I read a lot of books and magazines and websites about parenting and motherhood while I was pregnant with WonderBaby. I read about breastfeeding and sleep schedules and sleep arrangements and Attachment Parenting and baby whispering and swaddling and SIDS and PPD and all variety of issues and ideas related to Having a Baby. I learned a lot, and nothing at all. End of the day, even with all of the relevant information swirling around in my head, I was on my own. The books and magazines and websites gave me tools, but they didn’t tell me how to distinguish between the tools (most of which, as we all know, have competing functions), or how to choose which tools to use. I was on my own.
I expected this. Even as I studied, frenetically and, ultimately, fruitlessly, about how to cope with sleepless nights and endless feedings and the constant anxiety, I knew that nothing could prepare me for the challenge that I would face on my own, and for being alone (even with my phenomenally supportive husband) in that experience. I knew that I would feel isolated.
What I didn’t know was how isolated I would feel. And I didn’t know that new motherhood would bring new forms of isolation. I didn’t know that it would isolate me from old friends. I didn’t know that it would cause me to lose friendships.
I had read about this, of course, losing friends after becoming a mother. I think that it’s an editorial rule at all pregnancy and parenting magazines that a story about losing friends as a consequence of new motherhood must appear at least once every three issues. I’d seen the articles. I’d seen the discussions at parenting websites. I just didn’t think that the issue applied to me.
My friends were good friends. Life friends. The people that I spent time with and shared myself with were – are – people that I enjoy and trust and really, really like. There aren’t a lot of them. Acquaintances come and go, and I assumed that I would have a lot less contact with acquaintances once the mother ship landed. But my friends, I assumed, would understand that I would no longer be able to dash out for coffee or spend long, lazy evenings drinking wine and chatting. Not for a while, anyway.
So I was gobsmacked to read, in a recent e-mail from someone with whom I have been very close friends for over a decade, that I had been neglecting the friendship and that, accordingly, she viewed the friendship as dead. We had been exchanging e-mails and occasional phone calls, but it wasn’t, in her view, enough. So that was it. It was over. “I’ve already mourned the loss,” she said, “don’t e-mail me back.”
There’s much that could be said about this, about the shock and hurt that accompanies the sudden and unexpected death of a friendship. About how and why new motherhood – parenthood – might cause such a death. How new motherhood affects one’s ability to maintain normal levels of social contact. About how I thought that I was doing pretty well, making sure that I stayed in touch, making sure that I explained why it was so difficult to get out of the house anytime other than weekday afternoons (weekends being reserved, largely, for making up lost time with a very busy Husband). There’s much that I would like to say about this, because I know that she’ll read it and I want her to hear it. But it wouldn’t make much of a difference, because, end of the day, she did not end the friendship because my ability to socialize became impaired by new motherhood.
She ended the friendship because I blog.
Not because I have blogged about her or about the friendship. Not because I have violated confidences or said inappropriate things. This friendship was not dooced. What happened was this: she ended the friendship because, despite the constraints that new motherhood imposes upon my time and energies – constraints that limit the time that I spend socializing – I find time and energy to blog.
You make time, she said, for what matters.
True enough. I do make time for blogging. But I make time in 5 or 10 or, maybe, if I’m very, very lucky, 20 minute increments. I blog late at night, or first thing in the morning. Sometimes, I do it with WonderBaby latched to the boob. Often, I am unwashed and in pajamas, munching on an already-partially-teethed teething biscuit. (I know. I have just shattered the widely-shared romantic vision of HBM seated, with her laptop, at a tidy secretaire in an oak-panelled library, clad in stylish loungewear and sipping tea from a china cup). It is not, in other words, time that would otherwise be spent maintaining real life social networks. If any relationship takes a hit from the blogging, it is my marriage: many an evening, after WonderBaby is abed, the Husband gets assigned dinner duty while I finish a post. And so far as I know, Husband is not planning on leaving me because blogging matters more than helping him make dinner. (Um, Husband… right?)
But ‘making time’ is not really the issue here, either. I’m pretty sure that my old friend wouldn’t begrudge me time spent writing, if writing was – and it certainly is this, as she well knows – a sanity-saver. The issue is that I am writing in what amounts to a public forum. I am not only writing, I am communicating. I am sharing my secrets, confiding my fears, telling my stories – to the Internet. To blog-friends. Secrets and fears and stories that I otherwise would be – should be – confiding to real-life friends. To her.
I get this. Sort of. Which is to say, I would get this if I had been the sort of friend who regularly confided secrets and fears. But I wasn’t. Oh, I would, certainly, regularly catch good friends up on what was going on in my life, things that were bugging me, that kind of thing. But I’ve never been the sort of friend who easily shares her anxieties and fears and griefs. Hell, I’m not really that sort of wife: the Husband knows that the surest sign that I’m upset about something is if I stop talking. The more bothered I am by something, the less likely I am to talk about it.
Stop the presses: I do not like to ‘share.’
To be more clear, I do not like to talk about things that bother me or hurt me or grieve me or move me beyond my comfort zone. I do not like hearing the sound of my own voice drone on about something that pains me. It’s like fingernails down a blackboard. And I do not like to cry – hurt cry, pain cry – with other people. I do not like being held by anyone – other than my mother, my father or my husband – while I cry. I hate it. It unnerves me. Makes me feel exposed.
