I Do Not Need a Support Group

I quit Girl Scouts. Even at the ripe old age of 7, I knew that I was not cut out for time in a circle “caring and sharing.”  I didn’t want to spend my time doing some lame craft, singing or talking.  I wanted to join the Boy Scouts and learn how to start a fire with my fingernail and a rock (In addition to false self-perception, I also had a pretty false idea of what scouting was all about –cut me a break, I was 7).

 Into my young adulthood, this self-perception followed me.  I was tough, and unemotional. I had girlfriends like me, focused, driven, achievement oriented and strong. I had a job that I loved. It was hard, but I rose to the challenge. At the end of the day I had something to show for my effort. My projects got done.

 I could pull an all-nighter, ace the presentation and make it to the celebration dinner. There was no way that something as small and normal as having a baby would change that.  Until it did –  I had a baby.  All of a sudden, I didn’t have my sh*t together anymore. It gave a new meaning to the word ‘hard’ with levels of sleep deprivation that I could not have imagined and the constant drain of work with no measurable outcome.

 Even my most ‘accomplished’ friends say that having a baby has been the most difficult (and rewarding) experience of their lives.  In a moment of brutal honesty, a physician friend told me that six weeks with a newborn made years of 36-hour call look like a walk in the park.

 I didn’t realize it, but after I had my baby, I needed a new group of friends – not a group of people that was going to tell me about their new promotion, or research grant or Six Sigma course.  After I had my baby, I needed real ‘caring and sharing’.  I needed to know that I was not alone in having my world turned upside down.  That I was not alone in going from a know-it-all, do-it-all, be-it-all, to someone who was ruled by this tiny eating, puking, pooping machine.

 As I struggled to find my way, I found Katie Madden. Thank God for Katie.  She gently encouraged me to come to her group.  Why?  I thought.  What can a group of other moms do for me? I don’t do caring and sharing, I don’t need a support group, support groups are for wimps.  I could not fathom how it would be valuable, but I went anyway. What I found was different than what I had expected.  These were real women.  Real women like me.  Real women struggling with babies.  Real women making transitions from work to home and back again.

Photo by Angie Gray www.angiegray.com

 Katie runs a no nonsense group.  Sure, there is sharing and yes, there is some genuine caring, but it is tempered with Katie’s practical approach, humor and always peppered with some well placed profanity.  In this new role, where there had been so much discomfort, I was all of a sudden at ease.  With these women, who were being honest and open, it was okay to be unsure.

 The spirit of Katie’s group is part of foundation of The Mothers’ Space.  We are seeking to create a place for ALL mothers to find support, connections and growth.  So, even if you are a badass at your day job –  where you’ve got it all under control, I invite you to come sit with us.  Have a cup of coffee.  Sit in a circle.  You might be surprised too and I promise, we won’t ask you to sell cookies.

Turning Off The Mommy Guilt Machine

by Jess Apel D.O.

 

It is 4pm on a sunny and warm Tuesday in October 2016. I have tears streaming down my face while I’m standing in my driveway. My 2-year- old son is sitting nearby, pulling out fists full of grass with his hands. My sweet 3-year- old daughter has a gentle hand on my leg , trying to reassure me. It has been an ugly afternoon. I call my husband and say this: “I think the kids need to go to school on Tuesdays.” This phone call is branded on my memory, my lowest point as a mother so far. Even now, I inwardly cringe when I think of this moment, knowing that I had more than a hand in creating it; in fact, this ugly afternoon was a problem entirely of my own making.

It’s important to know a few things about me. I am an OB/GYN. I had my first baby two weeks after graduating from residency, and five days after my written board exam. Eight weeks after my daughter’s birth, a period of time which now seems like an abundant gift, I started my first “real” job in a local practice. Fourteen months after my daughter was born, my son arrived, landing me with a one year old, a newborn, and a job I had been in for less than a year; you could say that I had to manage my time very carefully. My husband – not one to do things by halves himself – was working full time as an engineer and started an online Master’s program. I remember wondering to myself- more than once during this period of insanity – we are crazy, right? And the answer, with the clarity of hindsight, is a resounding, YES; we were.

Fast forward to that fateful, sunny Tuesday afternoon in my driveway two years later, wiping away tears as I spoke to my husband on the phone. I rushed home from the hospital that particular morning to relieve my husband so he could go to work. I had delivered seven babies on my twenty-four hour shift, answered numerous phone calls and pages, filled out charts and paperwork, attended patients and administered all the typical aspects of my job. I did not eat dinner, and it is likely that I had one meal mid-afternoon at some point, on the fly from one patient to the next. Towards the end of my shift, I “rested my eyes” for 45 minutes.

