Resource center offers support, community for expectant parents
'You can say anything here,' says leader of discussion group for new moms, dads
Breastfeeding. Swaddling. How to bathe a newborn.
The subjects are as old as human time, but they spring to new life daily at places like Blossom Birth, a Palo Alto gathering spot for pregnant women and new parents.
On almost any given day, mothers and babies can be found here, sharing newborn stories and tips, practicing breastfeeding or yoga or watching their toddlers dance in "pre-ballet."
The rise of the Internet has created an explosion of choices for expectant parents looking for childbirth and post-partum education — including online instruction.
Locally, the nonprofit Blossom is one of several bricks-and-mortar options. Others include the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and the retail store Day One.
Expectant couples can choose from an array of approaches to childbirth, including the 70-year-old Lamaze technique, the coach-assisted Bradley Method, and newer ideas such as "hypnobirthing" and "birthing from within."
There's no single "right" choice, say local birth educators, adding that they consider it their mission to support each woman on whatever path feels right to her.
Probably because of the Internet, enrollment in traditional childbirth classes is down across the country, said Becky Beacom, health education manager at PAMF and a longtime childbirth educator herself.
"People are looking for shorter classes," she said.
"We know they want the fast stuff, but they still need skills to really prepare them to cope with labor."
Despite a smorgasbord of online material, Beacom insists there's no real substitute for the human touch in getting across essential prenatal and postpartum information — and providing bonding and fellowship for new moms and dads.
"I built my community of friends at Blossom Birth," said Mora Oommen, who was 7 months pregnant when she and her husband moved to Palo Alto from Boston four years ago.
"I struggled with that choice — 'should I go back to work, should I stay home?' Coming to discussion groups here really helped me with that decision," said Oommen, now the executive director at Blossom.
Recently, an increasing number of new mothers have been returning to work sooner, observes Eva Roodman, who has facilitated parent discussion groups at Blossom for the past 10 years.
"Maybe it's the economy or something. The choice or ability to stay at home longer is out the window," Roodman said.
"A lot used to go back after a year, after two years. But more women are just not leaving their jobs and have the three- or four-months' leave."
For full-time working parents, Blossom holds yoga and discussion groups on Sundays.
"There's a big hunger for it," Roodman said. "So many women going back to work feel really concerned about the disconnect from the parenting community."
With parents who typically are well-informed and well-read professionals, Roodman views her role as that of facilitator rather than leader.
"They're Internet-savvy and they've read every article about vaccinations, breastfeeding, sleeping, co-sleeping SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)," she said. "My mission is to try to help them find their way."
When the ever-popular subject of sleep came up in a recent discussion group of 14 parents of newborns, one mother volunteered that she had read five books on the subject.
The parents — 12 moms and two dads — were gathered in a carpeted room furnished with seating around the edges. As they talked, some held sleeping infants, others breastfed and two stood and jiggled fussy babies.
The diverse, international clientele drawn to Blossom adds weight to Roodman's view that "there's no one 'right' way to parent."
"It lends itself nicely to the atmosphere I like to engender, which is, 'Take a bit of this and a bit of that.' There are no bibles here," Roodman said.
"People from the Netherlands come here and talk about the social issues around going back to work when they have two years' paid leave, and others struggling with going back after three months.
"We have cultures where co-sleeping is what's done, which gives insight to people who are fundamentalists about the idea that babies must sleep separately and be independent."
Back in the discussion room, Roodman provoked laughter when she told parents that a graduate of the discussion groups had come back and told her: "'There are two things you're not allowed to say at Blossom: that your baby is sleeping through the night and that you're back to your pre-pregnancy weight.'
"But the reality is, you can say anything here," Roodman told the parents.
What: Blossom Family Fun Day and Meet BABI Fair
When: Saturday, Aug. 13, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Downtown Community Center at All Saints' Church, 555 Waverley St., Palo Alto
Activities: Music performances for children, including Yoga with Kids, 10:15 a.m.; Raggae singer and preschool teacher Craig, 11 a.m.; AndyZ, noon; Music for Families, 1:30 p.m. plus crafts, obstacle course, photo shoots
Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.