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So, can a friendship survive when baby comes along?

Model Marie Helvin recently declared that motherhood came between her and best pal Jerry Hall, but is their experience typical? Helen Carson finds out.

Eighties supermodel Marie Helvin recently claimed her friendship with fellow catwalk stunner Jerry Hall perished on the rock of motherhood. The pair, who dominated the runways in the 1980s, were practically inseparable back then, and it was an unusual display of sisterhood in a back-biting profession known for its bitchiness.

But Marie said that once Jerry had children the two women had nothing left in common, despite previously describing the Texan model and Mick Jagger’s former wife as “like a sister to me”.

And while Jerry had four children with the Rolling Stones frontman, Marie decided there was ‘no reason’ to have a family. Marie’s opinion is a far cry from feminist ideals which espoused choice for all women — whatever form that took.

So, are childless women alienated from those who want to be a mum because of endless baby-talk and obsession with getting junior into the right school, while their broody one rolls her eyes heavenward at her footloose pal’s party-going antics?

My friend Maureen Coleman and I have our say while other local women give their views.

‘I’m flattered Helen thinks I can offer wise words even though I don’t have kids’

Maureen Coleman (42) lives in Belfast, and is a freelance journalist who specialises in entertainment stories. She says:

I'm not what you'd call the most maternal of creatures. I don't coo over pictures of puppies or chubby babies. Unless, of course, there's a personal connection — then I can cluck with the very best of them.

Admittedly, there have been times in the company of other women when the chat has turned to children and my eyes have glazed over. But when the subject is breast over bottle, well, I'm not really in a position to comment.

What I do care about, though, are my family and friends. I adore my niece and nephew and would walk over hot coals for them both. And I'd like to think my friendships are solid enough that I wouldn't let motherhood stand in their way.

Maybe there's an unwritten code among best friends that if you love and accept them, you love and accept their offspring as well. Just because I wasn't destined to be a mum doesn't mean I can't have a friendship with one. Quite a lot of my friends have children and we haven't fallen out as a result.

Sure, I maybe don't see them as much as before, but that's life — people grow up, move on, perhaps move away. But friendships endure and when my father died two years ago, all of my friends, those with kids and those without, were at my side when it mattered.

Helen and I have been through thick and thin together and the birth of her son Pierce has never affected the dynamics of our relationship.

In fact, I'd say it's strengthened over the years. Watching Helen raise Pierce fills me with utter respect — for someone like me, so used to putting myself first, it's a real eye-opener to see how that's never the case when you become a mum. I've seen the same shift in priorities with my younger sister, too. Motherhood changes your life dramatically and I've come to realise over the years that I can't expect Helen to stay out partying with me until 3am or to embark on another madcap adventure at the drop of a hat.

Helen's responsible nature balances out my recklessness but, motherhood aside, she is still the same person. I can turn to her any time for help and advice; she's on hand when I need a shoulder to cry on and we still laugh about the things we used to laugh about 20 years ago.

I've watched Pierce grow from baby to toddler to young boy and I'd like to think he considers me his mad Auntie Maureen. Judging by the way he roars at my daft stories, it seems that he does. Sometimes Helen will discuss Pierce with me and I'm flattered that she thinks I can still offer wise words even though I'm not a mother. You see, that's why we work. Helen doesn't define me as childless and I don't define her as having a child. First and foremost, we're friends.

It's sad that Marie Helvin said of her former best pal Jerry Hall: ‘I think a mother needs to be with mothers. I don't know what they talk about.’ Maybe she should come out with Helen and me next time we hit the town. Then she might find out.”

‘She knew me before I was a mum and values that part of me too’

Helen Carson (45) lives in Belfast with her 11-year-old son Pierce. She is the property correspondent for the Belfast Telegraph. She says:

I first met Maureen 23 years ago, when I started work as a trainee journalist on a weekly paper, and we have been best friends ever since.

I always knew I wanted to be a mum and my son Pierce was born 11 years ago. Being a mum doesn’t mean you hang out solely with other mummies, quite the contrary for me. Maureen does not have children — a much-loved and slightly indulged nephew and niece, yes, but no offspring of her own.

After my immediate family, it is Maureen who I turn to for parental guidance. You really don’t have to be a parent to understand children. Anyone who can remember their own childhood and teenage years has a better take on the host of growing pains that young children must face — without the bias you acquire once you become a mum. Since the day Pierce was born Maureen was there. Actually, a few hours after I gave birth, the ward sister told me a friend was on the phone for me.

When I lifted the receiver in the office it was Maureen full of questions ‘How do you feel? What’s it like?’ she enquired. Less than a day later Maureen was at my bedside, and that level of attentiveness has continued ever since.

She turns up at my house laden with chocolate for Pierce and has spent many an evening watching Doctor Who with him, to the point where she is now known as ‘Auntie Maureen’ in our house.

He knows that Maureen is a freelance journalist now, and asks ‘Is she ok, now that she’s not working in the office every day?’

And when it comes to school, everything from starting P1 to the more recent AQE tests, have been scrutinised by Maureen and myself in terms of how best to handle all the issues they throw up.

Her late dad, Harry, who was a teacher, even gave me some tips via Maureen on how to encourage Pierce to focus on his homework and reading in particular.