Tuesdays were my Mommy days; an entire day off (after my shift ended that morning) to spend with the kids. The previous May, we moved to a new house with lots of land for the kids to explore and a lovely pool. I spent these Tuesdays in a regular routine; breakfast, playing all morning, swimming for an hour, followed by lunch. In the afternoons, we would all curl up in bed take a long nap. Although the kids needed the sleep, I was only able to survive the day because of that nap. It was absolutely essential.

On this particular Tuesday, though, there would be no nap. Again, with the clarity of hindsight, I should have seen that this day was coming – although I was used to running on fumes, I didn’t fully realize how exhausted I was. So when my son and daughter boycotted naptime that day, I felt broken, and I buckled under the weight of the sleep deprivation. I tried for hours, every single tactic; pleading, bribing, books, stories, music, yelling, all to no avail. I even put myself in time out in the bathroom for 5 minutes, to try and get a grip. But eventually, I realized that it was futile, so I gave up and went back outside. I had been awake for 34 hours.

It was a terrible afternoon. I remember screaming into a pillow in desperation. When my sweet 3 year old offered to watch her brother so I could sleep, I remember thinking I hate me. This is not me. Who the hell am I right now? I was angry, impatient, and probably frightening to my children, being just awful to these tiny humans I loved so much. I knew intuitively that this was my fault. Don’t get me wrong; we all have moments of which we are not proud, moments we instantly regret, moments that shame us that we cannot take back.

It is not rainbows, sunshine, kisses, hugs, unicorns and Instagram #soblessed all the time. But after this episode, I also knew that needed to find a way to help reduce the likelihood of these moments. I calmly buckled those tiny people into their car seats, and naturally they were asleep before I pulled out of the driveway. Starbucks drive-thru is seriously a gift to all mothers everywhere. I drank my coffee in silence, with the windows rolled down, as I planned how to do things better – for the kids sake, but also for mine.

The Mommy Guilt Machine works overtime and is amazingly cruel. I had always thought that because I worked so much, the kids deserved a Mommy Day. And post- call mommy can be awesome. We destroy the house with play, hit the park, wear crazy clothes, eat things we shouldn’t because I am just too tired to fight or care. But as I sat in the car that sunny Tuesday, drinking my coffee with them fast asleep in the backseat, I realized I was wrong. I knew my babies deserved a rested and sane mother. Not dragon mommy crying in the driveway praying for their dad to come home.

I needed to make better decisions. Better choices for them, and for myself. My first call was to daycare. The kids would have to go on Tuesdays, period. Despite how clearly I needed some time to myself, I still felt I had to justify it by rationalizing that I needed to take my oral OB/GYN boards soon and I had to study. I wasn’t doing this because I needed to sleep, or take a shower, make a proper meal, exercise, run errands or that I deserved a quiet cup of hot coffee – I still wasn’t ready to say that self-care was enough of a reason on its own. But I clearly remember amongst all the other justifications I was making, that I whispered out loud, you deserve to take care of yourself Jess.

And so I started, very gradually, to turn off the Mommy Guilt Machine. My husband took the kids to daycare the next Tuesday. I hit the grocery store on the way home from the hospital. I put food away, did some cleaning, made breakfast, and took a hot shower. I slept for 3 hours and when I woke up, I put my running shoes on and got lost on the trails for 5 miles. I prepped an easy dinner that just needed to be put in the oven. I took another quick shower. I hit the Starbucks drive-thru and walked in to get my kids at 3:15PM.

We had a glorious afternoon and evening. I was present. I was engaged. I had more patience. I had energy. No dragon, zombie mommy. The guilt I felt for taking the time I needed receded a bit that day, and continued to retreat a little bit more as each Tuesday passed. We were all happier. Whether you stay at home full time or work a million hours, the challenge to take care of yourself is the same for every mother. SELF CARE is important. It is okay to put yourself on the to-do list, you must “fill your cup”. You cannot take care of anyone if you do not take care of yourself. This is not a selfish act – it is an act of self-compassion, and necessity.

Maybe you need to say it out loud or in front of the mirror. Go find one after you read this. Say it…I deserve a hot shower. I deserve 15 minutes of quiet and hot coffee. I deserve to exercise. I deserve whatever I need to make me a better person and a better parent. It’s okay to say it.

I deserve.

