It’s a little like living on Earth versus on Mars. I can tell you what it’s like on Mars, but you’re not experiencing the different weight of the air, the different gravity, the landscape and atmosphere.
By Lisa Hsia
A conversation between childless me (BC) and me now (ME), mother to a toddler.
BC: Hey! You look… good.
ME: I look tired, old, pimply, and unshowered.
ME: Don’t be polite. The sitter’s only here another hour.
BC: Right. Uh… you’ve still got a little belly.
ME: Yeah, that whole ‘bouncing back’ thing is a lie. That body is never coming back — and I don’t mean my looks. My sleep debt is endless, I can’t hear my own hunger cues, and nothing works like it used to. I’m just not my own priority right now.
BC: People say kids are so worth it. But… I’m not saying it’s not true, I just can’t get my head around it.
Frankly, I was fucking lonely. But how could I ask anything of them when I had nothing to give?
ME: It’s a little like living on Earth versus on Mars. I can tell you what it’s like on Mars, but you’re not experiencing the different weight of the air, the different gravity, the landscape and atmosphere. It’s not that Mars is necessarily better than Earth. But it’s my home now.
BC: But I might never live on Mars! I mean, I guess I’m going to, but I am freaked out about motherhood. I want to understand it better now.
ME: I know. That’s why we’re having this conversation. I couldn’t have explained any of this a year ago. Back then, perspective was fleeting, and at my lowest points, I felt there was no one I could talk to. E— was pulling his weight and mine; he was as exhausted as I was. All my parent-friends were equally busy. I really missed my childless friends, but hesitated to reach out.
ME: The divide felt too big. I would be up at 3 AM crying, but was so sleep-deprived I could barely articulate my feelings to myself, let alone to someone who hadn’t been through it. Plus my closest childless friends were struggling with depression, work, money, housing. I already felt like the worst friend for not being there for them. I didn’t want to burden them more. Frankly, I was fucking lonely. But how could I ask anything of them when I had nothing to give? And now… eighteen months is a blink in parent time, but for non-parents, well, it’s been a year and a half; I don’t know if those friendships are coming back.
BC: Oh come on… real friends understand. They know it’s hard.
ME: They do, but… tell me this. After your friends had kids, didn’t you wonder why they disappeared so completely? Even though you knew they were busy and tired, didn’t you think, ‘they must have some time’? When you saw them on Facebook and they looked so mom-ish, didn’t you feel hurt, like, ‘I guess they don’t have time anymore for frivolous child-free people like me’?
I wanted old friends to remind me that I still mattered outside of motherhood, but I didn’t know how to explain that.
BC: Yeah. It felt like now they’d graduated to being real, socially approved grownups, they probably didn’t want to be friends anymore.
ME: Well, as a new mom, I felt the same way.
BC: Wait, what?
ME: I looked at my friends without kids, and— I get that it’s awkward to keep in touch with someone whose life has significantly changed. But every time I needed a friend, and no one was there, it felt like they’d all moved on and left me behind, like my kid was dragging me down, like I’d become uncool and boring… which I had! I was so tired that making conversation was a challenge, and anyway the only topic that came to mind was my kid.
BC: Which is kinda boring, no offense.
ME: I know it is. But I hadn’t lost my interests or my critical thinking or whatever… I just literally had no time or energy for anything except childcare. It freaked me out. I wanted old friends to remind me that I still mattered outside of motherhood, but I didn’t know how to explain that.
BC: Do other new moms feel this way?
ME: Yeah. I asked. Moms miss their childless friends. They miss them a LOT. And they don’t know how to bridge the gap — aren’t even sure the gap is bridgeable.
BC: That sucks.
ME: It does. On the other hand… this sounds brutal. But I used to have a hundred hours a week to myself, and now I have two. Friends don’t often make the cut. I don’t even have time for me — and I’m not talking about my art, I’m talking about cutting my nails.
BC: You have TWO hours a week to yourself??
ME: Some weeks, yeah. I’m ‘on’ basically 24-7; our sitter only comes once or twice a week. Sometimes she’s here and I spend that time just catching up on housework and emails. And when I’m finally alone, it’s like I’ve forgotten how to be. I’m jittery; my heart actually races.
BC: I always assumed… didn’t you have a date recently? Girls’ nights?
ME: We have had one date since she was born. I have had two girls’ nights and one Mother’s Day outing. I get writing time, if I’m lucky, a few times a week, but it’s drops of water in the desert. There are so, so few breaks for an at-home parent. Maybe for any parent.
BC: It sounds impossible.
For a long time I thought I was betraying you, that I was letting us down.
ME: And yet most people — at least globally — manage it. I mean, my life is laughably easy, compared to most.
BC: I think you’re doing a really good job.
ME: That means a lot.
BC: Thank you for talking to me.
ME: Thank you for being you. You’re why I’m still writing now. For a long time I thought I was betraying you, that I was letting us down. But it’s getting better now.
BC: You’re doing the best you can. And it sounds like I was judging you too much — moms, in general — because I just didn’t know. But… I really think you’re doing great. At both mothering and being true to us.
BC/ME: Thank you.
Author Bio: Lisa Hsia lives in Oakland and in the vivid, challenging place that is motherhood. She writes when she can, which is less often than she wants, and paints even less often than that. Find her online at satsumabug.com or in print in The Places We’ve Been: Field Reports from Travelers Under 35.