Everyone always says that having children changes your life, and of course it did for me. Motherhood also changed my friendships. Before babies, I was very judgmental of my friends who’d had kids. I thought they used the child as an excuse for running late or bowing out of plans. They never complained to me about parenthood, and I saw post after happy post on Facebook of cute and smiley babies, so I assumed it was no big deal. It’s funny how much I assumed by reading between the lines, filling in the blanks between the line updates my friends shared with me and the world. Maybe they didn’t want to tell the fuller truth about early parenthood because they were so milk-drunk and Pitocin-infused that it really was far more wonderful than not. Maybe they didn’t give me the lowdown because they knew I wouldn’t understand, or thought I didn’t care. But it made me feel like my friends got old overnight. They woke up lame and boring, and that babies were just an excuse to get out of stuff because they just did not want to be friends with me anymore. I took it all very personally. I never expected that someday the tables would be turned, and that my first fight as a mom would be about the exact same thing.
I’d decided early on that I wanted a home birth, but in my first pregnancy I was risked out, and my baby was born, somewhat reluctantly, in the hospital after five long days of prodromal labor. Everyone was ready for the birth except my baby, who couldn’t make up her mind until I was so exhausted I could not push another millimeter and just wanted her out of me. She was born by C-section. Once she was out and I’d gotten a little sleep, I was as happy and milk-drunk as my friends before me, and I never complained once.
All the same, friendships drifted. My mom friends offered advice and hand-me-down baby clothes. I took the onesies and booties and hats, but I didn’t want their suggestions. I didn’t want to hear about what it was like when their children were babies. I didn’t want to hear about the mistakes they made and what I should do differently. I wanted to figure it out myself. So I let them drift a little further. But it wasn’t only me putting space where before I had close ties.
She said they’d rather get babysitters and go out without the kids. See you in a few years! she said.
Some of my mom friends seemed annoyed by my new status as a parent. One even told me that she and her husband were so relieved to be past the newborn phase that they were happy to pass their stuff down to us, but they didn’t want to spend time with us because I was still in the take-the-baby-everywhere stage while they were over babies. She said they’d rather get babysitters and go out without the kids. See you in a few years! she said.
As for my friends who did not have children, it was like the switch flipped on them, not me. Where my life was evolving and growing and changing, it was like time froze for them, and the things that excited me in my 20s, like backpacking and clubbing, concerts and hookups, were still the norm for them, and I understood now that they thought I was the lame and boring one.
Facebook was already a thing when my first baby was born but it was relatively new, entirely text-based. Still, it already carried the weight that social media does now, shaping the lives of our online friends, showing us only the things they want us to see, making things look different than they actually are. I had no idea what was going on with any of my friends at this point because all I saw were their status updates as I scrolled through Facebook late at night when I was up nursing my infant, and I made all kinds of assumptions about their lives: My friends were all happy with their choices, in their relationships. They had money, they never fought with their significant others, they had happy and healthy babies and tons of help. My sleep deprived imagination got wild with FOMO.
Apparently, this happened to other people as well.
I posted a picture of the new baby on Facebook with a proud proclamation that she had been born at home, but after that I was too tired to even get up and pour myself a glass of water.
I had a successful home birth with my second baby, and as wonderful as it was, the aftermath is quite different than in a hospital. In the hospital, someone is there to help you rest. A nurse cleans the baby. A lactation consultant helps you latch. Staff members change your bedding, clean your room, and generally make the first couple days of your baby’s life easier. Gifts are easy for visitors to obtain, food is readily available. When your baby is born at home, the midwives take the trash with them on their way out, but you are left at home with your life and your newborn. I’d labored for 17 hours and delivered in the bathtub. We had no nurse, no lactation consultant, no staff. I posted a picture of the new baby on Facebook with a proud proclamation that she had been born at home, but after that I was too tired to even get up and pour myself a glass of water. I was utterly spent and my house was a wreck, my toddler was being ignored, and my husband was at the beck and call of three humans who could not go to the bathroom by themselves.
A couple days later a friend visited me. This friend was the one who told me she’d see me in a few years because her children were a little older than mine and she was over babies. Recently, she’d told me that she’d toyed with the idea of a home birth herself but felt like an unmedicated birth in a birthing center was the right compromise. Still, she said wanted to hear all about my experience and I thought it would be nice to reconnect. She was the first person to visit us other than immediate family. She didn’t bring food. She didn’t offer to help. She came and sat for a little while and held the baby. I was happy to see her, but I didn’t need a social call. The house was a total mess. I hadn’t showered or slept much since the birth. I needed someone to do the dishes or make me a snack other than the peanut butter and Oreos I’d been eating for days. I needed a friend who understood. We hadn’t been close for a year or two, but I assumed she could be that friend, having gone through childbirth twice before. I said little, and she stood awkwardly, rocking my baby in her arms, until it was time for me to nurse her. I took her back and my friend left. We barely spoke.
Later she sent me a text asking if I was mad at her. I had no idea what she was talking about. She said I was so quiet when she visited me that she assumed I was mad but didn’t know why. I told her I wasn’t mad. I was exhausted. I’d just had a baby. At home! How could she not understand that? She said, but you made home birth look like it was all puppies and rainbows on Facebook.
I was dumbfounded. Facebook, the construct we all participate in to show only those things about our lives that we want the whole world to see. I told her that yes of course I was over the moon to have had the kind of birth I always wanted but it was still childbirth. I pushed a human out of my vagina without any medication or medical intervention. Did she want details? She could have asked me for them, but I wasn’t going to post them on Facebook. I asked her if she’d really expected me to post pictures of our messy apartment, my sleep-deprived face, the meals of cookies and nut butter from the jar. I asked her if she as a mother herself might have also wanted to be able to be her tired, fat, new mama self when her friends came to visit and not be expected to put on an entertaining show for her visitors. I asked her what she’d been hoping for instead of finding me the way I was, which obviously came up short. It wasn’t that I wasn’t grateful that she made the long trip to visit me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t grateful for her old baby things. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see her. It’s that I fully expected that I could be myself and let my hair down in front of an old friend who would get it and maybe hold my new kid or play with my other kid for 10 minutes so I could take a shower, and I was devastated that she didn’t. We discussed this for a while, mostly by email and text. We went back and forth for some time, each of us unearthing a laundry old resentments and saying “yes but...” so many times that I realized this misunderstanding might have come out as a result of Facebook and puppies and rainbows but the issues had started long before.
Eventually I decided it wasn’t worth repairing. This was a friendship I was going to let drift a little more, and a little more, until it was gone.