If Sophie has her choice, this one won't be a boy

"Oh, I don't know," my exceptionally pregnant friend Sophie shrugs. "I'm really off men at the moment. This child had better be a girl."

We are trailing around the Science Museum on a chilly February morning with an assortment of kids, all of them ours, most of them boys. "You don't mean that," I offer weakly, mesmerised by so much grey machinery.

"I do," Sophie protests with a hot, convincing rage. "I don't want to be around men just now. Not even Matt. They're so ... well, male." We both laugh at the inadequacy of this remark, and yet I know exactly what she means.

Sophie and I have always loved men but there is something about a brand new body taking root inside your own for nine whole months that makes you yearn for softer things.

I remember - some time towards the end of my last pregnancy - sitting in a Soho restaurant at lunchtime and suddenly being overwhelmed by the sight of all these dark suits and ties and tall, thick bodies. Blunt, powerful hands gripping wine glasses - alien creatures with hair on their faces, loud laughs, great jutting elbows.

It was too brutal for words. I wanted to leave at once and wrap myself in a duvet - inhale lavender oil, look at tiny, fragile things, talk to a girl.

The first time I saw Sophie, she was sitting on a dusty lino floor by a drinks machine in a grey pin-striped jacket she'd picked up in a thrift shop in South Carolina. The origination of the jacket seemed romantic beyond belief. She later gave it tome, but on my gangly frame it lost its glamour.

She had long, straight Annie Hall hair, greenish eyes, a wide, know-it- all mouth. I thought she was the bee's knees. The boy I was with that afternoon turned out to have been at school with the boy she was with. A loud reunion was going on over our heads. "This is dull," she said, snatching up her fraying denim bag, "Let's have tea."

It was love. We ditched the men and went back to her room and talked all night.

For three years, we shared flats, overdrafts, skipped lectures together. We ate cottage cheese and beetroot, took seaweed pills, argued about Descartes and Ayer, shared a copy of Vogue even when we couldn't pay the rent.

We might have shared men, too, had our styles not been so hopelessly different. I was the easy one, the bait, and men went for me first, but it was Sophie they took seriously. It was to Sophie they offered weekends away, balls, marriage - anything more interesting than sex.

I invested in Sophieness. I borrowed her perfume (Chanel No 19), her clothes (said pin-striped jacket), her figures of speech (various and always witty), but it didn't do the trick. I once asked her how many boys she'd kissed that term and she said none. My despairing answer was in double figures. She laughed and said my openness was part of my charm. Hers was that she always made me feel better.

The thing we did share was our "numbness" (our word) - a sense we had of being apart from everything and everyone, dislocated, unhappy. Sophie once woke up in floods of tears on her birthday. I took endless emotional risks because I wanted to feel something. We threw ourselves into our work, but poets and philosophers seemed to confirm what we already knew: that It Was All Hopeless. We were typical students.

"What am I doing here?" Sophie once blurted out to me as we breast-stroked up and down the Union pool. "I can't go on with this much longer."

Unlike me, Sophie got married properly, in ivory white. The night before her wedding, we walked up a hill in the wash of evening sun. The fields were fluorescent green, flattened by early autumnal wind. We came back in the dark. "It feels like it's happening to someone else," she remarked and I agreed.

Sophie and I have had our babies in relay, one after the other, our eldest only a month apart. These days the numbness is magically gone and we laugh when we recall our aimless, beetroot-eating selves.

Now we wander through a room full of Second World War fighter planes to the Museum Caf, where there are tiny, impossibly expensive squares of vanilla cake for the kids and cappuccino for us. The bigger children hanker for crisps and fizzy drinks andwe authoritatively refuse.

Sophie decants juice into a beaker with a lid. As she sits she automatically parts her legs around the bump. I realise I've forgotten how it feels to be more than just me.

A woman grins at her, leans forward: "Do you know what it is?"

"A baby, I hope," Soph snaps, with only just enough of a smile.

We spoon the froth off our coffee. "You don't really care what sex it is," I tell her.

"I do," she says. "Look at them." All our kids are in a single, writhing heap on the floor. Struggling limbs, puppy grunts, flashes of fist. "So much bloody testosterone."

We all drift and bump back through the museum, past the war machinery and the buttons to press and the beaten bronze panels and steel girders.

Sophie sighs again. Then she catches my eye and we both laugh.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

    £600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star