Welcome to Momhood, where you’ll find a verklempt me. I miss my girlfriends, the fab Non-Moms with perfect nails, flowing coiffes, fresh ‘fits, and makeup expertly applied after hours of YouTube tutorials.
Now, I am a superwoman, racing around my apartment for hours while chasing after my charging toddler.
I’m also a super effing lonely first-time mom.
My single friends started to disappear with the first midnight feeding. It wasn’t for lack of trying—at first, there were lots of invitations, but they were coming to kvell over my baby, not to clink a glass of Whispering Angel. Happy hours, fancy dinners, concerts, barbecues, and girls trips were going on hiatus for a few seasons.
Quarantine is not so hard. I spent much of 2019 housebound with the baby while breastfeeding and pumping round-the-clock—that was hard. Now, I’m spending much of the socially distanced present far from the very friends I had hoped to finally hang with by my side.
Still, without sisters, it isn’t easy.
Less Time, Less Friends
According to a Child Magazine survey, 69 percent of women felt satisfied with their friendships before having kids; only 54 percent felt that way afterward.
The culprit? Less time to spare. The same study found that before becoming moms, women spent 14 hours per week with friends, compared to only five hours after.
Joanie Cox-Henry, a former celebrity reporter, says things got real when she welcomed her son, Jack, now 5.
“My friendships before I became a mom were totally different: I met up for happy hour, went to concerts with friends, took couples vacations, and endlessly shopped for shoes, clothes, and makeup,” says Cox-Henry, now a mom of two who blogs about her mom life for Motherloading.
“I could accept phone calls at any hour of the day and really be there for my crew. I worked as a fashion and beauty writer and would be at Miami nightclubs and red carpet events constantly.
“After I became a mom, I slowed down a lot. I was still popping bottles at 3am, but now they were baby bottles, and I became so excruciatingly tired. I used to think I was tired before, but after becoming a parent, you unlock a fatigue achievement level you never fathomed was possible.”
Tania Hammond, a stay-at-home mom of two, says she lost about “four or five friends” after welcoming her daughter in 2017, adding,“It’s so tough to work around my schedule.”
When non-moms invited her out, she answered, but with an interrogation. “‘Where are we going? What time? How long are we going to be there?’ And the reason why I’m asking all of those questions is because I’m on a schedule.”
Soon, the invites diminished. “I feel like they got frustrated and gave up, like, ‘Ugh. This is too difficult.’ When I was single, and I had mom friends, I feel like I was more understanding,” says Hammond. “I still hung out with them, and I flexed my schedule to match theirs. But, I feel like that was not reciprocated when I became a mom.”
When The Tables Turn
Chantie Khan-Enwright says she lost four friends when she became a mom at 25. That’s when the invites to party and hang into the wee hours were plenty. Now that her kid is 13, many of her thirtysomething friends are finally pushing strollers—and seeing what it’s like having virtually zero time to chill.
“Now they see the importance of getting a break and having adult time,” says Khan-Enwright, a work-from-home travel agent. “They” being the ride-or-die friends who toughed it out through Khan-Enwright’s busy mom years.
“My circle is really small, and the moms have kids at different ages.” They stick together, taking family trips, and carving out moms-only time within the getaways. Thinking back, Khan-Enwright says she doesn’t miss the pals who didn’t bother to stick around. “They were only there for a season,” she says, “cause now their reason is over.”
Finding A New Crew
After a bit of an adjustment period, now I’ve decided to leave the ones who left me in the rearview. No grudges. No side-eye. It’s okay, I tell myself, they’ll learn one day—or not.
I’ve miraculously managed to make new mom friends during the lockdown. One day, while taking my little one for a walk, I met a mom who looked so much like me, it was almost like looking in a mirror. She’s West Indian-American, too. Our little boys are also both curly-headed—literal bookends. We’ve managed socially distant playdates (with lots of Clorox wipes to clean the swings at the park), and we chat about our old lives and long for the day when we can spill wine on each other in a crowded bar.
