May 10, 2015 — “Do you think I’m doing this okay?” my friend Susannah suddenly asked me. I was visiting her in Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband and their four-month-old daughter.
“Doing what okay?” I wondered. It took me a minute to realize she meant caring for the baby. My first impulse was to say something like, “You’re asking the wrong girl!” or “How would I know?” And how would I know? I’m not a mother. But I could tell she was concerned and I wanted to reassure her.
“You’re doing great!” I said. And I meant it. Susannah is an overachiever. She has a magnet on her refrigerator that says, “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” She was hired to teach tax law at the University of Wisconsin before she turned 30 and earned tenure four and a half years later. I have always admired her ability to identify what she wants, go out there, and get it—and not in a ruthless, Reese Witherspoon-in-Election kind of way, but in an utterly charming Reese Witherspoon-in-Legally-Blonde way; like Elle Woods, she is smart, beautiful, kind, determined, impeccably dressed, and eager to prove herself to anyone foolish enough to underestimate her.
What is she like as a mother? Like all new parents, her lack of experience—just four months on the job!—makes her anxious. But her baby is happy, healthy, and well cared for. She gurgles and coos and sometimes cries. She eats and sleeps. She is, of course, absolutely adorable. And Susannah is as committed to being a good parent as she is to everything else she sets her mind to.
In watching my friend with her daughter I saw that she is both a whole new person—a mom, patient and caring and devoted to her baby—and the same person she always was: still my friend, still happy to share fried cheese curds and laugh with me, still there to listen to my stories and soothe my fears, still interested in her own career and in mine, still as concerned about social justice as she was before she had a child.
I was relieved to see that a woman I love could change so profoundly without sacrificing important parts of who she is. Parenthood is always a sacrifice, but it shouldn’t mean the end of friendship, the end of fulfilling work, the end of fun.
Nobody has it all; women, I often think, least of all. But we can have rich, full, complicated lives, filled with friendship and romance and success, as well as loss and heartbreak and failure—and, if we’re lucky, we can hold onto ourselves through all of it.