By Kate Scriven
Parenthood is hard. No one would argue with that. Whether you are waving farewell to a child entering college, biting your nails as your teen learns to drive, enduring the emotional rollercoaster with your tween, or picking up yet again after your toddler, it’s hard. And one of the most isolating phases of parenting is infancy, particularly for first time parents.
The reality of new motherhood is somewhat less rosy than the diaper or baby wash commercials let on. For many first-time moms, used to days spent in vibrant workplaces full of challenge and adult conversation, the isolation of new parenthood can be overwhelming.
In Olympia, new moms are lucky to have a place where they can be authentic, honest, and real about their experiences. Mothers Together is a local group started by mom of two, Emily Stephens. She knew, from her own experience, that support in the first year was essential for new moms. And, with a background in counseling and social work, she knew there was a need in our community for post-partum support.
In February of 2014, Stephens founded Mothers Together, a post-partum peer support group meeting weekly at the YWCA of Olympia. “I thought it was important for mothers to have a space dedicated to that beginning time, which I think is a very unique time of transition for women,” she explains. While everyone’s experience as a new mother is different there are some common truths that bond moms as a group.
“The sense of isolation that happens when you have a baby is fairly universal,” Stephens says. “It happens even to women with lots of friends and lots of family. When you give birth and have a baby, you enter a different place in relating to your community, your partner, and yourself.”
Providing a space for these mothers to connect was important to her. “It’s not about all of the women having the same things going on – one might have a baby sleeping all night and one might be up every hour,” she shares. “Instead, it’s about finding the things they are struggling with and have in common.”
While Stephens started the Olympia group on her own, it is modeled after MotherWoman support groups, based on the premise of safety, education, and empowerment. This national model was familiar to local parenting coach, and friend of Stephen’s, Emily McMason. Stephens approached McMason, owner of Evolving Parents, to partner with her in this important work and the mother of two jumped at the chance.
“The first year of motherhood is such a raw, tender and important year,” explains McMason. “It really grounds the next few years, and all of motherhood. If we can provide that stable, welcoming platform for moms to connect with each other, it can make a real difference in how they feel about their journey.”
Stephens goes on to explain how women’s feelings during this time can run the gamut from being overjoyed and feeling it’s the happiest time in their life to feeling anxious or sad and feeling extremely guilty because of this mix of emotions.
It’s important for moms to be able to find each other when our culture places new moms alone at home much of the time. Mothers Together is a room full of people who just “get it.”
“New moms often feel they have to put on this ‘face’ that says ‘I’m so happy, my baby’s so darling, what a blessing!’ when in the moment, motherhood might be terrifying, exhausting and confusing,” says Stephens. She hopes to harness the power of being with others who can offer empathy, not just sympathy.
“This is a non-judgmental group where we create a space accepting of all choices,” says McMason. “It helps create a ripple effect of acceptance outward.”
One local mom describes her experience at Mothers Together:
Mothers Together helped me pull through when I was struggling to adjust as a new mom. Our culture doesn’t adequately support families in the postpartum year. Becoming a mother is a profound, life-changing experience that is full of new challenges and vulnerabilities. No one wants the difficulties to overshadow the joyfulness of having a baby, but everything can suddenly feel like too much to handle. Mothers Together is unique as a resource because it’s reciprocal, not one-way. New parents are inundated with resources telling us how to parent. At Mothers Together, we connect with other moms going through similar ups and downs. We talk about our own experience and to listen to what others are experiencing. We receive and give support, depending on what we need that day. Participating in Mothers Together helped me tap into my own inner resources.
Mothers Together meets every Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to noon at Olympia’s YWCA. It is free of charge and open to anyone. The group encourages mothers and their babies to drop-in when they can. It’s ok to arrive at any time during the sessions and leave when needed.
The YWCA was a natural fit for the group and has been tremendously supportive, donating the space in their downtown location for the group. It has a central downtown location, proximity to the bus line and additional resources for women should they need additional support.
“We want these women to connect,” says McMason. “To realize that together, we are more as mothers.”