There are three major stages in a person’s life that no one can prepare you for: Birth, death and becoming a mother. When I had my first child, it felt like the world stopped. No, that’s not right. It felt like I’d stopped and the world just kept on going in blatant disregard for the extremely awkward situation I found myself in. Breasts exploding, stomach deflating, baby crying, husband leaving. Days spent indoors, apart and separate from the functioning world; nights little more than two-hour sleep intervals interspersed with feeding and diaper changes. On the off chance that you do make it out, strangers randomly popping into your face, peeking at your baby and telling you just how lucky you are. You’re not sure you agree.

Your relationship with the world is broken. It’s hard to relate. It’s hard for your friends to relate to you. Your perception of yourself changes. You are no longer who you once were. And you’re not quite sure how to be.

The only people in the entire world who understand you are other new mothers, mothers going through the same thing at precisely the same time as you. But where to find them? You find yourself looking forward to your Ob check-up, you loiter in department store restrooms, settling into sofas the color of milk, hoping that the door will open and a new stroller will awkwardly struggle through.

When you do finally find a group of new mothers whose babies and nipples are on target with your own, they become your support group. It must be like alcoholics, I think, because during those first six months, there is no one who understands you better. And nine times out of ten these are women you would never, never hang out with in your pre-baby years. But none of it mattersænothing else matters, nothing except the baby and this new world that you are navigating with an equal sense of fear and wonder.

It is a magical period, and as it is with most magical periods. It is finite. It usually seems to happen at about six months, when the newness has worn off, when the answers come easily and philosophies begin to reflect the individual rather than the group. Breast is replaced by bottle. Attachment parenting is replaced by nannies and mornings in the park become morning runs through the park. Past lives creep in for attention and beckon you to return. Husbands resume their role as friend and confidant; careers fight for attention and the group disperses.

Life resumes. But until then you’re just making it up as you go along.