Being pregnant and having a baby in New York City means you have certain resources at your fingertips. Where else in the world are there as many top doctors, hospitals, and schools, as well as cultural hotspots, shops, parks, and playgrounds so easily accessible? But when it comes to actually connecting with people, it’s easier said than done. Once baby arrives, your world can easily shrink down to your one- or two-bedroom apartment with frequent feedings, nearly constant napping, or the fear that you’ll be overwhelmed by the outside world with a newborn in your arms.
Like other new parents, having a baby was not only the most amazing feeling in the world, but it meant a major change in priorities and perspective for Gramercy Park mom-of-one Christina Stumer. “You are now taking care of this little baby, and all you do for yourself comes last or not at all,” she says. “The simple things like using the toilet or eating food become completely secondary.”
It was through her temple that Stumer first heard about Bowery Babes, a community of moms in Lower Manhattan. At the time, she was pregnant with her son, Harrison, and looking for ways to volunteer more and give back locally. “As a former elementary school teacher, I truly missed that part of my life,” she says. Stumer joined Bowery Babes and began planning educational and social events. She was pleasantly surprised by how many active moms were sharing information and asking baby-related questions online while also going out and engaging with one another in person.
Unlike so many moms groups nowadays, Bowery Babes began with face-to-face connections. Back in 2005, Broadway actress Melissa Errico–who’s now a mom of three daughters with husband Patrick McEnroe–met almost a dozen other expectant moms who were all due the same week at a prenatal class at Lila Yoga on the Bowery. From that yoga class, a Yahoo group eventually formed and 12 members grew to 75 and then a few hundred within a year. This was before social media became a primary means of communication and connection for people, especially new parents. Facebook was only just beginning to become mainstream, so families didn’t have as many avenues for finding one another. And, according to Errico, downtown is less residential and busier than uptown, which can be an added challenge. You may have a hard time fitting a stroller in some stores and on some sidewalks. But Lower Manhattan is also intimate and energetic with astonishing diversity. Just think of all there is to discover throughout Greenwich Village, Gramercy, Union Square, SoHo, NoHo, the Lower East Side, and Flatiron—even through sleep-deprived eyes.
Bowery Babes (as the Yahoo group came to be known) quickly started partnering with experts and organizations that were able to provide concrete information and actionable advice, like SoHo Parenting for counseling, Janeen Hayward for sleep consulting, and psychologist Marsha Greenberg, along with many skilled breastfeeding consultants. Bowery Babes expanded its informal yet informational online discussion group (with plenty of in-person play dates on the side) and began hosting educational seminars and webinars on everything from infant CPR to public and private preschools. The new mom support group then launched targeted subgroups for working parents, single parents, parents of children with special needs, adoptive parents, and LGBT parents. And no moms group is worth its salt without an active classifieds section for buying, selling, and exchanging all sorts of gear, and a board for finding a reliable nanny or caregiver. Plus, sponsorships with places like Third Street Music School Settlement, New Amsterdam School, and Beyond Mom mean that Bowery Babes members are aware of even more of the great things Manhattan has to offer.
It’s no surprise that a group so key to the emotional survival of new mothers is still standing a decade later. Now, Bowery Babes has blossomed to more than 3,500 members speaking 24 different native languages in more neighborhoods than ever before under Stumer’s leadership and Errico’s guidance. While some of the programming topics have changed–for example, there are now talks on issues like cyberbullying–a lot remains the same, including its main goal: To create a community for parents sharing notes, concerns, wisdom, and support, while calling upon trained professionals for parenting’s most frustrating problems like sleep, nursing, and work-life balance.
In addition to acting as an open and inviting space for moms to come together and console, encourage, and learn both online and in person, Bowery Babes has always given back to the larger community as a 501 c-3 non-profit with donation drives for organizations including The GOOD+ Foundation, Sanctuary for Families, and Toys for Tots. This once again extends the focus from adults juggling so many different things in their daily lives, to the struggles of other families with young children. That kind of perspective is essential to parenting in the city.
“This year, we will focus on families in need, poverty and hunger, environmental causes, and literacy and education,” Stumer says. She envisions Bowery Babes doing even more for the community, including having the Bowery Babes kids help out at charitable events. She also hopes to provide even better crowdsourced and highly recommended resources to local moms, like if you need a really good pediatric dentist or an allergy specialist for your child. For Errico, another step in a good direction would be developing a way to support moms as entrepreneurs and helping them find creative ways to make a living while raising a family. The cherry on top of this supportive sundae would be helping all the Bowery Babes kids stay connected as they grow older and doing something philanthropic as a group.
Manhattan is a big city by almost all standards, but it has a relatively small radius. “You think it would be easy to find moms and friendships and a community,” Stumer says, but that’s often not the case when busy streets and schedules can mean near total anonymity. It’s not like the suburbs where you know your neighbors. You could give birth the same exact day as another woman living down the block from you and never even meet her. That’s why it’s so important for parents to have a place to find each other and establish those lifelong friendships, for both themselves and their children.
The significance became crystal clear for Stumer when her mother became sick and passed away on her 40th birthday. “During the last few days of her life, several of my Bowery Babes mommy friends went above and beyond to reach out to help my family in so many ways. They treated me as though we had been friends for 20 years,” she says. In addition to a birthday luncheon for Stumer, one of the moms designed a special bracelet for her, which she now wears as a constant reminder of friends and family. On it are two simple words stamped indelibly: “Moms Forever.”