In the sleep-deprived trenches of early parenthood, babies seem like enough to establish a deep connection
Something changed when I popped out a tiny human. Well, many things changed, like my sleep schedule, my boob size, and my ability to laugh without peeing (everyone knows that when you have a kid, you say goodbye to decent bladder control). But in this case, I’m talking about my friends. When I up and procreated, I became a leaky woman attached to a tiny, occasionally screamy, leaky baby.
My friends from graduate school grew wide-eyed and slowly backed away. I might leak on them. Worse, the baby might leak on them. Possibly, he could scream. In fact, he could scream, and I could leak, and they might see a nipple. They fled.
So I made The New Mom Rounds. I went to La Leche League. I started a babywearing group. I got really into that whole attachment parenting/breastfeeding thing because I met some other moms who were into it, so like, besties! Very few of those moms remain my friends years later. Most of them? They were not really friends.
Real talk: children are people you parent. They are not the basis for lasting friendship. In the sleep-deprived trenches of early parenthood, babies seem like enough to establish a deep connection. But in these relationships, you’re not exactly yourself—I know I wasn’t.
I was no longer Eliza, who liked The Velvet Underground some times and pop punk at others; I no longer had a political agenda; and no one knew that in the before times, I had been a successful writer. No one cared. When I became a successful writer again and had mom friends, it was a cute side-note to my life, much like my musical tastes, my David Bowie obsession, my sexuality—everything that made me me.
My mom friends and I were bound together by two things: children, and how to properly parent them. That’s it. We talked about co-sleeping hacks and the best methods for removing spit-up from a sofa cushion, but not real-life issues, like “I had an eating disorder in high school. Now I’m on a restrictive diet so I can breastfeed a baby with protein intolerances, and it’s sort of messing with me.”
In the very early days of my children’s lives, these stifled friendships seemed like enough—and I truly did have a real friend or two. Sadly, they moved. Then, not long before Covid hit, I found myself sitting on a bench at the playground watching my three sons, while women traded Instant Pot recipes over my head. I asked them about TV. They changed the subject. I tried to talk about music. The same blank faces stared back.
Everyone’s not super into rock, but I’d expected more than “Who’s David Bowie?” I knew better than to touch politics.
“So my kid’s having trouble sleeping alone,” I said. The conversation began to burble.
It hit me: these women, who were so different from me—one rescued cats, one was an Evangelical Christian, one was hardcore into Disney—didn’t care about my life. Our differences didn’t matter because they were not relevant to our friendship. I was simply another mom at the table.
And after so many years of mom friends, I was ready to be Eliza again. But when I reached for her, she wasn’t there. I’d spent so long thinking about kids, writing about kids, making slime with kids, doing school with kids, and bonding over kids that I couldn’t remember who I was. I was floundering—I racked up quality time with my Kindle. I played games on my phone. Finally, I forced myself to make a list: what activities did I actually enjoy in the past? What did I do for fun before kids?
Then I tried those things on again to see what still fit. Some of those hobbies? Big old blah. Crocheting took too long, I realized. Paper maché and rando crafts, on the other hand, I was startlingly good at it.
I rediscovered teaching when my homeschool collective asked for help (I was good at teaching other people’s kids before I had my own, and I still am). I sought out like-minded friends who shared my interests rather than my sore boobs. We talk about writing sci-fi and Drunk History, not whose kid kicked who on the swing set.
Even the ones who do have kids know me as Eliza: they can tell you I like punk music and poetry and that I’m usually wearing Doc Martens, no matter the occasion. Some of them can’t remember my kids’ names. Some of them are my kids’ best friends’ moms. What matters: we talk about more important things than wake windows and baby-led weaning.
I’m forever grateful to those other women for giving me a place when I was a scared, new mom. But they only saw a scared, new mom; they didn’t see me. That went on for a long, long time—so long that I lost myself.
I’m glad I’m me again.