I moved to DC halfway through my pregnancy. It was really hard to move somewhere new so far into my pregnancy. But I was lucky enough to meet some amazing people pretty much as soon as I got there. The general consensus among the people I met was that I absolutely had to join a mom’s group in DC called PACE.
PACE is a nonprofit organization that provides emotional and educational support to first and second time moms in DC, Virginia, and Maryland. You get 8 two-hour sessions with a group of new moms and a group leader. Each session focuses on a specific topic. The idea is that while gaining a lot of education and support, the moms will become friends and stay in touch after those 8 weeks.
I made a list of things to do as soon as M was born, things like set up the first pediatrician appointment and contact the newborn photographer. Joining PACE was on the list. So, when I came home from the hospital, I emailed PACE to tell them I wanted to join.
I never heard back and I never followed up. I was too busy just trying to survive. About 3 months later, I had forgotten all about PACE when I got an email from them. The email said that a new group was starting the next day, so I had to decide if I wanted to join right away.
Even though I had initially wanted to join, I was apprehensive when it was time to commit. First, it was expensive. Second, I am shy and awkward and despite my constant moving around and having to make new friends, I really don’t like doing that. Third, I was having so much trouble getting out of the house with M and my tailbone. It seemed like it would be difficult for me to sit somewhere for two hours with her. Could I really rely on a group of strangers for support?
I talked to a few of my friends here in DC, those who had done PACE and those who chose not to. Then I talked to my mom. Ultimately, I decided to join. My mom reminded me that I have my oldest friend because of a mom’s group like this. My mom and her mom became friends when we were both less than a year old, and we’re still friends today.
My friend who did PACE also really urged me to join and I’m really glad she did because I needed that push. Without her encouragement, I would not have joined. Despite my hesitations, I knew that I needed a community. I knew that I couldn’t spend all of my time alone, just going on walks with M. I was planning to be in DC for a long time and I wanted to make some more friends. Going to the breastfeeding support group I talked about my in my breastfeeding post had done wonders for me mentally, but after a month or so, I didn’t really need a breastfeeding support group anymore. Despite my hesitations, I felt that I needed this group. I decided to give it a try.
I almost left my first PACE meeting within the first 30 minutes. As everyone was going around the room introducing themselves and sharing their birth stories, M was crying – no, screaming – and I could not get her to calm down.
At the start of our meeting, our group leader told us that we should not leave the room if our baby was crying, that everyone’s baby would cry at some point, so don’t worry about it. But M was screaming so loudly that I felt like no one could hear anything. No other babies were screaming like M. I left the room a few times as everyone was introducing themselves, trying to calm her down. People were sharing pretty emotional stories, but I wasn’t able to hear anyone’s introduction and I had no idea who anyone was.
It seemed like everyone else’s babies were sleeping soundly on them, and then here I was not even able to get my baby to stop screaming. I felt like I was missing something that everyone else had, and it actually made me feel worse, because I was the only one having this problem. I felt very alone in a place where I was supposed to feel supported.
I decided to leave. I gave PACE a shot, but it clearly wasn’t going to work for me. I walked out of the room and started packing up our stuff. But something inside me told me that I needed to do this. That I could do this. I took M back in the room. Eventually, I got her to calm down and she fell asleep on me.
When I finally shared my birth story after M fell asleep, I watched another mom’s jaw literally drop when I told them about my tailbone breaking. No one else could relate to that. Afterwards, the other moms came over to me and told me not to worry, that I was doing a great job. They meant well, but I felt so defeated. When I left, I realized that going to this meeting had only made me feel more alone.
A standard practice in PACE groups is to make a WhatsApp group with everyone in it so that everyone can talk and bond outside of the meeting. Aside from the education PACE gives you during their sessions, the organization really hopes to foster lifelong friendships. The WhatsApp group is supposed to help with that.
It worked. As soon as the group was created, messages started flying about witching hours, breastfeeding woes, in-law visits, sleeping issues, product recommendations, and every other problem and worry a new mom might face.
