My friends and I had our whole futures mapped out back in high school. We knew just what we were going to do, when we were going to do it, and who we were going to do it with. I even had a diagram I’d drawn of the perfect man I’d someday marry (in the perfect wedding ceremony, which I’d also already planned). We’d all raise our children together, they’d become best friends, we’d take giant vacations together as families, and eventually become in-laws as our children fell in love with one another and married.

Yes, the future was bright and exciting, though understandably a little far off.

Until I got pregnant with my first child, and the plans dissolved.

I married young—at 19—the first of my friends to walk down the aisle. It wasn’t a competition. I just really loved the cute boy with the curly hair and had waited long enough to be his wife. A year after I met him at the altar, we found out I was pregnant, and by the age of 21, I was a college graduate and a mother.

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My friends were all excited, of course. They were good friends and loved shopping for the tiny sleepers and themed nursery décor. Well, as much as they could while still being college students. They checked in when he was born. Well, as often as they could in between work and classes. He was a preemie, and I’d had an emergency C-section, so they invited me out to much-needed girls’ nights . . .  but between the pain of surgery, the baby in the NICU, and the sudden financial burdens, I couldn’t go.

A loneliness I’d never expected settled in.

I was the first of my friends to have a baby, and there was no one to relate to anymore.

My best friend called me one evening, a very welcomed call. “I’m in Times Square!” she shouted, telling me the details of the trip to New York she’d decided to take on a whim. “What are you doing right now?” I was giving the baby a bath after he’d pooped through his diaper.

I didn’t resent my baby, surprised as we were to welcome him, but I did feel the death of something I hadn’t known was mortal—connection with my friends. We were in different places in our lives. Neither was better, neither was worse, but neither seemed to have room for the other.

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As my friends began to explore the edges of the world, I researched nipple confusion. We both posted pictures of parties, but theirs didn’t feature Elmo so prominently. We both were suffering from sleep deprivation but for very different reasons. We had the same senses of humor, the same dreams—we were the same people we’d always been . . . and yet we weren’t.

I mourned while I celebrated, grieving the loss of the identity of my youth while reveling in my new identity as a mother.

I had to learn a lot, quickly, without the safety net of a cohort experiencing the same things. I turned to online forums, books, and Google instead of texting my bestie.

I watched older moms meet up at the park and invite each other over for playdates—the childhood I thought my kids would have—and I felt insecure. I saw the pictures my friends posted on social media—the pictures I’d always been in before—and I felt left out. I clapped at my son’s first steps, first words, first bites of real food, then realized I didn’t have quite the same audience to share them with.

I wasn’t totally abandoned. My friends did call sometimes and invited me out here and there. One or two came to visit, and I even got a tattoo on a whim one night, just because I could. But a line had been drawn, and our lives were fundamentally different. I was blazing a trail, figuring out this motherhood thing on my own without the support of the ever-important tribe, squad, sisters-from-another-mister.

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I was lonely but OK. I gained the confidence to talk to other moms, older moms, new moms. I found new friends, not as replacements, but as support. I kept in touch with my other friends, but I stopped expecting them to fill a need they simply weren’t equipped to. I wasn’t resentful, I wasn’t bitter, I was just lonely.

The years went by, I had some more kids, and I found my groove. I stopped stressing so much about nipple confusion. My kids were all eventually potty-trained and to a point where they could bathe themselves, get their own snacks, and carry on some pretty great conversations. My identity as a mom was now forged from who my kids needed me to be, not who I was among my friends. I felt good, finally.

No mom has it all down perfectly, but I found my place, refined my role, and embraced the season of life I am now in.

The season where my friends are finally starting to have kids.

The season when they’re terrified, nervous, and worried about nipple confusion.

The season when they don’t know if they’re using the right lotion or pumping often enough, if it’s too soon to start solids, or if they should start worrying about how many words their toddler is saying.

The season where they’re feeling their identity change, where they’re in need of support, where they need help and understanding and encouragement.

The season where they need a friend who’s been there before.

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I was the first of my friends to have a baby. I was lonely, I was lost, I was so scared and so unsure. But now I get to be the first of my friends to offer support, experience, and more than anything, understanding.

Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.