 

Dr. Jessica Apel is a Board Certified OB/GYN who works at Greenville OB/GYN and Christiana Hospital. She and her husband George enjoy time together on their property in Kennett Square, PA. Their daughter Ella Mae will be five in June and their son Georgie is three-and-a-half. Jess enjoys exercise; cooking in her kitchen with a fireplace; skiing in Steamboat Springs, Colorado; watching documentaries; and sitting on her porch with a hot cup of coffee. She is beyond excited to be a part of The Mother’s Space, helping mamas find ways to give themselves the self-care they deserve.

Feeling the Space

by Katie Madden

I had one of those mornings this past Saturday. One of those mornings when the overwhelm is crippling. The number of things that needed to get done. The feeling of resentment. I felt like something inside me was going to explode if I didnt get a release. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t because Lucy had a friend over and Joe was sleeping off an overtime night shift and I am not physically healed enough to run my hilly neighborhood yet. I felt trapped. Pacing dishwasher to sink to cabinet. Pacing with the laundry basket up and down the stairs. Back and forth. Back and forth. I needed to get out.

Midday I finally escaped my responsibilities- Joe still sleeping, I dropped Lucy at a friends house and I met Libbie at The Mothers Space to clean. Libbie and I had been texting all morning about my pent up frustration. She was having similar sentiments with the three boys and one husband she corrals at home.
The overwhelm became a little less suffocating when I was in the car alone. I cranked up the music and
started to breathe. I had to slow down to avoid hitting a slow-waddling gaggle of geese crossing from the river. I walked into The Space and I hugged Libbie. I needed that hug. I needed The Space to connect with a friend.

     Courtney was in bed, at home with baby Ross fighting off mastitis. We sent her pictures and told her not to budge. She had yoga blankets, mats, and blocks shipped to The Space for us to open!

I admired Libbies handy work. Though Libbie is best known in my blogs for giving me a gentle yoga practice and healthy dose of reality before my Hawaii trip, my yogi master is also a skilled jack of all trades
when it comes to home renovation. Seriously, this Libbie is my hero (do you know she is a Mechanical Engineer?).

I spent the next six hours of my Saturday working in The Space. For the first two hours, LIbbie and I bitched and vented and brainstormed while I painted and she sanded her impressive wood puttying job. I talked out my problems and my thoughts and my head started to feel clearer. Libbie had a date with her husband that evening (because those are really important. Youve gone on a date recently, right?). We cleaned up the major stuff and staged some furniture before Libbie left so we could snap some pictures. This is what The Mothers Space looks like now:


We sent Courtney pictures so she could get excited, too–and promptly reminded her to keep staying put and getting better.

There are still lots of details to add, but for the first time, we could see it. We could see The Mothers’ Space clearly.

But it was pretty dirty from all the construction. So I asked Libbie if I could go shopping at Target for cleaning supplies and come back and clean. She was humbled and honored (because she doesnt like to take people for granted).

It was so awesome shopping at Target (you know what I am
talk
ing about). I got a basket for the bathroom with pads and fresh flushable adult wipes and my favorite poop spray scent. I got a new mop and broom and a bunch more stuff I needed (and stuff I had to have) and I drove back to The Space. Then I cleaned the snot out of that place. It
cleared my racing mind. It felt so good to pour my heart into The Space. As I was cleaning and my head was continuing to clear, I realized I put my heart into everything I do. I wanted to make sure some of my heart was in The Mothers Space. Cleaning in The Space was a way for me to pour my heart into The Space. In the process, I filled my own heart up.

I also wanted to clean it for Libbie. She has worked so hard to make this dream a reality. I knew she would be back the next day and I wanted her to find a clean and organized Space, because shes awesome and she deserves it. I wanted to be sure she felt appreciated.

I came home tired, sore, and dirty. It felt good. I tried to not register how badly my own house needed to be cleaned. It didnt matter. Tomorrow, I would pour my heart into my family and my home; Monday, back into my patients at The Birth Center and 15 third to fifth grade girls at Girls on the Run practice. No longer did I feel suffocated by all the responsibilities that I have; the weight of life was no longer crushing.

I realize now that I need The Mothers’ Space as much as each of you will need it. I was able to escape to The Mothers’ Space, feel The Space within those walls and carry that space in my heart to drive me all week long…or, at least for a few days.

I am refilled. Now, I can get back to feeling awesome.

