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Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

PEPS gave me a reason to leave the house. Nearly two years later, it still does.

Jennifer F
Jennifer and her daughter

Jennifer's PEPS friends
Jennifer and her PEPS friends

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- by Jennifer Fliss

I was that kid who gravitated towards babies. I was the teen who was a camp counselor. I was the woman who was happy to entertain an upset child on an airplane; funny faces and an offer of brief reprieve for the anxious parents. I absolutely, positively wanted children. A few of them, in fact.

And then I had one. This is not to say I don’t want one anymore. I am thrilled with my now 22 month old daughter. But that first year was a rip to my psyche that I had no indication of pre-child. Pregnancy: check. Labor: check. Birth: check. That first year of incessant crying and sleeplessness: check.

I didn’t leave the house for a long while, preferring to hibernate with my screaming baby and my teary self. Buckets of salt water; a deluge a Seattle winter had never seen before.

Then my PEPS meetings began. We talked about diapers and breastfeeding and to TV or not TV. We talked about post-partum recovery, post-partum depression, and post-partum sex. All of that was useful information, to be sure. But, what was most valuable was not what we talked about: the facilitator who followed me into a side room and put a hand on my shoulder when I cried and cried and cried; the friends who insisted I meet them out at the playground, out of the darkness and into the light. PEPS gave me a reason to leave the house. Nearly two years later, it still does.

The power of community is strong. For some, Seattle is a large city. For others, like myself, it’s a small Mayberry-esque town, one where I bump into people I know at the grocery store and at the library. But, community is no less important in a small city.

You can find community in your churches and synagogues. You can build a community from sports teams and hobbies. But, once you bring a child into your life in the all-encompassing way that parenthood descends, it can be difficult to do what you once did. Just going out to eat becomes a significant challenge, one not worth the artichoke dip or steak frites. Some folks don’t have children. Others go out to leave the kids at home. Far be it from you to be the one to ruin their night. Having kid-friendly excursions are critical to the early days of parenthood. And so with my PEPS group, we met at each other’s houses, playgrounds, the zoo, story time.

We bonded over those things you expect: sleeplessness and sadness, first steps and feedings. We stay connected because while our newborns are no longer infants, our infants are now toddlers, and our toddlers will soon be tweens, we all went through the most monumental change of our lives together. We would never have been able to create these circles of life without PEPS. We barely could feed ourselves in those early days, no way could we organize a group of strangers to meet weekly.

My baby cried incessantly. Colic, they said. That mysterious crying lasted nearly a year resulting in some not-often talked about post-traumatic-stress. My daughter still sleeps terribly. I’m ridiculously exhausted, maybe even more so than those weeks that followed her birth. But when she runs around the kitchen island chasing one of her little PEPS friends, or when one of my PEPS moms watches her while I get a much-needed break, or when I revisit a story time at the library, I am reminded that PEPS doesn’t just provide a place to go and people to talk to. PEPS creates a safe place for all kinds of parents; whether they just love newborns! or they question their will to go on during those long, long summer days of infancy; or those in the middle who wonder if they’ll ever escape the doldrums of teething unscathed. PEPS provides community. PEPS provides the groundwork for a healthy childhood, starting with providing the tools for a healthy parent.

I wish for so many new parents, an organization like PEPS in their cities and towns. I feel a profound sense of loss for those who have to struggle alone, or even for those who can’t share their accomplishments and prideful moments with others. I am, no doubt, a better parent due to PEPS.

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