I found myself on new territory last night, during a routine visit to best friend and her new baby. I must have seen them ten times since they came out of hospital and was starting to feel safe in the knowledge that I’d exorcised most of the things I might feel at this early stage in the game; concern, anxiety, delight, relief, sadness, frustration, blah, blah.

I was wrong.

I was greeted by a frazzled, frayed, sleep-deprived and completely lacking in perspective, friend. I’m used to counselling on issues I know nothing about – I do it frequently, and for a living – and I found myself rolling out all the new mother clichés as she fretted; sleep deprivation as a form of torture, the stress of learning something completely new, reaching new milestones and other such things I can’t now remember. But, she said, it’s the breast feeding in particular, it is anxious making, difficult, relentless. I just wanted to say well, give it up then! But a very strong instinct stopped me.

I felt this great gap widening as she spoke in a language I didn’t comprehend – feeding, not feeding enough, topping up, not sleeping, not settling; all issues connected with breast feeding. Of course I understood the words, but they didn’t make any sense to me. I felt impotent, unable to give advice on things I knew I wouldn’t truly understand until I went through them, on things I may never go through. Then I was worried; how was our friendship going to survive if the gulf between our experiences kept on growing?

As she spoke, I racked my brains. Quick, understand, why does this matter so much to her? Is it that breasts just sit there, doing nothing, for most your life and when their number comes up, they’ve got to deliver the goods quickly, in order to justify their existence. Of course I should understand this, I thought, I feel the same way about my ovaries. But still, I wasn’t feeling it, I wasn’t able to identify it amidst the mulch of feeding and topping up and all the other stuff.

I scraped for around for a way to advise; other people, I said, speak to other people – friends who’ve been through it, your NCT class – all the time thinking, in an ideal world we would be going through this at the same time and speaking about this. That had been the plan, hadn’t it? But no, the friends that had been through it had long since moved on to other problems with their babies and everyone in her NCT is tickety boo. Nothing is wrong with them. They are fine, she said. I feel like I am failing, she said. I feel like I’m on my own, like I’m the only one who can’t do it.

Suddenly she was speaking a language I understood and I felt the gulf close. Just keep going, I said, you’ll get there, you always do. Take it easy on yourself, this is all new, nature doesn’t always perform in the way we want it to, just be easy on yourself, you’re doing great, I said, as I rolled out a pep talk for the both of us.

And, like she’d sensed it, she said, the irony of this situation, you know – what I’m going through, what you’re going through – it’s not lost on me. I know, I said, and hugged her.

I said my goodbyes to the family, who are also my family. Gave my friend a hug and promised to come visit as soon I returned from being away for a few days. Felt the family watch us, felt their relief and gladness at our friendship. Felt their eyes on my belly, wondering why there wasn’t a bump there. Felt the gulf opening up again. And I made my way home.

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