Friends With Babies
When Jessica Beach was pregnant with her first child, she had a vision of the ideal birth. Like many expectant mothers, she even made a birth plan. And also like many mothers, she had to abandon her birth plan when complications with her pregnancy resulted in her daughter being delivered by cesarean section.
“When you get to the point of birth and it goes completely opposite of how you envisioned, it can be a little disappointing,” she says.
To deal with that disappointment, Beach turned to her mom tribe: that group of women a mother can connect with for answers, advice, support and even commiseration—the ones who “get it.”
Beach, a teacher who lives in Hastings, found her mom tribe when, seeking relief from back pain, she enrolled in a prenatal yoga class through MamaBirth Yoga last year. “In addition to what I was doing for my body, I was able to connect with all these wonderful women who were going through the same things I was going through at the same time,” she says. “I didn’t even know I was going to need that.”
The women—many of whom, like Beach, were having their first child—compared notes, swapped stories and asked each other questions as they navigated the experience of being pregnant. As the women started having their babies, they also shared birth stories, which helped Beach deal with her own birth experience.
“Hearing the weekly birth stories over many weeks in prenatal yoga helps you to learn that every birth story is unique,” she says. “I felt I was better prepared to deal with an unexpected birth (experience).”
The group also helped her cope with her feelings about her C-section. “It was important for me to have my family for support, but the kind words of encouragement from my fellow yoga mamas really helped to lift my spirits.”
Beach continues to see many of the women in a postnatal yoga class with her baby, now 6 months old. They also get together outside of class, and text each other with questions.
“Some people may think, ‘Oh, I have friends and family, I don’t need a group of mom friends,’” says Beach. “But it’s nice to have support from people who don’t already know you; they offer you a nonjudgmental point of view. I never saw myself as that person who was going to talk about the poopy diapers and breastfeeding and all that stuff, but with a mom group you are 100 percent free to talk about it.”
MamaBirth Yoga instructor Sarah Oakley says that kind of support is crucial. “As a mother, especially a first-time mother, it is so easy to second-guess what you are doing,” she says. “Our own mothers, friends with older children and our partners, while still very important in our support system, are not in the midst of this massive transformation in the same way. So often the issues aren’t really so big, but rather just a simple validation and true understanding from someone who ‘gets it’ 100 percent.”
Oakley, who also offers classes for couples and mothers, encourages her students to socialize and get together outside class to form stronger bonds. “The beauty in building friendships around being a mother is that you get to experience the journey together—the joys and challenges—and you grow together. The beauty in old friends and your family is that they get to witness this change within you and help rekindle the things you loved pre-mothering. Both are important and both help you find your center and strength as a mother.”
Oakley’s MamaBirth Yoga classes are held at various locations around Syracuse, including Lotus Life Yoga Center and Basic Baby at Shoppingtown Mall, both in DeWitt. (A detailed schedule can be found at www.mamabirthyoga.com.)
Pam Lundborg, whose children are 5 years and 8 months old, found her tribe through her oldest daughter’s daycare center, Children’s Beginnings on South Clinton Street in Syracuse. A newspaper reporter and editor at the time, Lundborg found camaraderie with the other working moms. “Daycare moms are a self-editing group: They’re all career women,” she says. “There are different challenges to being a working mom as opposed to a stay-at-home mom. These women could relate to my particular stresses and worries.”
Children’s Beginnings director Crystal Barclay echoes that sentiment, noting the particular need for working mothers to find support among other moms. “Working moms can often feel disconnected and distracted by a lot of other obligations,” she says. “Sometimes it is harder for them to plan things with other families because work gets in the way. It is important that they still create those bonds with families and feel part of their child’s early development.”
Barclay says parents are able to visit the center during the day, which leads to friendships, especially among new moms. The center also holds regular spaghetti dinners, where family members can meet and socialize.
Lundborg says discussing everything from breastfeeding to the effects of new parenthood on marriage helped her gauge whether the things she was experiencing were “normal or out of whack.” She was also able to turn to her mom friends for support when she struggled with maternity leave issues after the birth of her second child. “To have friends who will listen to me and give me an honest opinion is incredibly important.”
