"Guys, have you heard about the nurse-in at the Beverly Hills Anthropologie?"
I'm in a bustling coffee shop in LA - my natural habitat - surrounded by bearded hipsters lovingly crafting designs in foam for their latte-starved customers who are chained to their laptops, typing away at manuscripts, screenplays, and pilots. And on this day, I'm one of those typists. I'm gleeful to be one of those typists, actually. This is one of the first times I have left my 2-month-old son at home alone with my husband and taken a rare few hours to work on a novel that has a deadline close enough to leave me panicky. Not so secretly, I had another reason for my glee: I'm not alone in my typing today.
I have a group of friends - a bunch of introverted writers who miraculously found each other in this city where new relationships are always suspect as being transactional (aka do you like me only because of what you think I can do for you?). We are all writers, yes, but we are more than that, too - we are theater buddies, restaurant try-out-ers, movie-opening-night pals, long email chains of supportive Wynonna Judd meme senders, and partakers of some shenanigans whose evidence is best left hidden in the depths of our cell phones.
And it has been far, far too long since I've seen them in the flesh. So sleep deprivation be damned. I don't care that I own no clothes that aren't stained by spit-up. The pressure in my boobs is all but forgotten. I am writing, drinking coffee, and catching up with my friends. For the first time in months, things would be blissfully normal. But for some reason, my friends are all looking at me funny.
That's the moment I realized I was now fundamentally different from my friends. And there was no going back.
"What's a nurse-in?" a Sarah (there are multiple Sarahs in our group) asks. "It's a sort of protest," I reply. "You know, when nursing moms are hassled for breastfeeding in a public place? Other moms then go to the place and breastfeed en masse, because legally it's our right to do so anywhere."
Again, blank looks.
Seriously, how had they not heard of this? The story had dominated the mommy forum I had joined a few months earlier. And maybe it was because "nurse-in at the Beverly Hills Anthropologie" was just about the most LA sentence I'd ever read, or maybe because I was struggling so much with breastfeeding my son that I couldn't understand why anyone would try to stop someone else from doing this herculean task anywhere they damn well pleased, but from the moment the wronged mom had posted about her Anthropologie experience, I'd been fascinated.
But for my friends - my smart, wonderful friends who had thrown my baby shower - it was as if I was talking another language.
"Mommy life is amazing," a different Sarah said with a little laugh. "I have to steal that, put it in my script." Everyone chuckled and went back to gabbing lightly about our lives or the news, in between typing and sipping coffee. And I did, too. But I was quietly having the light bulb of realization flash red in my brain. That's the moment I realized I was now fundamentally different from my friends. And there was no going back.
For most of us, friendship happens in pods. Your high school friends, your college friends, your work friends – except for on rare occasions, like birthdays and weddings and that one random weekend in Palm Springs - don't overlap. In this particular pod, I'm the first one to have kids - and still am the only mother of the group. (One of the guys has since become a father, but let's not kid ourselves that it's the same thing.)
But I have plenty of other pods, pods where I was in fact the very last person to have kids. When I was in my 20s, I lived in New York. I was surrounded by theater, 6 trains, and my own overwhelming but unfocused ambition. The idea of my having kids was as far-flung as the idea of me being the first person to step foot on Mars. I also had a great set of friends, a group of girls who had known each other marginally in college but clung to each other like our lives depended on it when we all moved to the big, bad city. And I watched as one by one, their priorities shifted and grew. Some got married. Some got tired of a New York apartment's square footage. But invariably, the exodus and the breeding began, the lure of suburbia synced with our biological clocks.
It was around this time that I left, too - my decision to move to Los Angeles for work was made a fraction easier with the knowledge that I wasn't going to be missing any Sex and the City-esque brunches with my girls.
Of course, I'm still friends with them all. Facebook friends.
What if Kate was gone completely, and Mommy had taken her place?
So, considering my experience in other friend groups, I'd like to think that I saw the changes my baby would bring and could fight against them. Naively, though, I thought those changes were limited to things that I could, through sheer force of will, change back. A gym membership and some time management kung fu, and I would be myself again in a matter of mere months. (I cackled madly writing that last sentence, the idea of finding a spare hour to go to the gym a giddy fantasy.)
I never thought about the internal shift that would take place, how my brain would be consumed by measuring ounces of milk, my every nerve always on alert for a cry. The idea that I would feel this deep-seated want to be near my baby was something that happened to other women - overly sentimental types who cried at refrigerator commercials and didn't have work to do or a strong solitary streak. I thought that I would be the me I'd always been, just with a baby.
