The Friend Every Mother Needs
There are a lot of things no one told me ahead of time about motherhood. Right at the top of the list is how lonely and isolating it can be. I don’t know why I had this false image in my head of dozens of cozy mom friends, play dates, library visits and hours spent visiting while the kids played on the jungle gym, but it definitely was not like that for me.
I was the first of our group of friends to have a baby, and just like that, I lost all my contemporaries. I had one friend from high school who was a mom, but then she moved to another state, had another baby, and got too busy to chat on the phone or even bang out the occasional email. While my college friends wanted to talk about their jobs or their boyfriends or their latest night out drinking or the state of US politics, I was a stay-home mom yearning for someone who had walked in my shoes. I wanted to talk about breastfeeding and milestones and sleep deprivation and baby gear. I felt like we had nothing in common, like I lived on a different planet. When a friend visited me and asked, “So this is what you do all day? Mom stuff?” I felt judged, dismissed, marginalized.
I was quite happy to be at home with my infant for the first 5 months or so, cooking and cleaning while he napped, and doing things like reading or organizing my filing system, things I didn’t have time to do when I was working outside of the home. Then, out of the blue, my hormones went haywire and I sunk into the deep, seemingly bottomless pit of postpartum depression, and all the light went out of my life. My husband tried his best, but he just didn’t understand, and I longed for someone to talk to. The worst part about the whole thing was how dreadfully alone I felt.
Over time, the depression got better, but I still felt lonely. My friend from high school moved back into the state, but was still an hour away. Her two older kids were in school and her life was too busy to get together more often then every three or four months or so. My life was a solitary existence.
I tried making friends around the neighborhood, but the other mothers were not forthcoming. When I smiled at another mom on a walk, she would avert her eyes. If I asked a woman with a baby in the grocery store, “He’s so cute, how old is he?” she would answer dismissively, turning her attention to her coupons or her shopping list. I lurked around other groups at the playground. Too shy to interrupt a play date in progress, I pushed my baby on the swings and hoped they would talk to me, include me in their group. It never happened.
The children’s librarian at the local library mentioned a group for the neighborhood through Yahoo. It was more of a place to get recommendations for pediatricians or to ask for breastfeeding help, but there were occasional posts about playgroups. I started a topic introducing myself, but didn’t receive much of a response.
I started taking my son, then almost a year old, to the children’s program at the library. Sitting on the floor with my baby, surrounded by other mothers with their kids, I felt more alone than ever. All the other mothers seemed to know each other. What had happened to me? I had tons of friends in high school, was outgoing and friendly. So what was wrong with me now that I couldn’t make friends? Why was it so hard? Another mom in the neighborhood and I exchanged a few emails about getting our kids together to play. Then I introduced myself to her at the library and the emails stopped. She said hi to me in church a few times, but that was it. Paranoia set in. Had I been blacklisted? Had I somehow gotten a reputation that I didn’t know about? Had that other mother told the rest of the group about the time my son grabbed her daughter’s ponytail and pulled? Did I give off the wrong vibe?
Soon after that, I became pregnant with my second baby. I had resigned myself to the fact that my husband and I were “the couple with kids” in our group of friends, while others were “the newlyweds” or “the career couple,” when one of the women also became pregnant. I was overjoyed. Finally, there would be someone in our group who understood what my life was like, what I spent my days doing. I was sure that it would bring us closer together.
For a while, it seemed like it would happen. Our pregnancies overlapped. My baby was only 3 months old when hers was born. We compared bellies (mine was smaller) and symptoms (her heartburn was worse). We attended each other’s baby showers, and she picked my brain about breastfeeding and baby gear. But once the babies were born, the closeness didn’t last. In fact, it seemed like motherhood further emphasized the differences between us. She went back to work; I continued to stay home. She made all her own baby food; I was content to buy Gerber. I breastfed my baby until my milk dried up; she quite happily switched to formula at three months. She took her baby to Gymboree and Mommy and Me class; I went to the playground instead. She told me about all the cartoons her baby liked; the last time I touched my television was to wipe the dust off the screen. She relied on her pediatrician and books by experts for advice; I tended to ask my own mother what she thought. When I tentatively suggested she try eliminating milk protein from her reflux-y baby’s diet, my advice was pointedly ignored.
What’s more, while we had babies in common, I no longer wanted to talk about diapers and baby gear and feeding schedules. I was back to wanting to discuss politics and fashion and books. We were both mothers, but we were at different points in our lives.
Eventually, I did make a friend. She responded to me through the Yahoo group and we got together. She lives ten blocks away, and her two children are roughly the same age as mine. We have similar backgrounds, similar parenting ideologies, similar experiences, but we have plenty of differences too. For some reason, the differences don’t matter so much. Instead, they highlight our individual strengths and give me something to aspire to. I’m the better housekeeper; she can play with her children for hours without getting antsy. I’m the more fashion conscious of the two of us; I have never heard her raise her voice. We talk about the kids plenty, but we also talk about our husbands, television, politics, food, gardening, music, beer and a million other things. I can call when I’ve had a bad day and she’ll listen to me complain for twenty minutes without interrupting me. She doesn’t judge me when I get frustrated with my three year old. She’s the kind of friend who makes me laugh, the kind of friend whom I don’t always need to explain things to because I already know she gets it. She makes me realize that I don’t need dozens of cozy mom friends, because I’ve found the perfect friend.
I still see my college friends from time to time, and couple by couple, they’re getting married and contemplating children. And at some point, I know they will ask me about diapers and baby gear and breastfeeding. But because I have my tried and true mom friend, I’ll no longer feel alone.