Things Start Well
Motherhood changes everything, including your choice of friends. But beware: Much like first love, first-time-mom friendships don't always stand the test of time. In your exhausted, euphoric, overwhelmed state, you'll take support where you find it -- even from someone you have nothing in common with. Following are the five stages of a standard new-mom friendship.
The Lamaze Stage
You meet a woman in your Lamaze orientation who shares your due date. You bond instantly. By the end of the class, you're both ignoring your husbands and the teacher in order to get every last detail about third-trimester cravings (hers: watermelon; yours: clams) and how big your boobs have gotten.
Who else can hold a 30-minute conversation about strollers? Certainly not your husband. You exchange numbers and plan to meet at prenatal yoga. You've met a new best friend. Well, heck, your old best friend still cares about her career and doesn't want to see your sonogram printouts anymore.
The Newborn Phase
She calls every morning at six because she knows you're up. "How's the baby?" she asks.
"We had an okay night," you say. "Yours?"
"She's good. She had three poops last night."
"Really? What did they look like?"
You agree to meet up later in the day, assuming either one of you can make it out of your pajamas. Since she lives nearby, she sometimes drives over in her pajamas anyway, and that's fine, since your big plans for the day involve sitting on the floor rehashing labor stories, nursing, and weeping for no particular reason. Mostly the two of you are just content to be together: a single, new-mommy mind: blank, exhausted...and blissfully content.
Things Get Messy
The Reality Phase
Every day that your baby wakes up, alive and smiling at you, is like another cosmic vote of confidence in your ability to master this parenting gig. You no longer need the 24-7 telephone support of another new mom. But along with all those returning brain cells is the realization that perhaps you and your new best friend aren't really that compatible.
You've invited her to join your book club, for example, but she's declined, saying it conflicts with her scrapbooking night. You're beginning to get the sense she doesn't approve of your parenting style. She's much more serious about it, after all. You told her about how you forgot to bring your diaper bag that time and had no tissues so you had to improvise by using an old shirt you found in the back of your car and...well, she didn't laugh at all. You still see each other, mostly at the park or at the bagel shop before Mommy and Me classes, but she hasn't dropped by in a month. And you're incredibly relieved.
The Beginning of the End
You meet another woman. She's clever, bookish, and horribly disorganized. You talk for hours, and only a third of the conversation is about your babies. In short, here's a friend you like regardless of her mom status. In the meantime, encounters with your old "friend" have become ever more strained. That's because all you can talk about now is the mommy default topic: your kids. But now it's all about one-upmanship.
"You know, extended breastfeeding takes a lot of baby weight off."
"Maybe," you counter. "But that bottle sure gets her down easy. Boy, nothing like a full night's sleep to put a whole new perspective on things."
"Did I tell you Susie has a vocabulary of some 50 words already?"
"No, you didn't. Fortunately I don't need my 1-year-old to talk. I know what her needs are."
You both know it's over. But nobody wants to state the obvious. So instead, it becomes harder and harder to schedule a play date. Guilt gets the better of you, so you call now and then but are always hugely relieved to get her machine. "Call me!" you chirp, knowing you, at least, have done your social duty. She returns the call two weeks later. "Sorry! Got busy! Call me!" And so it goes, until the phone messages taper off.
It's inevitable that you'll bump into each other at the supermarket. You'll raise your voices two octaves and air-kiss. "It's so good to see you! You look great! We have to get the girls together!" You promise to call this very week for a play date. You both know you're lying, that apart from your girls, you don't even share a coffee drink in common (those double half-caf soy mocha drinks of hers should have raised red flags long ago). It's time to cut the cord. You were once the best of friends, but your babies have grown and so have you. You have no regrets though, and no hard feelings.
Nobody knows what kind of parent she'll be until she becomes one. And at least you had each other to cling to through those scary early months before you realized you were the wrong kind of parents for each other.
Julie Tilsner's latest book is Mommy Yoga, the 50 Stretches of Motherhood (Celestial Arts, October 2005).
Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2005.