How was it that I didn't know I had changed until now? Everyone else knew it. Hell, social media algorithms knew it. They had been sending me a constant diet of mommy blogs, promoted posts, and cute baby gear to buy since conception. And as the baby grew, it seemed like the mommy stuff completely overtook my feed. So no, I wasn't getting that fun post about my friend's new job, and even all the political stuff that normally makes me cringe had given way to photos of other people's kids.
A cold worry entered my brain. The computer knew a shift had taken place. I was clearly different from my friends now. What if Kate was gone completely, and Mommy had taken her place?
And it seemed like this was indeed what had occurred. I'd been altered - my body strange and loose, and my mind fuzzed by lack of sleep and wild hormones. Suddenly I no longer felt presentable . . . not even to my friends. Whenever we would get together after that, I felt deeply awkward and found myself resenting their freedoms. When before our hangouts would be free and easy, with the possibility of adventure behind it, now I became easily enraged that my time was not being better spent. If I was going to make the absurd effort to get out the door and constantly worried about what was going on back home, then that movie had better be amazing, or that play reading has to be important. My time had better be used constructively, dammit!
Annoyance would overwhelm me when I got their emails, their invites. But then, I would feel this crazy sense of loss when I saw pictures of their latest group escapade or had to ask about a joke I didn't get. I would look at my kid and think, "This is amazing," but I would look at my life and think, "This is not."
So, while my friends kept on going about their lives, I kept hiding myself away, lurking deeper in the recesses of the group chat, wishing I had something to contribute. But no one wanted to hear about what I was doing, about what show I was streaming during the 2 a.m. feedings, I told myself. I'm tired; I'm boring; I'm not worth the attention.
I'm just a mommy.
It was finally my friends who snapped me out of it. Out of my illusion of exclusion.
"Wine! Conversation! Sunset! Fun! Beauty!" This was the subject line of the email Cecil sent out, inviting our group to go see a performance in the park. In my old life, I would have been there in a heartbeat - strolling in at the last minute, a bottle of wine and a blanket in hand, with nothing to do but listen to music and relax. Now, the idea of packing together everything I would need to take the baby out of the house and make contingency plans when he inevitably decided to practice his Exorcist impression and projectile vomit on everyone exhausted me.
I hadn't responded to a message in weeks. Hadn't initiated one in months. But they kept me on their email lists, on their group chats. God, when would they get the hint that I didn't belong with their kind anymore? That I had to go out in the world and find new friends - mommy friends. People as equally tired as me, who were versed in toddler-ese and worried about things like cradle cap and the Ferber method.
Seeing these invites - it was like rubbing salt in the corpse of my former self.
Finally, sad and defeated, I typed back: "You know you don't have to keep inviting me places, right?" That would do it, I thought. That would have them backing out of my inbox and my life completely, and we would see each other occasionally in our social media feeds and wonder in passing about how the other is doing, but never reaching out further than the occasional "like."
But instead, I got a wake-up call. "We know your life is crazy right now," Cecil wrote back. "We know you can't do everything. But we want you to know that you are included!"
I am included.
You know what? Maybe packing up my kid and all of his stuff and taking in an afternoon in the park was a worthwhile way to spend the day.
I worry that I've gone too far to the other side. I worry that I am now only a mother in the eyes of those I meet.
I'm now two kids in. My son is a tornado of toddler, capable of destroying with both his energy and his adorableness. My daughter lives up on my left shoulder. It's her spot - where she burps, where she dozes, where she charms strangers sitting in the airplane row behind us. Which is wonderful for baby snuggles - my drug of choice - but makes it nearly impossible to get any work done. But I do. Somehow.
And while I have pretty much fully adjusted to my mommy-hood, I still worry. I worry that I've gone too far to the other side. I worry that I am now only a mother in the eyes of those I meet. That my son will only ever see me as a Mommy, and not someone with interests, dreams, and stories. I worry that my work will be infected by my mommy-ness - do I talk too much about my kids in meetings? Not enough? Hell, I wrote a novel about pregnancy, did that mean that Mommy was now my brand?
Finding the balance of being yourself within being a mom is not easy. But if you're lucky, your friends can help with that.
In Kate Rorick's adult fiction debut, The Baby Plan (out March 20), we enter the wild, bewildering world of modern pregnancies as three moms-to-be who quickly learn only one thing is certain when you're having a baby: nothing is going to go according to plan.