Another day, yet another mom came pushing her son down the block in his toy car—she’s a Korean fashion designer mourning her employer, Ann Taylor’s, filing for bankruptcy. We connected over our shared love of European travel and brioche. Lots of brioche.
We three find solace in knowing we’re all equally tired, worried, happy, and thankful. The beginnings of a new sisterhood.
We’ll all be okay.
Images: Sai De Silva / Unsplash
This is hard.
We’re more than a couple weeks in now.
The allure of eating Cheetos and Pop-Tarts has worn off.
Your cat officially hates you.
Going to the grocery store feels like something out of The Walking Dead.
And you’re worried. About how hard it is for your family to co-exist when you’re crammed in the house together and no one can leave. Or how you lost your job but the bills just keep coming. Or because someone you love is an essential worker and you’re scared they might get COVID-19. Or someone you love already has.
I’ve been thinking about that worry a lot. Especially on the days when it rains and not being able to go outside nearly makes me have an existential crisis, or the days when I miss my mom’s hugs with a longing that feels bone deep. And I’ve been thinking about what gets me through it. And this is going to sound like something about of My Little Pony, but honestly, it’s female friendship.
I guess it’s not that surprising—my girlfriends are what’s gotten me through just about every hard thing ever. But something about our friendship has shifted. I can’t say exactly when it changed, but since this pandemic started, we’re talking about the hard things and the important things all the time now, openly and bravely and more. So much more.
I’ve always been fascinated with female friendship, and wondered what it is that makes it feel so extraordinary.
Is it because the experience of being marginalized as women causes us to band together more tightly? There’s a young adult novel I love, Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Lemon, that says, “We’re friends because when girls—women—are alone in this world, they’re easier to pick off.” And maybe that’s it. Maybe we need each other to survive, and so we wrap ourselves around each other like armor.
I was talking with my friend, Mayra Cuevas, about a children’s book author group she’s in called Las Musas. She calls it her “Latina tribe—a group of amazing women, who understood the magic of abuelitas, the absolute bliss of a guava pastry and the pain of a chancletazo.” At a retreat a few weeks before the pandemic, she told me the group “shared our fears, cried through grief, and laughed at the absurdities of life. We even burned away our self-doubt in the most amazing fire ceremony, while praying for our collective hopes and wishes. It was pure magic. Enveloped in the arms of this sisterhood, I felt seen, accepted, and appreciated. Their love and compassion gave me courage and strength. This is the function of female friends.”
Is it that men simply don’t form these types of friendships as often or as easily? I’ve read that men report spending less time with their friends and that they don’t consider their friendships to be as important as women do. That women are more likely to treat their friends like sisters.
I worry about my husband during this time. (Possibly because of that seminar I attended in grad school where I learned that women are more likely to report feelings of stress and depression after trauma, but men just die earlier. Burying your feelings: it’s even more dangerous than we thought.) It seems like it’s so much harder for guys to make friends after college. He has these amazing friends from high school, and they nerd out playing Magic and video games whenever they come to town. But does he have people that he’s leaning on emotionally?
It seems like it’s harder for him, and for men, to make new friends. And full disclosure, I’m super shy, so I almost swallow my tongue every time I meet someone for the first time.
Maybe it’s that initial awkward bubble, the space between politely knowing someone and telling them terrifying truths like I’m scared I’ll never figure out what to do with my life or I’m worried I can’t be the kind of mom my kid needs or I have a crush on this guy in accounting even though he wears jorts. Maybe it’s harder for men to break through the bubble than women. And make no mistake—it’s hard. If we’re thinking about undervalued strengths that women have, the extreme bravery it takes to form a new friendship goes at the top of my list.
But could there be something about women’s neurobiology that makes us friend differently? Okay, this is an extremely complicated topic to talk about because people have tried to weaponize the idea of brain differences against women and other marginalized groups for years. But there is a ton of cool brain science behind friendship, and I got to talk all about it with Dr. Sara Freeman, a neuroscientist who studies social behavior, and with whom I once made a friendship pact in a bathroom during our grad school interview.
