Mentoring new moms - Mom 2 Mom helps mothers cope

By DeAnn Rossetti

Melissa Benaroya was hit with a double-whammy last year: She was nine months pregnant and had to relocate from Los Angeles to Seattle. She was a new mom in a different place without the pediatrician, lactation specialist and midwife she had in L.A.

Benaroya was a school social worker in South Central Los Angeles for five years when her husband got a job at a venture capital firm in Seattle.

Two weeks after giving birth to a girl, Benaroya found herself packing boxes into a moving van. The couple moved in with her in-laws. Shortly after that Benaroya's trouble breast-feeding Maya began.Benaroya turned to Heather Libman, a ``mentor mother'' in the Stroum Jewish Community Center's Mom 2 Mom program. Libman shared her experience as a mother and advice on breast-feeding. She also referred Benaroya to reading material about lactation.

``She normalized my experiences by telling me how she got through it,'' Benaroya said.

The Mom 2 Mom program helps new mothers cope with the challenges of being a new parent by supporting them in the critical first months after a baby arrives. New mothers are paired with ``mentor moms,'' women who have experienced being a new parent. Mentor moms listen to, relate with and refer new mothers to community and child services.

Mentors also let new moms know they don't have to revel in every minute of motherhood to be good people.

Society romanticizes motherhood without acknowledging the difficulties of being a mom, said Libman.

``When you do have trouble -- if you don't 100 percent enjoy being a mom -- you feel like a failure,'' Libman said. ``We explain that, yes, motherhood is amazing, but it's also challenging.''

Sometimes new mothers just need someone to listen, said mentor Bettina Weiss.

``We're unbiased and nonjudgmental,'' Weiss said. ``It's really a relief to have someone listen to you no matter what the issue, and know that they'll share insights about building that new baby-mom relationship.''

The program was founded by psychotherapist Yaffa Maritz in 2002. Maritz noticed that the JCC's other parenting program, Listening Mothers, was not addressing all of the participant's needs.

In addition to transitioning from professional life to parenthood, Maritz said there is pressure on women to be perfect mothers whose children are raised as superstars.

Spending all day indoors is another pressure.

``It's unnatural of us to be cooped up in a house all day alone with a baby,'' said Maritz. ``These mothers crave community, they long for the support of other mothers who can create a feeling of belonging.''

The JCC paired with Jewish Family Services for Mom 2 Mom because of JFS's experience in planning parenting programs and finding volunteer mentors. Though Mom 2 Mom is run out of the JFS offices, mothers of all faiths are welcome.

Mentor moms are trained by child health and development experts on postpartum depression and other issues, such as anxiety or breast pain from lactation.

Mentors are matched with new moms, who are referred by a physician or someone in the Jewish community. The new mom is paired with a mentor who has the same background, similar interests, personality or hobbies. The level of a mother's Jewish affiliation also is a factor in matching, so a conservative Jewish mom would be matched with a conservative Jewish mentor.

``Heather (Libman) is Jewish, too, so she could link me up with the faith community,'' Benaroya said.

The mentor and ``mentee,'' as they are called in the program, meet a minimum of four to six times for three months.

Mercer Island moms Jennifer Reibman, Michelle Feder, Bettina Weiss and Libman were in the first group of trained mentors. All felt their experiences were valuable for them and the new mothers.

``I got to see my mentee before and after the birth of her baby, which was ideal, because there was a flurry of adjustment once the baby was born,'' said Feder. ``Most of what I did was just listen and validate for her that this is a tough situation, having a new baby, and letting her know that there are resources in the community so she's not alone.''

As lawyer-turned-stay-at-home mother, Reibman said she was able to be a better mentor another new mom who was struggling with moving from a professional identity to being at home.

``It's especially hard when you're sleep deprived and need to be observant to your baby,'' said Reibman.

To help her mentee, Reibman located mothering classes at Seattle Central Community College and a Listening Mothers group, and talked to the mom about other issues important to her.

A new class of mentors just graduated from the training program and are now being matched to new moms. The first mentor group is still eager to be a part of the program and become matched again with a new mom.

Sharing ideas and talking with Libman made a difference in Benaroya's life as a new mother.

``No one tells you how you're going to feel about yourself and your baby after birth, when complications happen,'' she said. ``It's such a relief to know that problems are common, and that eventually it does get better.''

For more information, or to get involved in the Mom 2 Mom program, contact Marjorie Schnyder at 206-861-3146. For information on other programs available at the Stroum Jewish Community Center's Parenting Center, call 232-7115.

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