It’s not an exaggeration when I say that one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and certainly one of the best parent-related decisions, was to start a new moms’ group shortly before Jackson was born. A month or so before my due date, I put a message up on my neighborhood parenting listserv asking if any other women expecting fall babies would like to meet and perhaps continue meeting through the initial months of new motherhood. I expected a few responses, but, within days, my email box was flooded with replies. We set a date and a few of us met for dinner, a gaggle of 8- and 9-month pregnant women ordering pizza and eyeing the wine list longingly.
Two days later the first of us went into labor. Two days after that another one had her baby, and a few days later Jackson was born. Over the next two months, there was another baby born almost every week, and additional women joined our group as word spread. By December, there were over 20 of us (plus our babies) and many of us had begun meeting for weekly lunch potlucks, going for walks in the park on warmer days, getting coffee, going to baby-friendly bars for happy hour, and hanging out at each other’s homes as our tiny children grew from newborns into smiling, laughing, drooling little infants.
For the first time since I moved to New York over four years earlier, I felt like I was forming a true circle of friends. It had been difficult leaving such a tight circle behind in Chicago and moving to a place where I knew basically no one except Drew and his friends. Even harder, it took months and months before I found a job and, when I did, I chose to work from home for a variety of reasons, thus limiting my potential to meet people. Over the years, I did manage to make some solid friendships, but when I moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn in 2010 and then got pregnant a few months later, the distance and lifestyle change made it difficult to keep those bonds as strong.
I worried, then, that having a baby would further isolate me. I’d always been comfortable being alone. I chose a career, after all, that allowed — nay, demanded — a lot of solitude. But having a baby would be different. I knew it would test me in ways I’d never been tested and require from me a level of commitment and investment I’d never been asked of before. I’d been prone to anxiety and depression in my past, and I worried about the toll these new demands would take on me, especially without a support system in place. So imagine my relief when this moms’ group I envisioned came to fruition and not only did I have an immediate support system full of women who knew exactly what I was going through, but I also had instant opportunities to socialize Jackson. Best of all, I had the chance to make real friends — and not just fellow moms to vent new parenting frustrations with — but genuine friends who I believe will be long-lasting.
We joked that this period in our lives has been a little like college, where overnight you have all these new people to meet and a new schedule and new experiences to bond over. Sharing the experience of new motherhood certainly lends itself to forming strong connections, but so does the amount of time maternity leave grants most women. And when you all live within blocks of each other and can meet every day of the week, whenever the mood strikes (and the babies cooperate), it doesn’t take long before it begins to feel like you’re living some sort of make-believe life (I hesitate to call it a “fantasy life,” on account of the poopy diapers, chapped nipples, hair loss — current pregnant women, don’t get too comfortable with that luscious head of hair you’re sporting now! — sleep deprivation, and crushing pressure to balance everything.). Over these last six months, my new friends and I have talked and talked about what it means to be modern women and wives and mothers and friends and daughters while balancing work that we love. We’ve made each other laugh, we’ve loved one another’s babies, we’ve supported each other through tears. We’ve talked nursing bras and baby weight, childcare fears, plans for a second kid, and favorite quinoa and kale salad recipes (this is Brooklyn, after all).
But just like in college when a semester ends or graduation looms, this period of newness had a shelf life and things are now transitioning into something different. My friends — the ones from the group I connected with the most — all impressive professional women, are returning to work as their maternity leave ends, and I’m trying to figure out what that means for me … and Jackson. As my friends go back to work, I, too, am turning more of my attention to this site again. And that feels good. It feels great, actually, and I’m constantly grateful that I have work that I love, that makes me feel productive and meaningful in a way that’s different from feeling meaningful as a good mom and wife and friend and family member. I love setting goals for myself and carving time to work towards them. I love seeing the community on this site blossom and feeling some sense of credit for that (in much the same way I’ll take a little credit for the community of new moms we created in my neighborhood).
But there is sadness in transition as much as there’s welcome relief for things returning to a “new normal.” I miss not seeing my new friends every day. I’m sad Jackson doesn’t get as much time with his baby friends. And I feel a little left out that I’m not of the working mom crowd who dress up in professional attire and commute to work and get to leave their childcare responsibilities to someone else for a few hours every day and immerse themselves in a completely different world (though I appreciate that that creates a whole other level of guilt and anxiety; and full disclosure: I do have a babysitter two mornings a week, though that never feels like enough time!). And as someone whose “office” is her home and who has a very blurred line between work time and non-work time, it’s becoming increasingly difficult defining what, exactly, it is that I am. Am I a stay-at-home-mom? A work-from-home mom? A mom with a time-consuming, money-making hobby? Does it even matter?
I guess the thing that does matter most right now is that I am a mom and that there are as many ways to mother a kid as there are mothers in this world. But here in my little corner of Brooklyn I found a group of women who is helping me figure out how to continue being me — regardless of how I define my different roles in life — during what has been an incredibly rich, wonderful, challenging, frustrating, and beautiful period of immense change and growth. For that — and for the kale salad recipes — I will always be grateful.
If you’re a new mom or expecting a baby and are interested in starting a new moms’ group in your area, here are a few tips:
1. Do a little Google research and see if you have an existing neighborhood parenting listserve or Yahoo group. If you find one, post a message asking if there’s already a new moms’ group for women who are due around the time you are or who have babies around your child’s age. If there isn’t or if there’s no room for more people, post a message to form your own group.
2. Check Facebook and Meetup.com for parent or moms’ groups in your neighborhood.
3. Chat up women in your neighborhood with small babies or who look very pregnant (be careful with this one, though! You don’t want to make the wrong assumption that someone is pregnant who isn’t, so it’s best to stick with women who look like they’re about to give birth any second). You’d be amazed how responsive new moms or moms-to-be are when approached by other new moms. For the most part, these are women who are starved for adult interaction and want to connect with other women experiencing the same wild ride they are.
4. Connect with friends of friends of friends or ask for the email of that one woman you met at a party a few months back who mentioned being due around the same time as you. Get the word out that you’re looking for other new moms who live within a few blocks (or few miles, depending on where you live and how you commute) to meet up with during maternity leave, etc.
5. Take your baby to classes — music, yoga, pre-crawling, even a breastfeeding support group, etc. — and chat with other new moms there. On the way out of class, ask if anyone would like to go for a walk or grab a coffee.
6. When you have a core group, set up a Yahoo or Facebook group that you can all join, making it easier to connect. If you are the person starting the group, it’s up to you to get the ball rolling by setting the first “date.” If you’re all still pregnant, I suggest a post-work dinner or ice cream run to break the ice. If the babies have already arrived, I like walks or picnics in the park in warmer weather, or lunch potlucks during colder months. Check your neighborhood library for baby events, like storytelling. And be on the look-out for baby-friendly spots, like bars that open in the afternoon and are happy to have business before the post-work crowd comes in.
7. Get the dads involved, too, with occasional weekend get-togethers (either at someone’s home, if there’s enough space, or at parks, or at one of the aforementioned baby-friendly spots in your ‘hood).
8. Once some of the moms begin going back to work as their maternity leave ends, consider starting weekly or bi-weekly “girls nights” (if you’re not already doing them) after your babies go to sleep, so you can stay connected.
Are you in a moms’ group? How did you find the other moms and what kinds of activities do you do together?