MOMSTRONG:  An Ode to Collective Friendship

This Mother’s Day, as one of my dearest friends has entered hospice after battling a life-threatening illness for the past 4 ½ years, I want to share the power of my remarkable collective friendship with her and three other women that began 24 years ago.

The five of us came together in 1999 through a program for new mothers at Mt Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Each of us was a first-time mother, eager to learn the ways of parenting.  We signed up for the “New Mom’s Group,” a hospital-sponsored six-week program that was facilitated by a nurse. The nurse was a seasoned professional who could field our questions and show us the ropes of dealing with newborns beyond what we learned in our two-day hospital stay. We were eager for this knowledge and her support. Most of us were transplants to New England, coming here for graduate school or our professions. So, we didn’t have the hands-on support of nearby family (mothers, aunts, sisters). We had a lot to learn.

At the end of six weeks, we were nowhere near ready to disband. Our nurse facilitator encouraged us to continue meeting on our own. So, we did!

It’s now 24 years later. Over time, a few people left the group and a few people joined.  What remains today is a core group of five of us. We came from different parts of the country and different professions. We had different personalities.

What we had in common was shared values, including a strong belief in building and sustaining families (in all of their various non-traditional forms – we are an open and affirming group). We shared a voracious appetite for knowledge about how to make this happen – we sought answers through books, articles, programs, podcasts, and conversation.  Lots of conversation. We distilled what we learned and shared it with each other. We brainstormed solutions. What we did not know in 1999 was how vitally important and life-sustaining our group friendship would become.

Our friendship initially focused on raising our children. We faced many challenges as we moved through their ages and stages, from infancy to toddlerhood to elementary school and beyond. One of the most significant challenges was the diagnosis of autism for one of our first-born children. But there were plenty of others, including decisions about having more children, managing careers, moving away, and job loss. We navigated those challenges together, working as a team to figure out how to mitigate the challenges for our families. By the time our firstborn children were ten years old, we realized we had enough experience to drop the “New” from our title and we started calling ourselves “The Mom’s Group,” or “The Mom’s” for short.

Our friendship evolved as our lives evolved. Together, we have faced the stresses of life that we had not foreseen when we first came together (we were so young!). One of the biggest was our own health:  three of us have been diagnosed with cancer, some of which was treatable. We’ve worked through mental health challenges and managed chronic diseases for ourselves and our children. We survived Covid with our families intact, thanks to our bi-weekly Zoom calls. During one health scare, we determined that we were “MOMSTRONG.” (We had a bracelet made with that moniker and our names to commemorate that – we all wear our bracelets to this day.)

We are now fully engaged as caregivers for the other end of life:  our aging and dying parents. We continue to share stories, information, and support. We draw solace from each other when there are no easy answers.

We have also become very engaged politically. Some of us were already activists, others of us were galvanized by the election of Donald Trump and the ongoing assault on women’s (and all human) rights. We marched together, fundraised, wrote postcards, commiserated, and shared information. We talked regularly about intersectionality and the need for us to recognize our white privilege, and to be antiracist.

Throughout all of this, we’ve had FUN! We’ve shared so many laughs. We established traditions like a monthly “Mom’s Night Out,” (aka “MNO,” an acronym our husbands became quite familiar with). That grew to an annual weekend in Florida, without our children, when one of the five of us moved there.  We’d kick up our heels and have a night out on the town, then come back in for a big sleepover and laugh over funny movies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” or “Mamma Mia” (one of our favorites). We’d talk and sing and dance. And talk some more.

The support from this collective friendship has been multifaceted, ongoing, and enduring. It has sustained us. When needs arise, our group is just one text chain or Zoom call away. When we came together 24 years ago, we had NO IDEA what life had in store for us. But we stayed together and became a collective group of friends.

As women, we too often bear the extraordinary burdens of caregiving, including uncompensated and under-appreciated emotional labor. With our Mom’s Group, we have been able to share that load. Our group has helped each of us to persist through the toughest times. Even though we never took a formal vow, we have been with each other, “in sickness and in health.” These women are a group of chosen sisters.

This Mother’s Day, I want to commemorate this group, and the power of our collective friendship. It has meant so much to us and our families. Happy Mother’s Day to my dear Mom’s Group. Our collective friendship will live on!

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