Group, online forum help moms meet challenges

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Jessica Manela Litwack

Becoming a mother is all about helping guide a new life into the world, but for Jessica Manela Litwack, it also spawned a desire to help guide other mothers as they enter the new world of parenthood.

“Once I had my own daughter seven years ago, I really had my eyes opened up to how challenging it is to be a mom,” said Litwack, who has a master’s in social work from Washington University, “and how valuable it is to have other moms going through similar experiences just to feel validated, supported, commiserate, all of the things that help you get through some of these harder moments.”

That’s what led her to found mamaSpace, a Facebook group she brought online in 2012 and which has grown to include more than 23,000 members who share stories, swap advice and exchange ideas.

Now, the 38-year-old Washington, D.C. area native is taking her concept to the next level with the St. Louis New Moms Group, a six-week session for that meets weekly at Temple Israel. The course, which costs $165, is already underway but future iterations could start in the spring if there is demand. Topics addressed in the group will include everything from making the transition to motherhood and maintaining life balance to creating “me” time and deciding whether to return to work.

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This isn’t Litwack’s first time facilitating discussions on childhood issues. The TI congregant is also a certified sleep coach who deals specifically with sleep concerns related to youngsters. She also has a background in Jewish communal life. The decade-and-a-half since her arrival in St. Louis has seen her hold positions at Hillel, in youth programming at the Jewish Community Center, and with the Federation’s development department.

Your social media presence has been running for some time. Why did you decide to begin the in-person group setting now?

Honestly, I’ve wanted to do it for quite a while. But being a mom of younger children myself, there were certain limitations to what I could manage. I had my hands in some different baskets. But I think it is obvious through my Facebook group and the number of mom blogs that are out there that moms get so much out of connecting with one another and just having a support network that makes them feel like they are not alone in their challenges. Personally, it was a good time for me to start it now that both of my kids are in school but I think there has always been a need.”

What happens at St. Louis New Moms Group sessions?

Each week, we will have a topic that we specifically discuss. I will have information to share so I can educate on resources and there will always be time for discussion as well. Other things will come up organically. Each session is an hour and a half. The goal is to have this educational component as well as discussion of relevant topics but also to have the natural connection and community that will be created by being in a room with mothers going through similar experiences.

Will this be a lecture? A class? A conversation?

I never lecture. Even when I go out and give sleep talks in the community, we’re always sitting in a circle with people. I want it to feel very safe and comfortable. I’ll be talking quite a bit about these topics but with lots of room for questions and specific areas of concern.

Tell me about your experiences as a sleep coach.

I work with families whose babies and toddlers and young children are having trouble falling asleep at night or staying asleep. Sometimes people need help figuring out how to make that not happen. That’s always a big topic for sleep-deprived parents.

What’s the biggest concern you hear from moms? 

I guess I would have to say it is just the huge shift in your lifestyle. There is a lot of talk before you have a baby about the birth itself, your registry and getting your home ready but after the baby is born, basically everything changes. A lot of the things I’m talking about are the main concerns within that. Your relationship shifts with your spouse, with friends. You are not sleeping as much. You don’t have time to go to the gym or things like that.

It sounds like the Facebook group and these sessions are about more than just information. What else do new moms need?

The missing piece is having those stronger connections. Moms are looking for mom friends. I see people posting about that saying ‘Does anybody live around here? I really want to talk to someone else who has been through trouble breastfeeding or postpartum depression.’ I think people are definitely looking for that.

What kind of feedback have you gotten on the Facebook group? Are people getting the answers they need?

People will say, “Omigosh, I was so tired in the middle of the night and didn’t know what to do. I posted at 2 a.m. and had 10 responses in 10 minutes.”

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