By Laurelle Walsh

New moms Cara Godwin, Sara Steele, Sam Soodak, Talitha Parsons and Dani Golden met at Room One in Twisp on Friday (Feb. 13) for the final session of a 12-week mothering group based on the PEPS framework, or Program for Early Parent Support.

The moms brought their babies, all under 9 months old, who played on a quilt in the center of the group while their mothers talked. Eight or nine moms have participated in the group since it started in November, and around five typically make it each week, Godwin said.

“We’re figuring out how to keep the group going after today,” said Godwin, who co-led the group with Steele that day. They plan to continue meeting at the homes of group members from now on, Godwin said.

The sessions start with a “check in,” when each mom shares her highs and lows of the past week. Laughter and smiles set the tone for the stories, whose topics on Friday ranged from sleep deprivation, to breast feeding, to how to handle several babies’ unique medical needs.

After the check in, the group briefly shifted gears to sing a nursery song, which initiated plenty of cuddling, and put smiles on everyone’s faces — babies included.

The PEPS group at Room One is the first program outside of Seattle, where PEPS started, according to Savannah Miller of Okanogan Behavioral Health Care, which co-funded the pilot program with Room One. “We’re hoping it will grow into other Okanogan County communities,” Miller said.

All programs follow a 12-week structure, with materials provided by the parent organization, and “after that the group is on their own to continue meeting,” Miller said.

PEPS was started in 1983 in King County by a group of early childhood educators and social services professionals who saw the need for a program that would provide support and education for new parents. Thirty years later, the program has more than 200 groups throughout King and Snohomish counties, with more than 3,000 families participating each year, according to the PEPS website, www.peps.org.

“We think we’re one of the first rural communities to try it,” said Room One client advocate Lori Valentine, who co-facilitated the group with Miller.

The program provides literature for discussion and outside reading with topics that are pertinent to new parents, such as “Adjustment to parenthood: Defining your new role/identity,” “Body image/parents self esteem,” “Dads parent differently than moms,” and “Activities and playtime: What can I do with my baby?”

Support is an advantage

Parsons said that even though she has read books and perused websites about mothering, “having a sympathetic face is so different from getting information on line.”

There is also a huge advantage to support from fellow new mothers, Parsons said. “The support from my husband is amazing, but it’s not the same as from other moms. Looking at it from a mom’s perspective is a whole different thing.”

“People who aren’t in it right now don’t realize what you’re going through,” Godwin said. “Even sometimes the dads don’t fully realize all the decisions you’re making moment to moment. Every little thing, when you’re sleep deprived, seems like so much.”

The biggest value for Steele has been getting to know other moms and just talking, she said. “All these other moms are dealing with what I’m dealing with,” Steele said. “Before you have your baby everyone’s so excited for you, but no one talks about how hard being a new mom is going to be.”

Several of the new mothers at Friday’s meeting were grappling with decisions that would affect their infants’ growth and health. One mom who is struggling with breast feeding said, “I’ve had moments this week when I’ve been in tears and others when I’ve been more accepting. All these feeding issues have made it hard to enjoy just having her.”

Another mom said her baby’s  tongue-tie condition is preventing her from gaining weight at the expected rate. Scheduling a medical procedure has been difficult, and the mom admitted to being frustrated about living a great distance from Seattle-area medical specialists.

“There is such a huge focus on babies’ weight,” another mom said. “It feels like no matter what you do, you’re not doing it right.”

All the moms at Friday’s meeting are continuing to work outside the home. One mom said she was struggling to balance parenting with her job and other family obligations. “Trying to get it all done is too much,” she said. “Getting an eight-hour day in feels like it takes the whole week … Once I get the sleep thing figured out, then I can really go back to work.”

Despite the additional time constraints that come with motherhood, all five women said they were invested in seeing the group continue, not only for their own benefit, but also so that their little ones would have a chance to be around other babies.

“With babies what you’re dealing with is such a right-now moment. It’s helpful to be going through it together,” Parsons said.

A new PEPS group for moms with infants zero to 6-months-old will be forming in late March or early April, according to Miller. And moms with babies over 6 months old may join the group already in progress, said Godwin. “We’re open to newcomers.”

For more information, or to join a mothering group, contact Room One at 997-2050.