LEESBURG, VIRGINIA —
Babies don't come with instruction manuals, and learning to be a parent on the job is not always the best approach. Newborn support groups give new mothers a chance to connect with other moms and share concerns and advice.
At Inova Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg, Virginia, group facilitator Dana Carmichael opens each meeting by greeting everyone and welcoming new members. These weekly get-togethers at the hospital offer a chance for mothers to talk and feel they are not alone.
“Every now and then, I’d find a mom who didn’t have such a group. They would talk about how isolating it felt, and maybe they didn’t have other friends that had babies,” Carmichael said. “So they feel isolated. They feel like they’re doing this all by themselves. This really gives them a place to come and meet other women who are going through the same thing — having new babies, and getting answers to questions and to support other moms.”
For two hours, the women sit in a circle on the floor while their youngsters crawl around or cuddle on their laps or watch what the other babies are doing. Carmichael said mothers bring up all kinds of issues — from breastfeeding, teething and getting their babies to sleep, to going back to work or changing careers.
Willingness to help
“We go around the group and talk,” she said. “For the most part, I’m just trying to make sure the conversation keeps flowing. Sometimes there might be a topic that we want to talk about. The moms generally are very welcoming to other new moms. So I think they feel comfortable enough to ask questions, personal questions. And they are willing to help one another, answer each other’s questions. So it’s not me answering their questions for the most part, it’s other moms doing it and helping each other.”
Olga Riley joined the support group five months ago and finds it enjoyable as well as informative.
“It’s really fun that you can get outside of the house and meet people, people who have the same interests, basically, because you find people who don’t mind talking about baby stuff,” she said.
That's helped her understand and deal with the challenges of being a new mother. “It’s not about me anymore,” she said. “I kind of used to be a little independent, but now it’s more about putting [her baby's] needs first. I still try to go out and do things, but it’s more revolving around the baby’s schedule.”
For Cynthia Lewis, who doesn’t have any family members nearby to support her, joining the group helped her relax and enjoy motherhood.
“I was not producing enough milk,” she said. “I tried everything under the sun to produce more milk. I just didn’t and just decided to let go. I would give him what I can get out of myself and that’s it. I just decided to go. That’s my method now. Don’t stress about it. That’s what I kind of learned out of this.”
Better than a doctor, sometimes
Because it’s mothers sharing experiences with each other, Lewis sometimes finds that coming to the group is more helpful than visiting a pediatrician. “I feel like a pediatrician just goes by book," she said. "Here you get real, you know, you talk to moms who’ve gone through it.”
That’s what prompted some mothers to rejoin the group with their second babies, which didn't surprise Carmichael. "I think every child provides their own concerns," she said. "Not every child is exactly the same. Something will be different for each one. You think, 'I’ve done it before, it should be fine'? No!” she answered her own question with a laugh.
Carmichael said that because the group is a nonjudgmental, informative zone, mothers keep coming back. When the session's over, they leave more relieved and confidant. And that’s the whole idea behind this support system.