Filling the Void by Creating the Space

When I think back to my postpartum period after the delivery of the first of my three sons, the predominant feelings are not joy and connectedness, but rather emptiness and pain.  I had a third degree tear with major complications that required surgery.  It took two

Photo Kelli Wilke

months of persistence to convince my OB that I needed to see a specialist. Then another three months to be stitched back together properly. It felt like no one thought it was a big deal.  I was expected to pretend like everything was ok.

But I wasn’t ok. And I felt like I was the only one experiencing such pain and isolation.  All the mothers I saw seemed so happy.

I didn’t know it at the time, but after the birth of my first baby, I was swallowed into the deep postpartum void in which so many women find themselves.  Mothers each experience different degrees of this void in different ways.  We have created The Mothers’ Space to fill this void.

 

Filling the Void of the Village

Today moms are part of so many communities.  Work, family, church or synagogue, private Facebook groups, the list goes on and on.  But, most of the time, these aren’t places to open up and share what is really going on or ask for guidance in a way that will make you vulnerable.

Moms who work outside of the home may have their best friends and biggest support network in an office building 15 miles from home. But, that network is not ready to talk about bleeding and crying and poop.  

New moms have doctors, lactation consultants, and pediatricians, but most of us don’t have a real village.  So, what do we do without this village?  We create one.  A village that is open to hearing your whole story, to seeing the real you without judgement or correction.  Your baby needs you, but YOU need the village.  A village of other mothers, where you can be nurtured and supported, so that you can find your way to take care of your baby.  

 

Filling the Void of Real Listening

In this Space, we will listen to mothers. Instead of offering statements like, “Just enjoy every second.”  This community is about really listening without offering empty statements or competitive stories.  New moms are bombarded by facts, books and ‘how-to’s.’  

At The Mother’s Space,  we believe new moms need some information, but only the type of information that helps each mother make the best decision for her child and her family. Today there is too much information and too much pressure to adhere to a certain way of looking at or doing things.  

Rather than telling you what to do, we give you the space to explore your options before making the next bold move in mothering.

Those of us who are a little further down the road can look back with compassion and honesty to help mothers that are struggling through some of the toughest patches. In listening we can honor mothers where they are without a need to fix or patronize.

 

Filling the  Void of Experts for Women

You pee a little when you sneeze? oh that’s okay.  It hurts to breastfeed – you just need to toughen up.  Angry all the time – aren’t we all?  Painful sex? – That’s just the way it is, use more lube.  Wrong.  Wrong. WRONG  

Women’s health concerns, especially mothers’ health concerns are dismissed as being normal or at a tolerable level of abnormal (tolerable for whom, we are not quite sure).

The Mothers’ Space is a place to be connected with experts on postpartum bodies and minds, who are not going to dismiss real issues as inevitable collateral damage of the birth process. This is the place to talk about bleeding and crying and poop.

 

Filling the Void of Postpartum Care

So often, women feel cast aside as soon as the cord is cut in the delivery room. There is a void in care for mothers postpartum. Everyone dotes upon a pregnant woman, but as soon as she is no longer pregnant, she is somehow less valuable as a human.  Visitors come to see the baby, not the mother who has just gone through the most transformative event in her life.  

Fifty years ago, women rested for weeks after having a baby. Today, the prevailing attitude seems to be to get up and go and pretend nothing happened.  Our healthcare system often ignores women’s needs after childbirth, both emotional and physical.  The only care that most women get is a six-week check up.  That is too little too late.  Women need to excellent care before, during and after their births.  (This is the reason I love The Birth Center.  They really listen to women and provide exceptional Obstetric and Gynecologic care that goes above and beyond what a typical OB/GYN practice can provide).

The Mothers’ Space is about supporting women after birth with expert resources.  We don’t provide medical care, but we can help fill the gap in those six weeks (and beyond) with meaningful support and community (and we can also give you the names of like-minded care providers like The Birth Center).  

 

Filling the Void of Space

The Mother’s Space is also just a place to go.  When you have a baby, sometimes you just need to get out.  Yes, Target can be wonderful, but when your baby starts to cry, it’s not so great.  Yes, you can nurse in a dressing room, or in the furniture section, but it’s not comfy or cozy.  The Mothers’ Space is a warm, safe place to go with a crying infant.  Come sit on the couch, have a cup of tea, look out at the river.

We don’t promise to have all the answers…nobody does.  
But, we do promise that when you come to The Space, you will meet moms that will listen to you, cry with you and laugh with you…and then give you the number for the person that can help you stop peeing when you laugh.  

Announcing the Mothers’ Space

So, Courtney and I promised you a second big announcement: Together, we are creating The Mothers’ Space.

