A Wilmington Photographer Takes Us Behind the Lens of Her Parenting Experience
Local documentary photographer Angie Gray connected with other moms through The Birth Center. Years later, the group is still bonded together and navigating parenthood with a support network beside them.
When I made the decision in 2010 to have my first child at The Birth Center, it was because I wanted the exceptional care of a midwife and dreamed of an unmedicated water birth. My delivery didn’t go as planned, but what I ended up gaining from my connection to The Birth Center has been much more special than a water birth could ever be. My daughter didn’t enter this world inside the building on 7th Street, but it was on the other side of that purple door that my Moms Group was born.
I know what you’re thinking: Moms Group. Bleh. All the stereotypical memes and skits about annoying and judgmental moms’ groups are running through your mind. They’re funny and sad, and mostly true. Women can be brutal, and there are real concerns about the so-called “mommy wars” that plague modern parenting. But this is not that story. This is a story of 26 women who, for the past nine years, have been unwavering in their love and support for one another.
The Birth Center hosts free support groups for new moms and breastfeeding moms. A new group starts every few months, so the babies are at relatively the same stage. The stars didn’t align for my magical water birth, but they did align for breastfeeding, and I assumed that because it was going so smoothly, I didn’t belong in the support groups.
When my daughter was almost a year old, I was doing a photo shoot with a new mom and she raved about the support she felt from a network of women she met through the groups at The Birth Center. I confided in her that I had regretted not attending one. She didn’t hesitant to invite me into hers. I arrived home that day to find I had been added to their private Facebook group, and I was immediately welcomed into a safe and loving space that has helped me navigate the journey of motherhood ever since.
Our group has asked and answered every “Is this normal?” question imaginable. The early years centered on sleepless nights, feeding issues, meeting developmental milestones, finding the most flattering post-baby clothes and analyzing poop. Oftentimes, one of us would share a helpful tip, as Nora did when she offered this PSA: “Do not microwave your bras for five minutes like they tell you to do [to kill yeast with thrush]! Microwave fire barely avoided over here and two burnt bras— looks like a Mother’s Day trip to Target is happening!”
As our kids grew, conversations moved to researching preschools, how to best celebrate birthdays and holidays, discipline advice, asking for extra snow boots or a babysitter recommendation. We could ask, and answer, without fear of judgment (“How often do you really bathe your kids?) and often with humor.
Stacey, at her wits’ end with her newly 4-year-old, wrote, “Anyone survive the [expletive] hours with a boy? My sweet, snuggly baby is gone and has been replaced with a punching, growling dirt monster! I am sure there’s a quick and simple fix? Send help ASAP!”
Dispersed between these everyday questions, we shared deeper, more vulnerable struggles. These are the topics that have brought us closer together and bonded us in a unique way for almost a decade. I know, without a doubt, that what is shared in Moms’ Group stays in Moms Group. This trust allows us to freely give and receive support when life becomes too much to handle on our own. Kate summed it up once by saying, “Thank you for sharing how hard this has been on you. If we can’t be honest with each other about the hard realities of parenting, then we’re in trouble. We’re here for you.”
And we are. We’re here for it all. Some of us suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety (myself included). Some of us have navigated through second, third and fourth pregnancies. Some have suffered through infertility and miscarriages. Some of us are coming to terms with going back to work or what it means to leave a career behind. Some have lost a parent. Some of us have gotten divorced. Some of our children have special needs or chronic illnesses. And all of us are dealing with in-laws.
When my father passed away four years ago, it was these women who brought meals to my house and planted a memorial tree in my front yard. At the viewing, I had been standing for hours, hugging and kissing people I had vague memories of knowing as a child. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, and my 2-year-old had escaped the babysitter and was trying to climb inside my dress. As the tears started to swell, I looked up to see two moms from my group, Liz and Ashley, meet my eyes from the back of the room. In that moment, it was as if a large red M appeared on their chests—my Moms’ Group superheroes springing into action. They jumped out of line, practically threw people from their path, took my son from my arms and said, “You need a break. We’ve got this.”
As the years pass, our lives move in different directions. We’ve chosen a variety of schools, moved to Pennsylvania or Maryland, and gotten busy with extracurriculars. Inevitably, some will form stronger bonds with others, creating smaller subsets within our larger group. It’s been a few years since we had a kids’ glow party in Tina’s basement or a camping trip at the beach. We don’t always attend every birthday party or have time for impromptu meetups.
We do, however, have an annual Halloween Party with our whole families. It’s a chance for the kids (and dads) to reconnect and share in our bond. We also have an annual holiday party for just us moms. There’s a white elephant exchange (with a hilarious theme that shall remain a secret) and a lot of laughs. It’s a time to remember that our kids may be the reason we came together, but it’s the women we are, separate from motherhood, that has kept us friends.
The saying “it takes a village” most likely refers to raising children, but my village has taken on a different, perhaps more important role. They’ve helped raise a mother.
*Names have been changed to protect identity. Published as “Band of Mothers” in the May 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.