By Archana Agrawal (Estimated reading time: 6 minutes)
“You should join PEPS. It was so helpful, and we got a lot of support,” suggested a friend in Seattle when I mentioned my husband and I were trying to conceive.
“You should join PEPS. We still meet with five of those parents 12 years later and our kids are all friends and have grown up together,” suggested my neonatologist when I mentioned I was worried about looking after my baby.
It hadn’t occurred to me to ask what PEPS actually was. A few weeks before my due date, in a bid to make a good start as a parent, I googled PEPS, figured out which group I fell into (we joined a NE Seattle Newborn Group, but did you know that PEPS serves families all the way from Everett to Kent, West Seattle to Snoqualmie and so many neighborhoods in between?), and signed up for a two-parent in-person group. I didn’t read any of the PEPS blogs or explore the website.
“I have signed us up for PEPS,” I announced.
“What’s that?” Gregg, my husband asked, half distracted.
“It’s a parenting class.”
“We just attended a few of those.”
“Yeah, but these are once the baby is born. You take your baby to the class and do exercises and stuff.”
“Oh. Sounds good.”
After my baby Max was born, the first few days didn’t feel so hard. I was getting used to feeding, changing, and rocking him to sleep. My parents were at our apartment helping with cooking and cleaning. My husband and I shared emotional conversations about how blessed we were and how cute our baby was.
Despite having a world of support at home in the early postpartum days, we were obviously still exhausted. Max woke us up every few hours, I was still recovering, and my husband had decided to spread his paternity leave out and went back to work after just a week off.
Around a month after we brought Max home, I announced that we had our first PEPS Group meeting the next day and my family had questions:
“What is it? You know, you aren’t really supposed to leave the home for 40 days. Why does the baby have to go?”
“We’re both exhausted. This thing is for two hours. Do you really think we need help?”
I couldn’t articulate what I needed. We got pregnant during a very isolating time amidst COVID; I hadn’t seen any of my friends, hadn’t seen my obstetrician’s face without a mask, had kept my pregnancy quiet because I was scared things wouldn’t work out, and my anxiety around protecting my baby was pretty intense.
“If it sucks, we won’t go back,” I told my husband.
Our in-person PEPS Group met at the Good Shepherd Center, an absolutely beautiful building in the Wallingford neighborhood. As we arrived and saw other parents walking to the entrance with their babies, I started to feel nervous, not knowing what to expect. After attending parenting classes during pregnancy where my inability to perfect a swaddle or remember specific CPR protocols left me feeling overwhelmed and out of my element, heading into my first PEPS meeting felt intimidating.
During the first meeting, we sat in a circle and introduced ourselves. Louise, our Group Leader, was an awesome facilitator. She had led a few PEPS Groups, initially joined PEPS herself as a parent, and was a very sympathetic and helpful resource. Louise encouraged us to share our highs and lows from the previous week. Parents mostly spoke about how exhausted they were. She then asked us to share a little about our birthing experiences. I found myself opening up and describing how scary it was for me to have a baby in a foreign country. It was also a privilege to bear witness to others’ stories of trauma, anxiety, and also good feelings. Stories of how parents were coping, how we’re all human, and that we’re doing a good job. While I had expected another parenting class to practice skills like swaddling and learn safety tips, it turned out that PEPS was something very different. This was a safe space where people could share, support each other as peers, and build community. What a novel concept! (I had never been to a support group before).
After coming home from our first meeting, my husband wasn’t sold. But I found myself caring about those seven other families I had met and heard from, and I wanted to go back and share with them. Some of their positive outlooks had lowered my anxiety, and some of their trials had made me more thankful for my situation. My husband recognized that it was clearly beneficial for me to keep going, and we continued attending PEPS together each week. Though he was initially skeptical, my husband enjoyed watching how the babies interacted with each other and felt that the group offered helpful insights that made it worthwhile.
I soon learned that many of the families in our group had recently relocated to Seattle (for a variety of reasons). They were in a new city, had new jobs, and were embarking on a new journey of parenthood. PEPS is a great way to find connection and build a network of support with other families going through the same phase of life. Even if you aren’t particularly social or don’t make friends easily, this is a group where people can relax and share openly with each other in a safe space, and you can absolutely reach out for advice, and people will try to help.
Louise encouraged us to bring quilts for floor time so our babies could socialize and get some tummy time in. I watched my baby lift his head up for more than five minutes without crying for the first time because he was so intrigued by the other babies there. We also discovered how much our baby enjoys social interactions. Motherhood, especially the first year, can be so isolating, and surrounding myself with social interactions, both for me as a parent and our baby, was a welcome break from the hyper-focused role of caring for Max.
Ever since our PEPS Group ended, the families have met a few times, and we plan to continue meeting about once a month to check in with each other. We have a WhatsApp group chat where all the parents ask questions and seek advice from one another. I have since also joined a Families of Color Seattle (FOCS) Waddlers parent support group. The FOCS group was a great supplement to the PEPS Group to better understand how race plays a role in my baby’s upbringing. It has been very useful, and our FOCS facilitator brought in a few effective speakers around topics of bias, challenges in advocating for your infant in a medical setting, and creating a safe space for people to discuss issues around race as they pertain to their infant.
PEPS offers a variety of groups to suit many families’ needs and uses a Flexible Pricing model to make the programs accessible to more families. I encourage those on the fence about joining PEPS to reach out to the organization and ask questions about what to expect rather than dismissing it. Being a parent, especially a first-time parent, is challenging. And you won’t know how challenging until you are there. There is definitely value in surrounding yourself with other parents who are trying to raise healthy humans while doing the best they can on less than two hours of continuous sleep.
PEPS is a non- profit organization and only 21% of our annual budget to provide communities of support for parents like Archana is funded by program fees. For the rest we rely on our Giving Community, often parents who participated in PEPS and experienced firsthand the power of a supportive community. We invite you to invest in our work and vision of resilient families, connected communities, and equitable outcomes. You can make a donation online. Thanks for your support!