“I say we make a pact. Here and now. We’re here for each other, always, no matter what happens in life. Whenever we need a friend, we’re here for each other. We can count on it. Always. No matter what.” And there were her friends, twenty years later, in the delivery room, when Chrissy is the first of the group to give birth to a baby. The scene belongs Now and Then (Lesli Linka Glatter, 1995), the story of four women who meet again after two decades living parallel lives and recall the summer of 1970, when they were 12 and lived in a small American town. The film presents two topics that strike a chord today: friendship and motherhood, and the turmoil that inevitably comes with the arrival of a baby.
Turning your back on plans, schedules and conversations can be a very sad experience (no matter how happy you are with your baby in your arms); sometimes it feels like a part of us disappears with that social life. In addition, physical and emotional exhaustion come into play, and that is not always easy to deal with. You can feel so exhausted that you may even lose the desire to spend time with a friend.
Natalia Prado, a perinatal psychologist, explains: “Something that is mentioned a lot in motherhood is the loneliness that you live with, especially in the postpartum stage. Even if your group of friends has children, it is rare for two postpartum mothers to coincide.” “I remember something that a patient told me during consultation: ‘Now that I am a mother and take walks with my baby, I realize that I never thought about the loneliness and the fatigue that the women I saw on the street with their strollers could be going through,’” she adds.
Writer Silvia Nanclares, author of ¿Quién quiere ser madre? (Who wants to be a mother?) has seen this story from both sides. When she was in her thirties, she experienced each of her friends’ pregnancies as the announcement of a loss: “I have always liked children, and I adored their babies and enjoyed spending time with them being mothers, but there was something real that divided us: priorities and the availability of time and energy. Their social life ends at 8:00 p.m., just when mine began. Our conversations were constantly interrupted. And those responsible were those bundles of joy, those little friend stealers. Inevitably, I went my own way. And so did they. It’s the beginning of parallel relationships.”
Some time later, she became a mother herself. At that point she already knew “how hard it is to make the first years of parenting compatible with anything,” because she had remained with several recent friends and had not abandoned their friendship. Now, however, it was she who became isolated. “The first imperative to combine is obviously work, and maybe your partner. Because our society is like that: super work-centric and partner-centric. When I became a mother, my obsession was to be able to continue being a writer, to be able to continue writing, reading. […] All the time I managed to scratch out from motherhood and paid work I wanted to dedicate to my ‘real’ job, my calling. And that variable killed me.”
Friends and mental health
Even though our society partly measures a person’s success by their ability to socialize (hence the business of social media), “friendship is not seen as something essential for mental health,” says Nanclares. However, it is. Prado is clear: “I would like to emphasize the importance of friendship in our lives, and that the feeling of belonging to a group is an indicator of happiness supported by different studies that seek the keys to happiness. That said, it is true that when a woman becomes a mother, her rhythms, her plans and her priorities change. Whether she feels welcome and respected by her group of friends or not, it will depend a lot on the moment they are in as a group, and the pace they follow,” she explains.
This brings us to the next point: would it be okay if, when a woman enters motherhood, if she needs it, she is given a grace period in the form of space and empathy, so that she can readjust to her new role, before demanding something from her as a friend? Nanclares believes that this would be positive. “Socially, there is no space to live any type of ambivalence: you have to be at your best, have people over, recover, be ‘you’ again. Meanwhile, inside, you’re a complete mess. Or sometimes you can also be full of oxytocin (it’s not all tears and tissues), but there is a brutal discrepancy between what is expected of you and what you’re going through.”
Psychologist Lorena González, co-founder of the Serena online female psychology center, alludes to communication as the best tool to deal with these phases. “Even if we wanted to, there are things that we can no longer do with a baby, which means that friendships between people who are parents and those who are not yet, require a great adjustment and understanding that, if not achieved, could put the friendship at risk. Even so, I believe that if there is a true friendship, if there is patience and affection, the friendship can stay alive.”
From her own experience and in her consultation, she knows that there are moments, especially at the beginning of motherhood, that can be overwhelming. “Many mothers need support in those moments; or sometimes, the burden is such that perhaps what we need is some time at home to be calm, to be able to rest and to be able to adapt little by little to our new life with the baby. This change is sometimes difficult to understand for the childless friend who suddenly feels displaced, excluded, that she and her friend no longer talk as much as they used to, or worse, that she doesn’t know how to help. This is why it is important to be aware that this new situation implies a need for the friendship to adjust, with new roles and new circumstances. The key is good communication and knowing how to give the friendship the time it needs. With time, communication and affection, little by little the friendship will restart,” she assures.
The experts agree that a readjustment of social connections is natural when a woman becomes a mother: some friendships fall by the wayside, but others undoubtedly appear, in tune with the woman’s new circumstances and her rhythms, plans and needs. “The concept of belonging to a group, like the concept of a tribe, can be of great help in the postpartum and parenting period, as long as it is respectful of the mother’s needs,” says Prado. “In perinatal psychology we talk a lot about the concept of tribe, and how important it is for parenting. When we talk about this concept, it doesn’t have to be solely and exclusively for the care of the baby, but rather as a support for the mother, the father and the family.”
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