When I was pregnant (a life event which started about two years ago) everyone was so happy for me. They congratulated me and asked me a million questions and told me how cute my bump was. They also told me everything was going to change, like that was a good thing, and I was adamant: Nope, it won’t. Just because I have a baby doesn’t mean I won't be me anymore! I told myself and anyone who would listen. My friends without kids were all, Right? That’s how it should be!
My friends with kids smiled knowingly. But I ignored that. I was different. I didn’t want to go to Mommy and Me. I wanted to go back to work. We got a nanny so that after-work life would be more flexible and we wouldn’t be beholden to day care hours. I was going to do it all. Work and pump and see my baby. Tons of women do it and they all look fabulous and my friends will still call me and it won’t be that different, I thought. Idiot.
Smiling mothers who nodded knowingly — of course you were right. I never imagined that my life as a mom would include being stuck in traffic, racing to get home from New Jersey to Brooklyn, breasts engorged and hormones raging, tears running down my face, just hoping I would make it home in time to nurse the baby before he fell asleep. I didn’t know that I would have carpel tunnel for two months before he was born and two months after so that changing even one diaper would be an excruciating and near-impossible task that I would somehow need to accomplish 20 times a day. (And by a day, I mean in a 24-hour period because unlike what I thought would be a “manageable” three months of sleeplessness, which would end just in time for me to go back to work, our kid didn’t sleep through the night until he was 8 months old. Which, after comparing notes, I learned is not even that bad.)
Yes, everything changed. But not in the “everything is perfectly complete now, I have a baby!” way. I did not look fabulous. None of my clothes fit. I had acne. Washing all those pump parts was like a second job. It was really, really overwhelming. My breasts were always leaking. And while I am beyond grateful that I had a baby on my own terms, and could afford to continue working and afford childcare and that my husband is truly an amazing angel sent from above — life was by no means some kind of fantasy land of complete bliss.
Looking back now, 15 months later, I wonder if that blissed-out, beautiful myth of motherhood — the one that so many of us buy into — is the reason they left.
I'm talking about my friends. The ones without kids. They left, and I have struggled to figure out why. Because while everything did change, I didn’t change. After our son was born, I didn’t feel like a different person. I felt like the same person. Just, you know, living on a different planet now.
In those early days there were, of course, times when I was beyond blissed-out on that planet. So happy that I couldn’t even remember life before. “I’m never going back there!” my mommy heart sang again and again.
But other times, man did I wanted to go back. Like, so so so so back. However, interstellar travel between me and my kid-free friends was near impossible. Can you come to my planet at 8:30am when things are calm and happy for about an hour before 6 hours of non-stop insanity? I would ask. No, they could not. That is an ungodly time of the day for anyone. I could not argue.
Could I come to their planet at 7pm when things are fun there? They would ask. (That would mean after work, at a time when I was supposed to be emptying my boobs, preferably into my infant’s body and not hooked up to a machine. Oh and also I will need a cold place to store the bottles of milk I pumped that day, as well as the new bottles?) No, I could not.
As time ticked on, the space between us grew into longer stretches of silence and every piece of me was screaming FUCK YOU! YOU CAN’T FUCKING LEAVE ME!!! But I knew it was not that simple. The dissolving of a friendship happens in slow, quiet drips. Screaming in response would have only seemed hysterical. So I screamed from inside the lonely fog of my maternity leave, as I pushed a stroller in circles around Brooklyn in the damp March weather. Can’t stop pushing, baby will wake up and cry. Can’t sit down, baby will wake up and cry. Can’t walk past a truck in New York City, baby will wake up and cry.
The Mommy and Me shit that I shunned before was my safe place. The only place I felt even a little normal. I could look around and every other face was wrinkled up in worry, like mine. Every other baby was wailing, like mine. Every other tummy was poochy and eyes were baggy and hair was a mess, like mine. This was my planet now. I sobbed.
I obsessed about my old life. I asked myself about my responsibility in the friend-bailing equation. Was I being a good friend in return? I felt guilty for caring about my job and my child and my husband. And then I felt guilty for caring about anything other than my son. I felt that I deserved to be forgotten because I CHOSE THIS.
But even as I blamed myself, as many of us are programmed to, a part of me knew better. It’s not my fault my friends left. But it’s not their fault either.
As this article in Elle so eloquently explains, it’s the myth’s fault. The myth that having a baby just makes your life perfect and completed:
The myth of the totally fine new family gives us a sense of comfort and ease. It tells us that new parenthood is beautiful and easy, so we don't need paid family leave. It tells us that babies have a parent with them at all times, so we don't need affordable, safe childcare. It tells us mothers and fathers are physically and mentally fine, and not in any way deserving of societal support during one of the most transformative and difficult periods of a family's life. It tells us that new mothers don't need to heal from my physical wounds or that moms and dads alike require time, rest, and support to lower their chances of developing a postpartum mood disorder.
The social discourse around motherhood is something like this: as a woman your goal is to have an education and career, a partner and children, a hobby and a home and a pet and a great wardrobe, and only then will you have achieved perfection as a woman. And in this warped idea of what a perfect life looks like, with one thing after another being piling on us, friendship is the one thing we are told is disposable.
Rarely are women with children depicted as having friends or focusing on anything on than their kids or their laundry. And for a while, yes, the kid is all-consuming. But it's not forever. Maybe my friends bailed on me forever before I could “leave” them for six to 12 months. But they probably didn’t know how much I needed them, thanks to this enormous gap in the rhetoric about motherhood, especially in the first year of a child's life.
Just like babies, new mothers are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We are scared, we are tired and we are so fucking lonely. We have milk dripping everywhere, which is great and horrible all at the same time. And there is little (OK, there is basically nothing) being done to take care of us. We are going back to work sooner than we are ready to, or taking care of our babies all day without any help.
Our strollers and our children's cries and our breasts that we are so pressured to feed them with are a nuisance and a bother to the civilized world. Our bodies, which went through hell to give life, are ridiculed and fetishized with discussions around baby weight and "bouncing back." We are being kicked off this planet and onto another one when really we would just like to stay here, with everyone else, and be welcomed and cared for.
But that also seems impossible. As the mother of a healthy child, nothing else is supposed to matter. Least of all you and your life. As one of my new-mom friends once put it: "We're just the wrapper. The world takes the candy and throws us away."
The image of a selfless, child-obsessed woman who never thinks of herself or her own life is harmful — not just to moms but to the other women in her life. When we are isolated from the reality of what motherhood looks like, these assumptions break women apart instead of pulling us together. It perpetuates another myth: the myth that after we have children, women no longer need friends.
The truth is, I needed mine. More than ever.