When my son, Austin, was born, I became a full-time stay-at-home mom overnight. Although it was 100 percent my choice (and the best decision I ever made), it was the biggest life change I had ever faced.
The initial isolation of new motherhood is crushing. Not only had I given up a job I loved, but I was suddenly incompatible with my childless friends just when I needed friends most. They didn't get what it was like to shower with the bathroom door open, one eye on a screaming 1-month-old in his bouncy seat. Nor could they comprehend how frustrating it is to have only a newborn for conversation.
I took Austin for daily trips to the drugstore, buying one thing at a time so I would have an excuse to return -- and chat with the cashier, who was also a mom -- the next day. I strolled Austin through the park. But seeing groups of mothers picnicking on the grass, I felt like the loneliest mom in town.
Then one afternoon I ran into Nicole, a neighbor who, unbeknownst to me, had a baby girl Austin's age. She suggested we go to the park sometime. "I'd love to!" I replied. "I'm always around, just give me a call." My desperation must have been obvious because she invited me to a weekly mothers' luncheon in the area. I couldn't say yes fast enough.
On the day of the lunch I was determined to make a good impression. I dressed in the nicest clothes I had (of those that fit) and made an extra effort to apply my mascara with a steady hand. I even dressed Austin in his prized Baby Dior onesie. My husband eyed us as he left for work and snickered, "Do you two have a hot date?" Despite his sarcasm, I knew he was also desperate for someone to befriend me so I'd stop calling him at work 12 times a day.
When I arrived at the restaurant, the sea of strange faces was initially intimidating. But soon I overheard the woman across from me talking about c-sections. My ears perked up. I leaned across the table and made my move. "I had a c-section, too," I said, praying that something more than silence would follow. She replied, "It wasn't so bad, right? By the way, I'm Caryn."
Soon we were chatting about sleep deprivation and our in-laws as if we'd been friends for years. Motherhood, I realized, is the mother of all icebreakers. The women I envied in the park had most likely started off just like me.
Over the next few weeks I planned play dates with other mothers, who brought along acquaintances, and soon I had plenty of mommy pals. Over time some returned to work, others moved away, and our group shrunk to what it is today -- a tightly knit circle of women who, more than two years later, are some of my closest friends.
These days, I also get together with my childless friends again. We laugh over jokes from as far back as high school. But there will always be a special place in my heart for the women with whom I share motherhood. They've been privy to the most precious moments of my life -- the ones with my son. They've watched me act silly with him, change him, comfort him. And they're a constant understanding ear as I tackle the hardest and most rewarding job of my life.
Stacey Stapleton lives in New York City.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2005.