Week 27: Sisterhood While Pregnant

We should always have three friends in our lives: one who walks ahead, who we look up to and follow; one who walks beside us, who is with us every step of our journey; and then, one who we reach back for and bring along after we’ve cleared the way.
— Michelle Obama

This weekend, one of my dearest friends (my former work “wife”) came to visit for the long weekend. We spent the time together balancing between care free chats to deep soul-searching conversations. We wrote side by side and then shared our writing. We cooked and ate together. We arrived too late to the yoga class I wanted to expose her to, so we instead walked to the beach nearby and she led an impromptu yoga session there. We then browsed through a used book store, and I of course bought a few. We walked a trail and around the lake in my neighborhood with my dog and husband. We meditated! We planned! We shared dreams! And we encouraged one another! By the end of her trip, I felt inspired, motivated, and that always helps hold me over until the next visit.

After moving back to San Diego from LA a few years ago, I was worried that our friendship would taper off without having the daily reminder that we liked each other. I didn’t want to lose what was growing into a solid friendship with another woman. I didn’t want to lose that connection. So often, with life changes, and the passage of time, that happens and more and more it seems to happen with women, than men. Maybe just as many men have problems keeping friends than women, but so often, due to obligations with children, family, work, and marriage, friendships fall by the wayside.

Women are, by our nature, by our science, more social than men. I would argue, it is in our biology to yearn for community. We are not made to go through the challenges of life in solitude. But so often, and for so many, that is what happens. The older we get, the more isolated we become due to the aforementioned obligations, the harder it seems to make friends.

Remember those days in kindergarten when you could make 20 friends (and lose 20 friends) in a day? Your best friend changed as often as you changed clothes, but it was also such a carefree experience.

I’m pretty picky when it comes to the people I get close to and consider friends. So, I’m not necessarily advocating for gaining hundreds of friends via social media. This actually makes having friends harder though. Once you lose one, it’s a big chunk out of the friend pool.

I can only imagine how hard this will be once my baby arrives. As I draw closer to my third trimester, I am counting down the days until I start to physically need to slow down. Visiting friends, going out, will become harder than it already seems after work/home/life events that keep me too busy to socialize with other women.

Being pregnant, however, has its perks in this arena though. Maybe it is just that the industry of prenatal care/maternity/motherhood is predominantly female, but these past few months, I am feeling the energy of all the women in my life and I have never appreciated that more. My prenatal checks are by two women. We interviewed doulas earlier this month, all women. The instructor of our Bradley Childbirth Class is a woman. The yoga class I attend is led by a woman, and attended by mostly women – and I don’t have to spell out who attends the prenatal yoga class I tried out recently! My personal trainer is a woman. I work with women. My sisters all live within 15 minutes of me. My lovely dog is a female! I am literally surrounded by women!

In the past, I may have felt fatigue by all this estrogen in my life. The introvert in me would be exhausted of all the socializing this interaction brings and seek solace, or time with the other, often quieter, sex to neutralize it. Instead, I can’t help but reach out to more women. It has taken me this long, but I am finally able to say that I gain so much from my interactions with other women. I am a better person the more I surround myself with women.  

This shouldn’t be a shocking or declarative statement by any means, but it kind of is, right? So often, girl feuds and catty competition are showcased in front of us on T.V., in movies, in tabloid magazines, music, even in sports. Friendships that pass the Bechdel Test * rarely get much attention, and that leads to difficulty knowing what that looks like in real life for a lot of us.

I think that explains for my experience growing up. I could feel myself being the “mean girl” or the victim of a “mean girl” and believed that was just the way things were. Just the way girls were supposed to act. I didn’t know why I was doing these things, but I also didn’t know how else to be, or respond to the attacks without reacting, often negatively.

Where does that leave us when we grow up and away from the hallways of our school years? Sometimes with empty acquaintances and few trustworthy friendships. The more life gets in the way, the harder it gets to maintain our relationships, and then, before we know it, we are left with situational friendships that don’t often last. 

A couple women I know are also experiencing their first pregnancies at the same time as me. Even though we are coming together based on our mutual situations, a sisterhood can still form under these conditions – especially when the conditions are so intimate, so personal, so special.

Being pregnant hasn’t necessarily changed the way I hold my friendships. The women I keep closest to me, I remain fiercely loyal to and do my best to keep our bonds strong. This isn’t a new approach because I am “with child.” However, my pregnancy is making me appreciate the importance of the sisterhood I have in my life, and to be open to welcoming more into my life.

As I get older, and now that I’m pregnant, it is not just about having more women in my life. Its about having positivity, support, and comradery. And this all relates really to a larger desire for self-care. Friendships are good for your health, especially if you are lucky enough to be a women. In one study, women with cancer who surrounded themselves with supportive friends lived longer than those who were more isolated/solitary BY MANY YEARS.  

Women even handle stress differently than men. According to a UCLA study, women respond to stress with a need to “tend and befriend” meaning that we are inclined to either nurture loved ones (i.e. children) or seek out care from others (i.e. friends) [men, in the alternative, handle stress a la ‘fight or flight’ response]. The study also found that when women engage in “tending or befriending,” “more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect.” The findings in this study are fascinating and extend beyond what I’ve shared here. Read about it.

As we can see female friendships, research has proven, are indicators of longevity and health. In our times of need, when we are most compromised, most vulnerable, or just plain want company, surrounding ourselves with other women can go a long way. Most of us didn’t need research to tell us that.

  Image Source: TED.com

Image Source: TED.com

So this week, I’m leaning everything I have into embracing sisterhood, holding onto the belief that we are stronger together than we ever will be apart, and feeling lucky that I have so many women in my life to learn from and love.

I’ll end this topic with an excerpt from Jane Fonda during a TED Talk interview she participated in with Lily Tomlin regarding long-lasting friendships. Fonda brings up the differences between boys and girls/men and women when it comes to relationships. Considering I am having a son just a few weeks, it is a nice reminder that a lot of these behaviors I’ve brought up above are learned, and that we as humans all need relationships, acceptance, others in our life. Women, are just able to embrace it in a more fulfilling way oftentimes. When we think about what needs to change when it comes to the way women are treated in the world, we do need to think about what we are doing to our boys as well. We can build up girls all we want, but if boys do not learn how to be complete well-rounded individuals, instead of macho aggressive men who do not cry or show weakness, we’ll never get anywhere. 

* The criteria to pass the Bechdel Test in a movie is when “…there are at least two named women in the picture, they have a conversation with each other at some point, and that conversation isn’t about a male character…”

 
You know something, though, that I find very interesting … men are born every bit as relational as women are. If you look at films of newborn baby boys and girls, you’ll see the baby boys just like the girls, gazing into their mother’s eyes, you know, needing that relational exchange of energy. When the mother looks away, they could see the dismay on the child, even the boy would cry. They need relationship. So the question is why, as they grow older, does that change? And the answer is patriarchal culture, which says to boys and young men that to be needing of relationship, to be emotional with someone is girly. That a real man doesn’t ask directions or express a need, they don’t go to doctors if they feel bad. They don’t ask for help. There’s a quote that I really like, ”Men fear that becoming ‘we’ will erase his ‘I’.” You know, his sense of self. Whereas women’s sense of self has always been kind of porous. But our “we” is our saving grace, it’s what makes us strong. It’s not that we’re better than men, we just don’t have our masculinity to prove.
— Jane Fonda