Among my amazing gaggle of female friends, many of us got married within the same two-year period (myself excluded). It was a time of wanton dancing, runny mascara joy-tears, eternal love pacts – and that was just the bachelorette parties.
Now, two years later, many of us* have new babies.
I knew, intellectually, that some dynamics would change among our group. Still, I’ve been surprised to see how different things have become in such a short period of time. And I’ve been embarrassed, frankly, by how hard this has been for me.
Just to be clear, I could not be happier for my friends who are new mothers. Their babies are adorable, and it’s moving to see what great parents my friends and their respective partners are – how parenthood is continuously making each of them a kinder, truer (albeit sleep-deprived), version of themself. I’d like to have children of my own someday, and I feel lucky to be able to watch and learn from people who provide such great examples.
And my friends and I have been making a big effort to be there for each other. I bring them food and coffee. I make myself available for babysitting, late-night phone calls, and the odd drink or three when it fits into their breastfeeding schedules. My friends, for their part, remain interested and invested in my life. Naturally, they don’t have nearly as much time or energy as they used to, but they give what they can, and that means the world to me.
So there’s good will all around. Which makes me feel especially guilty and weird about the new, baby-shaped gap I feel between us.
Logistics is a big part of it. When you have a child, you understandably can’t just drop everything and go to some weird after-hours theme party on the other side of town. There’s coordination required. If your spouse can’t be home with the baby, you need to get a sitter – and not just any sitter, but one who knows specifically about infant care**. And so on.
As a single person with no kids, on the other hand, I am always at the proverbial after-hours theme party. I go where I want, when I want, and often at the drop of a hat. Before they had babies, my friends were all the same way. And then, a few months ago, a band that several of us love was playing a surprise show in our city, and no one could go but me. (I went anyway, by myself, and had a great time.) There’s no value judgment either way, but the incident underlined to me that my friends with kids and I are now really in different places in our lives.
This difference, to a large extent, dictates what our preoccupations are, and we want to talk about. My friends and I have always had terrific conversations on a wide gamut of subjects, and motherhood is no exception. Those with babies have made me aware of how rewarding and difficult motherhood can be, and how the cultural glorification of motherhood as the best part of being a woman can make a mother who isn’t finding pure bliss every minute of every day feel like a failure – which is awesome and courageous of them to admit. Though I’m not in a place to give advice, I’m always eager to listen and offer support, just as they do for me.
That said, there are some topics on which, I’m discovering, my empathy has limits.
I get that poop is part of the world. You poop. I poop. My cats poop in their litter boxes, which I clean every day. Babies also poop. A lot. And since this is one of like three things little babies can actually do, I understand how their pooping is a big deal. It signals their health, their comfort, their growth.
But do I need to hear exhaustive descriptions about the color and quantity and smell of everyone’s baby’s poop? Do I need to hear it while we’re eating lunch? I’ve never asked my friends to save the diaper talk for another venue, because I know it’s important to them, and because I feel like a huge jerk for being squeamish about it. Yet I invariably go into this mental loop of, on the one hand, Why am I not a better friend? and on the other, Would it kill them to talk about something else for a while? The whole thing makes me feel a strange combination of grossed-out, resentful, and remorseful.
I know that when I have kids, I’ll be this way too – and that I’ll benefit exponentially for my friends having shared their experiences so candidly. And though I can’t say I’m much enamored of babies generally (they’re cute, but they just kind of lie there and fart)***, I’m excited to watch my friend’s children grow into individuals with personalities who I can play and learn with.
So I’m trying to be patient and accepting – with my friends, their babies, and myself. Already, I’m gravitating more towards other childless friends, just as my friends with babies are pulled more towards each other. I’m trying to be okay with that, even as I continue to fight for the older, infant-altered friendships I cherish so much.
But it comforts me to know, at least, that when my future children are born, there will be no shortage of hand-me-downs.
*Five of us, in a group of eight (give or take). That’s a lot, no?
**Which entails a lot more than I thought it would.
***Yes, I know it’s different when it’s your baby. As well it should be.