We’re so happy to feature our blogging friend, Jean Heffernan, of Mama Schmama with us today at HerStories. Because both of us are educators, Stephanie and I love the perspective of new parenthood from a very funny and warm former teacher that Jean brings to her blog. Check out Mama Schmama! Jean’s essay reflects so much of what we hope for The HerStories Project to be about: emotional and practical support during new motherhood, friendship, patience, and generosity.
As I write this, my best friend is in labor. Hopefully by this time tomorrow, she will have given birth to her first child. Earlier today, I gave her a call and after we talked about what she could probably expect to happen, I made this promise to her:
“I will keep my ringer on and I will answer the phone whenever you want to call, even if it’s at 2am.”
Almost word for word, I was repeating what another close friend said to me the week before my first child was born. I had called her up and told her that this labor thing just wasn’t going to work for me because I was going to poop on the table in front of the doctor and my husband and then what. She responded with the best piece of advice I heard while pregnant: Giving birth lasts such a short time. It’s what happens when you leave the hospital that you should prepare for. That’s the hard part.
Turned out, I was right. Labor did not work for me and I ended up having an emergency cesarean. More importantly, she was right. Even in my pre-labor hysteria, I knew she had spoken the truth because she was a mom and because she knew me well.
My sage friend was someone I had met at work. Our friendship developed in the trenches, teaching children who led difficult lives which required us to be on point all day. We could read each other’s mind with a look or a tone of voice. It helped our instruction and to develop a positive relationship between us and the students. In fact, students would tell us that they loved both of us when we were together. On our own, we were just “okay.”
Years before she made that pre-birth promise to me, she had her first two children. This was while I was still single and wild. While our shared purpose grew our friendship in the classroom, our opposite lifestyles made us a good fit for each other once work ended. Her family life showed me what I wanted for my future. I dragged her out of the house and reminded her that child-free fun was still to be had. My horrible dating stories and drama also reinforced her belief that she had made the right choice because she didn’t have to deal with that ever again.
Two days after I found out I was pregnant with my first child, she called me up to tell me she was pregnant with her third. Our children were due ten days apart from each other. The big difference being, of course, that I was at the start of my family journey and she was having her third and final baby.
Throughout my pregnancy, I would call her and talk about how I was feeling. Now living far apart from each other, we visited each other only once during our pregnancies. We sat and grumped about how it would be really nice to have a beer. Me, thinking “I’ll never have a beer again!” She, grumpy but knowing the beer days would happen again.
So then our babies were born and we started the work of adjusting to our new families. I went downhill quickly and she was the person who helped me the most.
She kept her ringer on and answered the phone, even if it was me calling at 2am.
“Babies do that all the time.”
“Yes, my breasts leaked in public and everyone saw.”
“Yes, it’s obnoxious. In fact, yesterday she farted so loud in line at the grocery store that a woman looked at me like I did it!”
My favorite piece of advice from her about parenting an infant was this: I think about the times I have to get up in the middle of the night as a set number. Each time I get up is one more time crossed off the list. All her advice was positive and motivational. She never tried to scare me with stories or make me feel like I wasn’t doing the best job I could.
I would call with a simple question or complaint and because she could detect the edge in my voice or the way I would repeat stories or use the wrong word from fatigue, she would stay on the phone longer than she had time for just to talk. It would calm me down and helped to center me.
My teacher-friend and I have evolved from that of mentor and mentee parent now that I am past the first rocky year of motherhood. We catch each other when we can over the phone (never at 2am anymore) and meet up once a year without kids so we can talk as long as we want about everything but being pregnant and getting up in the middle of the night.
I look back at my early days of being a mom and feel nothing but gratitude towards my patient friend who gave me her advice and time. I can’t repay her for that but I do believe I’ll be able to do something better.
My best friend delivered her beautiful, happy, and healthy baby. I will not tell you how long her labor took because it might make you jealous.
When I got the news, I reminded her that my ringer will be on and I will be ready to talk if she needs it.
And it’s true. My ringer is on and will continue to be, even at 2am.
Jean writes at Mama, Schmama but spends most of her time chasing around her two beautiful, feisty children. She recently resigned from a career in elementary education to stay at home with them. She’s hoping not to turn her new home into a classroom while she recovers from teaching.