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Last winter, Tracy Hresko Pearl thought she was ready to have a baby. She and her husband, Alex, bought 36 books on pregnancy and parenting to get themselves ready.
"We were happy about being pregnant, but also nervous and stressed out like any new parents," she says.
When Hresko Pearl's daughter Lilly arrived after 54 hours of labor, she was surprised to find that the challenges had only just begun. The physical recovery was tougher than she was expecting, and to make matters worse, Lilly was getting up every 45 minutes at night.
"I was feeling a disconnect between the cultural narrative, which is that 'every moment with your baby is going to be amazing,'" Hresko Pearl recalls. "The reality was that some moments were really amazing, and some moments were really terrible and really tough."
Support group in lieu of a manual
She wasn't the only one feeling that way. All around Washington D.C., all sorts of women were dealing with the exact same issues at the exact same time. Tracy learned this after joining a new mom support group run by the organization Parent And Community Education, or PACE.
"I joined when Lilly was just over a month, and it was by far the best thing that I did as a new mom," she says.
PACE works like this: you sign up after your baby is born and pay a $300 fee, then you can attend weekly sessions run by mental health professionals with groups of moms whose babies are about the same age. Judy Itkin, President of PACE, says moms are often confronted with conflicting advice. She says new moms need help sorting through all that information.
"We are used to being able to be in control," says Itkin. "We do have those manuals for our jobs, but not for the baby."
The new normal for a parent
Chris Hwang is one of the moms who desperately wanted a manual, Cliffs Notes or some sort of guide to help her through the first few weeks of motherhood.
"I wasn't really functioning as I normally do, due to the lack of sleep, because she was always up," Hwang says. "And then when it was time to sleep, I couldn't sleep because I had so much anxiety. It really was crippling anxiety."
Chris had post-partum depression. She began therapy with a psychiatrist and joined a support group with PACE. Eventually she decided to go on the anti-depressant Zoloft.
"After about a couple weeks, the anxious thoughts just stopped," says Hwang. "It was just such a relief, because I felt back to normal."
Judy Itkin says finding your way back to normal is what the first few months of parenthood is all about.
"You just have to be the good enough mother, or the good enough parent," says Itkin. "You don't need to be perfect. Our children learn by making mistakes, and so do we."
[Music: "Dear Mama (Instrumental)" by 2Pac from Instrumentals]
Photos: Making the leap to motherhood