My friend Mel was drunk. Not just normal drunk, she was mom drunk. This is the kind of drunk your friend gets when she doesn’t go out much anymore. A couple glasses of wine, over-eagerly downed and fueled by freedom from familial obligations, left her giddy and breathless in no time.
The next day at work, I talked to Mel about her new inability to handle alcohol like a weapon. “Ha! I laughed. “You were mom drunk.” She just smiled and ignored me.
As it turned out, Mel wasn’t drunk at all — she was pregnant again. She was still in her first trimester, and she’d been ordering lime and sodas at the bar and quietly pouring away the alcohol we got her. She wasn’t mom-drunk, she was just happy to have a night out with her friends. When I found out, I was as embarrassed by my behavior. It made me realize I’d become the kind of person who uses “mom” as an insult — “Ha, look at your mom jeans” and “Ha, that’s totally a mom joke.” And if I ran out of specifics, “‘Ha, you’re such a… mom.”
Less affectionate than its paternal equivalents — “dad dancing” and “dad bod” — the word “mom,” when applied to women my own age who had children, had become my shorthand for “boring.” I carelessly flung the term at them across the divide between parent and non-parent as punishment for the treachery of motherhood, not caring if I widened the gap. And I expected them to just accept it — after all, it was their choice to have kids, wasn’t it?
I’ve always known I don’t want children and in my 20s, I clasped that knowledge like an elixir of youth. I saw my social life stretching out for years. My child-free status allowing me to carry on drinking, dancing, and laughing into my 30s, 40s, and beyond.
As my friends started having children, I watched their social lives shrink, and I knew that would never happen to me. Their wild nights were swapped out for playdates and their fashion-forward day-to-night wardrobes morphed into outfits to take them seamlessly from office to nursery. As their children and responsibilities grew, my friends’ priorities shifted, too. Facebook profiles changed overnight to baby photos. Milestone birthdays had to be held close to home in case of emergencies, and nights out were carefully rationed. Precious babysitting hours were reserved for partners, not parties.
To an outsider, these changes looked terrifying. Becoming a parent seemed to mean losing part of yourself along the way — and they didn’t even care. One friend swore when she was pregnant that she’d never change her profile photo to one of her child. When the inevitable happened, she wailed, “I’m sorry, I cracked!” while holding the tiny hand of her beautiful daughter, not sorry at all.
The more friends I “lost” to parenthood — the more self-righteous I became. As I saw it, their lives had been sharply curtailed while I was still enjoying my freedom. I interpreted every small sigh of nostalgia over grown-up movie trips or uninterrupted bathroom trips as burning envy of my lifestyle.
I looked at my friends and how they’d adapted to lives thrown up in the air and turned upside down, and I wondered what had happened to them. Instead of trying to understand and be supportive I saw something to make fun of and point at accusingly. Mom drunk. Mom jeans. Mom.
Last year, another of my friends Helen got pregnant. She was the girl I turned to for a good night out, the one who I thought would always be there to party. Although she wanted children, it seemed to belong in the future. So when she told me her news, I was genuinely thrilled, but also genuinely annoyed. Whom would I hang out with now?
At 38, I’d become the minority among my friends without even realizing it. During the years I’d been congratulating myself on being able to stay forever young, it was my social circle that had actually been shrinking.
As Helen’s bump grew, I realized that while I’d been busy sulking about losing each friend to motherhood, they were looking forward to new friendships made through shared experiences and new milestones. These are things I’d never get to belong to. I’ve never regretted my decision not to have children, but it’s scary to see the people you care about moving on and leaving you behind. It was no excuse, but I wondered, for the first time, if fear was driving my scorn.
Helen gave birth to Finn in January 2017 and handled it with the upmost confidence. As she’d decided to remain in London, England, as long as possible. I was generously prepared to travel not very far, it meant that I was spending regular time with one of my mom friends for the first time. I finally saw how wonderful and terrifying and joyous parenting can be.
Babysitting was also a huge eye-opener. I was barely sleeping in favor of checking Finn’s breathing every 30 minutes, and marveling at how dangerous a tiny one-bedroom apartment can be when viewed from 10 inches off the floor. I was left exhausted after less than 24 hours. How Helen had done this for eight months seemed impossibly impressive.
I also saw that, yes, she had changed, but not in the ways you only see when you’re judging someone’s choice of stretchy pants. She was stronger, calmer, and more patient. I saw that bending to impossible demands without breaking is a strength, not a weakness. And how brave it is to love your life, yet also choose to take a step towards a new one you can’t possibly comprehend until it begins.
My mom friends are part of a club I’ll never be a member of. They’ve left me behind, but the least I can do is give them the credit they deserve. I still use “mom” to describe them, but it’s used as it should be — with affection and admiration, not as an accusation. Now that my eyes have been opened, I hope to see more of them and try to bridge the gap I built between us. And when I do, we’ll get thoroughly “mom drunk” — together.
This post was written by Rosie Mullender . For more, check out our sister site Grazia.