Whenever our group text pings with “___ sent an image,” I wait with anticipation for the rectangular box to fill with a black and white fuzzy image of a future person. A soon-to-be member of our ever-increasing friend family. I am flooded with emotions.
First, love. My chosen sisters, extensions of myself, friends that have grown with me for over half of my life, are expanding to love in new ways. Before the little ones are named or even have fingers and toes, I know that I will love them like members of my own family, protect them fiercely, fill with pride as they grow and learn, and spoil them as best I can.
I remember the first time I pressed a hand to a friend’s pregnant belly, tight with new life, amazed at its firmness and the promise it held. I remember thinking “I already love you, little one,” because how could I not? Their mother is a part of my heart. We were forged together wearing plaid skirts and knee socks, telling tales of first kisses and heartbreaks, painting our nails on bedroom floors, sharing illicit first sips of vodka and stale cigarettes behind small-town malls, standing at kitchen counters laughing our heads off until 3 am, and stuffing our faces with all manner of cheeses.
But I’m afraid, too. Every time a friend gets pregnant, I can feel her stepping back from me. The circle of friends with kids gets tighter. You ask each other for advice and bond over the milestones you’ve experienced together, things only moms can understand. I understand why this happens, and of course it should! I’m not in the mom club yet, and I may never be, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a part of your new experience.
I’ll admit it — I started following mommy blogs when my friends started having kids. It’s something that I feel like I have to research to stay relevant, to have some kind of conversational “in” when the topics turn to baby-wearing, breastfeeding, and screen time. I feel like a fraud or a spy, peeking in on a world in which I don’t belong.
Living this childless life offers me some privileges that I know must be annoying to you. I don’t need a sitter to go out, I can wear regular bras, and don’t have to count the number of drinks I’ve had for any reason other than my own sobriety or lack thereof. Sometimes I feel ashamed about how easy my life must seem to you now. When you ask me how I’m doing, anything except “Fine!” must sound like I’m either bragging or ungrateful. I know that your lives are more complex and stressful than mine now that you have mini versions of you to care for in addition to your own worries and problems, and I can’t understand all of the emotional weight you carry. I know it’s impossible to understand until you have children of your own, but tell me about it anyway. I’ll always listen to your frustrations and joys, even if I don’t understand them.
True, I might get a little overwhelmed when the topic turns to effacement, vaginal tearing, or labor… but that’s only because these things terrify me. I don’t know if I’ll ever experience them, but if I do, I’d almost rather not know until they’re actually happening to me. But I know that your body is a mystery that you’re trying to solve, and I understand the need to puzzle through all the things happening inside you. Please never feel like you can’t talk to me about your pregnancy or your kids. I’ll never open a Snapchat or Instagram of one of your children and not squeal with delight. I look forward to scrolling through social media and seeing their adorable wisps of blonde, their chubby thighs, and hearing their exuberant giggles… it makes my heart explode every time.
When your babies grow older, I’ll be way cooler. I know how to talk to bigger kids; I’ll read them books, go with you to the zoo, hold their hands on long walks, and sing all the Disney songs that you’re probably tired of by now. I don’t want to wait until then to know them, though. At our get-togethers, be patient with me. If I’m hesitant to hold your baby, it’s because I don’t feel like I’m good at it. I see the ease with which you sling your little love up on your hip or over your shoulder, and I feel like a football player walking a tightrope. I want to be better, so coach me. I won’t be offended if you tell me to shift positions, or not to hold them in one way or another… because even if I look a little awkward holding your infant, I still want to be there for you and for them. I might not be a new mom myself, but I’m learning too, how to be helpful and not distancing, how to show you (and them) in new ways how important you are to me.