Me, my best friend and her baby (2): I felt joy for Katja, but my own loss made me envious

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The Independent Online
KATJA HARRISON, 37, a clinical psychologist, and Ruth Goodman, 34, a social worker, had been close friends for six years when Katja had Rachel (now two). They had always been able to confide in each other and discuss issues that were important to them.

KATJA: 'I wanted to wait until after the amniocentesis before telling friends I was pregnant, as I was superstitious about something being wrong. My father had recently died and my whole pregnancy was overshadowed by his death, so I was in a bit of a dream. It is hard to remember clearly how Ruth felt when I told her. I think she was pleased and surprised at the same time.

My relationship with Peter was a crucial part of my decision to have a baby - I'm not the sort of person to have had a baby no matter what. I felt very lucky to have met someone who I really wanted to have a child with, and to be at a point in my life where it felt right.

Ruth visited us in hospital as soon as Rachel was born. She was one of the first people to hold her and she was very happy. I hoped she might become a sort of aunt to Rachel.

I think I had suppressed a lot of feelings while I was pregnant in case something awful happened, so the baby being here didn't seem real. I couldn't believe she was mine] My friendship with Ruth wasn't affected by Rachel's birth. I certainly didn't feel any sense of guilt or that I had betrayed Ruth by having a baby before her; she was younger than me and had time.

But I am completely unobjective with Rachel, I believe she is the most beautiful and the cleverest baby in the world] When I was a psychology student, child development was dull, but watching Rachel's development has been fascinating, especially her language. I also found it hard going back to work when she was six months old; although my career is important to me, she seemed too young to leave.

My feelings towards Ruth remained the same - you still have adult interests, and it was important to meet and talk as before. But we saw less of each other because Ruth found it difficult to get to my house, and I couldn't go out because of the baby's routine.

When I heard Ruth might not be able to have children I felt almost guilty. It definitely had an impact on our friendship. My strategy was not to talk about Rachel to her because I knew it must make her feel sad and left out. For a while, we hardly saw each other at all.

I became close friends with a woman who lives nearer to me and has a child the same age. You do seek out other mothers when you have a child. I see this woman far more often now than I do Ruth. I hope that when Ruth comes to terms with her possible infertility we will communicate more easily again. We need to explore the whole subject so that it is not so painful for her.

If she were to see more of Rachel, I know it would only make her want a child more. At the beginning I thought she would have far more contact with her, but somehow it didn't happen and she has only seen her two or three times. With my father dead and no family in this country, it would be nice if Rachel could be significant in Ruth's life.

I have no regrets about my own life: I have done most of the things I wanted to do before having a child, I got on with my career and travelled a lot. If I were Ruth, I imagine I would be terribly sad.'

RUTH: 'I had no idea Katja had seriously considered having a baby. When she sprang it on me she was already half way through her pregnancy, so I felt quite left out. I desperately wanted children myself, but babies were out of the question because I was having problems with my relationship. I couldn't help feeling envious of Katja and Peter. I wondered whether we would be able to relate in the same way. The fact that neither of us had children was one of our bonds, and now we were going to lose it.

I went to see them in hospital as soon as Rachel was born. I held her and thought she was absolutely beautiful; I really did. I felt overjoyed for Katja and Peter but also an overwhelming sense of loss and envy. It seemed really urgent that I sort out my relationship so that I could do the same thing. I was 34 - it seemed as if I might run out of time if I didn't get on with it. I wouldn't have felt like that if I had been 10 years younger.

Our friendship changed enormously after Rachel was born. We had always met regularly, but now Katja didn't want to go out or drive across London with a tiny baby. I could understand that, but I don't have a car, so it was difficult for me. I was afraid of phoning her, too, in case she was putting Rachel to bed, so we stopped talking on the phone so much - we used to have long conversations every week.

But there weren't just physical obstacles. The envy didn't go away. My relationship was in a mess. When I thought of Katja and her baby it brought a sense of loss. It would have probably have helped if I could have told her - she is a very sensitive person and would have understood, but there are some things it is difficult to admit to. I was afraid if she knew I was envious it would take the edge off her joy. I went to stay with her once, but the baby absorbed most of her attention. She had become very maternal, which was strange, as I'd never seen her as the mothering type] I had always thought of myself as the maternal one.

She did go back to work fairly quickly, but I'd have been surprised if she hadn't. She is an extremely skilled professional. Katja is an independent person and wouldn't have asked for help even if she'd needed it. She would sometimes mention to me if she was exhausted, but I don't think she needed me in any way, other than to listen to her.

I have definitely missed Katja since Rachel was born. We had an hour and a half together without the baby a few months ago and it was like old times, but even that felt pressured; it wasn't long enough to catch up on two years. I think people make room for their relationship with their baby by losing things that bind them to other people.

I have discovered recently that I may not be able to have children - I may be infertile. Katja knows about this and has been extremely sensitive. She leaves it up to me to raise the subject of babies and to ask about Rachel. She is even tentative about showing me photographs of Rachel in case they distress me.

I still want my own family more than anything. I don't think knowing a friend's child could compensate, although it could be enriching to develop a relationship with them.

Katja and I are begining to talk about these issues now, but it has taken us a while; if anything, discovering my infertility probably opened up the paths of communication again; we have been forced to confront the whole subject.

Katja's experience has made me aware of the level of energy a baby demands and how restrictive one can be, but also of the deep sense of meaning there is in a relationship with a child.

I know I have more freedom and am less bound than Katja, but I doubt whether she envies anything in my life. She seems quite reconciled to her own; quite satisfied.'

(Photograph omitted)