Now I’m proud to say he is an avid reader, and always excels in English to the point he has achieved the highest grade in his class every year since P1 and just recently picked up a prize for literacy.

When you are a mum you need a very good and, to be frank, understanding friend around you, not just to turn to with difficult issues, but to have fun with as well. Someone who has a different way of looking at the world, and one who is perhaps more sympathetic to the child.

I don’t expect Maureen to nod in agreement to all the gripes I, like all mums, have about the burden of being a parent, but she does understand that children are a huge responsibility and not one to be taken lightly. She also knew me before I was Pierce’s mum and values that part of me that needs to be listened to and acknowledged as well.”

‘We’ve always got on as we’re so similar’

Anna Marie Henderson, (29), live in Belfast with her partner Michael McFarland, (31). She runs vintage designer store Pin-up, Royal Avenue, Belfast. She says:

I have been friends with Nicola McKee for just over a year now. Her sister knew me through mutual friends and when she found out about my business she said I should meet Nicola, who makes and designs her own hats and fascinators.

I went up to her house and we pretty much hit it off immediately. We seem to share very similar opinions on everything, and have had the same teenage experience. Both of us felt we didn’t fit in at school as we would rather have been reading books and being on our own than going out with a crowd. Nicola always has her children with her, in fact, it would be really strange if they weren’t around.

I have a very independent life and being with Nicola has brought it home to me that I’m not 19 anymore, it makes me feel more grown up. We like to go to dinner and lunch together, and if we really wanted a night out, Nicola’s husband would mind the children.

We are always talking about business, things like what craft fairs we should be doing. When Nicola and I go out with the children if they are crying, she would worry if it is annoying others, but I don’t care about that, after all they are only babies.”

Nicola McKee, (30), is married to Dave, (34), and they live in Belfast with their two children David, five, and one-year-old Charlotte. She says:

Anna Marie and I got on as soon as we met, as we are very similar people. I always have my children with me, as that is just part and parcel of who I am. I went into business because childcare is an issue, and I can’t imagine not having my children with me. They are well behaved and they love Anna Marie.

I love my children but I’m a very creative person, as is Anna Marie and I don’t think it matters whether one of us had children or not. If anything the children add to our friendship.

My children come first which is why I formed my own company to give me that flexibility.

I don’t see how someone could ditch a friend just because she has children.

“If that is the case, then it’s not a proper friendship.”

‘Our friendship has grown stronger since I had children’

Carrie Neely, (37), lives in Belfast with husband Rob Grundy, (37), her two sons’ Jaxon, five, Marley, three, and the couple’s 11-month-old daughter Nansi. She is the owner of Carrie Neeley Contemporary Art. She says:

My friendship with Jill began through mutual friends when we were both about 18 or 19. We both hung out together, and then she lived in London about the same time as I did, where our friendship continued.

Jill moved back to Belfast about six months before me and by that time Jaxon was born and I was expecting Marley. I was on my own and was really pleased she was there when I came home. I was absolutely delighted to have her here, and she was so supportive.

At no stage at all have I felt that Jill and I have less in common since I became a mum. One night I went to a party with Jill and I had to leave as Jaxon, then a baby, was playing up and my sister was worried. I left the party twice, but did go back when he eventually settled. Apart from that, there has never been anything.

She is excited by everything in life and lives to the full; she is always busy — busier than me, and I have never felt any differences between us. When we get together we don’t really talk about the children. I always wanted to be a mum and felt it would give more substance to my life, and Jill noticed that positivity. Our friendship has grown stronger since I became a mum.”

Jill O’Neill, (35), lives in Holywood with partner Justin Lowry, (38). She runs ReFound, a sustainable restyling furniture business in Wellington Place, Belfast. She says:

Carrie and I have been friends for many years, we were both girls with short funky hair in a world of long-haired blondes — tomboys in the 90s. We knew the same boys and were both studying art. I went to live and work in London just before Carrie did.

I was surprised when she told me she was pregnant with Jaxon as she was in a big city away from her family, but naturally I was happy for her, too.

I also knew not to worry about Carrie as she is an absolute survivor and always the calmest person.

I moved back to Belfast shortly before her, but she is an independent person and, like me, had lived and worked in New York for a time.

She discussed moving back to Northern Ireland with me at that time, and I told her how different the place was. I was enjoying being home and told her there were more opportunities for both of us now.

From that point of view we have, to a certain extent, lived parallel lives even though Carrie has had children.

I don’t know how she does it, having three children and running a business. I have never felt Carrie is different because she’s a mum, she lives her life and is her own person.”

Celeb friendships that survived kids

  • Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox have been real life ‘Friends' for years, supporting each other through marital break-ups and more.
  • Beyonce Knowles and Kelly Rowland — the former Destiny's Child bandmates are more like sisters than ever, with the recent birth of Knowles' baby girl Blue Ivy Carter.
  • Famous Hollywood duo, Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz, who starred together in Charlie’s Angels, call each other ‘soul sister’.
  • Victoria Beckham says that Desperate Housewives actress Eva Longoria was the first |person to befriend her when she arrived in America, and Eva recently became baby Harper’s godmother.
  • TV presenters Fearne Cotton and Holly Willoughby have had an enduring friendship since the beginning of their careers.

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