I’ve had very little experience with peers having babies. Here are some things that I have found to be true in my experience as the first person in my friend group to have a baby.
Non-parents compare parenthood to their experiences in pet ownership
It’s hard to have a conversation about what I’m going through and learning about when someone relates it back to pet ownership. It feels more like an interruption than part of the conversation because the two are so entirely different. Even constantly being woken up in the night by a pet is not the same as having a baby who does not sleep through the night. A lot of times I felt misunderstood when I’d talk about sleepless nights. I would get “yeah I have a new puppy and these sleepless nights are tough.”
I know that people mean well, but I’ve had months and months (17 months and counting) of not having a single night of undisturbed sleep. The hormonal connection to my baby intensifies my already strong emotions and I do not feel comfortable letting my baby cry and cry. Not to mention, in the first several months SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is a concern. And then when I’m awake, down time is never truly restorative because there’s a small person that I’m tending to. It’s easy to turn this issue into a pissing contest of who has it worse and then it’s easy to slide down the rabbit hole of making parenthood sound horrible. Parenthood is holistic. Its an entire experience that encompass an entire range of emotional highs and lows and it’s not the same as having a pet.
If you don’t reach out and actively work at it, it’s easy to not have friends anymore
A few months back I had dinner with a friend who shared a story about how her best friend that she has always kept frequent contact with had a baby. My friend thought that the best thing to do was to give her space while she settled into this new phase of life. However, her friend ended up having to tell her that now, more than ever, she needed support and to not give her space. I think its a common thought to give a new parent space to sort things out. But for a new parent, life becomes such a landslide and its so isolating and constant and difficult. After having a baby, not only did I need support and reassurance from my friends, I also needed reminders that the world was still turning outside the walls of my house. Caring for a baby is a round the clock job that the mother’s body used to be in charge of at all times. When the baby is born, they still need that care round the clock; it’s called the 4th trimester and its unrelenting and you have to do it all while you’re actually learning how to do it and someone’s life and very early experiences in this world are on the line. Needless to say, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the business of taking care of a new baby. It’s really easy to forget to shower and eat let alone touch base with your friends.
There is a common misconception that newborn babies are just uninteresting blobs
I remember thinking this. I clearly remember thinking and probably even saying that Ezra wasn’t a person yet when he was a newborn. It didn’t take long until I realized that he already was a person. Babies are people already. He was learning about the world the second he popped into it. If Ezra wasn’t a person I wouldn’t have the beautiful relationship with him that I do. I wouldn’t have had to learn what his cries meant. He’s been desperately trying to communicate with me for a long time now and I have been paying such close attention to him to learn his personality and idiosyncrasies. If he weren’t a person I wouldn’t have fallen so completely in love with him and been dazzled and delighted by his development. Ezra has had a presence since day 1. He’s had his own voice.
Alex and I used to pretend that Ezra would say, “Um, excuse me, I don’t know if you know this but…” (ex: um, excuse me, I don’t know if you know this but someone put poop in my diaper) all the time when he needed something or noticed something. When we meet a newborn we still think they say “um excuse me” but the tone of voice is always different because each newborn is actually different and has a different energy. I can spot my baby a mile away and feel what his energy is.
“I will be the official baby holder, I can’t wait to hold him, I won’t put him down!”
When you’re pregnant people say that they can’t wait to hold the baby and they will officially be the person that holds the baby forever and ever and never gives them back and oh man they love holding babies soooo much. As a dancer so many people told me this! So many people were excited to hold Ezra. We went to teach at an out of town workshop and someone even said “I’ll be holding Ezra the whole weekend” and when I actually asked them to hold him so I could eat they acted surprised, and like it was an inconvenience.
At home when we took Ezra to dances (before he had a solid 8pm bedtime and we could still go out in the evenings with him), I found myself holding him all night and passing him back and forth with Alex because the reality is that when you dance you sweat. Sweaty people don’t want to hold a warm baby.
There are of course exceptions to this. And sometimes Ezra just didn’t want to be held by anyone else. But in general, declarations of “I can’t wait to hold your baby forever” were much more plentiful than actual people who held my baby.
There are some people who only like you and your company because you don’t have any young children
In general, it’s easy to lose touch with people because the lifestyle shift is so extreme from not having a baby to having a baby. But there were a few people who actually didn’t want anything to do with us anymore after having the baby. Ezra is a shining star in my life. He’s got me feeling emotions. I never knew the capacity of my heart and this amazing force for good has affected everything. My life is brighter because of him. I felt a lot of anger at first because of the people who are heartless in their apparent “no young children” policy. If I choose to dwell on how offended and hurt I am by their unanticipated rejection, then that will be my reality. And it was for a while. I was strongly identifying with the hurt I felt and the offence I took. But if I instead let myself get swept up in the transformative experience of having a baby, and identify as a delighted and wonder-filled mother and if I let the transformation carry me along instead of the losses, then that is my reality and its easier to see how extremely limited their scope was in the first place. As I am out of sight out of mind for them, they too are off my radar.
Some people are amazing friends and human beings
The way some people have stepped up and gone out of their way time and time again to show me that they still want to be in my life and be a part of my son’s life has made me realize that I have done all the above behaviors and have also played a part in the isolation and ostracization of new parents.
Realizing that I am guilty of these things that have been so challenging for me and proves that we no longer have a village and that community can be fickle, makes me feel more compassion for the people who have left my life since I had a baby.
Even though I have gone through this and reflected and passionately vowed to be the change I want to see in the world, I still struggle with trying to help and be present to the new parents in my life. Everyone’s postpartum experience is so different that It’s not easy to know how to help. Often I feel awkward and like my intensity level just isn’t quite right. There are so many barriers in the way of giving new parents community support and perhaps the biggest one (for me, at least) is that I just don’t know how and that’s ok. Showing up and trying is a great way to learn.