How Taking My Newborn Dining Out with Friends Saved Me
BY ANNA DAVIES
When I had my daughter, Lucy, people kept bringing quiches. At one point, a week after her birth, I had four in the fridge. Some were homemade, some were store bought, all were tempting.
But I had no time to eat any of them. What these well-meaning visitors didn’t realize or remember was how fully consuming having a newborn was. As a single parent, I felt I was always holding Lucy. When she wasn’t being held, I was pumping breastmilk. For the first two weeks of her life, the only “meals” I ate were single handed fistfuls of dry cereal. Anything I could eat two-handed was a luxury, anything hot was inconceivable. I lost 15 pounds in the first two weeks post-delivery, and while my OB congratulated me, I wish she had understood the subtext: I lost weight because I literally didn’t have the time or energy to eat; taking care of my newborn had literally consumed me.
By the time I was a month into being a mom, I couldn’t even remember what my “normal” life had been like. While I loved my newborn daughter, Lucy, I felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and unsure what my new normal would look like. That was then a friend I had met in my prenatal yoga class, who also had a four-week-old, suggested we get together. She took the initiative, starting a text chain among a few other classmates whose due dates were around the same time as ours and floating out an idea we meet for lunch at The Park, the Meatpacking district staple.
I agreed, even though I felt like a fugitive as I bundled my newborn into her carrier and onto the subway. She wasn’t even a month old; it was the first time we’d been on public transportation. But as soon as we got into the restaurant and I saw my five friends—a little exhausted, a little frazzled, a little overwhelmed—I relaxed.
I ordered a lamb meatball sandwich, which I remember specifically because it was the first hot meal I’d had in weeks. All of us had newborns—on our laps, in strollers, or, like Lucy, nestled in the carrier. But it didn’t matter. We had an attentive waiter who refilled my iced coffee three times (because, trust me, I needed it) We had fresh bread with olive oil. But most importantly, we had a space that was elegant and ordered and so unlike my looked like a tornado hit living room.
We stayed at that lunch for hours. We shared a dessert. We shared our victories and our stumbling blocks. And as we left the restaurant, juggling strollers, car seats, and containers of leftovers, we realized we had to do this again.
It became our tradition: Every Wednesday, the five of us would meet at The Park for lunch. For me, these weekly meals were essential in feeling more like myself again. It was the one time a week where I knew I would actually be eating protein. I can’t explain how a restaurant environment changed everything—Lucy still could be whiny or clingy; I still needed to eat one handed and juggle an infant in one hand and an iced coffee in the other—but I felt more relaxed, in tune to conversations, and more than just a mom.
I’ve always loved exploring new dining options, and, like so many expecting parents, assumed that meals out would be a thing of the past once my daughter was born. But I realized during those first few months of her life that I needed a meal out more than I ever had at any other point in my life. Those Wednesday meetups felt mandatory to me; I would rearrange everything in my schedule to attend. Not only did the ambient noise help calm her down (which I realize, doesn’t necessarily happen with every baby) but the meal helped calm me down. Seeing life go on—meetings at one table, dates at another—truly reminded me just how fluid life is, and how I wasn’t going to be stuck in newborn land forever.
Furthermore, a restaurant—especially that extra large circular banquette at The Park that my prenatal yoga friends and I frequented those sultry summer Wednesdays with our newborns—was a neutral zone. I remember how awkward I felt when well-meaning friends invited themselves over that first summer; even though they swore up and down they didn’t mind what my apartment looked like, I minded. I was so overwhelmed those first few weeks that even a gift, to me, symbolized work. I’d have to open the gift, unwrap it, throw away the paper, and recycle the box. Even thinking about the steps sounded exhausting.
When I write that out, it sounds absurd and ungrateful, but you have to remember that those first few weeks with a new baby is a surreal time. A restaurant, to me, was an anchor back to reality and my old life. Seriously, friends could have left the swaddles and sleep sacks and treated me to a ceviche or salad somewhere that wasn’t my living room and I would have been thrilled.
Restaurants were an ideal respite for my new reality; a place to finally have my own needs taken care of. Here was someone to refill a water glass, fold a napkin, ask if I needed anything. After being on call 24/7 for a helpless newborn, having someone serve you is incredibly humbling.
By the end of that summer, our weekly lunch club dissolved. People went back to work, nap schedules were solidified. But my penchant for exploring new eateries with my favorite plus one had just begun. I found that my daughter, as a newborn, was incredibly portable and amenable to trying new places. While it’s true that it can sometimes be tricky trying a new cuisine with a toddler, a baby doesn’t care. Bring a bottle, bring your boob, and they’re set. Furthermore, I found that restaurants were nothing but hospitable to me heading in with my daughter, especially if I brought her in a carrier instead of a stroller.
Now, Lucy is two and a half. We still go out to restaurants, but it’s a different experience. I’m no longer in the in between of just beginning to find my footing as a mom. I’m confident and self assured. But sometimes, when we’re out, I see a brand new mom, her baby nestled in a carrier, her face carrying the same expression of freedom and fear that I’m sure I had two years ago. Sometimes she’s solo, sometimes she’s with friends. But either way, I catch her eye and feel like we’re connected, part of a vast dining club where a good meal is more than satiating, it’s essential to your identity.