My own experience as a first-time mother felt pretty insular in retrospect. I lived in a different state from all of my friends who were having kids around the same time. When we did visit my hometown, my recollection of seeing my friends was blurry. It was like an ongoing game of bumper cars. We’re driving in different directions intermittently crashing into each other, cramming as much interaction into that hot minute before driving off again. Graceful interactions over brunch turn into catching up while trying to hear your friend over the whirring of your breast pump. It was rushed, chaotic and a little foreign at first, but I somehow got used to it.
With my second child, I met more mom friends than I knew what to do with. I wasn’t working in an office full-time anymore and was able to attend mommy-and-me classes, music classes and playdates with other moms. I had the full experience of what it was like to have a little support system around me filled with mothers in the motherhood trenches together. Being a mom who worked outside of the home was such a stark difference from the flexibility I had the second time around. It was a complete game-changer in terms of socialization, for both myself and my kids. My friendship ecosystem could not have been more different both times, and it still continues to change.
Motherhood Changes You from the Inside-Out
Motherhood is an all-encompassing, mind- and body-consuming experience. It changes you. And that is what it is supposed to do. You navigate pregnancy, then you have to figure out how to care for a tiny human. You’re inundated with information from doctors, family, friends, websites and books. But few people talk about how some of your close relationships may be impacted once you become a mom.
You dedicate your time, emotion and energy to these little lives. It’s easy to lose yourself, and you may not have any time or energy left to give to the friendships you once prioritized. Some of your closest friendships can change, evolve or even disappear. Jackie Schoemaker Holmes, PhD, sociologist and empowerment specialist says, “My hubris told me [motherhood] would be easy if I prepared properly. This kind of thinking primed me for postpartum depression and anxiety (along with a host of other factors), and it was a hard road to reclaiming myself and my identity again after having a baby.”
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There’s an undeniable shift that takes place in motherhood that is impossible to miss, and impossible to try to avoid. Abbey Williams, MSW, LSW, behavioral therapist and producer of the Mimosas with Moms podcast says, “Becoming a mother, whether it is the first time, or the third time changes a woman. A new version of themselves is emerging at the same time … and some female relationships shift during this time as our priorities change. This creates changes in a lot of our relationships but especially our friendships.”
Some Friendships May be Easier than Others
There are pockets of friendships that begin to feel more complicated, like your relationships with your childless friends. It’s hard to vent to them for fear they won’t relate, and they probably don’t want to hear a kid whining. Sometimes you can build a bridge to meet on and sometimes you can’t.
Dr. Holmes further explains, “I think that there is a vast gap—if not divide—when it comes to women with children and child-free women. I was child-free until I had my daughter at 36-years-old, and I was left out of many conversations about having children because that is what women often find ease in bonding over. I would not say that I felt left out, rather, I felt like I existed in a different world, and it wasn’t until I had my daughter that I realized the depth and breadth of motherhood—essentially, how all-encompassing it can be.”
You may also have friends facing fertility challenges or experiencing pregnancy loss. They’re tough to navigate on both sides, and I have been on both sides. I had a miscarriage before I was pregnant with my now 5-year-old. I evaded my friends, and especially couldn’t bear to be around anyone pregnant. Being around women with viable pregnancies and beautiful little babies was a trigger for me in terms of my body failing me and the emotional trauma that accompanied it. I wanted to take a pause and shut the world out in general to avoid the “I’m sorry’s” that follow when you tell someone you suffered a miscarriage. I didn’t want looks of pity because I was already deep enough in my wallow. All I wanted was to complete my family and give my older daughter the sibling she had been begging for. And I failed to deliver. My broken heart couldn’t handle it, which killed me because I am usually the first in line for celebrating anyone in my circle.
MomCave TV co-creator, Jennifer Weedon Palazzo says, “After losing a much-wanted pregnancy, I couldn’t stand to be around babies or pregnant women for quite a while. I remember seeing a friend complaining good-naturedly on Facebook about how she wanted to evict her overdue baby from the uterus. That sent me into a spiral of grief and anger … I’d have given anything to have more time with a live baby inside of me.” She goes on to share, “I now have two healthy children. I remember feeling awkward and even guilty about announcing my pregnancy to friends who were having trouble conceiving themselves.”
Be the Mom Friend You Want to Meet
Then you have true mom friends. They make sense. They fit. They’re your people. Some women hit the jackpot when existing girlfriends organically become mom friends. Jackie Santillan, the mom behind the Instagram account @kindminds_smarthearts experienced this. “Two of my friends were pregnant at the same time and other than family, they were basically the only people I talked to,” she says. “It seemed like no one else, even if they’d been pregnant before, could relate to what I was going through. For the first year or so of my son’s life, we were very close. It was nearly impossible to spend time with other friends because I felt so much pressure to be on time and presentable with them.”
As you pave your respective ways and establish parenting styles, there will be more change. You’ll get more comfortable and insightful in your parenting, so your circle becomes more purposeful and curated. People gravitate toward like-minded people or people who share similar experiences, and that doesn’t stop when your kid starts hitting milestones. It’s lifelong, according to Dr. Holmes. “Motherhood accelerates the experience of life as you watch your children grow, meaning that you, as a parent and a person, need to continue growing, learning, changing, and adapting as you juggle all aspects of your life including your family [and friendships].”
So how do you find the friendships that fit and then maintain them throughout motherhood? I think it’s subjective, but for me, it was surrounding myself with truth-tellers who are fierce cheerleaders and unwavering supporters. Dr. Holmes suggests, “Be honest. Be a safe space for your mom friends. Be the friend that you needed postpartum. Don’t assume that your friends feel the same way you did. Ask questions and be curious, supportive, and non-judgmental.” Williams adds, “There are so many moms that feel just like you. Find your people, put yourself out there, and hold space for your feelings around this time in your life.”
By Rachel Sobel