It’s my 37th week being pregnant, and my swollen ankles are proof as I waddle down the hallway of the apartment complex. My overworked olfactory sense gets hit with one tenants casserole, and the others fried fish. My feet are hidden as they drag on the outdated orange, but, freshly vacuumed carpet. I’m greeted with smiles and hugs as my newly married friends welcome me into their basement two bedroom. They are quick to take my jacket, offer a glass of water, and try not to let their eyes linger as I unzip my husbands jacket, exposing my heavy, bulging stomach.
I zero in on the exercise ball tucked into the corner of the room, grateful for the relief it provides as I bounce and sway, trying to shed some of the pressure bearing down on my pelvic muscles, courtesy of my baby’s head. I breath deep and push away the elbow and knee jabs, as my friends gasp and giggle at my contorting belly.
“Was that a foot?!”
“Ok that had to be it’s hand!”
Within a few minutes, the living room is full with my nearest and dearest. The kitchen counter is littered with curry takeout containers. We eat until the spoons scrape styrofoam, and talk until its late, the conversation usually brought back to my braxton hicks and fears surrounding labour and delivery.
There is a surprising comfort in none of us having gone through this all before, no comparison, no well-intentioned, but, pushy advice. Just positive encouragement and wonder at the mystery of birth.
The trifecta of laughter, spicy curry, and admittingly, a couple sips of wine.
My water breaks the following morning.
We are all gathered hours later, this time in a small hospital room, with the newest member of our group cradled in my arms.
My story is not unique. Young, barely adult girl meets cute, young boy. They both read their bibles and pray daily.
A modest wedding, small basement apartment of our own, followed by joy filled years, indulging in all the new found freedom marriage brings.
Without much planning, or more accurately, much prevention, a positive pregnancy test sets us on the course of so many other couples we have watched walk before us.
Falling into the common narrative of the young couple with babies in the nursery, I keep expecting to turn and see a line of Mom friends by my side, swapping baby clothes and having coffee dates while children nap. Instead I’ve watched them board airplanes, finish multiple degrees, and venture into business start ups. I’ve applauded GPA scores as they’ve cheered my children on as they take their first steps. I feel it owed to me to have my friends in the trenches of early motherhood with me, instead of sleeping in, meals at restaurants, and flights booked on whims. It’s been years of walking to the playground by myself, awkwardly trying to find conversation amongst the established friend groups that gather there. A season of life where I’m always in the presence of my sweet baby boy and girl, and yet loneliness finds its way in.
The once fuzzy newborn has all too quickly shape shifted to talking toddler. As I juggle,”Green Eggs and Ham,” in one hand and her breastfeeding baby brother in the other, my phone vibrates. The screen glows with a notification from my favourite group chat, spammed with emojis and GIFs.
“Can we say 7:00 pm for dinner?”
I’m tight with anxiety as I struggle how to best say that there could be no worse time for dinner as it’s right at cranky baby time and toddler bath time and how could they even think that was a good option?!
I go with,
“Heyy sorry for the Mom card but could we make it a little earlier instead?”
Their work week has barely finished, tired from rushing in traffic, and somehow my friends show up, food in hand at my door step for a 5:30 pm dinner.
It’s scenarios like this one,played out for years. Assumptions, and unmet expectations, well intentioned plans, and disappointment.
Give and take.
And while for majority of these baby years I haven’t been able to count on my girlfriends to have extra wipes or a diaper in their purse, I have continually been shown I can count on them to show up. Not with seasoned advice, but with empathy and grace.
Dropping off food instead of dropping subtle critiques. Holding back horror and shock as they see toddlers stomp their feet and scream,”NO,” at impressive pitches.
And when the busy calendars of our lives finally align and we all find ourselves around a booth or a coffee table, it’s the honest questions, that help fill my soul that has been drained from days of parenting. Because, while I’ll never go back to the time before I was called, “Mommy,” these faces help remind me of the person that existed before I was given that name. The conversations that revolve around so much more than just tummy time, and potty training techniques, wanting to hear how my children are enjoying Sunday school, but also listening to my doubts and frustrations I’m experiencing with the faith community. They all serve as reminders that I’m a strong, complex, thoughtful person that contribute to making the Mother I am. The reminder that while I joyfully give my children majority of my time, they are not the only thing that define and make up my personhood. And while there are things that can’t go without saying, or schedules that have to be reworked, I am made a better Mom because of this group.
It’s an early Sunday morning, and while they would usually just be rolling out bed, my people have all gathered in a single row near the front of the auditorium. My husband and I walk up the stairs of the stage with baby boy on my hip as we share our hearts desire for him and how we plan on raising him. I feel shame for wanting anything more than they’ve already given but only until thankfulness quickly floods in.
Not yet torn between children of their own, I stand taller and stronger looking out at my children’s bonus Moms. Silently cheering me on.