Lundborg says the mothers she met at daycare also became a professional support system for her, providing guidance as she contemplated going to law school and making a career change. “Thirty or 40 years ago, networking opportunities were found on the golf course and at the country club; now it’s playgrounds and daycare centers,” she says. She recently secured a position at a Syracuse law firm with help from her mother friends.
Lundborg notes that fellow mothers sympathize with the emotions that go along with parenthood. “My law school friends understand the fear of failing an exam; my mom friends understand the fear of seeing your kid fall off the monkey bars and not move for a few minutes,” she says. “Having a connection with people who understand the feelings I’m feeling is an outlet I really need in my life.”
Tracy Duerr was a new parent when she discovered the MOMS Club (MOMS stands for “Moms Offering Moms Support”) after a neighbor with older children recommended she join the group. Duerr, a stay-at-home mother of three, ages 5, 3 and 7 1/2 months, joined the now-defunct MOMS Club of Cicero when her oldest child was 7 months old, and later joined the East Side chapter when she moved to Manlius two years ago.
“Making friends for yourself and your kids is hard,” she says. “My kids have made some great friends (through the MOMS Club), and I look forward to play dates, too, because it’s a social interaction for me.”
In fact, social connections are important enough to be included on a list of five “protective factors” that child and family experts say help children and their caregivers thrive. (Other factors include parental resilience, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, and children’s social and emotional competence, according to the Center for the Study of Social Policy.)
This need for support groups was one of the driving factors behind the Community Cafés, an initiative of the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds. In Tompkins County, the Cornell Cooperative Extension runs a version of the program.
Invariably, says Nancy Potter, an extension issue leader with CCE who works on the program, parents and other caregivers voice the need for connections with each other. “It doesn’t matter who you are, how much education you have or what your socioeconomic status is,” she says. “It really is about how you connect with people.”
Through the Community Café program, parents have found ways to connect, including regular play groups, a listserv, and a website, Ithaca Family Fun, that one mother started to collect information about family-friendly activities in the area. In the rural community of Groton, a group of parents set up a support group for families of special needs children. Creating this “critical mass,” Potter says, led to more resources; providers now travel to Groton to connect with parents.
Another mother, Yael Saar of Ithaca, founded Mama’s Comfort Camp (www.mamascomfortcamp.com). The site, which includes a private Facebook group with 850 members, provides mothers with a safe space to discuss aspects of parenting and find support from other women. Those who live in Ithaca and the surrounding areas (Saar estimates this group at about 330 women, including members from Syracuse) also get together for support group meetings, social events and impromptu outings, such as trips to the local library.
Saar, who has two children, originally began fostering connections between mothers after her own protracted battle with postpartum depression. In 2010, she started PPD to Joy, a blog to tell her personal story and reach out to other women dealing with the same issues. But she discovered a greater need.
“I got to know mothers in real life who had healed from PPD but were still struggling with normal motherhood,” she says. “It became clear to me that a support network that deals with the continuum of the mothering experience, that provides a space to talk about PPD but is not limited to that, was important.” As a result, she started Mama’s Comfort Camp in March 2012.
It’s important for mothers to be able to acknowledge that mothering, while full of joy, can also be incredibly difficult, Saar says. “Many women feel incompetent. They are ashamed about feelings of regret, feeling sometimes like they just want to run away. Motherhood can be like one big web of feeling like you’re not enough—and you don’t want your friends to know that, or even your mom.”
That’s where the mom tribe comes in, she says. “Having a group of women who you feel safe with normalizes those feelings. If you realize you’re not the only one having these thoughts or going through these things—that’s huge.”
Wendy Loughlin is a mother of two living in Fayetteville.
Photos above: Michael Davis Photos
Camillus Babysitting Co-Op. Thursdays, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Members trade babysitting in a safe, organized setting while children socialize. Christ Community Church, 3644 Warners Road, Camillus. 487-0763
CNY Autism Society of America. First Thursday of the month, October-May, 7-9 p.m. Support group for people and families dealing with autism. Dates can vary, contact for updates. Free. Jowonio, 3049 E. Genesee St., Syracuse. 447-4466. http://cnyasa.org/.
