A woman peered into the double stroller and asked, “Are they twins?”
“Yes,” I responded.
“That must be difficult,” she said.
I heard this comment often when my twins were first born. It was difficult. Really difficult.
When I think back to that time period, two things helped me get through it: joining a group for moms of multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) and having a mentor.
A mom mentor is a parent to older children who gets matched with a first-time mom.
She provides support and feedback for the new mom. In my case, my mentor was assigned to me through a parenting group. She called me weekly in the beginning and then less often as I became adjusted to my new role as a parent of twins.
There are various types of mentor groups available. I spoke with the founder of two, one I participated in. Both mentor programs use peer volunteers who are matched up with a recent-mom mentee.
The group I belonged to is called Keeping Pace with Multiple Miracles.
I spoke with Pam Pace, one of the founders, about the mentor program she created with co-founder Donna Baker.
The mentor program began after Donna and Pam met in the hospital in 1994. Donna gave birth to triplets while Pam was on bedrest, pregnant with triplets. Donna became a mentor to Pam when her triplets were born three months later. They continued to support one another and then founded the nonprofit group. Their sister-like bond became the inspiration for the support they hoped to provide others.
I also spoke with Christine Sweeney, LICSW, who founded the Parent Connection in 1991. This program is based at Best Israel Hospital in Boston. It was created due to a need the OB-GYN nurses identified during followup calls from women who recently gave birth. Many of the new moms reported feeling overwhelmed or early symptoms of postpartum depression.
One of the greatest benefits that parents have gained from mentor programs is a support system.
When you first become a parent you may feel alone. If you don’t have family or friends nearby who understand your experience, it can be isolating. For many people, having a mentor provided a support system they were lacking. Even those who did have family or friends nearby said they didn’t always feel comfortable sharing the negative aspects of being a new parent with them.
Alexis Petru participated in the mentoring program Mentoring Mothers, located in San Francisco. According to Petru, “There’s still a stigma for women to talk about the ‘dark side of parenting.’ We’re still supposed to subscribe to that Hallmark-approved ‘enjoy every moment’ romanticized view of motherhood. During my mentoring group it was the first time I could really vent about my complicated feelings of motherhood … the anger, frustration, sadness and loneliness that goes along with the joy and wonder of raising children.”
Sweeney noticed a similar experience in her mentoring program: “Since there isn’t an agenda, expectations, or judgments, women feel safe discussing their struggles. Some women who had difficulty getting pregnant may think they can’t complain about how hard it is to be a new mom. A mentor gives the new mom a sense of relief and safety that they can talk about their feelings.”
Plus, women who are already moms can reassure new mothers, giving confidence and resources they can't get elsewhere.
Being a new parent is overwhelming. A lot of new parents question if they are correctly taking care of their baby. “A lot of new moms have questions about breastfeeding. Their mentor can help them provide answers and give them a sense of what is normal,” said Sweeney. The mentor can answer their questions and let their mentee know they are making progress, which increases their confidence.
In addition to answering questions, a mentor can help their mentee when they might not know how to ask for help or realize they need it. “Sometimes the new moms might have marital problems or financial issues, and the mentor will help them to get the resources they need,” says Pace. Sweeney also added that mentors are occasionally the ones to identify when a new mom is struggling with postpartum depression and will help the mentee receive the proper mental health services.
Ultimately, mentors can help new moms with their ultimate goal: being the best parent possible.
By having a support system and the proper resources, new parents are better able to care for their babies. Mentors help care for the new moms when they are focused on caring for their newborns. This enables the mentee to be a better mom to their newborn.
Where to find a new parent mentor program:
Check with your local parent groups or at the local hospital to find a mentor program for new parents. In Massachusetts, new parents can check out Keeping Pace with Multiple Miracles or Parent Connection, but many other cities host parenting mentorship programs too.
If you don’t have a mentor program near you, ask a friend or family member if they can be your new parent mentor or if they could recommend someone to mentor you. A weekly check-in phone call offering support and advice is what most mentors provide. Who knows — you could end up starting a mentorship network of your own!
This story originally appeared on Mother.ly and is printed here with permission.