Over 13 years ago, I was a new mom. Still, to this day, I remember the intense feelings of being overwhelmed and scared. I remember feeling clueless and kind of crazy as I fumbled through the days trying to figure out what my VERY tiny newborn (my daughter was 5 pounds when she was born) was trying to communicate to me. I now had this intense responsibility of helping this little person grow, develop and become a productive citizen in the world. While I wasn’t doing this alone, my partner was also a new parent, and he was not around much in those early days due to his responsibilities as an internal medicine resident. I felt more alone and isolated then I had ever felt before in my life. In my sleep-deprived haze, I met another mom who lived in my building who was a second-time mom with a newborn. She told me about a drop in new moms group a few blocks away at the YMCA. While I was still not feeling all that confident in my ability to feed or soothe my baby outside the house, my desperate need for human interaction led me to the group. I can still distinctly remember the flood of relief I experienced when sitting around that circle of moms and hearing that everyone else was having the same experience. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to be able to provide that same experience for other new moms so that I could help, even just a little, to minimize those feelings of isolation and struggle for other new moms out there.
And so, 3 years later The Chicago New Moms Group was born. The Chicago New Moms Group is a 6 week educational and supportive program for first-time moms of babies 0-6 months old. It is designed to provide a safe and nonjudgmental space where the same group of moms can come together each week to discuss the rapidly evolving ups and downs of being a new parent. The discussion topics range from adjustment to major life transition, developing your identity as a new mom, understanding your baby’s temperament, helping parents understand normal sleep development and how to help babies sleep to thinking about identity as either a working mom or a stay at home mom and so much more. While I lead the discussion and provide relevant resources based on where the weeks’ discussions go, the sessions belong to the moms themselves. I strive to help them learn from each other as much, if not more, then they learn from me. While I am only spending 6 weeks with them, my goal is for every mom to come through the group feeling more confident as their role as a new mom, but also with a solid group of new mom friends who truly understand what this experience is like. These friendships are meant to last well beyond our 6 weeks together. At the end of 2018, I also began adding in a Second Time Moms Group for those who are now trying to figure out how to incorporate more children into their family and understanding how this changing family dynamic influences so many areas of their lives.
With 20% of all moms in the United States experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety, the isolation felt at this very pivotal time cannot be ignored. While I am very clear that the group is not designed as a postpartum depression group, I screen all moms for symptoms of postpartum mood disorders and provide relevant referrals if they are not being well supported by other mental health providers. I also encourage the moms to bring those feelings into the group; to mention that they are seeing a therapist and how this has been helpful or to even share that they are taking medication for depression or anxiety. Normalizing these feelings and bringing them out in the open can only serve to encourage all moms to get the support they need in order to take care of themselves. I am constantly reminding them to take care of themselves first because this will actually enable them to be the best moms they can be.
My favorite experience from the last 10 years is running into a mom who was in a group when her baby was first born and hearing how she is still in touch with the moms who were in her group and that they are still getting together years after being in a group. Many of them now have multiple children and are still relying on one another for the essential support they found when they were all first-time moms with newborns sleeping like tree frogs curled on their chests. So often they tell me that participating in the group was one of the best things they did as a new parent. This is why I run the group. Nothing brings me more joy than hearing this!