The 3- and 4-month-old babies in the Newborn PIPSqueaks group could not be more different. Farryn sleeps like a champ at night. Ada is much too busy laughing for that. Willy is having a nice snooze in the car seat, while Gracie is all smiles.
Their parents, who are new at this, joined the group when the babies were as young as 2 weeks old. They knew they would need a support network to get through these first months.
PIP — Partners in Parenting — started two years ago after moms Carolyn Opps and Krista Miller had their first babies. “I was the first one of my friends to get pregnant,” Miller says. She knew about a program in Seattle, where she had lived previously, that was for early parenting support. “I wanted it for myself, but there was nothing like it.”
Opps and Miller found their own support groups through birthing classes or acquaintances, but those were informal groups — and they didn’t talk about what was really going on at 2 a.m. when no one was sleeping.
The idea for a formal support group kept circulating in their minds. When their babies were 18 months old, they decided to do something about it. They combined their skills in marketing (Miller) and teaching (Opps) and launched PIP.
One of their first steps was to go to Seattle to meet with Programs for Early Parent Support, which had been doing it for 30 years. PEPS shared its resources with Opps and Miller, who later adapted them to be more Austin-centric.
They created a couple of different groups: Newborn PIPSqueaks for parents of babies age newborn to 4 months and a Baby PIPSqueaks for parents of babies 4 months to 10 months. Each group has a trained facilitator. The newborn group meets for 12 weeks and chooses from 35 different topics based on the group’s interest ($150), and the baby group meets for eight weeks and chooses from 30 topics ($100). Sometimes the topics come with guest speakers; other times a member of the group or the facilitator will lead the topic.
Often, some of the best information comes from what parents share with one another, Opps says.
Group dynamics also dictate whether they do things with their babies such as learn songs or share a meal together. Some groups meet during the daytime with just primary caregivers and babies. Others meet at night with both parents and baby. Each session is 90 minutes, and many groups meet at each other’s homes or in the facilitator’s home.
“It’s a nonjudgmental space,” says Rachel Ladov, PIP’s new executive director. Some parents are co-sleeping, others are using cribs; some are breast-feeding while others use formula.
“There’s no agenda,” Miller says.
Each week, parents give their highs and lows. “It’s a place where you can be honest,” Ladov says. “Online you can’t be as honest. You present a pretty picture.”
PIP places families into groups based on where they live, with the hope that after the program is over, parents will continue to get together for play dates.
PIP is starting to get some alumni to join the board or to become facilitators. Meera de Mel was in a group a year ago and is now facilitating one for Willy, Gracie, Ada and Farryn’s parents. “It’s really, really brilliant,” she says. “They are here in the trenches together.”
While de Mel comes armed with information, this group really has taken on a life of its own; now the parents rotate who hosts and cooks dinner and who leads the conversation.
Gracie’s mom, Blair Fowler, joined the group when Gracie was 2 weeks old. “I feel like we have gone through the worst of babyhood with support,” she says. For her, acknowledging her highs and her lows each week has been helpful, “just to get that out.”
When Laine Hardy shares her low — that Ada doesn’t sleep — the group offers some tips but mainly offers reassurance that it’s going to be OK, eventually.
Her partner, Devin Price, says ,“It’s great just to be able to socialize with people going through the same thing in life.”
PIP has plenty of room for growth, from adding more groups in different parts of the city to starting a group for second-time parents to starting a group just for dads.
PIP is also working to create a model that funds itself. Right now, it has a grant from the Burdine Johnson Foundation to help offset some of the costs and offer scholarships.
One of the biggest challenges for PIP has been trying to get new parents to realize they will need this level of support. “You can’t tell an expecting parent, ‘It’s going to be rough,’” Opps says. “We have to be able to say, ‘It will benefit you.’”
“They don’t realize how isolating it can be,” Ladov says.