By Jennifer Shiao Page
"We're in This Together, Yo!" That's the name we gave to our group. We met as new parents, wandering into a hospital conference room on Thursday afternoons, sleep deprived and unsure of ourselves. We got to know each other over the course of several months - who was breastfeeding, who was formula feeding, who was going back to work, who was not, who had family nearby, who did not. We were a diverse cross section of our community - working moms, stay-at-home moms, families with a mom and dad, families with two moms, younger moms, older moms, home owners, renters, PhD candidates, and undergrad students.
Our local community hospital hosted the group, for babies and their parents, from birth through four months of age. As people started to "age out" of the group, we decided to form an email group in order to stay in touch. And that's how WITTYo was born. We continued to meet once a week, first in the community room of our local library, then at members' houses on a rotating basis. We went from a group of parents sitting in a circle with our babies lying on blankets in front of us, to a group of parents chasing after a gaggle of toddlers as they ran around, shared each others sippy cups, and learned to navigate friendships.
Now, four years later, we rarely get together in person, except for an annual picnic in the summer, and some of our members have moved out of the area, but the email group is still going strong. The limits of this blog post are not enough to contain the topics that we have discussed, both in person and by email, but here is a partial list: breastfeeding, sleep training, co-sleeping; pumping breastmilk, storing breastmilk, tasting breastmilk; sore nipples, sore breasts, sore backs; managing finances, managing in-laws, managing to fit in a nap; when to exercise, how to exercise, what to do with your kid while you're trying to exercise; allergies, recipes, vitamins; race issues, gender issues, religion issues; parenting books, parenting blogs, parenting websites; recommend a chiropractor, a speech therapist, a dog behaviorist; car seats, diapers, curtains; the color of poop, the color of pee, the color of vomit; what time does your kid wake up, what time does your kid go to bed, what time does your kid take a nap; how do you get a kid to take a nap; how do you connect with your spouse, how do you talk to your spouse, how do you tolerate your spouse; movies for kids, movies for date nights, movies for when you just need to get some work done; what does your kid call you, what does your kid call your parents, what does your kid call his/her private parts; congratulations on getting your PhD, on your new job, on your new baby, on your new house.
Early on, it struck me how meaningful it was, to have a group of people who are going through what you are going through. When my daughter was around 12 weeks old I finally figured out the "side lying" position of breastfeeding. 'You mean I get to nurse lying down? I don't have to sit up on the couch in the middle of the night?' It was transformative. In the dark of night, I could scoop her out of her bassinet, lay her next to me, latch her on, and close my eyes. I emailed my WITTYo peeps to tell them about this amazing discovery. Within 10 minutes there were two replies - one from a mom who said she that tried it as soon as she read my email and loved it, and another from a mom asking how exactly do you do it (where do you put your bottom arm)? This small example is a perfect representation of how we have helped each other over the years. We don't necessarily offer each other advice, as much as share what works (or doesn't work) for us.
Today, whenever I have a chance to talk to an expectant first-time mom, I always encourage her to seek out a parenting group in her area. Organizations like MotherWoman train people to become support-group facilitators, so that they can help create a safe place for women to share their authentic experiences of motherhood. More than a crib, changing table, or bouncy swing, a support group is what new moms need the most.
Jennifer Shiao Page had a successful 18-year career as a data analyst in the corporate world, when she decided to re-focus her career with an organization that is mission-based, as opposed to profit-based. Now, as an instructional designer with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Continuing & Professional Education, she helps faculty to develop and deliver online courses. As a mother, one of Jennifer's many goals is to teach her daughter to be empowered and resilient. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking from scratch, reading novels, and knitting. Jennifer lives in Amherst, MA, with her husband and daughter.