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Seeing your BFF become a parent can be a beautiful and strange experience. Let’s be real: You may be watching the person who drank boxed wine with you through college become responsible for a tiny human being.
The first time that one of your close friends has a child, you get to see the reality of new parenthood up close. Standing beside your friend as they step into their new role as a parent can prompt you to imagine what that transition to parenthood would look like for yourself. Sometimes, that vision is very different than the reality you’re watching your friend experience. Below, I’ve put together some advice for how to consider this experience, which can be empowering and exciting, but also unsettling and uncomfortable.
Parenting fantasies versus baby realities
Having an intimate, close-up view of new parenthood is nothing if not real. You see the love and joy of your friend watching their child grow and learn about the world each day. And you also witness the challenges of sleepless nights, troubles with breastfeeding, and navigating romance or marriage with a little one at home. Experiencing some of this journey vicariously through your friend can strike a maternal chord deep within you. But it can also scare the idealized version of parenting right out of you. Both are normal and OK.
You may feel overwhelmed by seeing the realities of everyday parenthood and that’s normal. Parenting is a huge commitment that can sometimes look tiring and complicated.
Morgan, age 27 says, “I always just assumed I would become a mom. It was never something I really questioned. So, I was honestly surprised by my reaction the first time that someone I knew who was my age had a baby. I was really happy for my friend, but I also got a little freaked out about how much it changed her life. Suddenly everything just seemed so overwhelming for her and I felt like her relationship with her partner suffered as they learned to adjust to having a new family member. It made me realize the unexpected ways that having a kids can impact your life. I still think I want children, and so in some way I am almost thankful that I had to witness the reality of children and then make the decision from a more informed place.”
Seeing your best friend become a parent can also suddenly open up alternative visions of parenthood for you:
Jenny, a graduate researcher in her late twenties says, “Watching my sister-in-law and close friend have children has definitely shifted my view on what I want in the long term. Getting the close-up view of pregnancy and all the nitty-gritty that goes with it has made me really question if I want to have my own biological children or if adoption might be a path I want to take. Watching them be a family with their children though is so sweet, and makes me pretty certain that I do still want my own kids someday.”
Another possibility? Seeing your BFF start a family may suddenly help you to feel more excited about what having children might look like for you. It could help you to envision more tangibly what it would feel like to begin a family yourself.
Linnea, a 24-year-old painter shares, “I have never been the type to know for certain that I wanted kids. However, when I held my best friend’s creation, I looked down at the tiniest little fingers and I thought to myself, this is something you shouldn’t miss out on if you can. That kind of love is one that is different from all else. No one is ever ready to be a parent, but the two of you–baby and mom–will figure it out together, as well as the other parent! You worry about all the pain you are going to go through. And then you see your best friend just live through it and take it all like a champ.”
Considering your own fertility
On the flip side of watching a best friend become a parent, it is likely that at some point in your life, you will watch someone struggle to start a family that they desperately want.
About 10 percent of women and 12 to 15 percent of couples experience infertility issues. Infertility is defined as being unable to naturally conceive within one year of having unprotected sex or, if you are over 35, after six months of not conceiving spontaneously. Most infertility issues in people who have a uterus and a vagina are caused by irregular or absent ovulation. For those with penises, infertility tends to be caused by sperm that have issues in shape, size, or motility.
When we are younger, it can be hard for us to fully understand the impact that fertility challenges can have on a person and potentially on their relationship. However, when we support a good friend or a sibling who hopes deeply to become a parent but is struggling, we get a much sharper sense of the pain, frustration, and disappointment that comes along with being unable to conceive.
Naturally, this experience can make you consider your own fertility, perhaps in a very real way, for the first time. It’s hard to imagine what infertility might feel or be like until we’ve watched someone we know face it head on.
Another strange but very real thing that can happen when your BFF has a baby is that it will probably impact your relationship with them. Your friend who used to stay up late talking about life with you before falling asleep in your bed can no longer meet up with you reliably. With a baby, your friend’s identity as a parent is developing, and her time as a BFF becomes more limited.
This can be an emotional time for you. It may be hard to navigate this shift in your friendship. It’s likely that you feel a mix of joy and excitement at watching her become a parent, as well as sadness at the loss of your old connection.
It’s OK to feel these very different, almost opposing emotions at the same time. Be compassionate and gentle with yourself during this time. Don’t judge yourself for sometimes feeling irritated or upset that your friend can’t engage with you the way that she used to. Give yourself time to grieve the loss of the friendship, and then start thinking about how you can continue to connect with your friend in meaningful ways as she transitions into this new phase of life.
It can be helpful to identify what you enjoy and value most about this particular friendship. For example, maybe your friend helps you process romantic relationships like no one else. Or perhaps she’s the one person who is always down to go on a hike with you. Figure out what you most hope to maintain in your friendship, so that you can find specific and creative ways to do so. (Maybe your next birthday present for her is a extreme outdoors baby carrier.)
Linnea offers a helpful perspective for approaching this friendship transition. She says, “You get another crazy little being out of the deal. Both mom (my friend) and I get another very tiny friend.” It can help to recognize that some moments of the friendship will likely feel tough or disappointing, but that this new, little human will open up new doors in your relationship with your friend.
The upside of living vicariously
When your best friend has a baby, it’s a unique opportunity to do some self-reflection about your personal understanding of parenting and building a family. Whether you’ve always wanted children, been on the fence, or never wanted them at all, it’s likely that you will experience new thoughts and feelings about parenting as you stand by your friend’s side on this journey. Taking the time to think on what this means in regards to your own future plans and fertility can help you to move forward in your life with intention and awareness.