Before I had my second child, a friend promised me she’d bring me a meal after the baby was born.
Except she didn’t.
I would have thought she’d forgotten, if she hadn’t constantly reminded me that she hadn’t yet brought me a meal. At 3 weeks postpartum, she still hadn’t been by yet and she messaged me, saying “I feel so guilty I haven’t brought you a meal yet. Do you still need one?” I responded that yes, I could really use the help since Beta was colicky and I was having a really hard time adjusting to two kids and felt exhausted. A meal, a nice chat with a comforting friend would have done me a world of good.
Except she didn’t come over or bring me a meal.
At four weeks postpartum, her husband went on a work trip and so I decided to invite her over, figuring she would have a hard time managing all of her kids with her husband gone for so long and getting out of the house is a great way to manage it. “We’re so lucky,” she enthused when she arrived, “we have so many friends wanting us over and ready to help us out!” I smiled tightly, mentally comparing that to the…no one we had had over to help us out after our baby was born. Things went downhill from there. She hadn’t brought a meal, no one even brought it up. Presumably, it hadn’t crossed her mind. Her kids then proceeded to wreck every single room in my house, which I knew I would have to clean up. My friend might apologize, but she would never dream of cleaning it herself or having her kids do it because it’s just so hard having 3 kids, 4 and under.
She eagerly asked to hold the baby and I hadn’t her over and she oooohed and awwwed over how cute she was and enthused, “How could you not want another one of these?” It was a rhetorical question she was asking herself, not me. Her husband was pressuring her to have a fourth child and I got the feeling she was none-to-enthusiastic about it. I myself didn’t feel remotely like having any more at that time since I was so stressed out due to the colick, lack of help, and lack of a break.
The kids played; we chatted.
She told me how well her oldest two were doing. “He’s reading and doing math at a 2nd grade level, he’s reading and doing math at a 1st grade level!” The children in question were 4 and 3, respectively. Little did I know, her 18 month old was going to start reading just a month shy of his second birthday. Later when we were upstairs, her two oldest were looking at one of the fake window panes laying on the floor. “How many squares are in it?” My friend asked her second oldest. Moving like a trained monkey, he counted: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.” “And how many in each coumn?” He counted, “1,2,3.” “So 2 x 3 is …..?” He wandered away bored. So she tried with her oldest, who had been vaguely paying attention. “2 x 3 is…?” He looked from the window pane, to her, then back at the window pane. She held up the correct answer, 6, on her fingers. He looked at her fingers intently and answered, “8!”
I decided the polite response would be to pretend I hadn’t noticed.
I tried to talk to her about how worn out I was feeling and how hard I was finding having 2 kids, but she didn’t seem to register my feelings. “Having a newborn is easy,” she enthused. “It’s so much harder when they’re older.” I disagreed silently. Now I realize that she wasn’t even trying to say what I needed to hear, namely that having newborns is hard, even if they’re not colicky, because they require so much from the parent and it’s a time of transistion, during which every member of the family is trying to refind their place in it. Instead, she told me what she needed to hear since she was considering having another baby; namely, that having a newborn is easy and doesn’t require any effort at all. I wonder if she would still agree with her assessment of the newborn situation after having her fourth, but then again, it’s always so much harder for her than it is for me since she has four kids and they’re so close together. But I wonder how close she figured her kids were going to be, since they decided to have 4 kids, started at 30 and had to be done by 35. That doesn’t leave much room between each child.
Then my husband called and informed me that he had just found out he had type 2 diabetes. I handled it with my usual aplumb, but inwardly it felt like my whole world was collapsing around me. I didn’t want to be alone and didn’t want my friend to leave, but they soon went home.
The weeks passed. She reminded me a few more times that she still hadn’t brought me a meal and she felt so bad about it! The last time she reminded me, at 8 weeks post partum, was after having a really rough day with the baby screaming, Alpha misbehaving, and DH being in a rotten mood from carb withdrawal. I had decided to screw making dinner and had settled down with a bowl of ice cream. She messaged me, “I fee so guilty I haven’t brought you a meal yet.” I had learned a while ago that she whenever she says she’s feeling guilty about something, what she really means is that she doesn’t want to do it, but doesn’t want you to get mad at her for not doing it. Hence the guilt. She doesn’t feel bad for not helping, she’s just worried you’l get mad at her for not helping. I was mad. I needed the help and she wasn’t doing jack shit. “Forget about it,” I replied. “I’ve just decided that whenever I have a bad day, I’m just going to have ice cream for dinner. Like tonight.” “But if you’re having ice cream for dinner, you obviously still need the help,” she responded. “Obviously,” I typed, “and obviously it isn’t going to happen so stop bringing it up.”
She never brought me a meal and I tried to be okay with it. I reminded myself that she had 3 kids, really close together and that was so much harder than what I was going through, thus minimizing my own struggles. But I was not okay with it. I was extremely deeply hurt. Matters only got worse when I remembered that she had brought a meal for another woman we knew after she had a baby, even though my friend had had 3 kids then as well. I realized my friend never planned on helping me because as far as she was concerned, my situation wasn’t as bad as hers, so I didn’t need any help. Offering the meal was a mere formality, designed to make her feel good for offering and me saying, “oh no! I couldn’t possibly! And thank her profusely for offering to help me in spite of her own difficulties because that is usually the way it played out. Except this time I did need the help, more than she or I could have imagined at that time.
I began to question our friendship. I had helped her so many times and after the birth of my second child, she couldn’t even offer me emotional support or validate any of the feelings I was having. It seemed like all that mattered to her was the way she felt: she felt too busy, she felt her life was too hard, she felt my life wasn’t as hard, she felt I didn’t need the help.
Really, with a friend like that, who needs enemies?