I grew up perpetually outnumbered, sandwiched between two brothers, and with more male cousins than you’d think statistically probable. My darling dad coached at least two baseball teams each summer, inviting herds of uniformed boys over for impromptu spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts; they’d cram into our white Chevy Lumina minivan (“The White Wonder,” which my retired RN mother still says looked far too much like an ambulance). While I always liked dresses, I earned respect by getting them grass stained. For some time, I was, for social survival, a bonafide tomboy, but the kind still secretly committed to maintaining a pretty ponytail.
When I started undergrad at The Ohio State University (Go Buckeyes!), sorority recruitment wasn’t anywhere on my radar. First off, I’m a feminist. (Did feminists believe in sororities? I was unsure.) Secondly, no women in my family had ever joined one. And thirdly, as an extroverted bookworm (a rare breed, but yes, we do exist), I was engrossed in my first college literature course, focusing on little else.
Naturally, all of that changed as I discovered that this was my first (and maybe last?) opportunity to connect with and live among dozens of women my age, in a sprawling historical home with white columns and a rooftop hideout and a massive front porch and a basement riddled with secrets, some of which originated while it served as a meaningful stop on The Underground Railroad. Be still my history-loving, story-obsessed, girl-starved heart!
So, I reluctantly joined a sorority (technically, a “fraternity for women,” since we were founded before the word “sorority” entered the mainstream — how cool is that?), and I can now honestly say with a full heart and a fat, embarrassing photo album, that it was one of the most empowering, gratifying, and ridiculously fun experiences of my life.
At 16 weeks pregnant, I’m part of a new sisterhood, with some startling, strange, and beautiful similarities to the one I experienced during my college sorority days:
In Sorority World, recruitment entails attending hyper-organized events in your finest outfits, where the active members educate you about their values, their philanthropies, their histories, and what kind of social benefits may pique your interest. Sounds fun, right? Ask any sorority girl and you’ll learn: it really is, and it really isn’t.
In Mom World, people (parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, etc., etc.) “recruit” by morphing into Bridget Jones’s worst nightmares, cornering with annoying, intrusive lines like, “When you gonna have a baby?” or “Are you two trying yet?” or — the worst! the absolute worst! — “You don’t want to wait too long,” as if they know the exact age and attitude of my particular pair of ovaries. In fact, it was at my thirtieth birthday party (coincidentally, a month or so before we ended up conceiving), that I was holding a cigar in one hand and a Belvedere on ice in the other, when a pal asked if we were trying. My reply? “Well not at this moment,” then I blew a puff of smoke juuuuuust left of her face.
Today’s lawsuit-happy, excessively P.C. world has (thankfully) stripped Sorority World of its hazing. (At least at most every school I know of.) Personally, if we were hazed, I was entirely unaware of it. More than anything, from the moment we became pledges, the older girls showered us with thoughtful gifts and loving notes. (I promise you, no “circle the fat” battle scars here.)
In Mom World, hazing is — at times, in certain circles — alive and well. Some moms looooove to share their delivery room horror stories, their “terrible two” nightmares, their “I never got my body back even though I’m now a vegan yogi” tales. And then there are the dreaded mommy one-uppers. If you’re six months pregnant, “Just wait til you’re nine!” If you have one child, “Just wait til there’s two!” If you balance a part-time job, “Just wait til you go back full-time!” Especially when you’re pregnant, if a casual bump-in with THIS HORRIBLE WOMAN isn’t hazing, I don’t know what is.
While each sorority has its own unique rituals, the Initiation Ceremony usually involves some angelic archaic garb, some music, some secret sharing, followed by something that resembles a celebratory brunch. Initiation is sacred as it marks the formal beginning of that member’s belonging, and you never don’t belong from that day on. You’re officially one of them. For better, for worse, for life, you’re connected.
In Mom World, Initiation begins with other women celebrating your pregnancy, swapping stories (non-hazing ones preferred!), and joining in a baby shower to help prepare you for mommyhood. The true Initiation, however, of course takes place upon babe delivery or babe arrival, when that little precious bean that’s been growing inside you, or waiting to meet you, now stretches before you, a living, breathing complex little miracle, and for better, for worse, for life, you’re connected.
4. Lifelong Sisterhood
Once you’re an initiated, letter-wearing, dues-paying, chapter-attending sorority woman, you’ve made a lifelong commitment to be a friend to your sisters, known and yet-to-meet, near and far, socially and professionally, with an open heart and mind. Obviously, some sorority women live this actively, regularly, easily, and some don’t take it quite so seriously, and that’s okay. We’re allowed to be different, but it’s a treat when the similarities that once bonded collegiate girls permeate womanhood.
I’ve glimpsed how motherhood, too, creates a sense of a lifelong sisterhood in how my mother and mother-in-law connect, in how my friends with children seem to share an underlying understanding I’m not quite in on (yet), and then there was this moment at a women’s writing retreat, long before I considered becoming pregnant, when something clicked in a beautifully simple, unexpected way.
It took place in Connecticut, in February, when two feet of snow blanketed the outside world. I was in high-heeled leather boots (idiot), dragging a too-large, too-heavy piece of luggage (correction: high maintenance idiot) through the snow to my rental car, when two writer women approached, insisting I let them help me. I’m Midwestern, meaning: independent and polite, meaning: I feel entirely comfortable imposing my help on others, but sometimes hesitate accepting it myself.
“No, we’re helping,” one said, removing a heavy bag from my shoulder.
“We’re moms. It’s what we do,” the other added, lifting the back end of the massive suitcase to ease the rest of the trek to my car.
Driving alone, back to the airport, “We’re moms. It’s what we do,” replayed in my mind. And she was right. Mothers have always done the heavy lifting — literally and figuratively. They’re in the business of solving the problems, drying the tears, nourishing the hungry, boosting the morale, restoring the peace. I loved that they knew that, that they harnessed it, that they owned it with pride. I loved that someday, some way, I knew I would join this sisterhood, and that when I did, it would be forever, too.