“This is a judgement-free zone,” we tell the women as they settle into their chairs. “It’s ALL in here.” The pregnant and postpartum mamas, understandably, often seem a bit nervous at the start of their first support group, unaware of what to make of this hour together. My co-facilitator and I try to put them at ease as quickly as possible, to know that this is a safe place, one with very few expectations or rules, and one where we hope moms can truly be themselves. We encourage every mama to simply “come as you are.”
Twice a month, our perinatal support group serves as a gathering place where moms come together to share. We invite moms to recount, “the good, the bad and the UGLY,” as they discuss their personal experiences around motherhood, and to receive respect and acknowledgment for their individual journeys. Moms joining this group may be going through depression and anxiety in pregnancy or the postpartum period. They may be sleep-deprived, worn out, feeling stressed or unsupported. They may have been referred by their therapists or seen a flyer at the OB or the local library. There is no one unique challenge shared by the women in this group. Nor is there a specific path that leads them to the group. Yet, through our diversity in thought and experience, we create a mutually supportive community that is open to all.
My co-facilitator and I hope moms can put their inner-critics on hold for this hour, or at least a few minutes of the hour. There is no expectation that anyone arrives on time, or changes out of pajamas. We invite breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. We invite diaper changing, and we certainly invite crying babies (and mamas). The group is a place for moms who need to talk and for moms who would rather sit back and listen, and though we would love it if women showed up to every group, it’s also totally okay to drop-in once in a while.
Truly, one of our only rules is that what happens in this room stays in this room. We take confidentiality seriously, knowing the vulnerability and bravery it takes to show up. Moms sign a simple contract at the start of their first group acknowledging that they will keep to themselves the names, identities and stories in the room. We think of this hour together as sacred space.
Feeling Understood: Someone else has been there!
It can feel so good to not feel alone. Motherhood can be a very isolating experience, whether being home alone with a baby, or around others but not feeling comfortable sharing true thoughts and feelings. One of the magical moments in a support group happens when a mom is talking and we see nodding around the room, or the verbal acknowledgment of, “Yes! I have been there.” Whether a mom is struggling with depression, feeding issues, pregnancy after loss, or any other issue she is often met with someone in group who gets it. As a facilitator, I see a weight lifting in these moments of solidarity.
Helping Others Helps Us
While group members are encouraged not to tell other moms what to do, or give outright advice (as we get enough “advice” outside of group), we do share what works for us individually. As a group member, it can feel downright awesome to tell another struggling mom that some form of self-care helped you feel better, or that you struggled and got through a similar challenge. I love watching a mom come back week-after-week and growing in her own self-confidence in motherhood. Perhaps in her first group she felt she was only able to receive support, but as time goes on, she is recognizing that she’s helping others through her own growth and healing.
Finding the Light
It may seem counterintuitive, but we laugh a lot. Motherhood is hard but also hilarious. Hardly a group goes by that there isn’t an eruption of laughter over some shared baby or pregnancy moment.
It’s more-than-okay if a mom can’t get to laughter, though. It’s okay if she hasn’t smiled in a while. We welcome her no matter what. We want the group to be a safe place to land during the upheaval and identity changes that equal motherhood. Our group offers a time to slowly start to feel oneself again. It’s an honor to be part of that journey.