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Not Quite the Reaction I Expected

One Friday last spring, we got a long-awaited call from our adoption social worker that a birth mother wanted to meet us. The following Tuesday, our Gracie was born. It was like being pregnant for four days.

Being the spiritual and emotional rock stars they are, my girlfriends pulled into high gear. They plied us with adorable baby girl hand-me-downs and equipment. They made mad dashes to Target to collect forgotten necessities for us. But most important, they celebrated and cried tears of joy when they heard the news and saw the picture of our healthy newborn girl with a tuft of ginger-colored hair—clenching her miniscule fists—announcing to the world that she was finally here.

I had assumed that all my friends, with or without children, would go along on my ride. After all, I took the scenic route to settling down, getting married at 42 and becoming a mom at 43.

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For the most part, my child-free friends have been graciously accommodating about Gracie’s 7:30 p.m. bedtime and my severely reduced socializing. But I noticed a mysterious shift with one friend I’ll call Alex, who lives a couple states away. When I emailed her the picture of just-born Gracie, Alex shared it with her yoga class and cried tears of joy. She was exuberantly moved. And then our frequent emails and phone calls stopped.

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I felt suddenly cut out of her circle. I wondered if somehow I’d offended her, in some way, by my sudden exit from the “wanting a child” category. Alex, who is accomplished, soulful, a natural beauty and hilarious, has spent a lot of prayers on marriage and children with no tangible results.

When I asked about her silence, she said she’d cut off from a lot of people as she was dealing with some issues, and not to take it personally. I was relieved. But Alex stayed quiet.

I started thinking about how I present my new life: Being the proud mom I am, most conversations somehow get around to Gracie’s latest feat (She’s got two teeth! I’m sure she said “Hi Mama” this morning! She ate hot sauce and olives by accident and liked it!) A solid 97 percent of my Facebook posts include an awwww-inspiring picture of Grace or some side-splitting anecdote. Could it be remotely possible that maybe all that is boring or too much to handle for someone who is child-free, but doesn’t want to be?

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So I put it out there, with the thought that any friendship I have at this stage in my life has to be able to survive a few hard conversations, or maybe it’s not worth having. I asked Alex if I’d ever been insensitive to her situation. She wrote back a long, thoughtful email, saying that if me mentioning Grace were an isolated case, she wouldn’t have an issue. What’s painful is when she looks through her friends’ Facebook pictures, which are filled with kids and husbands. “Know that when you tell me about Grace, five other girlfriends told me about their kid that day…. I have even prayed that God take my desire for a family away, as it is too painful to hold onto. Too painful to make plans outside of my work, too painful to dream,” she said. “To be brutally honest: It is not that you have stepped on my toes, it's as though you forgot to put yourself in my shoes. There was a time where you were miserable, weeping on the phone to me, single, wanting a family, feeling as though there was no hope in sight. I am still there, have been for years! Please, try to remember that.”

Ouch. On so many levels.

Lots of thoughts on how to handle this swirled around. I wondered if I could possibly be friends with someone who was so obviously pained by what brought me great joy. I wondered if I should curtail my public enthusiasm for my child. And then I finally realized that talking about my child is like talking about almost any other blessing: it depends on the audience. If I were going on and on about how great my job is to an unemployed friend who was desperately searching for work, that would be insensitive. In the same way, it’s off to gush about upcoming nuptials to a friend going through a tough divorce, or to complain about how horrific your laugh lines are to a friend with cancer.

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Next time I talk to a child-free friend, will I still share the cute story about how Gracie typed on “her” keyboard just like she had an article due five minutes ago? Maybe. But I’ll probably start off asking about my friend's life, and focus on that.

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