When I surprisingly found out I was pregnant with my second son, I was just nine months postpartum with my first. My husband beamed with excitement while I sat on the edge of our bathtub, positive test in hand, tears welling up in my eyes.
“Babe. It’s exciting! Aren’t you happy?!”
“Not really. Are you happy?”
“Fuck yes! It’s awesome! Babe, it will be okay; be happy! It’s a great thing.”
As I looked at the tears of excitement in his eyes I wanted to be happy, but there was an intensifying feeling in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t allow it. Did I want another baby? Yes, without a doubt. I was so in love with motherhood that I wanted a million more.
But I wasn’t the only one.
One of my closest friends, Jane, also wanted a second baby. But unlike me, she had been trying for months without any luck, in the throes of secondary infertility. Less than two weeks earlier in the crowded bathroom of a dive bar while celebrating her birthday, I absentmindedly mentioned I was late. As I stood up to hug my husband, I could hear her voice from that day ringing in my head.
“If you’re fucking pregnant, I will kill you.”
My husband had known Jane’s husband, Chris, since middle school; they were close. We were close. He suggested calling Chris to give him a heads up and see what he thought. I nodded halfheartedly. He dialed Chris’ number and walked out of the bathroom. I sat on the toilet and listened. I could hear Chris’ responses as the two of them talked. He was excited, repeatedly saying, “That’s awesome, man! SO happy for you guys.”
The next day, Chris and I would put together what we thought was our best approach to telling Jane. I would text her so she wouldn’t have to pretend to be happy on the phone — a task I knew, even after a decade of friendship, she wouldn’t feel she owed me — sparing her from saying something she’d regret and sparing me from getting my heart broken by someone I called a best friend. So I texted, and it was hours before she responded. When my phone finally rang, I could tell she had been crying. She quietly told me she was happy for us, I apologized because it felt like the right thing to do, and then she said she had to go.
I hung up with mixed emotions and overwhelming guilt.
For the next month, we avoided the topic. If it accidentally came up, she’d make cruel remarks and dress them up as jokes. Sometimes when she was feeling extra salty, she’d bring it up only to say things like, “At least you’re pregnant” whenever I indulged her in a response. A month later, everything fell apart.
Jane and Chris were hosting a party and we were there early to help set up. The four us were gathered in the kitchen when Jane reached for a bag on the countertop and pulled out a dress. She had bought it for an upcoming wedding and asked if I liked it. I did. That summer we had nine weddings to attend and so naturally the conversation turned to discussing what we were going to wear. Then, without thinking twice, I said something I’d immediately regret:
“I know. I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to wear to all of these weddings for a long time and now I’m going to be super pregnant for, like, three of them.”
It was like someone sucked all of the air out of the room. Jane threw the dress down on the countertop. Her face turned red, she looked me in my eyes and with a raised voiced responded quickly.
“Well, I got my fucking period today, so that’s FUCKING GREAT!”
Then she stormed out of the room and Chris followed behind. I held back my tears and begged my husband to leave with me. Despite my pleas, he convinced me stay. When Jane re-emerged 30 minutes later, she never once acknowledge what had happened. I sat in silence — in a home I once felt welcome in — pretending everything was fine, thinking about that intensifying feeling in the pit of my stomach when we’d found out, thinking about the guilt I’d felt since she found out, thinking about how much I had wanted another baby and how much I regretted it now. And for what?
That moment and the difficult two years that followed, trying to escape Jane’s jealousy and the toxicity of our relationship, was my first big lesson in adulthood — and self care.
Adulthood is difficult in many predictable ways but many of the difficulties arise from the realization that it’s not what we thought it would be; it’s not a singular destination where you magically arrive with all the answers, a perfect amount of certainty and the most amazing support system but rather an endless series of phases and levels you may or may not “pass,” a journey you have to endure while carrying around this accumulating stockpile of baggage in the form of shitty friends, relationships you’ve outgrown and unhealthy connections you’re too polite to sever. Baggage that, as women, we’re conditioned to carry.
We’re conditioned to take care of others and bypass ourselves — to stick around, to constantly say yes and to give 3rd, 4th and 55th chances. For many of us, it’s nearly impossible to imagine freeing ourselves of these burdens because we’re not conditioned to think about ourselves. But self care is having a moment and it’s important for us to realize that it’s more than just a skin care regimen. Self care is learning how to get out of toxic relationships, recognizing when you’re wasting unhealthy amounts of energy looking for good that doesn’t exist, knowing when to take a break or say no, listening to your body, and living your most honest truth in pursuit of your purpose.