When I passed through the veil and became a mother I crossed a gaping chasm and looked back across to see my old life on the other side. I could see my old self over there, waving back at me. Over there I was wearing a suit and had a briefcase; I’d paid attention to my hair and make-up; I was surrounded by other childless, ambitious, intelligent women and men. Once I’d had my first baby I looked back at that woman and recognised her as my old self, and saw my old friends. But I wondered how I would ever connect with them again.
Back when I’d first had my baby, my friends and I were all fairly fresh from leaving home, finishing college or University and starting out with our jobs. Compared to my peer group, I married young and began my journey into motherhood soon after. I’d shared so much with my friends: trips to the shops, pub crawls and all-nighters, long-winded navel-gazing discussions about careers, relationships, what we would be when we’d “grown up,” philosophy and whatever else we could cook up. All of the entertainments and ideas we shared seemed such a distance away once I had a baby in my arms. I had changed and I would never change back. Inside, I knew this, and I grieved for the friendship and connection I had shared with those friends for so many years. How would we ever see eye-to-eye again?
I’d try to start off a conversation about my birth experience. After a pause the topic would soon move to my friend’s job. I’d listen, then try again… this time I’d talk about my feelings about my new baby. Friends would try to understand, but they were clearly mystified: this was not common ground and they didn’t know what to say. Silences grew and multiplied like a fairy ring spreading over a forest floor. We’d think all was well then suddenly another yawning silence would spring up until we’d found a way to move on. It was as though I was speaking a different language.
It was a sad time for me. Lots of my friendships seemed to fall away, and my connection to people I had once felt so close to seemed to be irreparably severed.
Some of my most uncomfortable discussions with some of my old friends were about parenting and childbirth. It is a truism that we are experts at parenting until we actually become parents ourselves. Many of my childless friends seemed to know all about parenting, and their eagerness to share their expertise only widened the chasm that had grown between us. I think they were genuinely trying to be helpful and to see themselves in my situation. I recognised myself in their advice and I saw that I too had been an expert until I had a baby, when at once I’d been found out as a bumbling incompetent who needed to learn everything from scratch. I struggled to know what to say in reply, and silently inside myself I said to them, “You’ll see.”
The wonderful thing is that many of them have seen. After exchanging Christmas cards for years and perhaps short emails every few months, many of my friends have started having children themselves. Now that my baby is nearly 10, I have the pleasure of listening to my friends as they cross the same bridges that are only a memory for me: we have found common ground again and I can truly support them in their parenting journeys. They admit that it was hard for them to comprehend what I was going through, and that becoming a parent is something that must be experienced to be truly understood.
And looking back, I can see that perhaps it wasn’t simply my friends’ fault that we’d lost a way to communicate. For my part as well I had become so wrapped up in my own life and the enormous change that came with having a baby that it was difficult for me to see that anything else could be important. To some extent I’d forgotten how to listen. Over time I believe that I have learned how to translate my language and listen better so that we can connect again, and for the most part my childless friends are keen to understand what I am experiencing. We meet each other halfway, and have come to know each other in a new and richer way now that we finally are “grown ups.”
© Lisa Hassan Scott 2012. For reprint permission contact the copyright holder.
Photo Credit: Mathias Klang, Goteborg, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.