As I look back at this moment I think of the many, MANY challenges that I've faced over this past year in all varying facets. There are a ton of gargantuan changes that come with being a new parent. For me the lack of sleep was extremely tough among some of the other more obvious adjustments. But I actually found that the most difficult challenge that I had to face of all over this past year, wasn't my short bout with postpartum depression, or the physical changes, or even the exhaustion. It was the feeling of isolation. Which may sound ridiculous since you're never really alone once you have a baby. But none the less, I fought an overwhelming feeling of loneliness quite a lot during this past year.
It wasn't the type of loneliness that accompanies depression or being physically alone either. It was the lack of a core group of peers that I could commiserate with and turn to. Of course my husband was here being super-dad and a wonderful partner, my mother and family were here a lot as well. In fact, just before Olivia was born, we bought a house closer to my family for the sole purpose of being able to have them around often. But with that move, we also left the majority of our friends behind. Not that it honestly would have mattered much regardless, you see I was the first of my immediate friends to have a baby and as I quickly learned after I had Olivia, having friends that are also parents is a necessity.
Once Olivia was born, I found that the fantasies I had harbored pre-delivery of being able to just pop her into a sling and carry her willy-nilly around all of the time were just that - fantasies. Not only was I physically exhausted 99.9% of the time to the point of not really wanting to venture out, but babies also need quiet time, floor time, play time, snuggle time, nursing time and the list goes on. I was putty in her chubby little hands and found myself adapting to her needs and schedules versus the other way around.
Very soon she had me consumed and when friends would call or come by the conversation would mostly consist of her bowel movements, temperament, sleep patterns, the funny movie I watched at three in the morning while she slept on my chest and so on. I went from being a fashionable New York socialite to being a suburban stay-at-home mom in mere months, and the change was drastic to say the least. All in all I was no longer the most lively conversationalist or entertaining host, and thus my distancing from the world began. I was turning into a milk-making, baby obsessed, hormonally charged, hermit - afraid to leave my daughter for more than an hour with anyone else.
Finally, when she turned three months old I began to crack my shell and emerge from my comfy little nest once again. Not only did I suddenly find myself longing for the type of human interaction that I once had, but more so I was desperate to meet other parents. I realized I needed other mommies in my life - people to talk to that could relate to what I was going through as well. So I snuck into the office while O slept one night and jumped online and began researching for mommy groups in the area. I joined the Busy Baby Meet-Up, the Toddlers On The Go Group, the Beach Baby Group, I joined the Moms On The Go group, the Le Leche League and more. I even found myself joining an all natural parenting group that insisted I be interviewed first, then had to pass other member inspections and finally wait for my special 'member ribbon' to arrive in the mail. Short of posting an ad on Craig's List, I did everything that I could to meet other parents.
Olivia at her gym playgroup
On my first playgroup experience we went to a local library for their Mother Goose Story Time. What I hadn't known ahead of time was that the majority of the moms within this particular group were all very tight with one another. They were all cordial enough, but when it came time for the group photo at the end of Story Time, I was pointedly left out and uninvited to the next meet up. I left the library deflated and feeling as if I was in high school all over again.
The following day I found myself walking through the grocery story in a mad rush trying to get my shopping completed before Olivia woke. That was when I spotted a young, hip looking mommy with a baby that looked very similar in age to my little O. I kept a close eye, as I nonchalantly followed her through the grocery store trying to work up my courage to approach her. You would have thought that I was in a freggin' singles bar! I chucked my nerves to the side and told myself that if a kid can do it on a playground, then surly me - a grown woman - could try to make a new friend too. So I walked up to her and said, "Hi. You have a baby close to my baby's age and I live nearby and am really trying to meet other mommies, will you be my friend?" I felt like a complete fool but at least I put it out there. She was a little taken aback especially when my husband walked over to us at that moment and said, "I promise my wife's not crazy." Needles to say we exchanged info and I invited her to a play date I was to host at my house in a couple of days.
Two days later I was an anxiety ridden mess. I was hosting my first mommy play date and had invited a few new mothers that I'd met in various play groups here and there. Now let me just give you a brief bit of background here. I am a beer-drinking, fashion-loving, risk-taking outspoken individual. I have tattoos, strong political beliefs and have never owned a proper pantsuit or office outfit in my life. That being said I completely respect that each individual has their own way of life and I try not to be outwardly offensive. Which is why, that afternoon, I had homemade cookies baking in the oven, nondescript easy going music playing, flowers on the table and a casually conservative outfit on. Now, I'm no susie-homemaker but we happen to live in a very, very conservative area right now and the last thing that I wanted to do was turn off my new potential mommy friends. Which is of course, exactly what I ended up doing despite my best efforts.
The play date was going well. The other moms had shown up perfectly on time in their neatly pressed slacks, summer dresses and lightly perfumed. I felt very out of place in my dark colored skinny-jeans and funky tank-top. I had to remind myself that we are in the conservative South. We sipped tonic water and juice while the babies bounced, rolled and played with all manner of toys. We were having a jolly ole time when one of the mothers brought up work and asked me what I did for a living. I explained that my husband was a fashion photographer and that I have worked in various areas of the industry but found that 'retouching' was a skill I happened to be exceptional at. I was asked what exactly that entailed, and I went on to explain that some people call it 'air-brushing' but it's using Photoshop to retouch, clean up and change images to a client's specific taste. I didn't expect that they'd be so curious and was delighted to find myself the center of their attentions. I even went so far as to offer to show them some 'before and afters' from some of my work. They were extremely excited at this prospect and we immediately gathered around my desk in the office while I went through the most extreme and best images that I could think to share. This was to be my downfall.
I showed them various popular celebrities, covers from the most elite fashion magazines, images for some of the worlds most famous photographers and more. They saw girls go form a size 12 to a size 2, heads being replaced, pale skin made a luxurious tan, clothing colors changed and wrinkles removed for top designers, eye lashes erased and then hand-drawn in for mascara campaigns, lips and lipstick changed completely for lip gloss ads, images torn apart and then rebuilt and every other modification one could possibly think of. It lasted all of maybe fifteen minutes and I was feeling quite proud. Which is exactly when one mother abruptly said that she had something come up and unexpectedly left (later deleting me from her 'friends list' on facebook), another mother asked me pointedly if I realized how immoral my work was and another simply said I didn't need to call her for the next play date before she left. Yet again, I found myself feeling like a teenager in high school having been shoved around in the halls by the popular girls. I had to remind myself that I love what I do, and most of all I love sharing it so that women can better understand that the perfect body is a lie and that everything they see is modified.
Regardless of the bumps in the road that I'd encountered thus far on my quest to make new friends, I trudged ever onward with determination. I finally found a great group of woman in the local La Leche League and it turns out that the mother I approached in the grocery store is now one of my best friends among a few other select young moms that I finally found weeding through the bad ones. I even found another entrepreneur, Manhattan transplant like me as well! In addition I have to say that joining the Mountain Buggy blogosphere has also been a tremendously great thing. I had no idea what to expect and am so happy to have found such a wonderful group and network of fellow parents - internationally no less! - that I am grateful to share with. Having a great core group of people in your life is truly essential for any new parent.
There have been many challenges over this year but I am glad to say that I feel like I've come out of them all the better for it. I am now looking forward to the challenges that Olivia's approach to her 'Terrible Two's' will bring.
My 'Grocery Store Mommy' and I now enjoy a twice weekly jog together. We switch between the Mountain Buggy swift and the terrain. Here's a pic of a sleeping Olivia and her little girl, Sienna.