Tonight, I’m cooking meatballs. I’m cooking a lot of meatballs.
I’m cooking meatballs for my friend Abbie and her family. In the next few days, Abbie will give birth to a baby girl on the eve of her 40th birthday. Her oldest is 10, her youngest is 7, and she thought she was done having babies about seven years ago.
I’m also cooking meatballs for Amy’s family. Amy is in Boston with her daughter Faith, who is 12 years old. Tomorrow Amy will undergo surgery and have one of her kidneys removed and delivered to pediatric surgeons, where it will be transplanted to Faith.
I’m cooking meatballs for Stephanie, who starts chemo in two days, to battle the aggressive form of breast cancer that likely took her own Momma’s life 15 years ago.
I’m cooking meatballs, and crying, and thinking about these three friends, who in the next few days, are preparing to give life, save a life and fight for a life. I am in my mid-30s, and none of these realities are mysterious anymore. But today they feel more personal, more scary and more heroic than anything I have ever experienced.
Abbie is one of my first Momma friends. We have known each other for the ten years we have been Mommas. Around year four, we identified ourselves as a tribe. It was at that point, after newborn babies, after judging each other, after realizing that judging each other was bullshit, after forgiving each other, after toddlers bit each other and preschoolers hit each other, after we threw up in front of each other during our second pregnancies, after we threw each other baby showers during our second pregnancies, after we were done feeling done up in “ladies’ brunch” clothes and were ready to talk about our dirty laundry… We were a tribe.
Our tribe has thrived over the last ten years. You can decide for yourselves whether the kids have picked up on that.
When Abbie told me she was pregnant in the spring of 2014, I thought she was joking. As a tribe, we had been through this. As a tribe, we were done. As a tribe, we were ready to sit back on our laurels and marvel at how great our kids were turning out to be. But now, Abbie was having a baby. A baby that was going to be checked over by every doctor in her practice due to “advanced maternal age.” A baby that was never expected, but will have a most special place in this world.
Amy is my Momma friend I see everyday. The idea that I will not see her for the next two weeks while she is Boston is inconceivable. Her friendship is part of my daily routine, as intrinsic as making a pot of coffee with breakfast and pouring a glass of wine while I cook dinner. Almost like having kids, there was life before having Amy as friend, and life after, but I don’t really remember what the life before felt like.
We are back stops for each other – in addition to getting each other’s kids off the bus, we have helped each other cook, clean, snow shovel, weed, dump run and get in shape. We let it all hang out on Friday night and occasional Wednesdays and Mondays, and it makes us better Mommas every other day of the week. On top of all of that, I know I’m get to see her face almost every day, and she is almost always smiling, and there is something beyond special about an authentic smiling face.
Nine months ago, when Amy found out that Faith was in liver failure, it felt like someone ripped a hole in the fabric of my life. I called Amy to ask about our regular Friday night plan. I called again to ask if there was anything special I could pick up at the store. I called again, and didn’t leave a message. A few hours later, Amy called. “Carolyn, I can’t talk for long, but Faith is in the hospital and her liver is failing. I don’t know what is happening, I don’t know what happens next, but I just wanted you to know.”
Over the coming days, Amy and her family would learn that Faith had likely been in liver failure for some time, and that her condition could be managed through daily clinical dialysis sessions until Amy and her husband could complete the training to do nightly dialysis in their home. The only way Faith would ever recover from kidney failure was through a donor. Amy started medical testing the next week.
I have asked Amy, “How are you still smiling? How can you do all this? How have you learned to perform dialysis? How are you not scared? How do you prepare for kidney transplant? How are you still you?” And she said the same thing every time, “You would be able to do this if it happened to you.”
Fighting for Life
Stephanie is one of my newest Momma friends. I knew we would be friends when she was one of the “stay to the end party people” the first time she came to our annual summer kick-off. She led a Zumba dance class to a dozen or more folks, and we made plans to start a winter Zumba class in our garage.
During my first long play date with Stephanie, she told me her Mom died of cancer when Stephanie was in her twenties. Stephanie said something my mother in law, a cancer survivor four times over, has said, “I know I will probably die of cancer one day. I just don’t want it to be any time soon.” She told me she rehearsed the “cancer talk” she would have with her two boys every time she had a mammogram. Every year for the past five years.
When Stephanie told me she had triple negative (does not react to hormonal treatments), stage three cancer (it has spread to her lymph nodes) breast cancer, I said what everyone who knows Stephanie believes, “YOU WILL KICK THIS CANCER’S ASS.” Because she is so strong, and so able, so full of the joie de vivre that we hope can overcome anything.
But in saying that, in acknowledging the battle, there must be an acknowledgement that Stephanie will be fighting for her life, for her family, for everything she knows, with everything she has, and the stakes could not be higher.
So I am making meatballs that will be delivered to three separate homes across town, and thinking about these dear Momma friends and what they have meant to me.
There are days when it feels that I couldn’t survive without them. Not as a wife, not as a mother, and certainly not as a whole human being. There is a lot of work in this life… There is work work, marriage work, the work of raising interested, kind and inspired humans.
But Momma friends don’t take much work. We understand when a few weeks or months pass without phone calls, then pick up the phone when one of us calls, like no time has passed at all. We laugh, love, cry, comfort, dance, sing, debate, ponder, skinny dip, stargaze, worry, relax, revolt, walk, run, crawl, share… We share everything… Hopes, fears, dreams, pasts, futures, insecurities, conquests, failures, successes. Momma friends are dynamic, soulful, complex people who move mountains every day, for themselves, for their families, for their communities, for their friends.
We are told when we are about to have our first, or second, or third or tenth child that we will be amazed at the this outpouring of love we will feel for our newborn. A well of love that has a source inside of our soul, and no limit. I was amazed each time it happened for me with my three babies, and think often about the boundless potential we have for love in our lives.
Now, to think of these dear friends as they face very different life-changing events, I see other wells that are equally vast and incomprehensible. Love, yes. But also flexibility, courage, strength, positivity, and an indomitable spirit of survival.
For as well as I know these women, there is so much more to know. For every challenge that arises, they respond with grace, grit and determination. I wish I could do more to help, and I will try to be there every time these Momma friends need an ear, a backstop, a clean kitchen or a homemade meal. But for right now I will just stand over these meatballs, and be in awe.
To contribute to the medical fund of Stephanie, which will help support alternative treatments and allow her to take time off from work during chemotherapy, please visit here.
Carolyn Smith Fernald is a mother of three, a writer, a songwriter, a wife, and a friend, who tries to juggle as many of these things as possible in and around Portland, Maine. She is currently experiencing a career renaissance as an SEO analyst and social media consultant. Her musings on motherhood, SEO and Fantasy Football can be found on twitter @asthecrowfl13s. Check out her music here and contact her at Carolyn dot fernald at gmail dot com.