"Welcome to the Mommy Club!" I cringed. It was a Saturday and I was at a baby shower and I was eating a cupcake with bright blue icing which suddenly seemed to have the consistency of wet cement. I set it back on my plate, lest it harden in my throat and stop my breathing.
The words were not directed at me. They were for my best friend who was sitting next to me wearing a slightly baggy shirt and holding a telltale plate of just crackers even though the snack table was loaded with sugary things. She was something like 11 or 12 weeks along and had just started telling people her news.
A woman sitting on the other side of me overheard and swung in to join the conversation--or, rather, the interrogation. How many weeks? Are you going to find out the gender? Do you have names yet? Are you going to get an epidural? Did you do this on purpose?
And so on.
The Mom Club. I'd never heard someone call it that, but it fit. About as close to an exclusive organization as a thing could get without being an exclusive organization. A group of women bound together by pain and sleeplessness and joy and anticipation and reflection and emotion and love and competition. People who would not otherwise be friends, sharing such intimate details about themselves and their bodies that you'd think they were sisters. And all you had to do to get in was have a baby.
Which was why I was not a member.
It may have been petty, and it may have been wrong, but I sat there that day being cynical and being bitter and generally just hating the idea of The Mom Club.
A few years earlier, I'd told this friend that I wanted to have a baby. She'd looked at me like I'd turned purple and said, "Not me, no way, not for a long time." And now here we were. She had a baby in her belly and I had...cake. Just cake. Cement cake. With sawdust frosting. And sprinkles.
Maybe that was the moment I realized that I might lose my best friend to the moms swarming around her like bees. She might need someone to talk to who can understand the pain of labor or the joy of a first smile or the frustration of a baby who just won't stop crying. She might want to share a funny story about bodily functions that I might not be able to stomach. Her baby might morph into a toddler who thinks my house is boring because I have no toys and everything fun-looking is off-limits. Maybe that was the moment I realized that she was boarding a ship while I was standing on dry land and that while we could still talk to each other on the phone, there would now be a lot of water between us.
Maybe I was being a little dramatic.
Honestly, though, there was water. Things did change. She was tired and busy. I was jealous and sad. Her baby was perfect. I was seeing a doctor who kept saying frustrating things like, "I just don't know why you can't get pregnant. Everything seems good." She was dealing with new mom stuff that I didn't understand (sometimes I tried, sometimes I didn't). We tried to be there for each other the way that we always had, because we could each see that the other was struggling, but there were all these weird communication breakdowns. It was hard, but we pushed.
We asked each other questions. We clarified. We learned to ask for what we needed. We learned to let each other cry. We had no advice to give, and we found out after time that not giving advice was okay (and that we shouldn't try to make any up based on what we think we would do if we found ourselves in the other's shoes). We gave each other space without letting ourselves drift apart (a fine art). We developed other strong friendships with people who knew what we were dealing with. I had to get over myself and learn to be happy for her even though she had what I wanted so desperately. We didn't do it perfectly, and sometimes we did it completely terribly, but the point is that we jumped into the water and swam.
I'm on the other side of it now. I became a mother about a month before my friend had her second baby. She's still my best friend. And that's how I know it for sure--a lesser friendship wouldn't have been worth all that. But I've learned some valuable things out of the whole experience that I hope I never forget.
I've learned that you don't have to have been in someone's shoes to love them through a tough time. You don't have to have had a miscarriage to hold someone while they cry about losing their baby, you don't have to have gone through labor to bring someone a meal while they're stuck at home trying to work through those early weeks of breastfeeding. If you care about them and look for ways to show it, that's usually enough.
I've learned that well-meaning people will often say the wrong thing to you when you're going through a hard time, and you will say the wrong thing to them, and that's okay. They won't automatically know what you need and you won't do a very good job of figuring them out all the time either. Even if you love each other a lot. I've learned a little bit about grace, I guess. Extending it and accepting it.
And I've learned that while "The Mom Club" can be a good thing--a group of women to offer support and advice and love because they've been there too--it's so important to hang on to and fight for the friendships that formed before there were any kids around. Friendships that stretch you and aren't always very convenient but will still be there when the dust settles. The kind of friendships that depend more on shared love than shared experiences.
Then, when you finally get to share those experiences, they'll be that much sweeter. I know it from experience.
Written by Elena Krause.