Down Syndrome Association of CNY. Call for meeting times. Meetings, library access, special events and other support for adults living or working with a child with Down syndrome. 682-4289. www.dsaofcny.org.
Food for the Parent’s Soul. Call for meeting times. Support and education group for parents. Requests for topics parents would like to talk or learn more about are welcome. Free. PEACE Inc. 93 Syracuse St./Route 48, Suite 700, Baldwinsville. 638-1051.
ICAN of Syracuse. Third Tuesday of the month, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Local chapter of International Cesarean Awareness Network. Group aims to prevent unnecessary cesareans through education, providing support for cesarean recovery and promoting VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). Dates subject to change. DeWitt Community Library, Shoppingtown Mall, 3649 Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt. 663-6752. reewebs.com/icanofsyracuse/.
La Leche League. Second Saturday of the month, 10-11 a.m. Mother-to-mother breast feeding support and advice group. Café 407, 407 Tulip St., Liverpool. 623-0555. lllusa.org/.
Liverpool Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS). First and third Wednesdays of the month, 9 a.m.-noon, September-May. Share information and support with other mothers of children ages newborn to 5 years. Free child care. Check Facebook for summer dates. Northside Baptist Church, 7965 Oswego Road, Liverpool. 652-3160. www.facebooks.com/northsidebaptistmops.
Liverpool Teen MOPS. Second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, 4-6 p.m. Teen MOPS provides a faith-based, supportive, and nonjudgmental environment where teen mothers can come together with others who are in a similar life situation. Through the relationships formed at Teen MOPS, young moms gain confidence, learn about mothering, and grow personally. 604 Oswego St., Liverpool. email@example.com. www.facebook.com/pages/Liverpool-Teen-MOPS/139131929612152.
Mommy and Me of CNY. Contact for meeting times. Volunteer, nonprofit organization for parents with preschoolers and children up to age 10. Enjoy educational stimulation, community awareness and social interaction. $28 annual dues; many free or low-cost activities. 558-3480. mommynmecny.com.
MOMS Club. Call for meeting dates and times, summer meeting dates vary. Activities for stay-at-home parents and their children throughout the Syracuse area. 449-4312.
Moms and Kids of Skaneateles. Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; September-June. Playdates throughout the summer. Co-op group for children ages 4 months-5 years enables mothers and children to build strong friendships. www.momsandkidsofskaneateles.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mothers of Preschoolers Chittenango (MOPS). Second and fourth Thursdays of the month, 9-11:30 a.m. Mothers of children and newborns up to age 5 are welcome to discuss parenting topics and share support while child care is provided. CrossRoads Community Church, 1751 Fyler Road, Chittenango. 687-7625.
Multiple Moms Mingle. First Wednesday of the month, 6:30 p.m. For mothers of young twins, triplets and more. Please register beforehand. Ruby Tuesday, 3220 Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt. 308-0277.
North Syracuse Mothers of Preschoolers. First and third Tuesday, September-May. Mothers of children and newborns up to age 5 are welcome to discuss parenting topics and share support while child care is provided. North Syracuse Baptist Church, 420 Main St., North Syracuse. 458-0271.
Nurturing and Empowering Mamas and Their Families Group. Monthly meetings. CNY Doula Connection, a network of independent doulas, runs this group for new or expectant parents to discuss a variety of topics concerning parents and their newborns. All meetings are free unless otherwise stated. Basic Baby, Shoppingtown Mall, 3649 Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt. 427-7885. cnydoulaconnection.com.
Postpartum Depression Support Group. Call for meeting times. Share your story and find support and healing; please register beforehand. Women’s Information Center, 601 Allen St., Syracuse. 546-5075 or email@example.com.
Syracuse Moms Meetup Group. See website for meeting times. Meet up with moms with babies and young children. Moms.meetup.com/2012.
Do you have a Central New York support group that serves parents? Email the group’s name, meeting days and times, location (with street address), phone number and website (if available) to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post the information online and in a future issue of Family Times.