Of all the new experiences I expected to have as a first-time mom, I never thought I’d need to adjust to the most obvious one: I suddenly wasn’t pregnant anymore.

It shouldn’t be a big deal, right? I was not pregnant for most of my life; in fact, I’d had quite a run as a non-pregnant woman. I was 37 when I had my first child. You’d think it would be just business as usual once the baby came out, but it wasn’t, because during those last six months, once I started showing, my identity shifted.

I was the pregnant woman at work, the pregnant woman on the subway, the pregnant woman at the grocery store. It’s not that people did things for me, but it was the way many of them dealt with me. The smiles, the nods of familiarity, the spontaneous stories that came out from someone next to me in line or on the subway platform, even the guy at the deli I went to for lunch every day laughing when I asked him to make me a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, who drew a smiley face in the jelly for me.

When I first got pregnant, after we’d passed that first hurdle and felt like things were moving along nicely, I longed—yearned—for the fellowship of other pregnant women. I thought we’d be acknowledging each other all the time with an instant, fleeting connection that bonded us even if our interaction was momentary. That didn’t happen until my belly finally got that curve that comes from a growing fetus and not all those late-night pints of Ben & Jerry’s.

And then, I’d arrived. Not only did I get the “we’re in this together” look from pregnant strangers, I also became, if not a conversation piece, a catalyst for conversation, and (as my teenagers will attest to with dismay), I love chatting with strangers. People would tell me about their kids or their families or their own pregnancies, they’d ask me questions, and we’d talk about food or the baby mafia that tried to sell us all products we’d never need. I was the person who got noticed.

I confess—I loved it. I was basking in the miraculous feat of growing a baby inside my body, so it was awesome to find no shortage of friends, coworkers, and strangers who wanted to talk about it. I remember being in line at a gourmet chocolate shop and chatting with the woman in front of me, who was pregnant with twins… you could hear our laughter for miles.

And then, I had the baby. We brought him home, and I took him out for walks. But then, for the very first time since he was born, I went out alone. And it was the oddest sensation.

It was a simple walk to the grocery store down the street, but it was enough to discover that I had once again become invisible. In that moment, I realized just how much I’d enjoyed the extra attention. It had nothing to do with being fussed over or given a seat… that wasn’t what I missed. (Even pregnant, I was happy to give up my seat to anyone who looked like they needed it more.) Without my big belly or a newborn in my arms, I was just another schmo.

I had started my walk to the store that day feeling newly unencumbered and oddly free, and on that short journey, those feelings transitioned into something else: loneliness. Nobody looked at me twice. Parents with kids didn’t meet my eyes with an unspoken connection. No one laughed when I accidentally got in their way, and no sweet smiles were sent in my direction. I was the same old person I’d been before I had a belly that preceded the arrival of the rest of me, and that person, at passing glance, was just not that interesting.

I have friends who were relieved post-pregnancy when strangers finally stopped paying so much attention to them, and it took me by surprise that I didn’t feel the same way. I long ago learned to relish the times when I get to be just me; I even go on a yearly trip with friends, without family. I’m thrilled to go, and I’m just as happy to come back and be reunited with everyone. Being a mom is about constantly adjusting to the new status quo, which never stops shifting. When you’re in one of the good stages, try to remember to enjoy it.

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