When I was pregnant for the first time, I took a seven-week birth class and was introduced to my first batch of soon-to-be-parents. About eight couples packed in to the living room of our birth teacher's Park Slope brownstone pounded crudité and flax crackers and shocking amounts of cheese, and listened to roughly three hours of baby talk.
Each week, my heartbeat would steady, hearing my classmates talk out all their birth and postpartum anxieties and, most comforting to me at the time, commiserate about what a surreal and uncomfortable surprise pregnancy turned out to be. It was basically group therapy and I loved it.
All but one of the friendships I made in that class have not endured the last three and a half years, but most of us still keep up with each other on Instagram or Facebook and I wouldn't trade the warmth and connectivity I felt to all those expectant parents at the time for anything.
I'm convinced that finding friends while you're on the rocky road toward parenthood is a balm for a tricky time, but I'm not sure I can explain exactly why. I just know it felt good. “Pregnancy is a point in time of dramatic change," says Neelu Shruti, owner of the West Village-based Love Child Yoga, a community that provides not only prenatal and postnatal yoga, doula care, and birth classes, but new parent support as well. “Many people find the immediate postpartum period the most challenging and isolating. It's great to have made connections beforehand so that you have someone you can text or call before you're ready to be out and about and meet up."
Shruti noted as well that many of us are away from the families that might have provided us much-needed daily support. And if our current friends aren't necessarily having kids at the same time as us or, in my case, live far away, then expanding our networks becomes essential.
But if you aren't taking a college-course style birth class like mine, how exactly do you make those friends? Yogi, doula and breastfeeding counselor Neelu Shruti has five tips:
1. Strike up a conversation. This can happen at work, in line at a store or cafe, a yoga class or birth class, or in a doctor's waiting room. If you're not confident they're pregnant, start with small talk. If you can tell they're pregnant, ask how far along they are and how they're feeling.
2. Don't be afraid to exchange information. Get your future friend's email, phone numbers, Instagram handle, whatever suits you best. But remember to follow up! Suggest taking a walk together or going to a yoga class.
3. Try to be judgement-free. There are a million different ways to be pregnant and be a parent, so remember to respect everyone's choices.
4. Seek out prenatal meet-ups and spaces like yoga studios, neighborhood cafes, or baby stores that cater to expecting parents.
5. Join groups online. And don't be afraid to share your story, questions, concerns. Internet parenting groups are the most active so if you can't find an existing one in your neighborhood, start it yourself.
I'm now a month away from having my second child and finding myself, like a child on the school playground, scanning the vicinity for anyone who might be in the same boat as me. It's nerve-wracking, but so necessary. Parenting is a lovely and, at times, lonely haul, and finding friends along the way can make even the hardest and most overwhelming moments that much easier.