Photo courtesy of Olivia Christensen

The "Aunt" To My Children Saved Me, & Now It's My Turn To Pay Her Back

If there was anything in my life that came to symbolize the depression I experienced during my third pregnancy it would have been the piles of important documents, junk mail, old receipts, candy wrappers, and actual dirt that had begun to spread like a layer of despair across the floor between my bed and my bedroom wall. In the center of this canal of filth sat Kristy, swatting dust bunnies aside, her eyes alight with the pleasure of a challenge, explaining to me how she had organized my mortgage agreement and insurance policies into separate folders and tossed the junk mail. As she reached for the vacuum, I could feel the weight of everything that pile had come to symbolize over the course of the last eight months lifting from my shoulders.

Kristy and I have been friends since we were 14, we had slumber parties and swapped burnt CDs. We even went to college together. While this might sound like a classic lifelong friendship, still being friends by my third pregnancy was hardly a foregone conclusion. As so many of us know, friendships between new mothers and their child-free friends often don’t make it.

I became a mom at 22, so for me, this awkward dynamic defined all my friendships. I found myself feeling embarrassed and alienated. While my friends were donning caps and gowns, and spending their Saturdays trying out new restaurants with new dates, I was googling the potential risks of eating cinnamon during my second trimester. It was a weird time, my friends wanted to party until dawn and I wanted to go to bed at 9. We were all being a little judgy about it. And that was just pregnancy.

Things got worse when my gorgeous baby girl came bouncing into the world and I decided she was the only thing that ever had and ever would matter. For their part, my friends thought my new kid was too loud, kind of gross, and way more durable than I would admit. As you might imagine, most of these friendships didn’t last. My friends and I had just become too different. And yet, my friendship with Kristy survived.

In May, I will have the privilege of meeting Kristy’s first baby.

There are a lot of factors parents and non-parents face in their effort to stay friends as their lives diverge, but as I think of how Kristy and I stayed close, I always see her on the floor, calmly sorting through my physical and emotional chaos. She has always been there. When other friends were annoyed by the inflexibility of my daughter’s bedtime routine, Kristy picked up Chinese take-out and we ate on the couch, glancing at each other nervously every time the baby grunted in her swing. When my daughter screamed for two hours straight and I was in tears because she was refusing to breastfeed Kristy took my daughter into her arms and tried a bottle. When that didn’t work either, Kristy scoured the internet for a diagnosis.

As one baby turned into three, Kristy was always one of the first people to meet my children. She has been there for their birthday parties and ice cream dates. She stays with them so my husband and I can have a date night. My children call her “aunt” because to them, that’s who she is. In all of this, Kristy didn’t simply go from being my friend to a beloved nanny figure to my children. Like a true “aunt,” her closest relationship is still to me, her soul-sister. She has never stopped inviting me to engage in her much cooler life, and honestly, that might be the thing I appreciate the most.

In May, I will have the privilege of meeting Kristy’s first baby. As one might expect, my friend has called to ask my advice from everything from twinges in her abdomen to what questions to ask potential pediatricians. I’m a bit of a know-it-all, so doling out my wisdom and experience has been a real joy. But I find myself realizing, as her due date approaches, that she is not the only one with a coming role change. Sure, she will be a first-time mother, but now it is my turn to be an auntie. As she looks to me as a veteran mom, I find myself looking to her to see how to give the kind of unconditional support that saves an important friendship from the swirling vortex of the newborn stage. As I prepare myself to be there for her like she was there for me, I recognize that it goes beyond services rendered, it is about the kind of sincere friendship that won’t be deterred by insecurities and scheduling changes.

The fracture that often occurs between friends as one becomes a parent before the other can feel very heated. The child-free friend feels that they have been forgotten as their friend's life is grounded by the serious work of parenthood. All the while, their parent friend comforts themselves with angry shower rants that resolve in a fantasy where the child-free friend, now a parent, comes to them tearfully apologizing for their past ignorance.

Sometimes there is no good answer. Sometimes the divide is simply too wide. But what Kristy taught me as she saved our friendship with take-out, Marie Kondo-level organizational skills, and sacred relationships with my children, is that even when everything changes, some things don’t have to.

It really can be as simple as loving your friend so much that you fall in love with their kid, too.