edit: to those of you who read this post and commented negatively on my friend’s blog, for shame. You’re missing the ENTIRE point of my post, of being more understanding, and of seeing things from the other side. She is a friend of mine, and while I don’t agree with everything she writes or feels, that’s fine with us because we are realistic and mature. She kindly gave me permission to link her blog post here as part of a dialogue, but has had to remove it due to unkind words. I can’t say how frustrated that makes me.
A while ago my friend wrote a post illustrating her feelings about being in her 30’s, not having kids, and being forced into one too many conversations about baby poop for her liking. If you read it, but you don’t know her, you might find it a bit harsh. And if you know her, like I do, you may still find it a bit harsh. But she’s honest like that, and I can appreciate it. She addresses her viewpoint of the situation with humor and snark (two of her specialties!) but what she’s getting at can be a serious problem. The issue she raises is a real one, the dilemma of a schism, real or imagined, that grows in some relationships after a child is born. The way motherhood can consume some people making their childless friends feel alienated, the way becoming a mother can leave a person feeling abandoned by childless friends.
In the comments after the post, I tried to be the voice for new mothers who are truly in love with their new baby, but don’t always want to talk about it. None of my fellow commenters, or my friend herself, seemed to hear my voice on that issue. So I let it drop. Bigger person and all that jazz. But today I’m picking it back up again because I had an ‘A-HA!’ moment (how are we going to live without Oprah giving us catchphrases!?).
Recently there was a get together. I didn’t hear about it until about 5 minutes before it was over, when I’m sure someone realized they forgotten to invite those of us with a child (hi Whitney!) and probably felt bad. I am fairly certain the oversight was just that, a mistake made by people who usually socialize together, without us, because they generally socialize at night when babies go to sleep and can’t go to bars. They didn’t invite us because we can’t usually go, which my rational mind can understand. I have the 30 years of life experience it takes not to take it personally, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting a little. A chance to socialize, in daylight hours, without Dave in a baby friendly environment? Chances like this don’t come along every day! I would have brushed my hair for that! So I was, if I’m honest, disappointed. And it made me think of my friend’s blog post, how she felt neglected by her friends who had children and were no longer interested in her life as they should be. And I realized the feeling, at times, can be mutual.
Before I had baby, before she was even conceived of, I had fears about what motherhood would do to me. Over the years some of my friends have become mothers, some haven’t, some still plan to, some never want to. And regardless of where they stand on the culturally charged issue of parenthood or where they are in the winding road of life, at some uncertain point in time suddenly nothing seems to be as crucial the question: to-baby-or-not-to-baby?
I know how it feels. To have not even the slightest interest in babies but to be sitting face to face with one in the arms of a friend who suddenly seems to have no recollection of what she used to talk about before she pushed that little watermelon out. I nodded and I smiled and I asked questions that I had pre-planned so that I seemed more interested than I was. Sometimes I’d throw out a test question, a query about something in current events or a topic we used to enjoy discussing together…and I was always heartened by a response that sounded a lot more like the woman I knew pre-baby. She was in there, just a little bit distracted. Sometimes, if I was close enough with the friend in question, I’d even offer to hold the baby (though I always asked to be handed the baby while I was already seated, preferably in a nest made of pillows, just in case) and I’d stare at it staring at me and wonder what was it about this creature that absorbed so much of my friend’s gray matter?
And now I know.
Now that I have a baby, and have undoubtedly had conversations about placentas or poop that have lasted 20 minutes too long, I see what was going on in those gorgeous minds of my friends. And I’m glad I stuck by them. I’m glad I asked questions that had answers I didn’t give a rip about. I’m glad I forgave and forgot about the calls they didn’t return. I’m glad I held their babies for them while they took a pee (you have no idea what it’s like to take a pee holding a baby, until you do) even though I thought their baby was giving me a dirty look. Because most of them came back from the brink. They got more sleep and the baby grew older and those mothers missed their adult interactions. They asked more about me but we spoke plenty about their child (because, HELLO!, it’s a huge and amazing part of their life!) and we talked less about poop and a new balance was found. Some of them may never have come back, but after some reflection I have to wonder if that’s the case, were we really friends at all? Is it fair to blame a baby?
The root of the problem, as best I can gather, is the passive aggressive nature of our relationships as women in general. Most people want to believe they are the no-nonsense type (who would want to be the nonsense kind?) who will tell our friends what’s what when we’re feeling neglected by them. But most of the time, none of us actually have the guts to do that. Call it cowardice, call it politeness, call it the patriarchal society that gives us the desire to be a ‘nice girl’, call it what you want but the truth is that we hold in our emotions, smile through our pain, and bitch about our feelings to someone else. And the cycle of miscommunication goes on. So here, on the internet, I’m going to tell you what’s what, from where I sit.
When you’ve just had a baby, it consumes your conversations because it consumes your life. You waited for 9 months for it to come and then it’s there and it takes a 24 hour a day team of ambitious individuals to keep it alive and not crying. And things you never thought of before like developmental milestones and gripe water and nipple chafing seem overwhelming. Talking it out doesn’t mean that you find the color of your child’s poop particularly fascinating, it means that you are trying to figure it all out yourself and bouncing ideas off someone, anyone, makes that seem slightly easier. But out of respect for you friendships, your friends who don’t yet have or don’t ever want children, remember them, ask about them, call them (even if you intentionally do it at a time when you know you’ll get their voicemail because you’re too exhausted for a conversation with anyone who isn’t automated) and say you love them. You’re going to need them later even if they can’t grasp what you’re going through now.
When your friend has a baby, and doesn’t remember to ask you about your job, your house, your partner, your dog, your life, it hurts. Even if you are over the moon for them, you remember a two-sided friendship and are suddenly faced with a one-baby show. It’s hard to imagine being satisfied by a friendship that has a 15-pound elephant in the room, and you can’t help but blaming that elephant a little for stealing your friend. You care about you friend, and her elephant, but you don’t care about developmental milestones or gripe water or nipple chafing, and why should you? But out of respect for what they are going through, even though you can’t understand it, nod through these mind numbing conversations, hold that stinky little child and pretend to like it, ask them about other things because (contrary to popular belief) sometimes even SHE is sick of thinking/talking about her baby but needs someone to point the conversation elsewhere, and for the love of god, invite her even when you know she can’t come with you. Someday soon she will be able to join you, and you’ll never know how much it meant to her to be included by someone she loves so much.
When you allow yourself to realize these two viewpoints, both valid and both real, you can come back to what matters: being a good friend. Do I appreciate having friends who also have children so I can commiserate or seek advice without feeling like a woman obsessed with her offspring? Yes. Do I appreciate the refreshing nature of a conversations with a friend who has no idea what an exersaucer is? More than you know.
A good friend listens to things she doesn’t usually care about because she cares about the person saying them. A good friend remembers that the sun and moon don’t revolve around her (or her baby) and keeps up on the lives of her friends, even if it takes more effort than it used to. A good friend knows that life is always changing, circumstances can be confusing, but friendships keep us afloat through them all. It’s not all sunshine and roses, relationships get messy, feelings get hurt, I still probably bring up poop too many times in the course of an average day. I’m a woman with friends and interests, I’m a mother with an obsession with her babies (both canine and human), I’m a work in progress and so are you.
A Saturday night before baby, we’re drunk on delicious rum.
A Saturday night since baby was born, she is drunk on delicious breastmilk.