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.