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Marisa Mackle: Caught out at the airport in the pity stakes

You know what they say . . . people with children feel sorry for those without and vice versa. I once felt sorry for young parents. I used to think their lives were totally over.

One of my school friends got pregnant pretty much straight after the Leaving Cert. She had four babies in a row; she was pregnant for most of her twenties. She used to invite me around and I rarely took up the offer. I didn't want to be stuck inside with little kids running around screaming. The thought of it was enough to bring on a mini-migraine. What if they got their grubby paws on my designer clothes? I invited my pal on my nights out but she was always too exhausted to come and, anyway, she had nothing in common with my single friends. They were looking for men but she already had hers. In fact she had five, counting her four sons.

Sometimes she would ring to say she had spotted me in a magazine while in the doctor's waiting room with one of the kids. She would often say she was envious of the life I was leading. I would play it down and say that it wasn't as much fun as it looked and that it must be very nice to have a family. I was lying of course. I wouldn't have traded places with her for anything. I could do whatever I wanted, and I did. I jetted all over the world and partied like there was no tomorrow. I didn't need money for childcare, baby wipes and nappies; every cent went on handbags, shoes and fancy cocktails.

Fast-forward a few years. The partying has stopped. I obsess about sleep because I'm so often deprived of it. The designer shoes are in the attic because they're not practical when you're pushing a pram.

I was at Dublin airport the other day. I was exhausted and stressed, wearing no make-up, with my baby crying in his pram. Normally I'd browse around the shops trying on perfume before my flight, but this time I needed to find a baby changing room. I spotted a very glamorous woman; high heels, sunglasses on her perfectly blow-dried hair. It was my friend.

We air kissed. She admired baby Gary. She introduced me to her son, a fine strapping lad. They were off to London for the sales. Her husband was at home with the other three boys. We didn't chat long. Her son was off to the bar to buy a pint for himself and a gin and tonic for his mum, while mine needed his nappy changing. I tried not to notice the pity in her eyes.