The fear of losing out (on friends)
About six months ago, I got pretty depressed that all of my friends were either pregnant or had recently had babies.
(In case you’re wondering, it was 12 by the way. Twelve friends with babies.)
To my husband and me, it felt like it was coming at us from all sides. Family. Friends. Close colleagues. Our bridesmaids and groomsmen. Even neighbors. Not even kidding — our apartment neighbors directly below us and directly next to us each have 2-month olds at home.
While there’s certainly the “peer pressure” alone to contend with, I’ve written about that before. And that, somehow, wasn’t the worst of it for me.
The worst of it was feeling like I might be losing all of my closest friends.
All of the sudden, it got a little bit harder to see people. All of the sudden, our activities of choice (go out to eat or meet for drinks) weren’t quite so obvious. Work trips got a little bit harder. Weekend time got a little more precious. Impromptu hangs aren’t really a thing anymore.
And then, slowly, over the course of many months, the topics of conversation started to shift from new local restaurants and the latest work drama into new clusters. The places where your body hurts at 8 months pregnant, the difficulty of learning how to train your body to breastfeed, the mixed emotions of returning to work after maternity leave.
I can only imagine that having a child must be one of the most fulfilling experiences in life. To see your world reflected back at you through the eyes of something that you literally created. To observe another human’s growth and behavioral changes and ask yourself, “How much is me? How much is them?”
But the only problem is — I’m not there yet.
And if all of my friends are, then I feel like every moment of their life stories that I watch is yet another moment when I’ll have to do it by myself later on. Suddenly these people who I partied with in college, who I traipsed through the city with in my early 20s, and who cheered me on with every job change along the way — they are changing gears. And I’m…not.
Meanwhile my friends with babies are pairing off with their new hyper-local communities of Park Slope Parents, “Moms Who Yoga,” or Day Care connections. They are posting questions on Facebook about things I can’t answer like sleep training, travel advice on airplanes, and the best strollers. They are having double-dates with other friends and their babies. They are picnicking in the park with their families.
Not going to lie. It’s a little bit lonelier than I thought it would be.
Keeping pace in your career
“Don’t be so dramatic,” my therapist told me. And keeps telling me. (Basically, every week.) “They’ll come back. Just wait a couple of years. You’ll see. These things go in cycles.”
But of course it never feels like that at the time. All I knew was — as a 32-year-old career-centric woman, I felt like my entire peer support structure was falling away. And even though I know it’s irrational, I started to wonder if this was the start of “the great divide” between women and men in our careers.
There was a moment recently when, at a party with three other couples, a natural and informal clustering started to occur. Around the couch, the three women (two with babies, one at 8-and-a-half months pregnant) were having a highly technical conversation about nursing bras. And at the table on the other side of the room, three men were talking about Sirius XM’s recent acquisition of Pandora.
I looked back and forth from one conversation to the other. As a business case study junkie not yet at the nursing bra stage of my life, I knew which one I’d rather be a part of. But I was torn.
I thought about the countless studies I’ve read documenting the poor representation of women in executive leadership roles. I thought about the book, The Ambition Decisions, that indicates how women’s careers all follow a similar direction until the moment when they have their first child. I thought about the way jobs get handed out — not through resumes and cover letters but over dinners and drinks and casual conversational chit-chat. I’ve always wondered where those rooms are that women aren’t always invited to join, how those sidebar asides become executive-level promotions.
“Ah,” I thought. “So this is how it begins.”
Even if this is only a blip — a several-year period of time where our schedules are just a bit less in sync than usual — I’ve noticed myself doing a couple of things differently in the months since this has all happened.For one, I’ve been seeking out more women peers my age who don’t have kids yet. Comically, I’ve been talking about this so much at home that I’ve seriously considered throwing up a Craig’s List ad or Meetup Group to see what happens.
“WANTED: Local, 30-something ladies without babies who I can call on a moment’s notice for a happy hour drink, a random work complaint, and conversations conversations about personal projects that drive us crazy (but motivate us anyway).”
You laugh, but I’m telling you, this stuff matters.
In the months since all of this started going down, I helped to start a “Boss Book Club” of other women my age where we read business books and then dissect our own work problems with each other. (And yes, a couple of moms are on the book club list too — they just can’t make all the meetings).
I’ve also rekindled a few friendships of people I hadn’t seen for awhile. And I formed a couple of new ones too. In my own industry, I’ve been more intentional about rallying together with other women in my own industry on these topics; some I’ve connected with before personally in this ways, others for the first time.
But the other thing I’ve been doing has been seeking out women on the other end of the spectrum; people who are 15 or more years my senior who have “been there, done that” and can live to tell the tale. I must have heard a dozen or more stories about managing your life and career with babies over the past year — with everyone from a lead opera singer I met on a airplane once to top executives at tech companies and even a couple of authors
This balance, whether I sought it out intentionally or not, has provided me with a better balance recently. But it’s taken awhile for me to feel “recalibrated.” If I’m being totally honest, I’m probably still not there yet.
Women helping women
There are probably a lot of things you’re wondering about while reading this story, but I bet a big one is: “Why were you only looking for women? What about other men?”
And this is an excellent point.
Typically I’m far less discerning about who I go to for advice. But to me, this felt like a problem particular and specific to being a woman. You have to have the empathy of first-hand experience to be able to relate to the problem. It’s a complicated mix of emotions: Anxiety about your own future, sadness to lose female kinship, uncertainty about your own path, and confusion about whether it’s even possible to weather a career with kids at all. It’s a lot.
And that’s why I think it’s so helpful to make sure I still have a steady stream of peers on all sides of this sticky question.
To be clear, I’m not only looking for women to help me figure out my life story and professional journey. In fact, in general, I think it’s incredibly important to get a balanced perspective of opinions from as diverse a group as possible in any decision.
But for this moment, in this transition, when it comes to the very-tough and very important question of when to have kids and interrupt your career, I do think it helps to have women to connect with. People who are going through the same thing as you are — whether that thing for you happens to be sleep training and nursing bras or managing some transitional moment in your career.
And you better be sure that one day, when it’s my turn to be leading the conversations around strollers and nursing bras and sleep training, that all of this will shift again.
Disclaimer: I’ve started and stopped writing some version of this post several times over the past six months. I’m 100% confident that I’ve horribly offended one or more people even in writing this. But I’m putting it out there because throughout this process, I’ve also talked to many other women who also admitted that they also feel a little bit lonely — and I’ve heard this story on both sides (the ones with babies and the ones without). I hope if anything this helps us have a better conversation about it and continue to support each other along the way.