Friendship: The unexpected casualty of motherhood

I sneak a longing glance at my phone for the third time today as my friend’s name appears. This time she catches me breastfeeding my daughter, who does not appreciate chatting at her meals. She also called earlier in the day,  when I was keeping vigil next to the swing set, ready to scoop up my daughter as she walked in the path of every airborne pair of sneakers. When I finally return her call, she is on the third nap attempt with her youngest. Godspeed tired mama, my heart is with you.

I wish for an uninterrupted hour when we both could just melt into the delicious lake of sound that is two friends chatting, when the world itself seems to hold its breath to hear our secrets. There are many ways to be lonely when you become a mother for the first time, but none so challenging as the complete transformation of your once rock-solid friendships. Some of my loneliness is compounded by months of a pandemic that has kept us all apart, but most of it is the reality of looking after a baby. You know, texting as your head hits the pillow, five-minute catch-ups, and the repeated rescheduling of dinner out. 

When I do have an hour alone, there is so much already on my plate. Should I sit down to eat lunch, grab a shower, workout, or see if the ‘I’ inside still exists in all of this? For the first eight months of my daughter’s life, she would only nap on me and I never had a moment to myself. I couldn’t sneak away to phone a friend, but boy would I have loved their companionship in those solitary hours. I know many of my friends understand all of this, especially those with children themselves, but some don’t. Sometimes motherhood means losing friends or losing touch for a time. 

After my daughter was born, my best friend in another state lost someone close to her. I wasn’t there for her the way I could have been before. Given that travel in a pandemic with a tiny baby seemed exceedingly scary to me, I wondered how I could support her. Even as I reached out by text it felt like a paltry substitute for wrapping my arms around her and being present in that pain. Eventually, she told me she didn’t have space in her life for me at the moment, and while I understood, I was devastated. Before she signed off she shared that while she imagined motherhood rearranges your priorities, she thought friendship should remain at the top. In her hour of need, I was busy struggling with the newborn stage, and she felt abandoned by me. I added this to the long list of the ways I was failing, and blamed myself for not being able to keep all the balls in the air. What I needed then was the self-compassion I have just started to get the hang of now.

The fact is, not only have my life circumstances changed, so have I. As Amy Taylor-Kabbaz writes in her book Mama Rising, the process of becoming a mother changes every fiber and cell of your being. It’s a radical shift that equates to the birth of an entirely new you. Naturally, relationships change too. People drift away or move out of sync but the places they leave empty will be filled again. 

“If you have lost your tribe, or had your heart broken like only a real girlfriend can do, please know that what you are feeling is real,” writes Amy. “Grieve for it, like you would an intimate relationship. When we allow ourselves to grieve the changes within us then we allow ourselves to move through the stages of sadness into hopefulness and then joy… You will find your tribe again. You will find a place of women who see you as you really are: magnificent and brave… You will shed the old you and the old connections in a beautiful, graceful way, and emerge surrounded by warrior sisters.”

It may be, too, that what we think we have lost for good is only waiting for the right season to return. A deep friendship may have the strength to weather long silences and moments missed, springing back to life in a flurry of forgiveness and laughter when that stormy season passes. That is what I hope for my friend and I; that the circles of life will send us back to each other when we have the space to share our journeys again. Two warrior sisters on different paths for now, but not forever. 

If I can tell other moms anything about early motherhood, it is that it is an intensely ‘interior’ time. You aren’t lonely because you’re doing something wrong, you are simply transforming in unspeakable ways. Think The Very Hungry Caterpillar (my daughter’s favorite) and its big brown cocoon. It takes a lot of trust and grit and grace to believe that cocoon will eventually open, revealing our new selves. I promise you, it will. You will step out whole, blazing bright for all that time you have spent inside. You may discover, too, that you have become a better friend to yourself while you grew, with nothing but love and praise for that new set of wings as they unfurl and finally take flight. 

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