A little more than a week ago, I wrote this post. It was a Sunday night and I had just found some things that brought past events rushing back. And I sat at my computer blogging and sobbing, sobbing and blogging. There was nothing about it that felt “brave.”
A few months after having Z, I started a group for new moms. I was having a very difficult time of being a new mom and – in hindsight – should have sought medical attention. I don’t know if PPD goes away on its own, so I don’t want to say that I had it, as I’m fine now, but I was a complete emotional wreck. Fortunately, after beginning to get out and socialize with other moms, things started looking up for me.
After having started the group, I was interviewed about it, and I’ve been wanting to type this out for a long time and post it here, as I can’t find a link to it on the newspaper’s website. Hopefully, it’s not an issue. The original story was printed in the February 7, 2006, edition of the local daily, and it was written by Tiffany Mayer. The first half a dozen paragraphs that Tiffany wrote still make me tear up a little (in a good way).
It takes a village
Mommy Talk lets new parents get out of the house, learn more about their babies and, perhaps most importantly, interact with other adults
[L] sits on the hardwood floor of her living room.
Next to her, eight-month old [Z], whose deep brown eyes could melt hearts, wiggles around on his stomach.
[L] seems very much at ease with her son as she hands [Z] a steady stream of colourful plastic balls, all the while never missing a beat in her conversation.
Together, mother and son take turns dropping the balls down the spiral chutes of a contraption that is barely eye level with [Z].
Occasionally, [Z] turns away from his toys, enticed more by this mom who is sitting next to him. He grabs hold of [L]‘s red T-shirt and begins climbing his mother, leaving the odd soggy mouth print en route.
[L] doesn’t even flinch. In fact, she seems like a natural at this thing called motherhood. But she’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t always this easy. In hindsight, becoming a mom was nothing like she expected.
“Nothing can prepare you for what a baby’s going to do to your life. And as wonderful as that is…it’s also challenging,” [L] says.
During the nine months leading up to [Z]‘s birth, [L]‘s friends who’d already had children, talked the mom-to-be into believing life would be fine after the baby was born. Easy, in fact. When touting the joys of motherhood, no one bothered to fill [L] in about the downside: the loneliness and isolation she might feel spending day and night at home with her newborn or the sadness over the drastic changes to her already busy life.
“I don’t know why women do it but friends were like, ‘Oh, it’s the most wonderful time of your life.’ I didn’t grasp how difficult it would be,” [L] says.
“Before I had [Z], I worked full time. I taught (at Niagara College) part time and I volunteered. My husband and I, we were never home. Then I had [Z] and I was tied to the house.”
For some, staying home might sound like a holiday. Considering her daily routine before the birth of her son, though, it wasn’t long before being housebound became too much for [L] to bear. She began to crave adult contact and the social interactions that filled her days pre-[Z].
“Looking back, I had a bad case of the baby blues and was bordering on post-partum depression. It wasn’t [Z]. It was being tied to the house. I’ve been through things in my life and that was probably the most challenging thing I’ve been through,” she says.
[L] could only turn to friends and family so often. After all, they had lives and families of their own and could only do so much for her.
She tried finding a local support group for new moms in Niagara, a place where she could go and interact with other women just like her, but her search proved fruitless. She had participated in temporary post-natal programs offered by Niagara Region’s public health department, but none of those programs continued long-term.
She tried the Ontario Early Years Centre, but found it was better suited to parents with toddlers.
“The Early Years Centres exist and they’re great, but maybe it was the state of mind I was in. I couldn’t find a lot for him,” [L] says.
Eventually, with a little coaxing from her husband, [L] decided if she couldn’t find the support she needed, she would create it. Last fall, [L] started Mommy Talk, a support group in which new moms and babies meet regularly to socialize.
“It got to the point where I said, ‘Yeah, I need to start one. I need that interaction,’” [L] recalls.
About a dozen moms came out to Mommy Talk’s inaugural meeting last September. Hearing the experiences of other new moms validated how [L] had been feeling since [Z]‘s birth three months earlier.
“We were all at the stage where it was ‘OK, I need to get out of the house now,’” she says. “It helped me realize that I wasn’t the only one.”
That was affirmation that [LC] was seeking and couldn’t find anywhere else when she began attending Mommy Talk sessions with her then three-week old daughter [A].
“I was just having one of those days at about three weeks where I need more than family advice and I wanted to talk to moms going through the same thing. A lot of my friends don’t have children so it’s hard to talk to them about these things,” [LC] says.
Other outlets didn’t help [LC] much either. Instead, they only put a dent in her wallet.
“I’d be using books but everyone doesn’t always fit at the books say. I’d be trying to find other things to do with other moms’ groups but those came with a charge and (Mommy Talk) doesn’t, which is a good thing. You shouldn’t have to pay to talk to other moms and exchange ideas,” [LC] says.
During the meetings, which alternate every two weeks between St. Catharines and Welland, the moms talk about different situations they’ve encountered, such as changing eating habits, teething or the merits of cloth diapers. All the while, the babies get to blow off their own steam by playing together.
At each meeting, [L] hears how other women just like her were coping with the situation and most importantly, she gets the adult contact she needs.
“There’s something to be said about the experience of moms who have gone through it recently,” [L] says. “I’ve had lots of moms offer me advice, but when that advice is 30 years old, it’s not necessarily (helpful).”
The relationships between moms in parenting support groups and the social networks developed only serve to strengthen a new mother’s confidence in herself as a parent, explains Alison Jacobs, public health nurse with the Niagara Region’s health department’s Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program.
In addition to pre- and post-natal support groups that run for limited amounts of times and for specific needs, the health department also operates an information hotline for parents to call when they have questions about situations they may encounter with their child. One group of moms who participated 10 years ago in Baby Talk, a program for parents with three- to six-month old babies, continues to meet on their own to offer support and hold play dates for their children.
“It’s the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. The less isolated the mother is, the better,” Jacobs says. “They tend to have a stronger relationship with the child as a result.”
That’s because mom is better able to take care of her child’s needs if she’s taken care of her own needs first, she explains.
And in [L]‘s case, it’s true. [Z] has also benefitted from the meetings. Known as the “toy stealer” among the babies, his collection of toys has grown considerably since Mommy Talk started. To appease the boy when he is forced to give the toys back to their rightful owners at the end of the meeting, [L] has had to go on a few shopping trips in search of similar items for [Z].
Despite more toys to pick up at home, [L] has been given a bit of insight into her son’s personality that she wouldn’t have had without Mommy Talk. It’s insight that [L] says will only help her in the future.
“I think for [Z], he’s a pretty happy guy and likes people, but seeing how he interacts with other babies and how they interact with him is important,” [L] says. “He’s the toy stealer so it will be interesting to see what happens with that later on.”
Thank you, Tiffany, for writing a great story. And thank you to the friends I met through and because of Mommy Talk.