An Ottawa mom who started a social media group to connect with other new parents after having her first child now has a growing group of new friends.
Brianna Chapman says she decided to found the Facebook group Dope Moms of Ottawa to combat the isolation she felt even before her baby was born.
“When I found out I was pregnant, it kind of really started to hit home for me that I was gonna be alone on maternity leave,” Chapman said.
Becoming a new parent can bring about feelings of loneliness, she explains, as your daily routines suddenly revolve around feedings, naps and diaper changes rather than business meetings or social gatherings.
Whether you’re the first of your friends to have a child or a veteran parent, Chapman says some moms find it tough to make time for friends when there is a little one to care for.
With their partners away for the majority of the day in some cases, it can be tough for parents to find someone with whom to share ideas or concerns, Chapman says.
While there are dozens of Ottawa groups for new parents to join when looking for advice, Chapman says she noticed there were very few that actually looked to get people out of the house to meet up.
“It was more of a forum for Q&A, specific training questions, developmental questions, that kind of thing,” Chapman says. “But there wasn’t really anyone that was spearheading women to actually get out and meet in person.”
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While there is little research about new parents and isolation, a recent survey of 2,000 moms by the website ChannelMom.com found that more than 90 per cent of moms in the U.K. admitted to feeling lonely, with 54 per cent of them feeling “friendless.”
When it comes to moms and their mental health, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) says a social media group might just be the thing that helps.
“Some of these social media platforms can be used to tap into the wisdom of others with similar experiences — a type of crowdsourcing of knowledge,” said Nikki Hudson, program and project management officer at OPH.
“Social support is a key coping strategy during difficult transitions. Talking about problems or worries in a safe and moderated environment may help parents and caretakers feel better and someone may be able to assist — knowingly or unknowingly — by sharing experiences and offering suggestions.”
Chapman says one of the other aspects of these groups, especially online forums, is the tendency for members to get “cliquey.” Chapman says she has a zero-tolerance policy for judgmental moms and strives to make the group inclusive.
She also believes the main goal of getting these moms to meet in person really takes away the disconnect people tend to have on the internet, which can lead some to make comments they wouldn’t necessarily make in person.
“I think that’s really understood when you join,” said Chapman about her policy. “You can read through the posts and see that it’s just a super encouraging and really supportive environment.”
While meeting in person is the point of Chapman’s group, Hudson says that even if some moms aren’t comfortable with the public meetups, the online forums are still helpful, especially if some moms have difficulty accessing other forms of support.
“People with similar experiences can better relate, offer more authentic empathy and validation,” said Hudson.
“Sometimes, this support isn’t always easily accessible or for some. It may be difficult to share in person, hence social media is a nice alternative and fairly accessible channel for most parents and caregivers to stay informed, engaged and connected with their peers and health professionals.”
The group will celebrate its three-month anniversary on Oct. 6 and has grown to more than 1,100 members — way more than the initial 50 who came to the first meetup.
“I literally started it because I just wanted to make a couple of friends that were close to me that I could go for coffee with,” Chapman says.
Chapman encourages any moms who may feel shy about meeting with a group of people to come out anyway. She says she strives to make the group a safe place for moms to come with their babies, meet other moms, share some advice or even spend some time venting about their partners.
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“I’ve been in that situation where it’s really hard to get out and meet new people,” said Chapman.
“And if a mom’s not comfortable coming in because she feels like she’s not going to talk to anyone, I will personally go up and talk her. The sense of community really matriculates from the group in these meetups.”