Betsy and I became best friends in first grade. Across town, Heather and Elizabeth did, too. When our respective elementary schools funneled into a single middle school, we joined forces and have been emotionally inseparable ever since. Even when I went to private school for our freshman year of high school and then moved from New Jersey to Florida, our bond never dissolved.
Although we all had our fair share of traits and interests in common, we each had very distinct personalities and goals. Betsy was shy and graceful, Heather was an energetic extrovert, Liz was the classic girl next door, I was a cheerleader-nerd hybrid. Our welcome differences were apparent pretty early on, and we only grew more dissimilar, though still compatible, with age.
Now, however, in our mid-30s, Betsy, Heather and Liz all have something very significant in common: they're all mothers.
Betsy and I both got married and divorced relatively young, but in the short duration of our respective marriages, she gave birth to a daughter named Fiona, who's now 11. There was a time Betsy, now a nurse, thought she'd never welcome the possibility of marriage again, but she eventually fell in love with and married a great guy named Jeremy, and they just celebrated their son Finn's second birthday.
I think we all knew Liz would definitely become a mom. She met her husband, Kevin, in college, on her way to becoming a pediatric occupational therapist, and in 2008, they welcomed their son, Owen. Their daughter, Annie, just turned three.
No one thought Heather would become a mother because she repeatedly, vehemently told us she definitely didn't ever want to go through childbirth. By 2008, however, she had done a 180: her son, Carter, came into the world via an at-home birthing pool. In fact, she's become an activist for a number of motherhood- and birth-related issues, from natural childbirth to breastfeeding to fighting against circumcision. (She wore a giant penis costume in a parade a couple summers ago. It was pretty amazing.)
It was when Heather and Liz were pregnant at the same time -- and it became obvious that I'd be the last one to become a mother -- that I started worrying if I'd be unwittingly ostracized from our little group because of my lack of children. What if the bond between the three of them would grow stronger in a way it couldn't with me because I had no way of fully understanding this profound role they now performed?
But that didn't happen -- at least not at the expense of my connection to them. I became "Aunt" Marci, and it felt just as special as being Aunt Marci to my actual niece and nephew.
As we entered our 30s and I remained single, I started to realize I didn't just lack children -- I lacked interest in having them. I didn't feel the urgency I thought I would; and when I spent time with babies and kids, I enjoyed it, and felt satisfied when that time was up.
That's when the guilt kicked in. In addition to disappointing my parents by leaning heavily toward not wanting children, I was afraid feeling this way would somehow send a message to my three dearest friends that I didn't love their children, and that they'd start asking me when I was going to have kids or if I wanted to freeze my eggs.
Instead, a special kind of mutual respect has developed. I've watched an indescribably beautiful new element of their unique personalities emerge as they nurture their kids, and they haven't once questioned my choices, my dating luck, my pace. And even though I know -- and she knows I know -- it doesn't compare to motherhood, Betsy posts "dog mom" greetings on my Facebook page every Mother's Day.
Motherhood is, obviously, one of the biggest life changes a person can experience, and I was so scared that it might be the reason I'd be allowed to drift away from this almost-lifelong friendship without a fight. But the way these awesome women have held onto me, the odd one out, even as their nests fill, has reminded me that we've done nothing but change for as long as we've know each other, and we have loved each other through every development.
And now I have a judgment-free VIP seat to watch as my childhood best friends' children become each other's childhood best friends, and I cherish that.