For the child free, when a friend announces she is expecting, strange feelings tend to creep up. You may feel happy for her, but you may also feel bitter, sad, disappointed, angry, or worried about what will happen to the friendship. The future is anyone’s guess, but chances are nothing will ever be the same again – for better, and for worse.
If you’ve had a not-so-positive reaction to a friend’s pregnancy, you are not alone! Lots of women who have decided to remain child free have a difficult time adjusting to the news. Maybe you feel alone all over again in your decision not to have kids. Or maybe it makes you question your choice. Usually it is a combination of many complex emotions that are often confusing.
Many of us feel the need to act excited, even when that’s not how we’re feeing. “I would smile and say congratulations,” says Sarafina, “but inside I felt only disappointment. I was often happier for my closer friends, as they seemed genuinely happy, and I wanted them to be happy!”
“I felt sort of happy and sad at the same time,” says Alexandra, a 35 year old elementary school teacher. “I always congratulate them.”
Before figuring out that she wanted to be child free, Lisa, 30, described herself as judgmental when friends told her they are having a baby. She thought, “Didn’t they know children cost money? Why can’t they plan ahead if they bemoan financial woes? Then when I understood that I was child free, I completely stopped being judgmental. I was indifferent. This is the choice they made.”
Jackie, 35, has also had complex feelings. “I have never wanted children and only feel a sense of loss when friends move into this stage of their lives, although I am happy for them. I like children. I just don’t want to raise them or spend my free time with them. Ironically, I spend most of my day with them! I’m a teacher.”
The first time a friend announced her pregnancy, Sarafina, a 35 year old web designer, remembers feeling disappointed. “At that time, I was a fence-sitter, and I really felt that people should put more thought into their decision to have children. I felt this particular person wasn’t suited to be a parent, and I remember feeling that they should think about it a bit more. I do remember wanting a child when I found out this person was expecting, because I felt I had more experience with children than she did!”
For Lela, watching her friends have babies convinced her more that she didn’t want to have kids of her own. “I’d go to baby showers, listen to the pregnancy stories, meet the newborns, hang around the house listening to the baby cry and watch my friend get on the phone countless times to call the MD about an ear infection. I’d see the straining of marriages, the money worries, evidence that neither parent was sleeping. It all looked rather tortuous to me…not at all warm and fuzzy.”
Sometimes you and a friend bond over the fact that neither of you want to have children, and when she changes her mind, that can feel like a betrayal. After her friend Martha jumped ship and decided to have a baby, Alexandra started to sense something new from her. “She started insinuating what a bad person I was for not wanting children,” she says. “I don’t think she ever thought what she was doing was insulting.”
Having children almost always changes your relationship. “I always felt that initial pulling away,” says Sarafina. “Even though my friends care about me, suddenly there was this child that separated them from me. They have an overwhelming love for a child that I will never understand. I think they feel this difference and instinctively pull away. Phone calls stopped, emails dried up, and personal visits were very few and far between. Many friends sought out other friends with children to hang out with, which made me feel personally rejected. I definitely have to seek out my friends with children now…they rarely seek my company.”
“They have little time out side of their children’s schedules for outings,” says Jackie. “Dinners are impossible to schedule with my friends who are mothers, as are any kind of time without the kids.”
“Planning anything was a momentous occasion,” says Lela. “She was tired and irritable and couldn’t even spend time on the phone because the baby would cry or something would need to be done. The first few months are hell. Your friend is going through hell and there’s nothing you can do but offer sympathy. And I have to be honest…I don’t like playing with babies. I think they’re boring and I don’t think they’re all that cute so I’d feel terrible after stopping by to visit a friend and having to spend hours googling at her kid when in truth, I just wanted a latte and some new shoes.”
Often you and the New Mom find your lives going in different directions, and you have less in common than you used to. While change is sometimes painful, it is a natural part of life. “I think that sometimes relationships just go their separate ways, and it’s not always a bad thing,” says Sarafina.
“We have very little in common or to talk about anymore,” says Alexandra. “She buys curtains, clothes, car seats, and safe new cars for her new baby.” There isn’t much common ground between them anymore.
“After the baby was born, I tried to remain friends with the mothers,” says Lisa. “But they were no longer friends. They were mothers.”
Sarafina believes that part of the reason some friendships don’t survive is because “my decision not to have children has made them question their own decision to have children. And in that way they feel they are constantly being judged.”
Another reason friendships start to fizzle is because the parents prefer entertainment that incorporates their children, which doesn’t necessarily fit into the child free lifestyle. “When parent friends visit [us],” says Sarafina, “there is no entertainment for their kids, so they don’t really get a chance to relax. Visiting us is a hassle, because they either have to get a sitter, or bring the kids and continue to tend to them.”
The friendships that survive seem to be the ones where the New Moms stay well rounded and manage to maintain interests outside of raising their children. “[My friend] Eden has always been a free spirit,” says Alexandra. “I think one of the reasons we have been able to stay friends is because her idea of motherhood is not all-consuming. Eden talks about other things – work, her husband, travel, etc.”
Lela agrees. Her friend Sally “has a dynamite personality, is a great friend and a great parent. She doesn’t only talk about her kids. She’s remained multi-faceted and has a myriad of interests. She’s very independent. She’s also raising two really great kids.”
Sometimes it just requires understanding and effort on your part if you want to maintain a friendship. Cindy, 30, who doesn’t think her friendships were all that affected by pregnancies, offers this advice: “You go on and find other things to do that interest you in your life. And you keep in contact through phone calls and occasional visits, making lunch dates when they can arrange a babysitter. It gives them a break and you lunch free without the kids. Short visits are sometimes as nice as long ones.”
For more advice on how to handle the news that a friend is expecting, please see the companion piece “Another One Bites the Dust” by life coach Lisa del Solar, guest contributor to Married No Kids. (see link)