By Ashley Lugo, M.S.W. (2023), Founder & Executive Director, Choosing Kind, and Julia Choe-Castillo, M.P.H., M.S.W. (2023), Program Consultant, Choosing Kind
Choosing Kind provides mothers with resources and encouragement to thrive as individuals and within the family unit. Our primary activities are peer-led perinatal support groups, such as the Motherhood Village program; educational outreach; and community engagement.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Choosing Kind has offered weekly Motherhood Village meetings through Zoom. Our peer facilitators guide the virtual sessions by leading the introductions and establishing session guidelines. They also help ensure that confidentiality among participants is maintained, a nonjudgmental stance is upheld, and that participants do not interrupt each other. Peer facilitators consistently structure each weekly session as follows:
- Begin with a brief check-in, where participants discuss how they did during the week
- Engage in a mindfulness exercise
- Continue with a facilitator-guided sharing of information
- Close the session with a wrap-up summary.
Whereas transportation and childcare were previously identified as barriers to attendance at these sessions, virtual meetings promoted a more consistent and broader range of geographic participation. Twice as many people attended after COVID-19 began.
Amy’s story below is one example demonstrating how participants benefited from participation in our Motherhood Village program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amy is a 35-year-old cisgender female who gave birth to her second baby in March 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown. Her husband continued working in person while she shifted to remote work. Her childcare closed down permanently, leaving her to attend to her infant and toddler while working. She and her husband have no extended family or friends nearby. They also live in a rural area with few accessible social and health resources. Caring for her newborn and toddler, the feeling of isolation, and professional and family responsibilities weighed heavily on her physically and emotionally. A local perinatal support organization referred her to Motherhood Village. Her husband cared for their children while Amy attended virtual meetings for over two years.
Amy worried about how to protect her family’s health, finances, and well-being. She asked herself the following questions:
- Were their jobs secure?
- How could she work while giving her kids the attention they needed?
- Would she and/or her husband be able to leave work when their daughter needed to go to newborn appointments?
Swirling uncertainties compounded by COVID-19 amplified her stress related to parenting and life. Getting through every day became a struggle, and she began feeling hopeless.
Although she felt overwhelmed after the birth of her second baby, a weekly Zoom call proved to be a vital self-care activity. In these virtual meetings, mothers shared their experiences with breastfeeding, postpartum depression, concerns with children meeting developmental milestones, and chronic exhaustion. Amy found a supportive space to voice frustrations and successes in parenthood, partnerships, and work.
As pandemic guidelines and policies became more confusing, participants discussed “decision fatigue.” That is, the difficulty in making critical decisions that affected their children’s health and family’s future in the midst of changing and/or confusing information. Specifically, parents struggled with decision-making related to bringing their children into public spaces, attending in-person daycare and school, allowing family and visitors into their homes, vaccinating their kids, and more. Motherhood Village participants agreed that their kids’ safety was paramount regardless of their political and social views. The pandemic compounded challenges in parenthood, but Motherhood Village group members validated and encouraged each other.
Amy formed close friendships with other moms, and even connected with them outside of Motherhood Village. She became part of a community and felt heard and supported. In Amy’s words:
Motherhood Village helped me get through a time when I felt like I was drowning. I felt completely alone, confused, and exhausted, but I made friends who shared the same experiences and worries. They understood what I was going through. Now I have a network of moms who I know care about me and are there for me.