Suddenly, I felt less alone. I was surrounded by women going through exactly what I was going through. We were all so different, but we had something major in common. Everyone’s babies were around the same age as M, give or take a month or two. We all were struggling. Some of our struggles were similar, some were different. Either way, we were in this together.
In a way, the virtual aspect of the support group, our WhatsApp group, was even better than the group meetings. There was an unspoken rule that you could text the group at any time. If you texted at 3 am, someone else was probably up. I was able to ask questions and share what tips I had learned and get to know thees women.
The next week, we went back. M still cried, but less. But we kept going back. And every week it got easier and easier, until she didn’t cry at all. And as the weeks went on, many other babies had their turns crying during the sessions.
Every week centered around a different topic. Our group leader would talk to us about different topics like eating, sleeping, or play. She would share her knowledge and everyone would go around the room talking about their struggles and successes with that topic. This format actually worked really well for me because if it was just an open discussion, I probably would never have said anything. I shared my challenges and listened to the other women share theirs. I learned so much during these sessions.
But I still felt very guarded during the initial sessions. I still wasn’t sure how to open up and let these strangers be my support system, these women who I barely knew.
But we were bonded by something stronger than time. We were all bleary-eyed, sleep deprived, and not knowing what the heck we were doing. We were all trying to figure out if our kid would sleep better with the right swaddle. We were all in this together.
We became each other’s cheerleaders. We cheered each other on as we attempted first road trips with the babies, as our babies slept through the night for the first time. I gained some invaluable wisdom and strength from our WhatsApp conversations, which still take place daily.
For me, personally, having that weekly appointment gave me the confidence and practice getting out of the house with M. It gave me other adults to talk to who were dealing with the same things as me. My other friends didn’t want to hear about our bedtime routine, but everyone in my PACE group eagerly did. It was a safe space to show up as I was.
At our last PACE meeting, it went without saying that we would all continue to meet up. Out of the group of 14 women, I was the only one staying home. But over their maternity leaves, we would meet for coffee or lunch often. Almost every day, someone would see who was around to meet up for coffee. M and I weren’t able to go to as many things as I would have wanted because of all of the physical therapy I was going to, but we went as much as we could.
One time, we went to get burgers and M started crying right when my burger came out. Another mom held her so that I could eat my burger. There were so many days where I didn’t get a chance to eat because I was so busy with M that getting a chance to eat a burger and fries was amazing.
As a new mom in a new city, I didn’t have the luxury of my family or my old friends being around the corner to hang out with at the drop of a hat. And many of the moms in my PACE group were also far from their family. So for me, this group became invaluable.
I really wished that there was at least one more stay at home mom in our group because I was having a hard time meeting stay at home moms. But again, there was an unsaid agreement that the group would stick together after all of the maternity leaves ended..
Once everyone went back to work, we started doing monthly potlucks with our partners and babies. It was always on the second Saturday of every month, so everyone could plan for them. Even after we moved about an hour away from everyone else, Nick, M, and I would make the monthly trek to DC just for them. We can’t do those right now because of covid. Some members of the group have been able to do socially distant meetups, but we haven’t gone to any of those. But our group chat is strong. We talk every day.
What I love about this group is that we are all in the exact same place in our lives with our babies. As our babies started solids, we talked about how we were approaching it. And it’s been the same for any new milestone. We get so excited whenever a baby starts to crawl, or walk, or does anything cute, really.
It makes me sad to think that we will be moving away from DC and that M won’t be able to grow up with these babies. But who knows, maybe some day we will be back. We talk about doing a yearly reunion since many other people are planning to leave the DC area. And I just know that one day when our babies graduate high school, we’ll still be chatting and sharing pictures and wondering where the time went.
One off my biggest postpartum tips to all of my friends is to join a mom’s group. Even now with covid, PACE is doing them virtually, so I am sure you could find something virtual! In many ways, the virtual support group was even more important than the in-person meetings.
Join a mom’s group. A small group of new moms near you. It truly saved me.