By Juli Fraga
Like many childhood relationships, my friendship with Abby had simply run its course.
In the first months of new motherhood, meeting new moms came with ease. Our babies served as relationship glue and brought us together for coffee, walks and play dates. Of course, like any relationship some friendships were better matches than others.
Three months after my daughter’s arrival, I met my “match” in the dressing room at Anthropologie. That afternoon, surrounded by the scents of vanilla and lavender in the dimly lit hallway of the dressing area, our babies were natural conversation starters. Their cries echoed through the doors as we tried on the same blue, bird printed T-shirts. “Nice t-shirt,” I said when I saw her emerge from the dressing room. “Ugh, I was hoping to get a few things to wear instead of my sweats, but I don’t love my post-baby body,” she replied. “How old is your baby?” I asked. “She’s three months old. How old is yours?” “She’s three months old, too,” I replied.
Her name was Abby. She told me she had recently moved to the Bay area. Then she noticed that I was feeding my daughter a bottle and asked if I was having problems breastfeeding (I was). She confided in me about her nursing struggles, too. After months of feeling like a failure because my body couldn’t produce enough milk, I felt seen and validated. We exchanged email addresses. She contacted me the next day. The title of her email read, “Girl from Anthropologie.” Her message made my day. As much as I loved my newly born daughter, I felt lonesome. Prior to entering the mom tribe, I led a heavily scheduled, active social life. My husband and I traveled a lot, and I often joined my girlfriends for dinners and concerts after work.
New motherhood hijacked these social plans, and the freedom I had enjoyed with my friends for years. When I became a mother, most of my girlfriends were single and childfree. While they continued going on weekend vacations, happy hours and late night dinners, I spent my days and evenings at home immersed in diaper changes, burping, feeding, and sleep training. Abby’s email offered a breath of new hope — a thread of adult connection that broke up the long stretches of loneliness that accompanied parenting a newborn. We had coffee that week and met weekly for the first year of our daughter’s lives. We went to the park and every Wednesday we met at a café for an early dinner. I learned about Abby’s pre-mommy life, and how she had once been a preschool, director. We talked about how much we missed our careers, and how they had been impacted by the pause button of motherhood. We even survived our first mom crisis together.
One afternoon Abby called me panicked. Her daughter had a high fever and a red rash on the bottom of her feet Our girls had played together the day before. Not only was she worried about her baby’s health, she was also concerned about my daughter. Her daughter had “Hand Foot Mouth” disease, and within two-days, my daughter had it, too. We spent hours on the phone supporting each other as we both dealt with our children’s first fevers and the worry that accompanied it.
Then, shortly after our daughters turned two, she disappeared. Slowly. Looking back, I had missed the signs. It started when she wrote back after every third or fourth email I sent. Her messages were cordial, but not inviting. “Hope you are doing great, too. Can’t believe it is almost fall.” She ignored my invitations for dinner and play dates, and changed her RSVP to “no” for my daughter’s birthday party. “She’s probably busy after her vacation,” I told myself. My denial served as my armor, a Band-Aid for my hurt and confused feelings. Then, one afternoon as I walked down the street with my daughter and my husband, I spotted Abby walking ahead of me. I recognized the butterfly tattoo on her ankle and her silver Birkenstock sandals. “Abby,” I shouted.
She turned around and things felt awkward. She didn’t hug me. She didn’t apologize for her absence. Instead, she looked me up and down and said, “Hi.” My daughter started crying. Abby focused on my daughter’s tears and said she hoped her day improved. I felt foolish for saying hello. Clearly she had broken up with me and didn’t want to talk about what had happened between us. I mentioned we were going out to lunch, and we made small talk about the upcoming holidays. “Where are you going to lunch?” she asked. “I’m not sure yet, ” I replied. “Hope you have a nice holiday and thanks for saying hi,” she said.
Afterward, I felt a knot well up in my stomach. Her rejection stung, and my stomach bore the brunt of my hurt feelings. I could tell our friendship was over. She had asked me where I was going to lunch because she didn’t want to see me at the same restaurant. Even my husband who is usually clueless about female relationships commented on the awkward interaction. “I’m sorry, but I think she’s divorced you,” he said. That was over a year ago.
This past fall, I once again ran into her at the Anthropologie dressing room. I felt like a hurt ex as I tried to act unaffected by the strangeness between us. We made small talk about kindergarten applications. But this time, we were trying on different t-shirts. She tried on a plain colored tee while I tried on a floral printed cardigan. I almost asked her what I had done that offended her. Had I unintentionally hurt her feelings? Had she outgrown our friendship as our daughters became older? Like a detective trying to find answers, I replayed our last play dates in my mind. Nothing glaring stood out. Her silence communicated that she didn’t want to tell me why our friendship had ended. That afternoon, I was at the cash register when she left the store. She turned to wave and said, “Bye, Juli.”
While I never learned why my friendship with Abby ended, I grew to appreciate our relationship for the joy it provided during my early years of motherhood. And I realized the person I needed to forgive was the one I had neglected the most: myself. I had beaten myself up as I imagined I had deeply hurt Abby. “What did I do?” I had asked myself repeatedly.
One day, I observed my daughter on the playground. I watched closely as she held hands with a little girl as they went down the slide. Their little hands released from each other as soon as their feet hit the ground. They ran in opposite directions, and my daughter began playing with another friend near the seesaw. Studying my daughter’s fun filled play, I realized that like many childhood relationships, my friendship with Abby had simply run its course. She decided to let go, and that afternoon, so did I.
Juli Fraga is a psychologist, writer and mother. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times Motherlode, The Washington Post and the Mid. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga.