As I relaxed on a Washington State ferry from Bainbridge Island to attend the 19th Annual PEPS Benefit Luncheon in Seattle, I naturally found myself reflecting upon my first PEPS meeting 17 and a half years ago. Before that first meeting, I couldn’t have known what a huge influence PEPS was going to have on my life. Now as a family sleep coach, postpartum doula and volunteer PEPS group facilitator, I realize the journey that lead me to the rewarding work I do supporting mothers and their young families first began with PEPS.
It was 1999. I was the first of my Seattle friends to get pregnant. My husband’s family and mine lived 1000 miles away. We were expecting a baby and really had no idea what to expect. In my third trimester, I learned of an organization called Program for Early Parent Support. I didn’t hesitate one minute before registering. After our daughter Sara arrived, I anxiously awaited the call telling me that I had been placed in a PEPS group. We were new parents struggling with the transition to parenthood, utterly sleep deprived and winging it as we went. I craved connection with new moms who were experiencing similar parenting challenges, and I needed connection now.
Sara was exactly one month old on the date of our first PEPS meeting. Needless to say, I was chomping at the bit to meet this new group of women and their babies. I had so many questions! Additionally, with my husband back at work, those first few weeks at home with a newborn were long and lonely. I prayed there would be at least one mom I liked. Furthermore, I needed an excuse to shower and get out of the house. At the same time, I was a bit apprehensive.
As you may have heard, Seattle has somewhat of a “crunchy” vibe with lots of families embracing all things natural. While I successfully achieved my goal of delivering my firstborn without any drugs thanks to my supportive husband (“you gotta have the ‘Eye of the Tiger’”) and awesome first-time labor and delivery nurse, my breastfeeding experience wasn’t going at all as planned. No one warned me how difficult breastfeeding can be and that it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Despite what I now recognize as my heroic efforts of working with lactation consultants; taping feeding tubes to my breasts to supplement while simultaneously nursing; ingesting herb supplements and teas to promote lactation; pumping hours day and night only to collect less than an ounce of breastmilk; I had come to the heartbreaking conclusion I could not feed my child. I wondered if I would be judged by this group of Seattle strangers the moment I whipped out a bottle of Similac instead of a breast to feed my baby.
In hindsight, my concern that I might be judged for this now seems so ridiculous. Our first meeting was magical. The chemistry I felt with these women was immediate. Our facilitator was a wonderful, nurturing surrogate-grandmother type. Of course, the babies were squishy and adorable. And each mother was preoccupied enough with her own parenting challenges to spend any time judging me for mine. Instead, it was reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone in being surprised at how hard this parenting thing could be. The first meeting exceeded my expectations.
Our group quickly bonded over children’s songs and finger plays, childproofing magnet hell, and venting about lack of sleep and husbands who didn’t quite understand how you could be home all day and accomplish absolutely nothing. We commiserated over stories of parenting fails while celebrating each child’s newly achieved skill. Before long, our 12 official weeks were up, but it wasn’t enough for us. We wanted to keep meeting regularly and meet we did...for eight more years!
Some of us returned to work, myself included. However, our group arranged Moms’ Night Outs and occasional weekend family potlucks in addition to the weekly playgroups to ensure everyone stayed connected. I’d periodically take a long lunch break from my corporate sales job to attend a weekday PEPS playgroup with my daughter because these women were now my close friends and their children were Sara’s best friends.
As you’d expect, over time we lost families to moves and added others. The group then expanded significantly as we added siblings. Two hour playgroups evolved into family weekend teepee camping excursions on Vashon Island, cookie exchanges each December, craft nights, holiday and birthday celebrations, Wiggles concerts with crazed toddlers, and long summer days spent at Lake Washington beaches. Some of us joined North Seattle Cooperative Preschools together, and by the time our eldest kids went to kindergarten, each of us was tremendously involved in our children’s schools. I wonder if I would have even considered being a PTA/PTO leader had I not been surrounded by the very dedicated moms in my PEPS group. We all learned so much together—about parenting, child development and about ourselves.
As I sat on the ferry yesterday contemplating the fact that half of our group’s families has a child graduating from high school in June, I had an “ah-ha” moment. I realized that my appreciation, respect and love for new parents and my desire to support them in my role as a doula and sleep consultant is directly related to my PEPS experience. Through this experience, I witnessed firsthand what happens to parents and kids when they feel loved, supported, understood and connected to a community—they blossom.
My wish for every new family is to have the opportunity to discover that sense of belonging and connectedness to a community wherever it may be. I am extremely grateful to PEPS for giving me the opportunity to create a home away from home with this special group of women and their families. I am certain memories of the experiences we shared as new moms will soon be cherished once again as we prepare ourselves for the next parenting challenge heading our way: accepting the empty nest.
"We hired Jill as our sleep consultant after we were DESPERATE for help with getting my 8 month old daughter to sleep... We had IMMEDIATE success with Jill's plan. By the 3rd night, my daughter was putting herself to sleep (something she'd never done before) in less than 10 mins with very minimal crying."--Erica, Bremerton, WA"
"Jill has been thoughtful, encouraging and supportive in helping our family navigate our way to better sleep. She has been an excellent resource in identifying our family's needs and providing calm, confident instructions in how to meet them. I am grateful for her support - it has been life-changing!" Tricia, Silverdale, WA