On a recent morning I woke up to 76 unread text messages. Two of my college girlfriends, with whom I am in a perpetual three-way text conversation regarding our offspring, found themselves up at the same time in the middle of the night with crying babies. Across time zones and through the lonely darkness, they shot back and forth variations on the internal, infernal struggle of sleepless mothers everywhere: Should I go in? How long should I wait? I’m so tired. I have three meetings in the morning. Am I torturing her if leave her? Am I building bad habits if I feed him?
Talking about baby sleep is both utterly mundane and entirely essential. And who will discuss it with you? Those with kids. And that’s about it. Many factors improve the experience of parenthood: patience; grandparents; date nights; humor; a washing machine. And friendship. I don’t offer this as breaking news. Just as a tribute to its indispensability in the early trenches of parenting.
I’ve discovered that this kind of support can take many forms. For old friends who live in other cities, it’s all about the virtual village. Like many, I feel conflicted about my phone dependency, especially around my impressionable daughter. But trapped under a sleeping baby? Unable to get out the door to interact with big humans? Have a gripe only for the most sympathetic of ears? Texting — mercifully casual and quick, untrammeled by time of day — is a new-parent godsend.
Then there are new friends, or “mom friends.” When advised to join a mother’s group, I recall privately thinking that I had enough friends and it was hard enough to keep up with them. However, the fact that babies change so quickly means that someone whose kid is just a bit older may have forgotten the minutiae of the prior stage. Hearing that someone else’s baby also just started rolling over and getting stuck in a crib corner at night is incalculably comforting. Plus, there’s something freeing about being able to talk unabashedly about nap hacks and introducing solids for an hour, and then just going your separate ways.
Of course, sometimes these meetups turn into real friendships. As an acquaintance put it, new motherhood is like freshman orientation: you’ll meet many people and eventually a few will stick. Or maybe the better analogy is dating: the setups in parks and coffee shops (“I’m the one with the red stroller”); debating whether it’s too soon to ask the woman in yoga class for her number; privately rejoicing over common ground amid unfamiliar circumstances. (I think of the Amazon series Catastrophe and Sharon’s joy at finding a soul mate amid a group of Taylor Swift-loving “mom-bies” and subsequent desperation after the new friend returns to work.)
Indeed, I’ve probably met more new people in the past year than in the previous five combined — having a baby is a lot like having a dog; always a conversation starter at hand. And 14 months into motherhood, I am genuinely grateful for these mom friends, a term I no longer feel compelled to put in air quotes.
And yet, there’s nothing like an old friend. I’ll never forget how early on, my closest childhood friend, who has a daughter four months older and lives 3,000 miles away, told me that whenever I found myself awake in the small hours of the night, to remember that she might well be up too, and I could always reach out. I have yet to do this; just knowing she’s out there has been enough.
Born and raised in Seattle, Becca Bergman Bull is a writer, editor and new mom in Brooklyn.