Last week, I tried to make plans with a friend who recently found out she was pregnant. “Tried” being the operative word here — because the plans did not pan out. While there’s nothing out of the ordinary about a friend — pregnant or not — canceling on another friend, when it’s the seventh time in a row, it’s hard not to feel slighted.
I was also worried, because six out of the seven reasons she gave for bailing were pregnancy-related. It was a pattern that I had seen develop with my other friends during their pregnancies that was indicative of a clear priority shift — towards baby and away from friends.
Logically speaking, I fully understood and appreciated the necessity for the shift, but my heart was far less forgiving.
Over the last few years, one by one, I watched my friends have kids and slowly slip into the background of my life. No matter how supportive and involved in their babies’ lives I was, it was almost impossible to stay close with them now that they were a family unit. They, however, seemed more than able to keep up with their other friends who also had kids.
"Sure, the fear that I might end up losing them because they chose to have kids before I did is real, but the deeper fear is this: What if I end up never wanting to have kids?"
I couldn’t help feeling like I was being ostracized because of my lack of offspring. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t empathize with the struggles of parent life? Or maybe they resented me for my ability to sleep in until 10am on weekends? Whatever the reason, my anger over feeling pushed aside began to boil over, until finally I stormed into my therapist’s office with my diatribe all queued up.
“Whelp, she cancelled on me AGAIN. Something about wanting to see a doctor for some test she said she doesn’t absolutely need, but wants for ‘peace of mind.’ How many times is normal for a pregnant woman to get poked in the stomach with a giant needle, I ask you? Do doctors just fulfill every hypochondriacal wish of an expecting mom? Am I allowed to tell her she’s pissing me off yet??”
I know how this looks, but I was at the end of my rope, and felt like I couldn’t speak candidly to anyone else. My doctor listened patiently, then offered up this gem of an assessment:
“You seem unusually unhinged by canceled plans. Do you think your emotions might be somewhat related to your own fears about pregnancy and having kids?”
Ding ding ding!
Damn. Therapists, amiright?
My frustration with my pregnant friends and friends with kids had less to do with them, and everything to do with me. Sure, the fear that I might end up losing them because they chose to have kids before I did is real, but the deeper fear is this: What if I end up never wanting to have kids?
I’ve written about my pregnancy anxiety before, but I always just assumed it was a transitional phase I had to go through before I felt really ready to have kids. But what if it’s not? What if I’m just not cut out to go through pregnancy or to be a mom? Will I lose all my friends as each one takes that ultimate life step? Will my husband end up resenting me? Do you see how this can become a vicious cycle?
The truth is I don’t have answers to any of these questions yet. And while my overly-controlling brain is trying to be okay with that ambivalence, sometimes an emotional moment will break through — hence the outburst in my therapist’s office.
I suppose what’s most important is that I’m talking about this issue, so that when it comes time to make a real decision, I’ll be more prepared to do so.
It’s inevitable that close friends’ life-changing decisions will impact us in some way. And while having a baby is a wonderful thing (as long as it’s genuinely wanted), it doesn’t have to be the automatic decision for everyone who’s coupled off. Of course, it can be difficult to remember that when you’re at a baby’s birthday party, and you’re the only person there without an infant, toddler, pregnant belly, or extensive knowledge of breast pumps.
Pregnancy peer pressure is real, but it’s up to us to manage how much our friends’ choices influence our own, especially when it comes to such a major gear shift. When I’m feeling that pressure mounting up, I find it most effective to recall the blood-curdling screams my friend’s one-year-old emitted last week when she started teething. Stiffens my resolve to wait right back up.