— Becky Sher
Molly Prichard jokes that she and best friend Jill Black met “online dating.”
And to hear them talk about their fast friendship does sound like a conversation about Internet matchmaking — they mention instant connections, plans to meet in person after finding each other online, and even family members’ concerns that the relationship was moving a little too quickly.
But Molly and Jill’s story isn’t about two single people wishfully texting back and forth through a dating app. It’s about two moms with girls newly diagnosed with Rett syndrome who found each other, and at the same time, found a new sense of hope.
Their story starts just last spring, when Molly’s daughter, Ruby, was diagnosed with Rett. Overwhelmed and in search of support, she started visiting Rett groups on Facebook and posted a message looking for other girls of a similar age who were newly diagnosed. (Ruby turned 2 in October.) Jill’s husband had posted about their daughter, Emma, who is only a few weeks younger than Ruby and who was diagnosed in May. And that’s how Molly first met Jill.
“I felt an instant connection with Jill,” says Molly, who lives near Sarasota, Fla. “The first day I was talking to her, I felt more comfortable telling her about our experience than I felt telling friends that I’ve had for 20-plus years. I just felt like she got it. She understood the absolute instant heartache. I felt like, ‘Jill is my person.’”
For Jill, who also has a 4-year-old son, Jacob, meeting Molly online was a first step to adjusting to what she calls her family’s “new normal.”
“We pulled each other out of the dark places we were in,” says Jill, who lives in Lawrenceburg, Ind., not far from Cincinnati. “I’m so grateful and so thankful that I met Molly because I don’t know where I would be. She is the best friend that I have. I feel like I’ve known her my whole life.”
Just a few weeks after Molly and Jill met online, they already were planning to meet in person, when Jill’s family traveled to Florida for a previously planned vacation. They met up again later in the summer, when Molly’s family visited relatives in Indianapolis. And they already have two more visits on the books for this fall.
But the friendship isn’t just between Jill and Molly. They’ve also played matchmaker for their girls.
“They don’t really have a choice (to be friends),” Molly says. “Jill and I already decided that they’re going to be best friends forever.”
For Emma and Ruby, forever has already started; their moms have bought them matching outfits and snap dozens of photos when they’re together.
“Even though they can’t talk or communicate, they still understand,” says Jill, Emma’s mom. “We talk about Ruby. I show Emma Ruby’s picture even though we can’t be with each other. Emma really knows who Ruby is.”
And though the friendship between the two moms — and their girls — brings happiness to both families, it’s still difficult for Molly and Jill to reflect on their daughters’ early days. Jill calls the day she heard the diagnosis — May 8 for Emma — a day “she’s never going to forget.” Molly says Ruby “never progressed normally,” but doctors told her husband and her that it probably wasn’t because of a genetic disorder.
“We knew around 6 months that something was wrong. And for the next 6 months, everyone just kind of kept putting off the concerns we had,” Molly says. “We just had a really rough time up to that point. Rett was not something we even thought about.”
While Molly and Jill acknowledge the emotional challenges that came in the first few months after diagnosis, they say that their friendship has given them the confidence to keep moving forward. Molly says that watching Jill parent her son, who does not have special needs, has helped her see the possibilities in raising Ruby.
“Meeting Jill gave me a little bit of a sense of normalcy,” Molly says. “You can still live as much of a normal life as possible and just kind of adapt. I don’t want to limit (Ruby) from experiences. Seeing how Jill parents her kids gives me a little bit more confidence.”
Now, as they each learn to navigate through medical, emotional and logistical ups and downs, Jill and Molly encourage parents to seek support from other families.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people,” Jill says. “Know that there are people out there who are feeling and experiencing the same things you are. They may be looking for someone to lean on too, just like we both were.”
Molly echoes her friend’s words: “It’s just like meeting anyone. You’re not going to meet your friends if you don’t put out the effort. I’m not a superstitious kind of person, but I think that Jill and I met on purpose.
“I feel like she’s my closest friend,” Molly says of Jill. “We went from 0 to 60 really fast, but she gets me. She loves my daughter just like she loves her own, and I would say the same thing about her kids. I feel connected to her somehow.”