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More than words

Momalong writing group provides self-expression, social outlet for new mothers

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Libby Jeffrey felt stuck — stuck inside her head and stuck inside, quite literally, while the pandemic raged beyond her door. She had just given birth to her first child, Charlie, in March 2020, days after Winnipeg went into its first lockdown. Motherhood was not going as expected.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/01/2022 (381 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Libby Jeffrey felt stuck — stuck inside her head and stuck inside, quite literally, while the pandemic raged beyond her door. She had just given birth to her first child, Charlie, in March 2020, days after Winnipeg went into its first lockdown. Motherhood was not going as expected.

“They always tell you your birth plan isn’t going to go the way you think it will,” Jeffrey says. “I didn’t quite expect society to shut down.”

Her postpartum baby groups were cancelled and her family members were off-limits. Charlie was growing and changing quickly, but she was unable to share him with friends and loved ones. Isolation and anxiety were all-consuming.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ENT Libby Jeffrey (with her 20-month-old son, Charlie), is the creator of Momalong, an online writing group for new moms to connect and process their experiences of motherhood through prose and poetry.

“Giving birth and trying to process that, meanwhile also trying to think about what’s going on outside of my house and all the things I’m afraid of and doing constant risk assessment,” she says. “It was quite the thought loop and it was hard to get out of.”

Joining an online writing group helped break the cycle. It gave Jeffrey — a self-professed extrovert — an opportunity to talk to other people and get her thoughts down on paper.

The program led to Babybytes, a self-published collection of prose and poetry about new motherhood amid the pandemic, and an idea.

“Having a creative outlet was such a treasure and a gift for me during that time,” says Jeffrey, who is studying poetry at Simon Fraser University. “I started to talk about the idea of a writing group with other moms… and a lot of people, their eyes lit up in a very genuine way and they said, ‘I wish I had access to something like that when I had a baby.’”

The idea grew into Momalong, a writing group designed specifically for parents of kids 18 months old or younger. Jeffrey has hosted two sessions so far — the first with a small group of friends and the second with several mom acquaintances — and is now opening the group to the public.

The goal is to provide a kid-friendly space for self-expression and creative accountability. For Jeffrey, there have been a lot of parallels between developing a writing routine and learning how to parent.

“With writing, you’re gonna have a bad first draft, for example, and with mothering it was like, wow, my first diaper or my first feed were all a little rough, clumsy or embarrassing,” she says with a laugh. “When one or the other wasn’t going very well, I just tried to keep showing up.”

Momalong sessions are eight weeks long with classes taking place via video-conferencing app Zoom every Tuesday. Each workshop includes group discussions and writing prompts about life, motherhood and everything in between.

“Motherhood and having a baby gets really simplified, and you feel like you have to tell a certain story,” Jeffrey says. “But this is a place where it’s safe to tell a different story.”

Participants are encouraged to pop in and out as needed to accommodate childcare.

Supplied Jeffrey was inspired to self-publish a book of prose and poetry about motherhood after participating in an online writing group.

“It was really nice to be able to do something for me that wasn’t a baby group, but was still baby-friendly,” says Lissie Rappaport, who joined Momalong when her son Shai was four months old. “Being able to change his diaper or put him down for a nap and not have to worry about missing out on something was really important.”

For Rappaport, the group was a fun way to improve her writing and connect with other parents.

“The first few months of new motherhood were really challenging and can be pretty isolating — pandemic or not,” she says. “It was nice for me to process that but also to hear about other new moms’ experiences and to universalize some of the things that we were all going through independently.”

The next Momalong session begins Jan. 18 with space for 12 participants. Registration is $120; visit momalong.ca for more information.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

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Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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