The Babyphobes We Left Behind
I never had any preconceptions about particular friends or their particular reactions to pregnancy. After more than six years of living as an expat in very different parts of the world, you tend to develop a certain gauge on friendship. I met one amazing person recently who had me in stitches. Her first question: How long will you live in Panama? When I answered that there was currently no end in sight, she replied with, “Great, we can hang out then.” In an expat world, there is a revolving door of friends. It is both exciting and heartbreaking, beautiful and exhausting. The sheer number of people who circulate through international schools (my husband is a teacher at an international school) and who are regularly transferred from headquarters to headquarters, region to region is amazing. There are those who love travel, language, new food and simply aren’t ready, and may never be ready to go back to a stationary lifestyle. There are people who wanted a taste of something new and ended up discovering that life as an expat offers the exploration and opportunity for travel that life at home simply can’t bring. And then, there are inevitably individuals who are choosing to live abroad to get away from the stereotypical progression of adulthood. Usually, those people are relatively simple to peg. They are cynics and wanderers, they are free spirited and often, despite their “running away” are just as normal as the rest of the expats with one distinct difference. They fear babies.
When we first moved to Panama we often heard, “it is nice to meet a couple who doesn’t always need to be together,” or “you guys are easy to hang out with, even though you are a couple.” I found it odd. Never had I been a person who needed to attach myself to a partner 24/7. I found someone amazing, who as my boyfriend was supportive and spent just as much time by my side as he did without me. As my husband, nothing changed. We love being together, exploring together, making friends together and going to almost any social event together. We share the same interests and are drawn to the same sort of getaways and activities. But we don’t need to hold hands at a party, or sit together, twirling each others hair in public. We never have. I don’t think this makes us special or different. The other couples we know in Panama are nearly all equally as autonomous. Interestingly though, once we announced our pregnancy, it seemed that those people who seemed to consider us an independent, fun and not overly “couple-y” couple, backed away. Not the slow back out of the room with caution sort of back away. More like swiftly cross our names from their mental guest list and run like hell. And you could immediately see it in their faces.
Something to note about my pregnancy experience. I have been bloody tired. Super tired. And that amazing “boost of energy” you are supposed to get in the second trimester is a crock of shit in my books. But I manage. I have refused to allow pregnancy to cause me to become a sheltered pariah. I have attended parties, gone to night clubs and played games with friends well into the evening. Yes, I am sober. Yep, I have a belly (no bigger than some of our friends, I might add). Yes, I generally need to prepare myself with extra naps and plans for a very chill, nap-tactic day after a night out. And while those who ran away like a lion was on their heels have no idea it is happening, I am still as social as I was before. The only difference is, the invitations have dwindled—specifically from a select group of babyphobes.
I can tell you that a year ago, if a group of friends were hitting the pub on a random Tuesday night, my husband and I were not likely to be there. This isn’t news. We like exercising, we like eating well and we like balancing the fun of Thursday nights out, weekends away and too many empanadas and wine or beer with weeknights in and early mornings. That WAS perfectly normal, acceptable and standard when we weren’t expecting a baby. But now, while our routine hasn’t changed, our late nights out have only become more sober and requiring a preparatory nap or five, it seems the excuse everyone has for us (thanks for creating one for us, we obviously needed it) is “yeah, they're pregnant.”
“The babyphobes we left behind” might sound misleading. It might sound as if it was in fact us who dropped the babyphobes. But in reality, as these people ran away, halted invitations and made assumptions about my stamina or my husband’s desire to hit the town, we let them go. We expressed our frustrations to one another and then reminded ourselves how incredibly lucky we are. While some of these people are preparing for their next huge journey, for the adventure that will sure to be there most positive, life-changing blah blah blah. We are embarking on our very own, totally incredible (and terrifying) journey that will define our very being. It isn’t for everyone. Parenthood, I have no doubt, is going to be just as difficult and gut wrenching as it is beautiful. We represent a group of incredibly lucky individuals who get to choose their journey. It is an amazing thing. Those who fear it, can find their own sources of growth and adventure. They can run from the overly typical step of having children and they can remove any of us who are doing it, from their lives.
Whether living in the same place you grew up, happily settled in a city not far from your family, planning your life in a single region or living as an expat far away, this experience is by no means unique. The idea of pregnancy and building a family brings a lot of fear. It means things are going to change. Big time. Thankfully, we have those friends who aren’t fearful but loving. Those who may never have children, who never want children or who can’t wait to have children. Single or couples, adventurers or wanderers, we still maintain some lovely friends who aren’t running for the hills but rather taking a step closer to help, to be present and to love us just as we are and as we have always been. To those friends I have nothing but adoration and a new found respect. You know who you are, and I couldn’t possibly thank you enough.