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It’s easy to feel excluded, going off to work when the nanny is taking the children to the park, hard not to feel jealous when a child giggles wildly for the nanny in a way he never has for you.

A first-time new mother is apt to feel even more vulnerable. One friend hired a baby nurse for the first few weeks of her son’s life, to teach her and her husband about baby care. She “wasn’t a beauty,” said my friend, “very heavy, older, and just more nurselike than sexy.” Grateful for the help, my friend adored her; but nonetheless, in a haze of hormones and sleeplessness, my friend became convinced that the nurse and her husband were sleeping together. “When, I don’t know, since we were all living in a two-bedroom apartment, together most of the time, I convinced myself I saw signs of it like them jumping apart embarrassedly when I came into the room, or them giggling together in the kitchen.” The affair turned out to be an illusion. But her story illustrates how, at a time when many women feel their erotic appeal most under assault, having someone else in the house can make you feel estranged from yourself and your husband.

Since I work at home and often go downstairs to nurse my son while Kate is there, she and I talk every day, and she quickly charmed me with her tendency to say “all righty” and “sweet” and “wicked,” her penchant for guys in baseball hats, and the stories about her hometown. Once, we were on the subway with my son, and Kate, looking around, said, “There are more people on this car than there were in my entire high school.” I had also come to New York in my 20s and knew what it was like to be both overwhelmed and thrilled by its vastness. Anxious about the possibility that she would hate the city and leave us, I tried to help Kate find her way around. My husband and I even went so far as to set her up on a blind date with one of his younger co-workers, to jump-start her social life. When she decided to stay, I was elated.

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