By Sara Blackmur (Estimated reading time: 4 minutes)
April 29, 2020 — I had my first PEPS group. It was nothing like I imagined – the virtual format was pretty depressing. When I was pregnant, I always imagined this being our baby’s first time with other babies. I am so over COVID.
I had started a journal at the beginning of 2020. I wanted to have documentation of my last months of pregnancy and the start of our son’s first year. Never did I think the journal would also track what it was like to have a baby during a global pandemic. Not only was my world about to be forever changed by the birth of our child, the entire world had changed in ways I couldn’t even begin to understand in the final weeks of my pregnancy. There was so much fear and uncertainty about my delivery – could my husband and doula be present? What happened if I got COVID? How did anyone actually get COVID? We were leaving packages outside and wiping down groceries.
Our son Hayes arrived on March 25, 2020, ten days before my due date. After a few weeks at home, reality set in. What was it going to be like to have a baby when we couldn’t be with other people? All the things I had imagined would take place during our first weeks as parents — Visits with friends! First trip to a brewery! — couldn’t happen. Not being able to meet with PEPS in person just felt like another loss.
After my first PEPS meeting, I felt sad and wondered if I could ever find community if my only option was virtual connection. I work as a psychotherapist in private practice and had always valued the power of people sharing a physical space to form connection. I couldn’t imagine how a genuine bond between strangers could be created in an entirely virtual format.
My attitude soon changed in the following weeks when I realized that I was meeting with other incredible and resilient women who were experiencing the same bewilderment our special brand of new parenthood had brought upon us. Thanks to an amazing facilitator and the bizarre circumstance we found ourselves in, we quickly bonded. We all had babies at the beginning of a global pandemic and were doing it on very little sleep. But at least we had each other. We could talk about the sleep challenges, the emotional rollercoasters, pro tips on feeding and diaper rashes and cradle cap. And we could do it while sitting on our couch and not wearing a bra!
We were told the group would be virtual for the duration of our meetings. We realized the virtual format was a benefit and not necessarily a loss. The group agreed several times over the course of our meetings that we were relieved we were never expected to meet in person. Instead of being expected to host other moms and babies, we were in the comfort of our own homes. Instead of trying to ensure our baby was at least mildly cooperative during our meetings, we had a mute button. Instead of trying to get out the door, our babies could nap in their own space (or on us, which was often the case in the early days). In this virtual format, we were stripped of any pretension and the vulnerability and honesty expressed were beyond anything I could have hoped for. And, maybe because of the pandemic, there was no judgement. We were all just doing the best we could and continued to lift each other up.
During our group meetings, we started an online chat group that transitioned into a group text. We shared pictures of our babies in adorable outfits. Since no one else was seeing them, at least we could show the group. After our PEPS Group technically ended, we have continued to share experiences and support each other through this group text. Occasionally there is an SOS text (My kid isn’t sleeping anymore! When will they stop getting teeth?) and the power of the collective chimes in with ideas, empathy, and support.
Our thread is still going on, albeit with less frequency, 20 months after we all first met. We’ve arranged park meet ups with the kids and mom-only meet ups in backyards after bedtimes. We share major life updates. Two members have moved out of state, several more away from the area and we recently had our first member have another baby. Maybe because we never had in-person meetings, having virtual connection means we have been able to keep our bond going across time zones, cities and various life circumstances.
While I still believe being with someone in the same room is wonderful, I have come to appreciate the comfort and convenience of virtual interactions and believe in the power of true connection in that format in large part because of my virtual PEPS group. I felt truly seen and supported by people I had never met in person because of PEPS.
July 15, 2020 — We had our last PEPS group and it feels like the end of a hugely important period. I am so grateful to everyone and how much we’ve bonded. I don’t think I could have gotten through these months without them and am glad we’re going to continue to be in touch. Thank goodness I stuck with the virtual format.