On August 18, J. Courtney Sullivan, a novelist and an activist I appreciate and I happen to “know from social media” (which is not really a thing, but that’s the best way I have to describe my otherwise non-existing relationship with her), published an Op-Ed on the New York Times, titled “The Absolute Necessity of the New-Mom Friend” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/18/opinion/sunday/new-mom-friends-motherhood.html).
I read it from a link on her Twitter feed (there you go), while having breakfast at home with my husband. He had some pieces of the printed edition of the New York Times in his hands, while some other parts were being carried around the house like a trophy by our almost-one-and-a-half-year-old boy, his arms up above his head in wide excitement. My husband and I both kept an eye on our readings and an eye on our son, taking turns in yelling “Charles?” when he decided to hide out of our sight, and waiting for him to come trotting back, a huge smile on his tiny face. As I was reading Ms. Sullivan’s article, each paragraph brought waves of thoughts and feelings, from a mild surprise at the fact that these networks of new moms even exist, to a heartfelt sadness for the times she had to struggle in her journey through pregnancy and motherhood, to a honest curiosity as to where her significant other did fit in the picture, to an overall awareness of how different and potentially unique my own experience has been so far.
My husband and I live in New York and we don’t have any close family of any kind nearby, as both our parents, siblings, and other close relatives are mostly in Europe, or otherwise scattered around the world. Our pregnancy was a couple’s affair, plus many skyping sessions and some trips across the pond, from both sides. We built our lives here in the US mostly on ourselves, on our unity and bond as a couple, and we faced the first few months of Charles’s existence — spoiler alert: they were not always easy — together, highs and lows and all.
I ended up having an emergency C-section after 30 hours of labor, and I couldn’t move from the bed for almost two weeks. My husband was lucky to have several weeks of paid parental leave, and he entirely took care of our then newborn, and of me, during those first rough days. We had read many books during my pregnancy, and we had agreed on what strategies to follow with our baby, how to deal with emergencies and complications, how to basically survive the first months and make sure he would survive, too. We are likely much more pragmatic and structured thinkers than many other people we know, but that’s how we work, and that’s how we make things work for our family. During those first two weeks, I trusted him to make all the right choices, as much as I could have.
Later on, we always shared responsibilities and duties based on our own personalities: I did the sleep training while he was on a long work trip to Europe, and he came back to a two-month-old son who would sleep twelve hours per night. Yes, we have always been very lucky with Charles. My husband reads to our son every morning, he spends full Saturdays with him, exploring museums or unleashing him at the playground, while I work for several hours. He brings our toddler to the daycare every morning, and I pick him up after work, but we can always switch if he has an early meeting or if I have an evening commitment. We are not fully interchangeable, as he is more playful and I am more patient, but together we are invincible.
This is why I never felt the urge to text anyone at 2 am to ask for help, I never needed to share with anyone anything that I hadn’t already discussed with my husband. He has always been the one I ran to with tears in my eyes, when I felt tired and weak, when the mirror was telling me I hadn’t lost all the baby weight, when the baby would do something that would literally drive me crazy, when I had no idea of what I was doing or what I was supposed to do.
Of course we have many very good friends here in New York, many couples with kids, and we spend big portions of our weekends with them. They are our family-equivalent we built here in New York. The women in those couples and families are among my closest friends, and on occasions I asked them to share their advices or experiences on some baby-related topics. Their kids are all older than Charles, though, so they have never been my New-Mom friends. I’ve never had any New-Mom friend, and therefore I never even felt the need to share my New-Mom feelings with another woman who was in my exact same situation at the exact same time, hence my surprise and delight to read how much good and relief can come from this type of relationships.
I know it’s not the same thing, but I’ve always preferred my husband, as a New-Dad, to be my sounding board and sanity checker, my counselor and my adviser. I know not all men are like him, and not all couples are like us, but this is our story.