When I was 26 years old, two of my best friends became pregnant within a month of each other. Upon word of their news, I promptly burst into tears -- and was surprised to find that they weren't the happy kind. Instead of feeling excited for my friends, I somehow felt devastated by their pregnancies. The emotions that rose up for me were a complicated mixture of jealousy, abandonment and insecurity.
It wasn't just that I hadn't forseen this era of my life beginning yet, but rather the intense reaction I had was more to do with all the things about my own life that my friends' pregnancies illuminated. In the shadow of their seemingly glorious news, my life suddenly looked like a mess. I had a boyfriend I was ambivalent about, a flailing career as a fledgling writer, a habit of drinking too much, and I had just lost my second parent. Suddenly the stark contrast between my life and that of my two friends' was too blinding.
In the beginning, I hid my feelings, feigning both busyness and excitement in an effort to conceal my darker emotions and avoid seeing my friends. But it wasn't long before I couldn't bring myself to be in their company at all. I felt like the worst person in the history of the world. What kind of woman hates her best friend for getting pregnant?
But I did. I was angry. I felt left behind, betrayed, and abandoned. On top of that I felt like an utter brat for feeling all of the above. No matter how irrational, part of me felt hurt that they hadn't waited for me to be ready to also make this major life transition. Another part of me thought they were making a huge mistake getting pregnant so young. The rest of me mainly felt jealous. As I struggled poorly to contain these feelings, my relationships with both of them began to crumble.
I knew I was being hurtful by not being able to get past my own issues. I also knew that my friends were both going through one of the biggest life transitions any of us had made yet. It was obvious that they felt unsure and scared of the journey they were embarking on, and that they probably could have used my support more than ever. Still, I stewed in my messy feelings. I pulled it together enough to make it through the baby showers and I even made it to the hospital on the day one of their babies was born, but if I'm going to be honest here, I have to say that I never quite made it past my hurt and resentment long enough to be a good friend during that time.
I wish I could say that once the babies arrived I turned a corner, but I didn't. As my friends moved into this new phase of their lives, I stayed in mine, fairly oblivious to what they were going through as mothers to newborns. For a long time our friendships cooled on the counter like almost-burned pies. Somewhere in that time we all ended up in different cities, the distance easing the pressure to stay close, and it wasn't until almost four years had passed and I found myself married and pregnant myself that things began to turn around.
I'll never forget those trying, early months with my daughter, what it was like to be alone in the house with her after my husband had gone to work, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, and filled with remorse for how little support I'd given my friends when they'd been in this same place. Over the phone, miles apart, I couldn't stop apologizing to the friend I'd always been closest to. She was warm and accepting and sent me baby presents and helpful advice on a regular basis, and I couldn't have been more thankful -- or humbled.
All of these experiences helped me when I became the target of another friend's resentment. When we were both pregnant with our first children, she miscarried and stopped speaking to me. Her hurt and anger is too familiar for me to feel resentful of her silence. She's since had a baby but still hasn't spoken to me. That stings, but it's also something that I understand on a deeper level than I wish to.
I'm now heavily pregnant with my second child, and when I look at the divide between my mom friends and my childless ones, I often think about all the other ties that bind us as women. We live in a different generation so different from our own mothers'. So many of us stay single and childless well into our forties, and during our single years our primary relationships are often with female friends. We travel together, spend holidays together, and act as one another's support through everything from career changes and romantic relationships to illness and parental loss. It's no wonder that the divide of motherhood sometimes cuts so deeply.
When I look back on my 26-year-old self, smarting with feelings of anger and betrayal, I see a young woman struggling to walk a path that all of us must forge as we move forward into our adult lives. Hating our friends for becoming mothers may not be the nicest thing we'll do in the course of our friendships, but it's also not the worst.
If I could go back to the confused and angry woman I was all those years ago when my friends got pregnant I would tell her that she's not alone, that the art of becoming a woman is a complicated one, fraught with many roles, each more fluid and changing than the last, that for her to declare herself certain about any one of them would be her biggest mistake.