In May 2012, a group of pregnant women met in a Lotus yoga class in Seattle, Washington's Columbia City. All of them were due in the next month or so and they connected immediately.
One of the women, Stephanie Keller Chiappuzzo, suggested they continue to meet up with one another after they'd all had their babies. And they'd start with a simple walk around the park.
About 10 people showed up for that first walk, and in Stephanie's words:
"Nobody was pretending new motherhood was amazing or beautiful. We were all exhausted, overwhelmed, and felt completely out of our depth. I often wonder what we looked like to an outsider on that first walk..."
Well, it didn't matter what they looked like at all. These new moms were in it together. And they were onto something.
Soon after, another one of the mothers, Amy Sauer Smith, had the idea to start a Facebook group to avoid the increasingly inconvenient hassle of group texts. Through the page, the moms continued to deepen their relationships with one another. As Stephanie says: "Walks quickly turned to meet-ups at each other's houses and some serious group therapy. Some of us returned to work, some of us didn't. We all still struggled and supported each other."
From those walks and meet-ups and that one little Facebook page with a dozen members, the Columbia City Stroller Brigade was born. And they never looked back.
Today, the group has nearly 900 members.
But what makes the group unique in a world of advice blogs and mommy groups isn't its size. It's that the 900 members reflect the true diversity of the parenting community in Columbia City.
Not only are there dads who are members and gay couples and adoptive parents, foster parents, birth parents, etc. But the group is a home for a diversity of opinions and strategies on parenting as well. Says Stephanie:
"It's easy to find pages that support your specific interests such as attachment parenting, positive discipline, to cry-it-out or not-to-cry-it-out, or labels like Working Mom or stay-at-home Mom. But on this page all those different parents are actually talking to each other. There have been some heated disagreements, but never any judgement. We are all learning that underneath those labels we are all trying to do the best we can with this parenting gig!"
In a world of mommy wars and parent shaming and debates on right and wrong, the Stroller Brigade is a place where people can safely challenge each other's ideas and learn from one another in a shared community. (If only the rest of the world could do the same...)
As if that isn't valuable enough, these badass parents don't just talk the talk online.
Time and time again, they walk the walk, providing real, tangible support to community families who need it most.
When a mother in the group gave birth to a premature baby with Down syndrome, it was clear she and her family needed some help. Their family already had two other small children, so she and her husband were suddenly underwater trying to care for their premature newborn with special needs. After one short post in the Facebook group about needing a few items, 1,000 mothers responded with clothes, food, special bottles, milk, items for preemies, Down syndrome resources, offers of childcare for her other kids, and mountains of moral support.
Another time, a woman in the area tragically died during childbirth. The father desperately wanted to fulfill her wish and give their newborn baby, who survived, breast milk. A mother in the group responded by coordinating their first ever milk drive, allowing breastfeeding mothers in the community to donate their own milk for the baby.
The Stroller Brigade went to work. In just three days, the group raised 2,703 ounces of milk from 28 donors — enough milk for the baby to drink exclusively breastmilk for close to four months!
They are now coordinating their second annual drive, this time for an adoptive mother, and are hoping to beat last year's record.
That is the power of connection.
When they're not busy doing serious, generous work to help each other in times of need, they are helping each other in fun ways right there on the Facebook page.
There they can ask and answer questions that, as mothers, they all secretly spend time googling on their own. Stephanie recalls one of her favorite discussions in the group being sparked by a blind poll they took asking how often they were having sex with their spouses. Let's just say that the answers made everyone feel a lot better.
Today, as one of the group's co-administrators with Amy, Stephanie thinks back to that first crazy walk in the park four years ago and how there are still so many mothers who feel the same way they all did on that day.
"Now when I see new moms struggling with the gear and the crying kid and the spit-up I just want to reach out and say you will be okay. But instead I ask, 'Are you a member of the Columbia City Stroller Brigade?' Because I know this group can help them get through those earliest months of insecurity and self-doubt. We all just need to know that everyone feels that way and nobody is living the Pinterest dream."
As their mission statement says, this kind of support and authenticity may seem like not a big deal but it could mean something much more to someone else. I'm sure parents everywhere can agree.