived a day before the happy event so we could get settled,’ my friend Jennifer tells me, following a recent wedding weekend in Norfolk. ‘We took my mother-in-law along, promising to dog-sit when she went on holiday, and she, my wife and I took turns hanging out with the baby. It meant everyone got to eat, dance and drink, and no one really felt left out.’
When you have very small kids one thing you learn is to pick your battles. Don’t argue when you don’t need to. Don’t watch anything you’re not really into, because you don’t have any free time. And don’t go to a wedding unless it’s spectacular, and/or you’re really food friends with the happy couple. If you’re good friends, they’ll understand what you need. And, if you can’t make it, and they’re planning a family, they’ll probably understand where you’re coming from soon enough.
With that in mind, I’m going to decline my friend’s hen, dump the kids on my husband the following weekend, and take her out for drinks locally, instead. See? Compromise