My baby was still a tiny bean, just an idea, when my friends started to worry about me. Forget health insurance, forget a bigger apartment, a better job: I was eight weeks pregnant and I needed some Mom Friends.
“A girl in my yoga class is pregnant, you should meet her!”
“Oh, a friend of my old boss just had a baby, I’ll give you her email.”
“No pressure, but my friend Jamie has two kids. You should meet her and talk about having a kid in New York. She is great. You will love her.”
I’d say “Okay!” and try to be polite, but on the inside I’d be screaming. I feared that so much in my life was about to change forever. I didn’t want to spend those precious last not-yet-a-mom months hanging out with strangers. Why were they trying to pawn me off already?
Anyway, I was sure that when the time came I’d make all kinds of laid-back, wise, tea-drinking friends naturally. We’d share a look at the playground and I’d compliment her tattoo or her harem pants and soon we’d be sipping tea at her kitchen counter (it’s always white subway tile, in my fantasy) and taking turns to console and compliment each other in equal measure. Our babies, of course, would be napping in the next room.
In reality, my baby is 6 months old and I have no mom friends. This is a problem that worries others on my behalf: I am supposed to have a little meet-up group of babies born in the same month and we’re supposed to pass around clothes and tips and nannies and Facebook likes. In practice, though, I’ve found myself a little too proud and a little too overwhelmed about everything else to make the overtures necessary for new friendship. Plus, I already have friends. Real friends, ones who get my jokes and have things in common with me besides lactating. Friends I don’t have enough time for as is.
Of course, when the baby came, I longed to relate to someone about it and had no idea how to communicate what it was like to my real friends. Even if I could find the words, I definitely didn’t have the energy. My friends wanted to come by and hold the baby and hear about the miracle of motherhood and I wanted to cry and float on a cloud of Percocet, to take them by the shoulders, shake them, and urge them to save themselves. They brought food. They asked me how giving birth was, how being a mom was, how taking care of a newborn was. What else could they do? I just sat on the couch and told them things were “crazy.” They asked if I had mom friends yet, if any women from my childbirth class had also given birth. I shook my head, shrugged, looked the other way.
Soon after I was perusing diaper supplies at our neighborhood baby store when a woman from my prenatal yoga class called out to me. We smiled from behind the shock and fog of having a new baby. I looked at her own newborn in a stroller. He looked small and not cute.
“It’s … harder than I thought,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. We stared into each other’s eyes, nodding, both in a daze.
“There’s a lot of crying,” she said.
“Yes!” I said, not knowing if she meant from us or our babies. Either way. Both.
“I don’t think I realized how much I would just be sitting on the couch.”
“Pinned to it.”
We exchanged more in shorthand than I could ever explain to my Real Friends. I was feeling so insecure and shell-shocked; it had been too hard for me to sit down and try to articulate how I was feeling to them, and I was unsure whether they even wanted to hear it.
Then, later, I ran into a woman from my childbirth class at our neighborhood coffee shop. I had meant to email her but never did and was so happy to see her. It was like running into a crush at the mall.
“Are you going to story time at the library today?” she asked me. I told her I’d never been, that I saw the moms going in but I was intimidated. She laughed at me. “Is it okay for our babies, though?” I said. “Aren’t they too young? Do they get anything out of it?” Unfazed, she told me her daughter seemed to like it, that at least she didn’t cry. “It’s just nice to get out of the house, you know?” she said. “It’s something to do.”
“Yes,” I said, feeling known.
I went to the library story time and it was wonderful and awful in equal measure. I recognized some of the moms from other things, and the ones I didn’t sized me up immediately. Sheepish, I mouthed hi and pulled a chair up to the gaggle of women with babies my son’s age. I bounced my infant on my lap and wondered if I should really do the gestures for “The Wheels on the Bus.” Should I stomp his feet for “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” or should I stomp my own? I was not happy, and I did not know it. I blushed with shame, not wanting to jump up and shout hooray.
“Do we have to stand up?” I asked the mom sitting next to me. She shrugged and gave me a weird look. “You don’t have to do anything!” she said and she herself jumped up, tossing her baby into the air. I sat there like a bump on a log, trying to make a fake excited face at my kid, who was too busy being perceptually overloaded to notice me. This is hell, I thought. I felt like a teenager again, or a child in gym class. I felt new. All the women, the moms, had been coming to story time for weeks. They came in and scooted their chairs closer to each other. They talked about nap time and each other’s husbands and dinner parties they’d had with each other. They made me feel a little uncomfortable and a little threatened, and so, as I do with all such things, I promptly decided I hated them.
When I saw my real friends at dinner that night, I sat down and groaned, and told them how much like high school it was, like Mean Girls. On Wednesdays, we go to story time. We laughed and made fun of it all and I felt like myself again. A hater. Not a joiner. A little bit mean. I told them some of the baby names and described some of the onesies with goofy sayings and I drank my half-glass of wine I could get away with drinking while breast-feeding. I loved my friends: We had all graduated from college the same year, and while back then we were only acquaintances, we’d clung to each other in New York, thrown together into this new life stage, and — oh.
What about those moms they’d told me about? asked my friends. They mentioned the women they’d introduced me to over email, the messages I’d never replied to. I felt cornered and ashamed. I felt like a brat.
“Well, are any of them cool?” my friend asked me.
Actually, I said, yes. Most of these women are cool individually. One woman at story time had these great sparkly shoes. Another is a midwife. One woman started her own company and is really funny. Another writes for the Times. Collectively, though, they are mothers. They park their goddamn strollers everywhere and they are alternately dressed like shit or way overdressed for someone who has nowhere to be at all. They’re either miserable or fake happy or smug. They’re lost, too, scrambling for affirmation that they’re doing things the right way, that their kid is going to be okay. Okay or a genius. They’re knee-jerk judgmental, compensating for their own lack of conviction, a little defensive, hiding their deep fear just below the surface. They’re tired. Their clothes don’t fit. They miss work, miss people, miss drinking. They have no idea what they’re doing and have spent way too much time reading about it on the internet. They are, I’m sorry to say, just like me.