1) Bring food. Bring soup in plastic containers you can heat up in the microwave, and good bread and butter. Bring juice: apple juice or elderflower juice. If you bring wine don’t expect it to be opened. Most importantly, bring something for the new mother; hand cream or cake or nail polish or a box-set of the Gilmore Girls or whatever she actually likes. Bring some tiny item of clothing and say you couldn’t resist it. Nothing too hard to put on; a hat or booties. Bring ‘Life After Birth’ by Kate Figes. Seriously, just bring it.
2) Don’t go in too loud. Your friends will suddenly be operating on a totally different sound level than they used to. Whisper-shout “HI!” so they know you’re excited, though. Go to the mum first and look her in the eyeballs: you will both be worried she’s changed. She hasn’t. Hug the new dad firmly but don’t hold on too tight because he is tired, and has been doing more cuddling than he’s used to. Compliment them both on how great they look.
3) Turn your attention to the baby. It is a very small baby; remark upon this. Say “Hello” to the baby: the baby will not respond. Hand over your gifts. You will be asked if you would like to hold the baby; the correct answer to this question is yes. Be terrified by how quickly the baby is simply handed to you. Fumble the baby and swear loudly, then stand frozen to the spot as the baby dangles from your hands. Be shown how to hold it by the Dad, a man who you once saw do a line of cocaine at 11 am before he went to play soccer. Bounce up and down slightly, like a professional. The baby will immediately shit audibly or cry as though you have broken its heart. Grimace, apologise, hand it back.
4) Make the soup. Ask your friend how the birth was; be visibly shocked by the answer – you must agree two things now. One, that it sounds like a particularly scary, appalling birth and two, that it was fine. Agree with the dad that it sounds like the hospital did a completely shoddy and also brilliant job. Look again at the baby; its eyes will roll around in its head. It looks like your friend, and also not like her. Wonder if you will know it always. Resolve to protect the baby with your life, if necessary.
5) Wash up the goddamn dishes. Drink tea. Sit with the baby on your lap. Wonder if you will ever have be able to have children. Feel life aquaplaning away from you as the sky darkens. Touch the little baby nose with your finger, boop! Talk to your friend about pooping. Give her inane parenting advice gleaned from anecdotes about people you know because you need to say something. Say at least one completely wrong thing that causes both new parents’ faces to flicker with horror; backtrack immediately then distract them with their baby.
6) Stay no more than an hour and a half. If asked to stay longer, decline: they do not actually want you to stay for dinner. Wash up your goddamn mug before you leave. Walk out into the drifts of leaves along the road. Feel grateful, feel astonished, feel desperate.