Jane* and I met in 2004: the year of that Janet Jackson Super Bowl performance, the Friends finale, and that (my legitimate pick for Best Picture at the Oscars) Napoleon Dynamite was released. It was during my second year of university, in a silly anti-pop culture sociology class, that I first encountered this funny weirdo known as Jane – and we became fast friends. Throughout the rest of our university years, we went on to collaborate on many projects together and hung out all the time.
We stayed friends after our degrees finished too – for over 15 years, both cobbling together careers in the arts and seeing each other through breakups, affairs, family issues, and grief. I can count my close female friends on one hand, with Jane as my middle finger.
She’s not a loud ‘fuck you’ person, but a quiet one. Floating her own boat and seemingly unbothered by societal expectations when it comes to concepts like money, marriage, and children. For more than a decade, we continued to make room for each other in our increasingly busy lives once or twice a month right up until my baby shower, which unbeknownst to me, was apparently also our funeral.
My baby is about to turn 18 months old and Jane has never once reached out to meet her. Or to see how I’m doing. I (we?) have been ghosted. My middle finger now feels perpetually pointed right back at myself.
I’m positive she doesn’t mean it to feel this way, but her sudden absence during the most difficult (read: holy shit why did no one tell me having a newborn was this hard? Oh yeah, because then no one would do it and someone needs to pay taxes) time in my life is still hard to brush off. How do I know she doesn’t mean it? Because I’ve done it too. Not to this exact extreme, but before I had a baby and especially before I wanted one, I’ve 100% pulled back from friends when they’ve had kids. So perhaps not only do I get it, maybe I deserve it.
Years ago, when another close friend told me she was pregnant over brunch, immediately ruining mimosas and inducing paranoia about the safety of the nail polish at our pedicure place, I couldn’t believe how quickly I felt like I no longer had a solid place in her life.
I felt like a burden, a weird holdover from a life she’d decided she didn't want anymore. I resented the implication that she’d found some kind of enlightenment and purpose I’d never understand if I didn’t have children. But who was implying that? Definitely not her. But I still felt it, somewhere embedded and insidious. Our friendship suffered, but didn’t break, and undoubtedly has new life now that I am a mother and can understand just how deeply I didn’t show up for her in her early postpartum months. I wish I had.
I feel this same distance growing with all the childfree women in my life. Every one of my close friends are now mothers. It’s bizarre to feel like I crossed the bridge into Mum Club and when I look back there's a huge cliff, lined with those evil one-way spikes you get in multi-storey carparks. Like I wasn’t just on the other side, deeply ambivalent about children and contemplating a life without kids well into my 30s.
Now, every time I manage to get one of my non-parent friends to go out with me, they can’t seem to resist saying “Oooh it’s Mummy’s night out!!” in a way that makes me want to light myself on fire, or at the very least ask them to stop acting like I’ve had a lobotomy.
Are we doomed to only have people in our lives that directly mirror our own? I want childfree women in my inner circle, but it feels like much of our current world pits us against each other.
Choosing to not have children still seems to be perceived as pretty radical, depending on your circle. I’m hopeful that view is evolving, but the insane backlash when someone like Chelsea Handler jokes about how amazing it can be to live childfree reminds me there’s still a long way to go. The stigma of choosing to not become a mother simply because you don’t want to is real, and I don’t want to be in any way complicit because I did decide to have a child. So maybe it's on the mothers to extend the olive branch. Oh wait, that’s me. Fuck.
An obvious question is why did I not reach out to Jane myself over the course of a year and a half? The answer is I’m equal parts stubborn, sensitive, and petty. But things changed on the day my daughter, Olivia, turned eighteen months old; I decided, for just once in my petty little life, that I would take the high road and be the one to reach out first. I texted Jane. She responded straight away and quickly, we made plans to catch up over drinks.
Just like we always did before I became a mother, we decided the meeting point would be a hip brewery on a Thursday night – and we stayed out late.
Sitting down together, after a year and a half of silence, was strange at first. I think she felt guilty. She didn’t even know that I had needed a C-section. I apologised for not reaching out sooner, and she did the same. When it comes to why this happened, Jane says she wanted to give me space as a new mum. She explains she didn’t know how to help or have any advice to offer up re: kids. She isn’t very comfortable with babies.
But, Jane also said she’d never had a hang out like this with a ‘mum friend’ before. And actually, the majority of our night felt as if nothing had ever changed. We pretty much slotted back into place, into being stupid and enjoying each other.
When I sent that text reaching out, I really didn’t know if she was going to respond, and I was prepared to accept that. Truthfully, whilst that night – in many ways – really did feel like no time had passed between us, I still don’t know what the future holds for us, as the reality is my life has changed significantly. There is a gulf between our everyday experience, whether we like it or not.
I hope that we can find our way forward now, or at some point in the future, but I also believe that not all friendships are meant to last forever. And while I know that fact doesn’t diminish their value in your life, it’s still a painful one to come to terms with. I’m willing to fight for it, and try to bridge the gap. I guess we’ll see.
As she got out of my car that night, Jane turned back and asked, “When can I meet your baby?” And honestly? I don’t care when she meets her, as long as I have my middle finger back. Helping me give a quiet ‘fuck you’ to the damaging divide between mums and non-mums.
* Name has been changed
Karen Kicak is a television writer and filmmaker. She is the co-showrunner, executive producer, and writer on the International Emmy-Nominated comedy series Workin’ Moms on Netflix. She’s had personal essays published in HuffPost, Glamour, The Kit, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and has a Tiny Love Story in The New York Times. All things considered, she’s pretty good for being a Karen.
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