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New Mothers Find Solace in Togetherness

July 16, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Denise Herr's dreams had come true. She had a loving husband, a comfortable home in Yorba Linda, and a beautiful, healthy baby boy.

So why was she crying?

"I felt so isolated," she says. "I felt that my intelligence was dwindled down to speaking baby talk to a baby. I had recently graduated from college, and I worked two jobs while I was going to school, and all of a sudden I had nothing to do, and no one to talk to about having nothing to do. My days were so slow-moving. I'd look at the clock, and it would only be noon and I'd think, 'I'm going crazy!'

"My husband is really good about helping with the baby, but when they're only 3 or 4 months old, really it's just you and that baby.

"There were times when I'd just put him in his crib and cry," she says.

And as she did, Herr wondered, "Does anybody else ever go through this?

Linda Belasco of Fullerton wondered the same thing.

"Before my son was born, people kept telling me it was really going to change my life," she says. "And I said, 'I'm aware of that.' But you just don't know what people mean by that until you have a child. I had no idea."

Belasco started looking for other mothers to talk to, but they weren't easy to find. "I had friends who had gone through it," she says. "But what I wanted was people who had babies now and were going through it. When I talked to my mother, it wasn't the same. She did it so many years ago--a lot of the techniques are different now, and she doesn't remember how she handled everything. And I just hated to call the doctor for every little thing."

Herr and Belasco didn't know each other until about a week ago, but when they met, there was an instant bond between them and the seven other mothers who showed up for the YWCA of North Orange County's first mother's support group meeting.

Thanks to a plethora of Lamaze and other prenatal classes and seminars, expectant mothers have plenty of opportunities to learn about the changes they are experiencing and their feelings about them before the birth. But after they head home with their new arrivals, that support too often disappears.

A generation ago, new mothers didn't need formal support groups. If you had a problem with a colicky 3-month-old, chances are there was a neighbor who was dealing with the same thing, and you could offer each other sympathy and encouragement over the back fence. And more often than not, the extended family was close enough to help out in an emergency.

But a mother who walked into the YWCA's Fullerton office a few weeks ago didn't have those resources to call upon. "She said she didn't have any family in the area and couldn't find anyone in her neighborhood who had children," YWCA program director LaRayne Olmstead recalled.

"I need a support group," the woman said, and Olmstead agreed.

"The response was overwhelming," Olmstead said. "The first meeting was just supposed to be a planning session, but they really melted into a cohesive group. Once they started talking, they didn't want to leave."

After the first meeting, "I felt about 1,000 pounds lighter," Herr says. "In one sense, it came a little late for me, because my son is already 1 1/2, and I've already come to terms with the isolation feelings. But it helped. In that group, I was allowed to be a woman as well as a mom. Until that meeting, I hadn't felt that in a long time."

"It doesn't matter what economic or educational level you're on," Olmstead says. "We all have the same problems with babies. If you're a millionaire and your baby's crying at 2 a.m., it's the same. Even if you have a high level of education and you always thought you'd be able to handle anything that came along, you can't prepare yourself for it. With this group, for example, there was a broad spectrum of ages and backgrounds. But they all came together with this issue of being a mother. It's a common problem and a common blessing."

"Nobody tells mothers it's going to be like this," Herr says. "Nobody tells you it's OK not to feel loving all the time. But that's going to happen with anyone you're close to. You feel guilty because you love this baby and want this baby so much, but you're sometimes sad he's there. You feel guilty that you're so tired you just want to throw him in his bed and let him cry. That's one thing I haven't done, but I know lots of mothers who have. Sometimes you're so tired all you can do is breathe. But no one tells you this, so you wonder if there's something wrong with you."

Belasco says she depended on books to learn how to be a mother. "But one book says one thing, and one says another. You have to rely on instinct rather than what's in the book. I think you can do too much reading."

"Now that I have this group, I have something to plan for during the week," Herr says. "That's one of the things that happens; you have nothing to plan for, nothing to look forward to. You forget what it's like to wear anything but jeans."

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