If you’re a cynic (and a little bit selfish) like me, you probably think your BFF having a baby means the end of fun. No more late-night partying, going to movies whenever you want, or dropping everything and going on weekend getaways together. And well, that’s true.
When my best friend told me she was pregnant, I was in disbelief for a week or two. I was over-the-moon excited for her and her husband, but I couldn’t help but wonder how this little human would change everything -- for ME. Here’s the thing about babies: I wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.
Nine months later, this pudgy little thing was like, “Hey, I’m Leo.” (I’m paraphrasing.) And I began learning all the great things that happen when your close friend gives birth. It’s only been a few months, but I have a feeling I’ll never stop learning them.
Because first and foremost, I get like... high when I see this baby. When I hold Leo and smell his tiny baby head, my brain just goes crazy.
That’s because this “baby high” is a thing, sort of. Originated by Nobel Prize-winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz in 1943, the theory of baby schema, aka “Kindchenschema,” says that we neurologically react to cuteness. When we see a baby’s adorable little features (i.e., bulbous forehead, big eyes, chubby cheeks, tiny chin, etc.) our mesocorticolimbic system (reward system) becomes engaged. And this, my friends, is the cerebral pathway that releases dopamine. TL;DR: Looking at a tiny human induces a natural, baby-induced high. Pretty crazy, right? Psh, there’s more. This system and pathway… those are just the tools baby schema uses to do its thang: trigger caretaker behaviors. So you see the cheeks and the chin and you realize, “This little thing needs safekeeping.”
That’s why when your friend has a baby… it literally brings out the best in you. When I go hang out with Leo and his big blue (for now) eyes cast a little spell over me, I go into caretaker mode. Bottle? You got it. Burp? No problem. Diaper change? Baby schema demands it of me, you little prince!!!!
And it’s not even just him. I’m a full-fledged grandma to everyone now. This baby brought out the nurturer in me -- and I think she’s here to stay. I wake my roommate up in the morning by knocking on her door and calling her “bubala”; I’m constantly asking my coworkers if they’re drinking enough water; and I’m always making sure my friends are fully fed before we go out on a Saturday night. I’m 26 going on 68 and I’ve never been more loving.
Now, we know I don’t mind taking care of him -- since my brain is chemically telling me I want to do it. But there’s another plus to hanging out with your best friend’s baby that I didn’t see coming: complete adoration and eternal gratefulness. (And not from the baby -- though I suspect that’ll come later in life.)
You go over there to hang out and have a glass of wine, and sneakily your friend whips out her secret agenda: “Hey, would you mind watching the baby while I take a quick shower?” And you don’t mind, because she clearly hasn’t showered today (and possibly not since hot yoga three weeks ago).
Fifteen minutes later she’s a new person, and you are God’s gift. She owes you her life -- a shower is like a three-week tropical vacation to a new parent. She orders dinner, her treat, then opens the fancy bottle of wine. She pays for your cab home, too. All you had to do was cuddle that little babe.
I feel bad that my friend can’t find just a few minutes sometimes. But I’m pretty happy she has me to help out when she needs a hot shower, a nap, or just wants to grocery shop without being bogged down by a baby carrier. One time I watched Leo so they could go to the nearby wholesale store to stock back up on toilet paper. Not only did they insist on buying me dinner, but they bought me a freakin’ bagel slicer. My bagels have been perfectly sliced and smeared ever since.
My best friend had a baby and somehow I’m the one getting idolized like a pop star. It doesn’t seem fair, but then again: We all know you can’t put a price on hot showers.
When your best friend has a baby, you learn to put others’ needs before your own. I know what you’re thinking: This girl’s in her mid-to-late 20s and still hasn’t learned to put others first? FAIR. And for the record, I have. But this is selflessness to the umpteenth power. Like, I really don’t want to do it half the time. I don’t want to go help with bath time or dinner when I have a sink full of dishes waiting for me at home and a deadline to meet the next day. But you start to realize how much of a difference your efforts can make for someone (and you remember how close your friend lives to your favorite grocery store). And you feel really damn good after….
I interviewed a doctor for a story a couple of years ago -- Dr. Pete Sulack -- who told me that giving to others a makes you feel good about yourself. I try and remember that when I’m being a brat. Instead of just helping myself, I could help myself by helping someone else. Maybe not in the same way: My dishes might sit there for another night, but he said that when you give to others you fill yourself with positive thoughts, which affects the stress centers of your brain and boosts your immune system. And since this is the worst flu season ever recorded…
Well, okay. Maybe I’ll always be a little bit self-centered. I mean, I’ve turned the birth of my friend’s baby into an essay about myself, so… yeah. Just a tad. But I think of it more as self-sufficient, anyway. If you’ve read up until this point, you know I’ve been helping more than receiving help since Leo was born. But I’ll tell ya: it doesn’t feel half bad (no offense to my friend). I had no idea I could do so much myself. It might not sound like much, but a few Sundays ago I taught myself -- courtesy of YouTube -- how to hang shelves (with a dang power drill!); I repotted all my plants; and then rescued a kitten stuck in a tree. (Kidding, but I COULD -- that’s how unstoppable I feel.) Learning to be on your own is a necessary part of life. And who knows when I would’ve learned it if not now. I’m pretty grateful for that -- and for my friend.
(She’s not getting to the sappy conclusion, is she? SHE IS. BUCKLE UP.) Here’s what I’ve already learned since my best friend had a baby: Little humans are drugs that turn you into a sweet, old grandma and make people think you’re AMAZING. Also being independent feels dope (my new shelves are the best) and only losers don’t put others’ needs before their own.
But the best part: My friend and I have become closer than I ever thought possible. I mean, she was already my best friend; I figured we couldn’t get any tighter. But then I got to watch this woman become a MO-THER, okay. You can’t possibly understand how big my heart has swelled.
She knows she can call me for anything; if Leo has a fever and refuses to sleep through the night, or if she feels like it’s just too hard that day, I’ll talk her through it. Your best friend having a baby isn’t fun all the time; that’s what I should’ve said from the beginning. But it doesn’t mean fun is over. I mean, have you ever seen someone change a diaper and accidentally get poop on their face?
That’s comedy gold. Err, brown.