I don’t know why this is. There’s probably a good long post about why I am emotionally reserved. My psychiatrist thought that it was cause for concern: someone who hates talking about her worries and fears is, she said, going to struggle more desperately with the worries and fears that new motherhood can bring. She was right. But I still never talked about it.
I hate talking about ‘it’ – about fear or pain or sadness. When my nephew was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I withdrew from everybody but my husband. When we had to go through genetic testing and counselling to address the very likely possibility that I carried the same gene that will kill my nephew – the gene that I would almost certainly pass on any son I might bear, that would certainly kill any son that inherited it from me – I clammed up entirely. Didn’t speak of it, unless pressed to. Because I couldn’t bear to.
And this – this emotional reservedness, this clamming up – has never been more true for me than it has been during this first half-year of motherhood. It has been hard. Real hard. And I have not wanted to talk about how hard it is. Nor have I wanted to talk about how those challenges, those sometimes painful challenges, are well-steeped in joy. Motherhood has not only challenged me, it has pained me and confused me and amazed me and filled me with such joy that I sometimes cannot breath. And I have found it hard to talk about this, because the sound of my own voice seems to take the feelings away from me, make them not my own, disassociate them from me. It breaks the intimacy of my own experience of those feelings, it removes them from me in a way that is, to me, strange-making.
But writing doesn’t do that. Writing about my fears and anxieties and sadnesses and joys – some of them, anyway – brings me closer to those feelings. Somehow, seeing them on the page makes them real in a way that is not strange-making. I don’t know why that is.
And sharing those feelings, through writing, with family and friends and other parents, makes them even more real and accessible. It brings them alive for me, to share them in this way, to know that others are reading and nodding their heads or shaking their heads or engaging in any way with those ideas, those feelings. I don’t share all of those feelings, and I don’t share many details when the feelings are rooted in very personal stories. I remain circumspect on many fronts. But I am saying more – much, much more – out loud, in writing, than I ever have using my own voice.
It would not be the same, exactly, if I reserved all of these stories for utterance in my own voice, in the privacy of a friend’s living room, or the intimacy of a coffee-shop huddle. I don’t know why. I do know, however, that this is why I blog. This, and the desire to find community with other parents, other people who are going through the same, or similar, experiences as I am, and who are grappling with the same, or similar, fears and anxieties and joys that I am. Who find shit – real shit, in a diaper – funny. Gross, and frustrating, but also fascinating, and funny. Who understand that one can feel profound anxiety and frustration and joy all at once. Who understand that these experiences are sometimes difficult to talk about.
I’m not saying that I can only share myself through writing. I’d be in real trouble if that were true. I would not be able to sustain relationships if that were true. And, so far, I have been able to sustain relationships, while I have struggled through the challenges of new motherhood and while I have sought solace and release in writing. I think, actually, that writing openly has done much to enrich and enliven my relationships. I’m sharing so much more of myself with friends and family, near and far. Getting the shit that bugs me or causes me stress out of my head and onto the page leaves more room for talking about things that matter: I have more space in my mind and heart for chattering about the immense joy that WonderBaby brings once I’ve gotten the kickin’ my ass kickin’ my ass kickin’ my ass complaints out of the way. And it has reignited my love of storytelling, and my desire to tell stories, stories and more stories. With my keyboard and with my voice.
But this friend does not want to hear them, not now. Not under these circumstances. She does not, she said, want to be “a window-licker,” reading about my life alongside other readers. Reading, rather than participating.
I can understand that feeling, and I would be fully sympathetic, and apologetic, if I had shut the doors on her, or on anybody in my life. But I haven’t; I really, really haven’t. The doors that she begrudges me were never fully open, or were only ever opened after some well-intentioned, loving prying. What’s changed is, a new set of doors have been opened, doors that I feel comfortable opening, doors that I enjoy opening. And they open, it seems, onto a public square, rather than a private, exclusive courtyard.
I can’t change that. I don’t want to change that. I am very, very sorry that this makes my friend unhappy. I didn’t want the friendship to end; any perceived neglect was unintentional, the result of the circumstances of a new, strange life, a life that is no longer fully my own. But that friendship could only live in these new circumstances under the terms of these new circumstances. Circumstances that put new loves – WonderBaby – first. Circumstances that draw me toward new friends, friends that share and understand these circumstances. Circumstances that have drawn me out into the world in a different way. Circumstances that have changed me, and my stories.
I didn’t want those circumstances – as if a baby, a new life, a new love, the greatest love, is only a circumstance – to undermine our friendship. I didn’t expect them too. I’m sorry that they did. But I am not sorry for those circumstances. I can’t be; I won’t be.
Am I wrong? Have I violated the terms of a friendship? Is it unfair to expect to old friends to adapt as my life changes? Do the changes that parenthood brings necessarily sound the death knell for pre-parental relationships? (And – I have to ask this, I’m sorry – is this a girl thing?) Is blogging – blogging baby, or blogging anything – bad for real-world friendships? Must it be?
**And – NOW PLAYING at MamaBlogsToronto – When WonderBaby Met Bumper (Baby). It’s a mommy-blogger/blogger-baby love story, and it’s nice. Check it.
Mama loves. Better than ever. And, for fun, sets babies adrift on random bits of styrofoam…