When my daughter Abby was 15 months old, my Mommy friends and I competed in a 5K obstacle mud run in Galveston Beach. We wore matching army green camouflage t-shirts with hot pink bandanas tied around our heads and applied eye black under our eyes. It was a stifling summer day with no sea breeze. The terrain was rocky and the obstacles increased in difficulty. Our group kept the same pace to encourage each other to complete each obstacle. We made it to the end of the race with one remaining obstacle left: the birth canal (yes, that was the actual name given to this unpleasant obstacle). The canal was a highly dreaded gauntlet of sloshing and weighted barriers that we had to crawl and push through to find freedom.
I’d rather give birth, I thought. I pinched my nose to avoid the stench and slowly stepped out of line.
“Duffy, I’m not letting you quit on us now,” said my friend Pam, patting my shoulder. “Here, you go first, I’ll be right behind you if you get stuck.”
I wanted to dart out of there and run into the ocean nearby.
“This reeks more than having a diaper blowout explode onto my shirt,” I said.
I took a deep breath to avoid the smell and started crawling. I was covered in thick sludge, but I felt a strong sense of security. I had finished the mud run but I was just beginning my journey of motherhood. I felt lucky to have my mommy tribe that would support me.
My smooth sailing journey of motherhood came to a screeching halt nine months later when my high risk twin pregnancy took a turn for the worse.
At 25 weeks pregnant with identical twin girls, I was admitted into the hospital for round-the-clock monitoring. My unborn babies swam together in the same placenta and amniotic sac. This was a rare condition known as Mono-Mono twins, and it put them at high risk for a string of complications.
“Crystal, the babies are in such close proximity, there is a high chance they will get entangled in each other’s umbilical cords,” said my doctor, holding my hand reassuringly. “I’m admitting you into the hospital.”
“For how long?” I screeched. “My girls aren’t due for another three months!”
“Until you deliver. We need to make sure you and the babies are safe.”
My head was spinning in disbelief. “How is this possible?”
A week later, I was secured in room 582. My doctor’s instructions were clear: stay in bed and incubate. On my first day under lockdown, I sat straight up in my bed, opened up my laptop, and wrote an email to my mommy tribe explaining everything.
“Please keep me and my family in your thoughts and prayers over the next few weeks,” I wrote and then despondently pressed send.
Pushing the send button on my computer was a clarion call to action. My friends immediately inundated me with text messages, phone calls and emails. Their similar-sounding messages were ones of comfort and compassion: “I’m thinking and praying for you and your family. Let me know how I can help.”
My cry for help set a chain of events in motion that defined the rest of my pregnancy and time in the hospital.
One of the Mom’s created a daily care calendar with time slots for scheduled visitors so I wouldn’t be lonely. In between doctors rounds and ultrasound screenings, it was such a relief to see friendly faces pop through my door. It brought me a sense of comfort in an otherwise frightening, sterile environment. They transformed my hospital room into a college dorm room filled with stacks of gossip magazines, Sex and the City DVDs, nail polish, and my mini refrigerator stocked with fruit baskets and Pellegrino. My husband hung a giant countdown calendar (a visual reminder of how far I’d come and how far I had to go), and each visitor signed their name and left a tiny message. “Hang in there, can’t wait to meet the Duffy girls.”
I wasn’t the only one expecting that summer, two close friends were pregnant with their second children. Many of my other mommy friends had small babies they had to cart with them to the hospital. Their sacrifices of driving to the medical center during rush hour, with small children, meant the world to me.
Another care calendar covered meal deliveries to me (because they knew I’d get sick of the bland hospital food). The nurse would take me off the monitor around 5 o’clock, about the time a friend would show up carrying a shopping back of goodies. I had warm meals that included eggplant parmesan, pecan crusted chicken, veggie enchiladas, and even snacks of zucchini and carrot bread and cranberry orange muffins. There was never a shortage of homemade food for me and my growing babies.
A third calendar created to cover dinners for my husband Ed and daughter Abby at home, since I wasn’t there to cook for them. They also took turns babysitting Abby and taking her to the science museum for the latest dinosaur exhibit or the outdoor theatre for the children’s production of Charlotte’s Web. Although I was not able to be there on a daily basis with Abby, I was glad to know that in my absence her social life hadn’t come to a halt.
My mommy tribe even threw me a surprise baby shower in the hospital. I walked into the brightly lit room on the 10th floor of the hospital, adorned with pink balloons and fresh magnolias. In the middle of the room was a conference style chair with a floral crown made of champagne colored roses and baby’s breath. It was a special celebration of the strength of women and motherhood. Friends prepared prayers and kind words of reflection and wisdom. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. At the end, I feasted on the spread of all of my favorite foods—including chicken salad sandwiches, shortbread crusted lemon bars, and pistachio macaroons.
My friends continued to send me texts, emails, notes of encouragement, and endless prayers up until I gave birth, a week after the baby shower. My twin daughters are now three years old—happy, healthy and rambunctious.
Those lovely ladies turned my difficult situation into an inspiring demonstration of true kindness. Mommy tribes aren’t just for playdates; they are life-savers.
As the years pass, some of the moms have gone back to work full time, others have moved away. As I continue to navigate through each phase of motherhood, I reflect on the beginning of those friendships and how they were formed during casual playdates at the park or zoo when my oldest daughter was a few months old and I needed to escape the house. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to express my gratitude and appreciation for what those mothers—my mommy tribe, my community—did for me, but each time I help a friend in need whether it be babysitting their toddler or picking up the older kids from school, their kindness rekindles in me.