Last night, I hosted The Last Supper…
My friend perched on my sofa, a pillow adorably propped atop her eight-month-pregnant belly.
“It really won’t be that different,” she said. I smiled and nodded, withholding the part where it most certainly will.
When it comes to friends having babies, I have stood here over and over again. Metaphorically, she is about to move to a distant land and become fluent in a language I do not speak. No matter how much I try — no matter how many well-meaning visits I make or books or documentaries or babysitting experience I have on my side — I will never fully comprehend the landscape: an unmappable terrain where a piece of your heart exists outside of your body.
For these last few moments, I am soaking it in. There will, of course, be more suppers. But they will never be quite the same.
“It’s weird,” says another childfree friend, “You establish these relationships with people for years and years, and then suddenly — truly overnight — everything changes.”
Of course, I am familiar with change and its pesky way of aligning itself with seminal life moments. After college, there was a sort of exodus. Some people moved back to their home towns, others went off to pursue graduate studies, others took jobs in places near and far. In the ensuing years, there was a flurry of engagements and weddings and even some divorces. While I hadn’t experienced those things, I could follow along — I could completely empathize with the range of emotions.
And then… everyone started having babies. And that was different.
For some, having children is destiny. For others, it is tricky. Whether by choice or circumstance or some other life-happens hybrid, there are those of us for whom the only showers thrown in our honor are the ones meant for personal hygiene.
For all of us, life ticks on. Every year, the paper soldiers arrive in formation. There are the holiday cards charting everyone’s growth. The baby announcements with weights and lengths and sometimes even little footprints. As I rip open the envelope, I sometimes shed a sentimental tear. Then I hang them on the refrigerator, to greet me when I rummage for the oat milk.
I have a single friend who sends a holiday card featuring her cat every year. With each new edition, her siblings ridicule her for doing so. Another friend sends a card sharing her personal accomplishments of the year — big trips, work milestones. Personally, I applaud this. Send whatever card you want! Why aren’t everyone’s life updates worthy of a spot on the fridge?
Because you knew I was going to take it there, there is an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie attends a friend’s baby shower and is asked to remove her shoes at the door. The shoes are stolen, and the host offers to pay for them, until she learns how much they cost. “Come on, Carrie, that’s insane.” She continues, “Sure, I used to spend that much on shoes, before I had a real life…kids, houses…wow.”
Carrie feels shamed, but then realizes that over the years she has given this friend engagement, wedding, and multiple baby gifts, far in excess of the price of her shoes. She was happy to celebrate her friend’s choices and good fortune. So why was she shaming hers?
And here, we arrive at the chasm.
On the childless side of the fence, your accomplishments suddenly feel smaller, like they are measured by a different metric. Maybe you bought a home or made payroll or got a promotion or wrote a book or won an award or, I don’t know, got a bonus and decided to splurge on some shoes. It’s not that these things aren’t amazing or worthy of pride. It’s just that you wouldn’t dash into a burning building for them.
Whatever shape it takes, a childfree life is less charted territory. It doesn’t come with a designated party or a Hallmark card. No matter where you are or what you’ve accomplished, there is a sense of being left behind, even if you’ve elected to be there.
I have been asked, on multiple occasions, what I do with “all” my money and “all” my time. It’s always a little jarring, when in the not-too-distant past, the person asking the question was right where I am.
Likewise, I’d like to know how it feels to never get cornered by people wondering where your children are. To have your choices and circumstances celebrated by society. To operate from a place where no one questions whether your life has purpose and meaning.
We all have a tendency to gaze at the seemingly greener grass on the other side of the fence. We’re all trying to fumble our way through our respective situations, just doing the best we can.
If a friend were to move away, it would be obvious that extra care is necessary to nurture a long-distance relationship. When one friend has children, the same is true, only the distance is now an emotional one.
When a good friend had a baby, our frequent jaunts around the neighborhood came to a halt. But they were replaced by regular take-out dinners (at her place, once the baby has gone to sleep). We’ll talk about our lives, or play games if our partners are present. There is a bit of a language divide. (What is this green poop you speak of?) But it is undoubtedly worth the effort to maintain the relationship.
In adulthood, I have come to regard friendships — whether the person is single, married, a parent or not — as oceanic in nature. There is a natural ebb and flow. Sometimes we are close, sometimes we are not-so-close, and sometimes we may be downright distant. Work schedules shift. Emotional needs change. Kids grow older. You drift apart, and then just as easily, you drift together.
Through all of this, we are part of the same sphere, part of a greater whole, and always there for the other, albeit with a little navigation. Sometimes, you find yourself standing on the shore, waving and wishing your friend a safe passage. And trusting that one day, you will find a bridge to connect you once again.
(Photo by Audrey Shtecinjo/Stocksy.)