It’s official! We are now a family of five and my husband, Patrick, is beyond outnumbered by feisty women in the house. We welcomed our third daughter, Etta, into the world on May 22. Being new to Seattle and having two little ones already, prepping for this birth was less about the birth and more about ensuring that my 4 and 1 year olds were covered while we were at the hospital having the baby. Thanks to our beloved sitter and my generous mother-in-law, the big sisters were covered and baby Etta was able to enter the world without her two sisters having meltdowns in the delivery room. Thankfully, Etta’s sisters adore her and there is no shortage of kisses for her. No better time for my 18 month old to practice the concept of “gentle,” right? Yes, welcoming a new baby into the house where there already exists another, bigger baby is not without its consequences. But I’ll save those amusing woes for my PEPS Groups.
Yes, I said PEPS Groups, plural. Little did baby Etta know that she would be my ticket into getting to know PEPS in a very personal way, from the inside out. When she was about 4 weeks old, Patrick and I started our PEPS evening newborn group, with six other couples. A few weeks later, I started a daytime Second Time Around group. Already, PEPS has become a special part of our family’s third baby story. Lots of people asked me, “Are you going to tell your groups about your position at PEPS?” After briefly considering how awkward it would be to build close relationships with my peers only to surprise them 12 weeks later with the revelation that I have actually been participating in an episode of “Undercover Boss,” I elected to, of course, share about my role at PEPS up front. However, in sharing with both group participants and my group leaders, it was super important for me to convey that my participation was motivated by the same reasons as everyone else’s in the groups: to find connection and support with other parents who understand the craziness of life at this moment in time. Gaining a new and insider perspective of PEPS is just an added bonus for me.
There is a lot I could write about after my first few weeks in my PEPS groups, so I thought I would share my top 4 takeaways thus far.
1. PEPS parents are seriously brave.
Even though Etta is my third baby and born not too long after my second, I had already forgotten the raw vulnerability that exists in the early weeks of welcoming a new baby into the world. It is seriously one big explosion of chaos, beauty, fear, insecurity, confidence, empowerment, and identity crisis that makes for a surreal fourth trimester (and beyond). Each week when we all arrive at a new house sleep-deprived and fresh with newly realized challenges with our unpredictable little humans in tow, I am amazed by my new friends’ bravery, endurance, and good will.
2. Sharing “highs and lows” should be a part of everyday life, even beyond and outside of PEPS Groups.
A beloved staple of a PEPS Group is the time set aside for parents to share “highs and lows” from the prior week. I find that reflecting on the “highs” of my parenting journey grounds me, even if just momentarily, in gratitude and joy. Most of the time the “highs” are found in the small things (Etta’s first real smile, making it through half a day without having to change my shirt because of her spitting up on it, or watching a sweet bunch of those “gentle” sister kisses). There is beauty in the mindfulness of these special moments. Acknowledging the “lows” is an opportunity to get seriously real with the hard stuff-from diaper blowouts to feeling emotionally bare to experiencing guilt about every decision you make-in a safe space where people actually get it. It is also an opportunity to realize that you are not alone in what you are experiencing. There is power in normalization; it reduces isolation, validates your experience, proves you are not losing your mind, and, most importantly, builds confidence.
3. PEPS is not a “parent education” program, but so much learning takes place within the walls of a PEPS Group.
So far I have learned new sleep techniques, new songs, new ways to wear my baby, strategies for managing THREE little ones, and new ways to support Etta’s development. My favorite part about all of this learning? That it is done alongside friends. And this learning extends beyond group times. One of my groups shares resources and ideas in a shared google doc. My other group has a Facebook page where we share resources, articles, and funny YouTube videos. There is something less lonely about late night feedings when you are reading something shared by a friend.
4. We are in this together.
Thanks to my wonderful group leaders and the graciousness of my PEPS peers, PEPS has proven for me to be a nonjudgmental and supportive place. Between the total of 25 of us in my two groups, there are so many different styles, philosophies, and experiences. But that doesn’t matter because at the end of the day we all go back to our own homes and share the same burden, thrill, and gift of being responsible for a tiny little human who is trying to figure this out just as much as we are. Some PEPS Groups seem to stay connected forever. I don’t know how these relationships will look over time. I hope they are lasting but, regardless, I sure am grateful for them right now.
We are in this together. Not just me and my PEPS Groups, but ALL of us. Whether you are a parent, a grandparent, a professional who is trying to make the world better for children and families, or an adult who has special little ones in your life, you are reading this because you in some way are connected to the mission of PEPS. And we are all connected by wanting the best for these little babes that are so important to us. I’m writing this piece as I head to bed and we will see tomorrow if my night equates to a high or a low, or even both? But what I do know is that I can celebrate or lament it at my PEPS Groups tomorrow. Either way, I won’t be alone.
About the Author
Jessica Lawmaster is the executive director of PEPS and a mother of three young daughters. Jessica earned her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Oklahoma and is passionate about supporting ways to empower and build resilience in families. This summer Jessica joined a Second Time Around group as well as an evening Newborn Group with her husband, Patrick. Jessica and her family moved to Seattle in 2015 are fully enjoying exploring the culture, opportunities, and natural beauty the city has to offer. Jessica is writing a series about her very own PEPS experience while she is on maternity leave.