At the start of the school year, my four-year-old daughter and I made friends with another mother and daughter. Anna was just starting junior kindergarten, and the other little girl Maya* was in the senior kindergarten room next door. For whatever reason, they were drawn to each other and the four of us wound up having picnics in the grass after school. It was nice. I like both the mom and kid—which is not always the case.
A couple of weeks ago, Maya’s mom had another baby. I’m a bit of a fanatic about newborns. During the lead up time to the birth I kept telling my new friend that I’d babysit for her anytime. I told her this repeatedly, knowing it can be hard to trust. In my experience with Anna, people offered all kinds of help while I was pregnant. I heard everything from "When you have a baby I’ll be over all the time" to "I’m so excited, I’m basically gonna be its other mom! Let me know if you need anything!"
Here’s the problem: The things you "need" when you have a newborn on your hands is not glamorous. I needed nursing pads delivered regularly. I needed our stroller carried up the steep stairwell to our apartment. I needed laundry brought to the laundromat. I needed someone to make me a sandwich while my daughter was nursing. I probably needed more than the average new mom because I had less resources, less family, and because I was a single woman living with a chronic illness. I usually resisted help because I was set on proving that my decision to have a baby alone was reasonable—and I worried that asking for help meant that I'd made a mistake.
It’s not a secret. People tell you for months during your pregnancy that you’ll be surprised by which friends step up and which ones disappear once the baby arrives. And for months, everyone makes offers to lend a hand. You expect your close friends to be there—your best friends. The same friends who were around for your entire pregnancy. Your friends who work with kids, who love kids more than you do. It’s hard to imagine the heartbreak when you discover not all of them will be there after all.
I'll never forget the ones who were there for me. There was my friend who came in from the US to be with me during my first days of parenthood. There was the one who was wholly uninterested in children, but would stop by to take care of my laundry. There were friends I rarely saw pre-baby—who were moms of toddlers themselves—who suddenly arrived at my place to help me get things in order. There was the woman I barely knew who slept on my couch so she could wake up to feed my baby a bottle just so I could sleep. One friend I’d been out of touch with for awhile, and whose wife was in her third trimester, came by once a week at a scheduled time to simply hold Anna so I could shower and do other errands. A woman I’d known only in passing would drive across the city to pick us up and take me to my postnatal counselling appointments.
As Joel Keller wrote in the New York Times Motherlode section, "there was suddenly an outpouring of gifts from unexpected sources. You don’t need another list, so I will spare you, but it was truly not what I expected, or more so, not who I expected."
But after having Anna, I also lost friends. There were a lot of people whose became disinterested in my parenting journey after the first few weeks or months. There were those who treated my having a baby like just another thing I was doing—like taking a course or getting a new job. There were a few who were annoyed that Anna was what I talked about most. Some truly didn’t understand why I couldn’t do the things they wanted me to do, or why my interest level in some of the things we used to do together had shifted.
Four-and-a-half years later, this is still a topic that’s regularly on my mind. I still remember it clearly—both those generous friends and the ones who left me feeling hurt. I remember it enough that I want to be clear to my new mom friend that when I say I’ll be around I mean it—and will avoid making promises I can’t keep. Because I've been there.
Who was there for you when you had your babies?
*Name has been changed
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