It turns out the same systems in the brain that are involved in pair bonding (or falling in love) are also involved in female social behavior (friendship!!). The hormone oxytocin drives all kinds of social bonding—love, friendship, familial—across a bunch of different species. We talked a lot about one particular scientist, Dr. Annaliese Beery, and her work on oxytocin in voles. There are a lot of animals that mate for life (swans, termites, fennec foxes), but meadow voles are not about that life. They’re so promiscuous they don’t even form a male-female bond for a single mating season. But you know what they do form? Female friendship!!! (Well, the vole equivalent of a female friendship.) These furry little rodents aren’t thought of as being the most social creatures, but they actually make really critical social bonds that help them survive the winter by huddling together for warmth. (Adorable.) I think huddling together for survival is exactly what we’re doing when we send takeout to a friend who’s having a hard week or share a roll of toilet paper with a neighbor.
Another cool thing about the science of friendship? Our brains are similar to our friends’ brains. When scientists had college students watch short videos while scanning their brains, they found that people who are friends had startingly similar neural responses, showing reward, boredom, and attention at the same parts. It could be the scientific reason behind why sometimes you meet someone and just click.
Regardless of why women are friends, I’m convinced it’s critical. Every time a friend tells me, “It’s okay that you’re not okay right now. I am not okay either. But we’re not okay together,” it feels like they’re giving me life.
Having a group during trauma makes you more resilient. A lab at Instituto Universitário in Portugal did this research with zebrafish where they exposed single fish or fish in groups to a chemical stressor, and the fish had a lower fear response if they endured the stressor together. It didn’t even matter if a fish was in the same tank as the others. As long as it could see the other fish through the glass, know that they were in the tank next to it, the fish wasn’t as scared. This gives me hope that all the FaceTime and Zoom meetings are working. (Hell, even TikTok.)
This phenomenon of feeling reduced fear when you’re in a group is called social buffering. And just because we’re social distancing doesn’t mean we have to stop social buffering. I believe it makes a big difference, whether we’re talking about people and COVID-19 or zebrafish and chemical stressors. For now, my connections with my friends are keeping me sane.
Sometimes it’s opening a book I set down a couple months ago and having the most perfect Galentine’s Day card fall out and bursting into happy tears.
Sometimes it’s group texting with my neighborhood moms about how exhausted we are while plotting a socially distanced happy hour in a nearby field that will totally make us look like a coven of witches.
Sometimes it’s a Marco Polo from a friend talking about the importance of perspective as she shows me her chin from different angles.
Sometimes it’s my friend Terra Elan McVoy telling me about how she was watching bees that day and thinking about how “the bees didn’t all freak out when they started dying from Round Up, they just kept being bees. And that’s kind of what we’ve got to do is keep being bees. Make macaroni n’ cheese. Play music. Cry. Freak out. Get some sleep. But keep being bees together for as long as we can.”
And sometimes it’s live posting with my besties while swilling wine and watching Love Is Blind together because WE ARE CLASSY PEOPLE, OKAY?
So, play Jackbox or leave silly Marco Polo messages while wearing old Halloween costumes or reach out to a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time and tell them you’re thinking of them. Because I really do think things like that, and like friendship, are going to save us all. I think it’s what will keep hearts and minds and humanity intact for when we come out the other side of this.
I dream of the day when I can hug my friends again and go on girls’ trips and sit on a patio sipping margaritas. I hate that all of those things have been taken away. But the part about how we’re talking about the important things so much more because this pandemic is forcing us to? As much as I can’t wait for the day when we don’t need to shelter in place, that closeness feels really special. I don’t want to lose it. When this is all over, I’m going to figure out how to keep it.
Rachael Allen is the winner of the 2019 Georgia YA Author of the Year Award, whose books include 17 First Kisses, The Revenge Playbook, and A Taxonomy of Love, which was a Junior Library Guild selection, a 2018 Book All Young Georgians Should Read. Her most recent book is The Summer of Impossibilities. She lives in Atlanta with her family. Visit Rachael at rachaelallenwrites.blogspot.
Image: Simon Maage / Unsplash