It’s almost twelve years now since I met the group of women who saved my life.
My world had imploded with both good things and bad. My husband and I had these brand-new, imposibly tiny, bald, newborn twin girls, born three weeks early but miraculously healthy, and we were struggling to get from hour to hour through each day and night. We were managing on a very modest single salary while I tried to finish a doctoral thesis that would take me another four years to get done.
When the twins were three weeks out of the hospital, my father suffered severe spinal injuries in a terrible motorcycle accident. We knew he would be permanently handicapped, but we didn’t yet know how bad. He spent almost a full year in the hospital. My mom — one of my best friends and sources of support — was barely able to cope with the dramatic events that had completely changed the course of my parents’ lives. We found ourselves offering them our emotional, ourselves only recently returned to Montreal after 5 years, relying on the kindnesses of friends and family.
To make things worse, it was one of the hottest Augusts on record, and we lived in a house with no air conditioning. The four of us, hot sticky and miserable, tried to sleep in a queen-sized bed, because our infants were very high needs, and seemed completely unable to stay asleep unless constantly held. Spare me the debate on the dangers of co-sleeping — we were so completely beyond exhaustion that if someone had told me babies slept best hanging from their pudgy little feet like bats, I would have rigged up bungee cords in two seconds flat.
We were desperate. I hated my husband for going to work each morning, haggard and exhausted as he was from helping me burp, change and walk our demanding new charges. At least he got to drink his coffee hot and have interesting conversations with adults. I was actually afraid to be alone with my babies in those early days, worried I wouldn’t be able to soothe them both, worn down by the crying and rocking and too nervous to carry them around at the same time.
Moreover, I’m sure my husband dreaded coming home, where I resentfully handed him a screaming infant before he took off his shoes. He remembers one day at work when his boss gently suggested he go home and get some much-needed rest and he panicked — for the love of god, DO NOT SEND ME BACK TO THAT PLACE!
Then I got a phone call from a friend of a friend, who I’d met up with when we were pregnant. Her daughter was a few weeks older, and she wanted to know if I would join their baby group.
Would I? I didn’t even know how I would manage the mechanics of brushing my teeth the next morning, let alone get both babies changed, dressed and into car seats on my own, but I knew that I absolutely had to get out of the house if we were to survive the week.
I didn’t know most of these women the first time I met them. I remember watching them with their singleton babies, amazed at how easy a single infant seemed to be. They got to sit down! They had showered and brushed their hair (well, most of them). As for me, I’m pretty sure my shirt was mis-buttoned, and I constantly forgot to do my nursing bra back up in those days (what was the point? I was almost always nursing.) But nobody snickered. They understood. They also smelled like spit up. They were also freaking exhausted. We didn’t judge.
Those weekly meetings at each others’ houses were literally my lifeline. A second group spun off of the first one. I went to those meetings too. We took our babies for walks, compared notes on milestones, commiserated with each other. There was always a helping hand for me when I needed to juggle both babies’ demands. There was always a sympathetic ear, a lack of judgment.
Together we figured it out: Simone, Andrea, Elana, Dana, Leslie, Tamar, Tracy. Daisy, Jenn, Caroline, Amanda (not sure what happened to her), Sherry. These women literally saved my life.
There are two amazing things about this, and then I’ll get to my main point (bear with me here).
First amazing thing: Seven of the babies from these original groups (including my twins) are now in the same school; six of them will be graduating elementary school together next week and heading off to high school. I look at these adorable, gangly preteens — some almost as tall as me — and remember them rolling around on the floor together in their diapers. Turns out all those trite things our parents said were true.
Because now we’ve become them.
Second amazing thing: One of my groups has continued to meet monthly (without kids or husbands) for potluck dinners at each other’s houses. We still discuss and debate the issues about raising our kids, but now we talk about high schools instead of high chairs, peer pressure instead of pacifiers.
We’ve all hit our stride as moms, and our families have all grown beyond the initial groups of babies that brought us together, but some things haven’t changed. We are still there for each other. We’ve supported each other through new babies, new houses, new jobs, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, illnesses, family strife, deaths. We still offer support and sympathy when needed and celebration whenever possible.
My point (and like Ellen DeGeneres, I do have one) is that these communities of support are just as critical when our babies grow up as they are in those first, early, sleep-deprived days. We have so much more knowledge together as a group than we do on our own. We quickly figure out that when our kids tell us they are the only ones in grade 6 without cellphones, that it isn’t quite true. That everyone else struggled with homework and extracurriculars too. That going through puberty the second time (as parents) isn’t any easier than it was the first time.
These regular monthly meetings continue to help us stay sane and stay informed. They are the village that helps us raise our children. And even though my family is no longer teetering precariously on the edge like it was in those first crazy months of my older girls’ lives, I still thank my lucky stars for good friends like these.
Would you like to set up a support community for your older child or teen? If you live in Montreal, Ometz helps parents organize regular monthly parlour meetings. You can also organize your own informal group by asking around at your child’s school, soccer practice or daycare.
Perhaps, like me, you will find these groups become a lifeline.