My palms were sweaty, and I was overly conscious of my 8-week-postpartum gut, bulging out over my black leggings. Was I dressed appropriately? What would I say? Was my breath okay? These familiar feelings threw me back to my dating days. But this time, I wasn't meeting a cute guy, rather I was meeting some 25 cute guys and girls – along with their mothers. I was at my first mommy and me class, and I desperately looked around for a kindred spirit, someone who looked as lost and needy as I felt.
I found her, sitting to my right. From that nervous day through awkward first playdates, conflicts over parenting choices, second children, and countless texts, we became best friends. I don't know how I would have survived the first five years of motherhood without Juli by my side.
There's something unique about friends you make while struggling through those first difficult days of postpartum hormones, feeding issues, and sleepless nights. They know you at your worst, and help you get back to your best.
But making new friends during such a fragile time of life can be as daunting as dating – trying to find another mom who shares the same values, understands the way you parent, and makes you laugh is no easy task. So I went to the experts (other moms and psychologists) to come up with some guidelines for making mom friends.
1. Get out
New moms need to find opportunities to socialize, says Diana Barnes, PhD, the cofounder of The Motherhood Consortium and a therapist at the Center for Postpartum Health in Los Angeles, California. "Most communities have some kind of parenting magazine that lists activities for parents, whether it's music or gym classes. Some churches or synagogues have their own mommy and me programs. For women who are experiencing depression, it may be more helpful to join a support group with mothers who are experiencing what you are. Postpartum Support International is a great resource to link you up with an appropriate support group in your community."
A local mom's group "changed my life," says Damona Resnick, a mom of two in Los Angeles, California. Even though Resnick is a well-known relationship expert, she was at a loss when it came to courting new mom friends. Her friends hadn't entered the parenting stage yet, and she had no idea how to find other moms to connect with. After all, there's no Match.com for making mom friends. Then a mom approached her at her local farmer's market and mentioned Mom's Club International. "I went from feeling disconnected as the only woman in my friendship circle with kids to realizing I had neighbors with kids who I could relate to and who could offer me support. And they were right under my nose the whole time."
2. Go online
Weather, health issues, c-section recovery (and the sheer logistics of getting out the door) can put a damper on your social life for the first few months of motherhood, and online relationships can be a great stopgap until it's easier to get out of the house. And if you're introverted, or feeling out of sorts, sometimes the safety of pseudo-anonymity can help.
"Becoming a mother for the first time is like entering a foreign country where you don't speak the language and you're expected to travel around comfortably without any roadmap that directs you to where you are going," says Barnes. Beginning that journey with a little anonymity (and from the comfort of your own home) can make it easier.
Like Resnick, Lara Audelo, now a certified lactation consultant and mom to two sons in Colorado Springs, CO, never had a problem making friends until she became a mom. "I'm outgoing, grew up performing, was a high school teacher who spent my days talking nonstop, but when it came to motherhood, things were different," says Audelo. "For the first time, I found it a challenge to insert myself in new social situations with my new identity as a mom." So she went online. "I joined a forum to ask a breastfeeding question, but I kept hanging around and before long I wasn't just talking about my son, I was discussing my struggles as a mother and my loneliness as a wife experiencing so much without my deployed husband."
3. Avoid "mompetition"
Judgment and competition make up the two-headed monster of mom friendships. Even the most open-minded of us can fall prey to assuming our way of parenting is the only way, especially in the early days when there's so much insecurity and confusion. "Try not to befriend people who claim to have the monopoly on what you 'should' do as a parent," suggests perinatal psychotherapist Andrea Schneider, LCSW.
"Authentic friends are open to all different styles of parenting and will not shame you into feeling bad or inferior if you have a different parenting style," says Schneider. "Sometimes mommy and me groups are breeding grounds for that kind of competition." Schneider advises new moms to "be selective, " spending more time on friendships that feel true to you and letting go of competitive ones.
4. Keep the old
It's not like your old friends disappear when you have a baby, but it may feel that way. "Sometimes it's just too exhausting to explain to someone who has no idea what it is like to walk around unknowingly with poop on her shirt, exactly how chaotic your day was," admits Audelo.
While it's obviously important to find friends who can relate to the new you, don't write off your baby-free friends. Mom friends are vital for sharing new experiences, calming fears, and finding your parenting stride, but old friends are a link to who you were, before diapers, nipple shields, and strollers. That person still exists, and she deserves friends too.