SMYRNA, Del. (AP) — Motherhood can be isolating, but Brittney Passerell, the health coach and fitness instructor behind The Mothers Circle, wants to help with that.
“I think it’s so surprising when you become a new mom and nobody tells you about how hard it is,” Mrs. Passerell said during the Delaware Mom Time meeting at the Smyrna Health and Wellness Center on March 6. “And it’s really surprising for a lot of people, myself included, so just to have the support available is really critical.”
The Mothers Circle has several different facets to it. Delaware Mom Time, held every other Friday, is free. Working with Postpartum Support International of Delaware, Mrs. Passerell received training to offer peer-led support groups.
Delaware Mom Time began in September 2019, though the Mothers Circle had been going since 2017, after Mrs. Passerell’s first daughter was born.
“It started off with the fitness aspect of it, the yoga and the core classes, because fitness and wellness has always been a huge part of my life,” she said. “As those classes progressed, I just really realized that a need for social support within motherhood.”
She happened to be following Postpartum Support International of Delaware on Facebook and when they posted a call for peer training, she answered. She completed the training last summer, and the group began after that.
Through her training, she can connect mothers with resources on crisis management, mental health, doulas, physical therapy and more.
The group is open to all moms — new or seasoned — and moms can bring their children.
“We do have a different topic each time,” she said. “Then, of course, it usually evolves into anything and everything. Nothing’s really off limits.”
Typically, the group sees between four and 10 moms.
“Our biggest reason for existing is that peer support is a big component in preventing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders,” Mrs. Passerell said.
While the group is free, the Mrs. Passerell’s fitness courses, yoga/core and a mommy and me yoga class, have fees. Mrs. Passerell also hosts Moms Night Out and a book club.
Three things, she added, that boost mood are: exercise, getting out of the house and meeting other moms.
“My groups and classes provide space for all three of these things to happen. Combining social support with an opportunity to exercise, while being able to bring your kids with you if you so choose, is a way to connect with community members who are right in the same stage of motherhood as you,” she said. “I see friendships and connections being made among these moms, and that is so imperative in motherhood.”
Needing to connect and find support was something that Mrs. Passerell related to, she added. A native of Cleveland, she and her husband moved to Delaware seven years ago for work.
“I quickly realized the need for the support of other moms in my own self, and I knew there must be other moms feeling the same way,” she said.
The mothers in her group on March 6 did experience those feelings. Taking part in the group gives the women somewhere to go and something to do, but also reminds them that they’re not alone, they agreed.
“That’s a transition that you don’t really think about — going from having to go to work or having to go to class — having to go to anywhere,” noted Annie Lanouette. “Now you’re at home with a baby all the time. You don’t really have anywhere necessarily to be at any given time. It’s nice to have something.”
Yesenia Sudler added that it is easy to feel trapped.
“You have to get so much stuff ready, it’s not just like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just going to put on my jacket and leave.’ You’ve got to have your bag, and the stroller, and the ‘this,’ and the ‘that’ and it’s just so much stuff,” she said. “Then (you) come to a group of people who understand, ‘Hey, I’m probably not going to be on time.’”
Alicia Lalancette is a first-time mom and going out for her sometimes comes with a lot of anxiety, she said.
“‘Oh my God, is he going to start crying? What am I going to do? What are people going to think?’” she said. “I can actually come here and he’s screaming, crying and everybody understands.”
As a military wife, Andrea Sierra said that she has to put herself out there in these kinds of groups to forge connections.
“I’ve only been here for six months now, so I just wanted to meet moms that weren’t military,” she said.
She added that in her searching, a lot of the groups were mostly in Wilmington, and this was the closest one for her.
“They made me feel right at home,” she added.
For Gabrielle Connolly, the stress and anxiety of being a new mom were weighing on her about six to eight months after she had her first child.
“I realized that I needed something for myself to help get my anxiety levels down and relax and do something on my own at some point,” she said. “I started looking for different mom groups or yoga activities.”
She found The Mothers Circle through Facebook and started going to Moms Hour Yoga, which is just for moms. (Mrs. Passerell hosts another class that welcomes children).
“After the very first class I felt a huge difference,” she said. “I went up to her after the first class, and said, ‘You’re a miracle worker.’”
The class also gave her the social aspect of meeting other moms, which has provided additional support. That was something she didn’t have before, she said.
“I definitely think that’s a huge part of why Brittney’s group is so successful,” she said.
Since she started, she has participated regularly in the yoga class. She’s eight months pregnant now, she added, and still participating.
Mrs. Passerell noted that motherhood changes everything — “your relationships, your body, your priorities,” she said.
“Postpartum depression and anxiety, there’s so many moms that go through it, but I think that so many moms think they have to battle that on their own. They don’t have to,” she said. “Although this is not a therapy group, we’re just here to be able to have these conversations, these real life, raw conversations because we know that social support is a huge factor in preventing and also treating PPA and PPD.”
She added that a lot of the focus falls on the baby and not many check in to see how the mom is doing.
“Whether in my yoga classes, in the Delaware Mom Time group, or any other group or class we have, my goal is to help moms navigate through this season by giving them access to social support and mindful exercise, which both facilitate healing, strength and a healthy mental state,” she said.