Photo Angie Gray

Despite my excitement, I’ve been having a hard time telling people what The Mothers’ Space is actually going to be. I think that is because it doesn’t fit in a typical mold and I also don’t want to get all hippie and flowery about it. I find myself defining what it is not: it’s not a yoga studio, it’s not a PPD group, it’s not a gym, it’s not a club.

The Mothers’ Space is a gathering place. It is a place to go—away from the monotony of your own couch and apart from a hectic world outside. This is a space to honor and celebrate mothers. Because you, Mom, matter. Mothers matter. We are creating a space to hold our combined experience—our own experience of great joy and connection in community and our experience of sadness, isolation, and frustration. The Mothers’ Space is about nurturing and connecting women as they grow into new and unfamiliar roles. This is not The Baby Space. Yes, you can bring your baby (and your baby will learn and grow, too), but this is about you. You the woman, you the mother, you the partner, the wife, the employee, the sister, the daughter-in-law. This is a place that supports your entire experience, from your greatest triumph to your darkest defeat.

As part of my own journey, I have had the privilege to learn from wonderful teachers, therapists, and specialists. These women really see me. They listen and hear the message between my words and they look and understand the story behind my eyes. And in their listening and hearing and looking and seeing, they have taught me to see and hear myself. They have held space for me and in doing so, they have taught me how to hold space for myself. Above the chatter in my head and beyond the noise around me, they have taught me to honor myself without judgment or reservation.

The Mothers’ Space is dedicated to providing the same nurturing support, dedicated to holding the same space for connection and growth so that all mothers can find space to honor themselves, above the chatter and beyond the noise.

Photo Angie Gray

This is a space where mothers can come and let their guard down. Where you can whip out your boob or a bottle of formula without fear of judgment and without having to explain why or detail the entirety of your feeding journey. We are creating a space where mothers don’t say annoying, trite things to one another. Where you can say, “This is hard,” without hearing, “But it’s so worth it” or “He didn’t sleep all night” without hearing, “Remember, it goes so fast.” In this space it’s okay to be honest about what motherhood looks like for you at this particular moment—whether you are loving it or hating it—without apology, explanation, or guilt. The Mothers’ Space is about creating room for you. Room for you to be seen, room for you to be heard.

Yes, there will be fitness. This space is for moving your body, but moving your body in a way that feels good, that is nurturing and healing. Yes, we offer fitness classes, but they are intended to rebuild core strength and the pelvic floor. We are not here for weight loss or bodies that look the “right” way.

Yes, we offer yoga classes, but they are not about twisting yourself into a pretzel, they are about creating space and time to nurture your body and mind together.

Yes, there will be classes to nurture and stimulate your baby, but these classes are for you too, Mom, because being a good mom means nurturing yourself as well as your child.

Yes, there will be support groups open to every mom, where sing song-y platitudes are not part of the program.

Photo Angie Gray

Yes, there will be experts. The experts we have gathered together are well known as the best in the region in their area of specialty:  Katie Madden RN, IBCLC, Anne Duch MPT, WCS, RYT,  Elizabeth Kerrick , Jessica Apel D.O., Malina Spirito, Psy.D., M.Ed. … and the list is growing.

And, yes, there will be coffee (and, yes, you can drink coffee if you are lactating; you can also drink wine, which will be available during our Mom’s Night Out).

The Mothers’ Space is for the messy, gritty, beautiful business of being a mom. We are not creating a highlight reel of pretty pictures. We are creating a safe, comfortable retreat for real moms, where sugarcoating is for M&Ms. We are creating space for a community of mothers dedicated to nurturing support, connections, and growth.

If you want to join us,  ‘like’ us on Facebook or email us at themothersspace@gmail.com.

 

Why The Mothers’ Space

We created the mothers space to provide a safe, comfortable place for moms in the newborn stage and beyond.  Our classes and groups are designed to support mothers wherever they are on their journey. We believe that surrounding mothers with compassion, respect and honesty encourages them to listen to their own intuition and make the best choices for themselves and their children.

We don’t believe that there is a right way to feed babies, help kids sleep or parent children.  Our programs focus on listening to women and helping them tap into their own inner wisdom so that they can confidently choose what is best for this unique child.  Our classes are based on experiential learning, not do’s and dont’s.  Our groups are sanctuaries for tough questions and emotional support.

This is a place for unwashed hair, sore nipples and soft bellies.  This is a community that is real about what it means to be a mother and committed to what it takes to be a village.