Having a baby can be life-changing, overwhelming, inspiring and exhausting. But almost all new parents share the desire to find activities that get them out of the house and into the company of other parents who are navigating the same choppy waters.
If you live in Sonoma County, there are many ways to combat the stress by building community and enjoying other parents’ new family members. These resources help with everything from breastfeeding support to networking and exercising.
On a sunny Monday morning, Caitlyn Ford and her 7-month-old daughter, Constance, sat in a cozy room at Santa Rosa’s Knox Presbyterian Church while certified nurse-midwife Rosanne Gephart and public health nurse Liz Smith answered her questions about breastfeeding.
“By six weeks, if you can get up in the morning, get dressed and get out of the house by noon, you’re doing great,” said Gephart, reassuring her that she was on the right track.
Gephart is president of Better Beginnings for Babies, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting breast-feeding. From 9:30-11 a.m. each Monday, the group’s free “Breast-feeding Cafe” is open to any mother with questions about breastfeeding. The goal is to provide mothers with a safe, comfortable place to deal with challenges.
“Little modifications will make the experience more pleasant and end up helping (moms) nurse longer,” said Gephart, who recently sold Santa Rosa Women’s Health and Birth Center.
Kaiser and Sutter Hospitals and the Sebastopol Community Health Center also offer breast-feeding groups and one-on-one support to their members. Sonoma County also has a Breast-feeding Resource Guide that includes other free offerings that are accessible to English and Spanish speakers, such as La Leche League meeting and in-home visits from nurses and lactation consultants.
New parents can find an array of unique and holistic ways to connect with each other and find support. The Creative Parenting Center in Sebastopol and the Thrive Birth Center in Santa Rosa offer groups and classes that help new parents discover and implement the parenting tools and philosophies that are best for them, and they’re not just about finding the best biodegradable diaper.
Kerry Ingram’s Mothering Arts classes and workshops at the Creative Parenting Center are influenced by her experience as a Waldorf teacher and post-partum doula.
Three and a half years ago, when her son was a newborn, Ingram was inspired to create the intergenerational support group for mothers, grandmothers and babies that connects them through games and songs, nutrition, movement and guest speakers. The group meets on Tuesday mornings for 8-10 weeks and allows mothers to talk about the “hard stuff” and “step into their own inner wisdom,” Ingram said.
“Motherhood is maybe the largest event that happens in your life. We need to recognize that and pause and really live into what it means to go from woman to mother.”
In neighboring Petaluma, new parents can join a New Parenting Support Group at the Luma Center. Starting May 18, licensed midwife and lactation consultant Rebecca Plum invites new moms, dads and babies under 1 to bring any concerns or questions to the group on Mondays from 10-11:30 a.m. New parents can share with other parents ways to cope and practice new skills in a safe space. Topics may range from feeding and sleeping problems to changing relationships and identities.
Plum said the most impactful moment so far was when a new mother stepped into the room half an hour late and dissolved into tears. Every person in the room said, in unison, “I know!”
“They come in, and they can barely recognize themselves and they are too exhausted to figure it out,” Plum said. “They don’t have to say it clearly or understand it, but they can talk about it and realize they are not alone.”
Parents are requested to preregister for the New Parenting Circle no later than the night before; the cost is $15.
Mothers’ clubs are a tried and true way for mothers to build relationships and have fun. Two of the county’s largest are in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, although members are not required to live in either city. Both were founded in the early ’90s and are volunteer-run groups that require annual membership fees ($40 or less).
In addition to online forums, newsletters and active Facebook groups, the clubs also offer moms activities like laser tag or a day at the Sonoma Mission Inn and outings for families like kid-friendly movies and pumpkin patches.
“I was used to being a professional, but all of a sudden, I’m home alone all of the time,” said Megan Cusimano, mother of two small children and treasurer of the Petaluma Mothers’ Club. “The club has been hugely important in having things to do. I would go stir crazy if I had to be home all the time.”
The Petaluma Mothers’ Club sponsors a CPR class and an earthquake preparedness class, walks for new moms and playgroups for children born in the same year. It also provides seven meal deliveries for members with newborns.
The club also organized “Survive and Thrive,” a group therapy session with a licensed therapist to talk about the stresses of being new parents. Moms with pre-crawlers are welcome to the weekly drop-in group, which costs $10.
The best thing about joining a Mothers’ Club? “You can flake, because we’re all moms and we all understand,” Cusimano said.
Getting outside, doing yoga and working up a sweat can do wonders for new parents. Pre- and post-natal yoga also can teach kids the value of relaxation and help moms alleviate or avoid post-partum blues, said Devorah Blum, the owner of Yoga Studio Ganesha in Sebastopol.
“Yoga can help balance out emotions as well as the physical body,” she said. “It can literally can make you happier every day.”
Blum has been teaching yoga to pregnant moms and parents with new babies for more than 15 years, although she said she is still blown away when a baby lies down with its mom to do a resting pose or tries out downward facing dog.
Yoga Studio Ganesha’s classes are on Sundays for pre-crawlers, and Tuesdays and Saturdays for parents with babies and toddlers. Blum also tries to have a “helper” available to take care of the little ones so mamas can get a few moments to themselves.
Blum’s yoga classes also have spawned a popular (and free) web group called westcountyyogamammas, with hundreds of members, discussions and helpful recommendations. She requests that people attend one of her classes before they join the group but does not exclude anyone.
Sonoma County also is home to a branch of the Fit4Mom franchise, which offers Stroller Strides and Stroller Barre classes. Both incorporate little ones in strollers into their mother’s outdoor exercise routines.
And for those who want to take their little ones on a hike, the Sonoma County Hike it Baby group offers hikes of varying levels for moms, dads, nannies, friends and extended family members.
The volunteer-led group’s “leave no mama behind” philosophy ensures that the hike is about the “journey, not the destination.”
Volunteer leader Christina Penrose said the group was a perfect way for her to build community and deal with the challenges of being a new mom.
“Exercise, nature and community are such powerful tools for dealing with the loneliness, isolation, anxiety and all of the other treats that come with being new parents,” she said. “Many moms talk about being brought out of depression by regularly scheduled group hikes with other new parents.”
And if these options aren’t enough to keep you busy, there are also music classes such as West County Music Together in Sebastopol and Mini Music in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties. Children from birth to age 5 or 7 are welcome to participate in these programs with their caregivers.