If you aren’t nurturing your self, what kind of mother can you be, anyway?
– Sandra Scofield, American novelist and essayist
When I was pregnant with my son in the spring of 2000, David and I signed up for a birthing class. We thought we were all set until a good friend of mine asked me if we were going to have a doula present for the birth. At the time, I had no idea what a doula was, let alone how to spell it, but instead of admitting ignorance I told my friend that we had decided against having a doula. And then when I went home after our lunch date, I quickly looked up the definition for doula, which is a labor coach. As all pregnant women discover, you are quickly inundated with both solicited and unsolicited advice. Natural birth/no drugs versus epidural, home versus hospital birth, vaginal versus Caesarean section delivery, disposable versus cloth diapers, bottle versus no bottle, mom’s milk versus formula, and the list goes on.
One piece of advice I took that I am still benefiting from is joining a mom’s group. In response to her experience as a first-time mother, Sherry Reinhardt founded Support Groups for Mothers in Berkeley in the late 1970s. As you prepare to welcome your new baby into the world, nobody tells you about the enormous life changes that leave you overwhelmed and isolated. You’re supposed to be overwhelmed with joy, not with exhaustion, uncertainty and ambivalence, and even sadness. I recalled a conversation I had with one of the moms, Stephanie, in my birthing class who was the first one in the group to deliver. We had been parked in our gliders, nursing our sons for what seemed like an eternity. My uniform of t-shirts and sweatpants never changed. We needed to get out of the house, and so we signed up for one of Sherry’s support groups.
We met at Sherry’s house for an hour, once a week on Monday afternoons for eight weeks. There were 10 of us. I remembered feeling intimidated – both by Sherry and some of the other moms, who had strong personalities and opinions to match. We talked through nursing issues, differed on vaccinations, and anguished over trying to get our babies to sleep through the night. One of the most ferocious fights David and I ever had was when I had to miserably listen to my son wail for what seemed like hours while David kept me from dashing out of bed and down the hallway to the nursery to rescue him. After three nights, my son began sleeping through the night. When our eight weeks were up, Sherry encouraged us to continue to get together regularly.
And we did. We called ourselves the Monday Moms, though we met on a different day and took turns hosting the meetings each week. We created an eGroups account for group messages. We had potlucks for the entire families. The more adventurous and proactive in the group set up various activities such as trips to the Lawrence Hall of Science, the El Cerrito community pool, and Lake Anza. We swapped babysitting, so couples could go out to dinner without having to pay for a babysitter. We shared advice on daycare and preschools as some of us returned to full-time jobs outside of the house. We welcomed siblings into the mix.
When our kids entered kindergarten, we took a parenting support class with a licensed professional on Thursday evenings for six weeks. It was a huge change for the kids and us, and we had plenty to talk about in that class. I remember being very frustrated that my very well-behaved son was getting accolades in his kindergarten class but at home was throwing tantrums at will. Our facilitator explained that kids want to do well in their new, very structured surroundings because it’s expected of them. When they come home, however, they fall apart because they’ve expended their energy keeping it together all day. More importantly, they feel secure enough to act out, knowing that we love them unconditionally. While it was still difficult to deal with my son’s tantrums for the next few months, understanding the situation brought greater patience.
Along the way, we began to lose members of our tribe. After the first year, Marsha left. Her husband was on leave from his academic position at Brown University, so we knew they would be gone by the end of the year. It wasn’t a surprise, and yet it was still jarring to be minus one mom. And then Michelle moved to Colorado after finishing her doctoral program in developmental psychology and founded her own company based on a signing program for young children. Kate and her family moved to upstate New York, where their kids would be closer to both sets of grandparents. There were leaves of absences throughout the last 13 years – Fiona to New Jersey when her husband taught at Princeton for a year, Renu to India for a year where her husband’s company had a large office, and Sandy currently in Hong Kong for a second year where she’s teaching at an international school.
In 2010, we celebrated our first children’s 10th birthdays. We are entering our 13th year together, dealing with middle school, adolescence, assertions of independence. We’ve tried to meet monthly a few times the last several years – searching for that ideal day and time. The irony is that Marsha, whose in-laws live in Berkeley, is the person who gets us together when her family visits during the winter holidays and in the summer. We are trying again.
The thing about a mom’s groups is that you don’t choose who is in your group. It’s based on when your child is born, as it makes more sense to deal with developmental issues when the kids are the same age. We all have vastly different lives, live in different cities and our kids go to different schools, and our personalities and temperaments are varied. We started out as strangers having one thing in common – our first babies. Thirteen years later, I marvel at the bond we have formed, given the fact that we likely would not have gravitated to one another. Through the years, we have comforted one another over the deaths of our parents and our in-laws, and supported one of our moms who triumphed over cancer. The last time we got together, two Sunday mornings ago, instead of a free-for-all discussion, Mimi asked that we go around the table for a check-in, which was nice. It helped us to focus on one another and offer solicited advice. We are rapidly approaching those milestones – graduating to high school, graduating from high school, moving away to college. As scary as they are, there is a certain comfort in knowing that we have known each other since our kids were babies. That even as our kids have become less familiar with each other in the group and are growing up and onwards, we are still the Monday Moms.