"Let's go out for your birthday!" they said.
It was January. My birthday was in December, but when you have a birthday four days before Christmas you get used to celebrating at odd times. And I'm always up for a night out with these girls.
It started with a prenatal yoga class. Across the room, the beginning of a bond formed with another mom-to-be with a due date close to mine. We had a lot of the same pregnancy side effects. We were both having boys. She was energetic and outgoing - and SO excited about having a baby - it was hard not to notice her.
A couple of months later at a baby group, I sat in the circle on the floor with my 6-week-old son and there she was. Same dark hair. Same expressive face. But this time she had a little bundle in her arms and he looked just like her.
A self-described princess, she had planted herself firmly on the throne of motherhood and there she has stayed. Thank goodness, because she's a supermom type, a made-to-be-a-mom type - and one of the most generous and supportive people I have ever met - who, many times, has filled up my mom kit with diversions and strategies when I've run out.
At the baby group we connected across the room again, over the chatter of other new mothers and new-baby squeals. She mentioned the yoga class moms had formed a moms' group and she invited me along.
I happily accepted, not knowing I had taken a step towards something that was going to save my sanity.
There were eight of us who met regularly. Rotating from house to house to share hosting duties, that core group had visits every week during our year of maternity leave.
Four of us spent some extra time together. We're all runners, so we ran together a couple of times a week in addition to our play dates. Up and down trails, around lakes, we talked endlessly. They became the kind of friends every new mother - every person - should have.
They were with me throughout Connor's fussy period, when I thought I was going to go nuts. They commiserated with me when I told stories of how much my child didn't sleep - and how much he did scream - at night. Sometimes, when I thought I couldn't take it any more, one of them would swoop in and take him from me so I could get a break from the bouncing and the screaming inside my head.
I confessed some of my struggle, before I knew what it was. "I want to throw him out the window," I admitted one day, sobbing over the phone because I just didn't know what to do anymore.
Eventually, when I knew more about what was going on and was getting some help, I told them about my struggle with postpartum depression. They were accepting and supportive, as I knew they would be, and have been right there with me ever since.
On that night - the birthday celebration turned girls' night out - they gave me a gift. A cashmere shawl in dusty rose pink. Beautiful and soft. I loved it.
But sometimes a shawl isn't just a shawl.
"For when you need a hug," they told me and in that sentiment expressed so much. We know you are struggling. We want to help. We are here for you.
And they are, always. We moved away a year and a half ago, so they're no longer close enough for weekly play dates or impromptu girls' nights out. But they are still in my heart, cherished friends who were brought into my life for a reason and never, for a single day, taken for granted.