The moment my water broke, I told my partner to text my best friend. "I need my person there. Tell her to start driving now," I said, haphazardly throwing clothes into a hospital go-bag I should have packed weeks prior and before waddling out our front door. "I thought I was 'your person?' " my partner quipped, knowing full well where he stands in the hierarchy of my personal relationships. "Yeah, just make sure she's there. I can't do this without her."
I met my person in 2007, the beginning of my junior year of college. I had accepted a job at a local beer distributor to help pay my way through college, and she was teaching me the ins and outs of her previous position.
I remember asking her a hypothetical question - something about a romantic relationship I was trying to navigate as best as an irresponsible college student could - when she responded, "Oh, absolutely. More than happy to help. Also, what does 'hypothetical' mean?" In that moment - when a relative stranger was ready and willing to help me, and regardless of whether or not she even knew what kind of "help" she was volunteering to provide - I realised I was forging a special, long-lasting relationship.
I knew I had met my best friend.
When being a mum is the equivalent of holding down two full-time jobs, and when more and more mums are working outside the home and still shouldering the majority of the child-rearing responsibilities and household chores, it's difficult to find, and make, "mum friends." Yes, I've met some fantastic women who are mums - lifeboats, to be sure. But it's been difficult to turn those acquaintances into enduring friendships.
We're rushing to drop our kids off at school before we're late and subject to the ire of our child's kindergarten teacher. We're sharing details of our lives while chasing our toddlers around the playground, splitting our attention between a life update and questionable playground equipment.
Which is why I have essentially given up "trying." Am I shunning all potential friendships with a woman who happens to be a mum? Absolutely not. Having someone who knows what I'm going through, even if their life experiences vary exponentially, is invaluable. But when push comes to shove, I need and crave someone in my life who truly "gets me." And that person happens to not be a mum.
My child-free friend sees past my ability and choice to reproduce. She asks me questions that expand far beyond school schedules, playdates, extracurricular activities and whatever milestone my toddler is supposed to be achieving at the moment. When motherhood threatens to envelope my entire existence, it's my friend who isn't a mum who sees the entirety of my worth. She gives me a perspective that surpasses parenthood, a perspective that grounds me when I feel like the trials and tribulations of caring for another human being are more than any one person - or even a couple - could possibly maintain.
She lets me know that I matter more than my ability to get my kid to school on time, to breast-feed for however long that overzealous online mums group believes I should to prove I'm a "good parent," and that my intellectual prowess surpasses the ABCs and 123s.
Of course, I have plenty of mum friends who provide that level of mental stimulation. Some of the most articulate, smart and influential women I know are mums. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a mother and a grandmother. Mums ran for, and won, political office in 2018 at historic rates. Choosing to bear children doesn't automatically diminish your capability to make a difference, and it certainly doesn't mean you're a bad friend.
But it's easy to lose yourself in motherhood and its expectations. Which is why my non-mum friend is so vital; she reminds me of a time when I wasn't a mum - a time that I sometimes crave, especially when my five-year-old is telling me he no longer loves me and my one-year-old is throwing an unmitigated tantrum. When society tells me the most important thing I could do with my body is become pregnant and birth a child, my best friend reminds me that isn't true; the most important thing I could do is be myself, in whatever form, whatever capacity, and in whatever way feels most authentic and beneficial to me.
My best friend lives on the opposite side of the country. I'm in New York City, and she's in Bellingham, Washington. And it's easy to feel isolated when you're a mum. You're touched out, courtesy of tiny humans who demand your love, affection and, in many cases, body as a means of sustenance for a significant period of time. But although there are thousands of miles between us, it takes nothing more than a quick phone call to my best friend to bring me back to myself.
When I brought my son into the world, and his six-pound, 14-ounce body was laid on my chest, I looked for the face of the woman who knew me way before that moment, the moment I became a mum. And when I feel like I'm losing sight of who I am, all I have to do is hear her voice and feel at home.
This was first published by The Washington Post