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From belly to baby

At CoCoCare expectant moms Jeanette Santiago (left) Jordan Stellakis (right) exercise comfortable environment designed specifically for moms moms-to-be. From yogbody

At CoCoon Care, expectant moms Jeanette Santiago (left) and Jordan Stellakis (right) exercise in a comfortable environment designed specifically for moms and moms-to-be. From yoga to body toning and a variety of workshops, CoCoonCare is a hub for Chicago women. Jane Donahue/For Sun-Times Media/20130912 Thursday, Chicago

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More support

Feelings about motherhood can go from magical to monotonous, all in the swoop of a diaper wipe. Connecting with others can help as you transition into your new role. Here are a few other ways to do so:

Breastfeed Chicago is a mom-powered organization that supports mothers in breastfeeding;

Babywearing International of Chicago is an organization that promotes the benefits of babywearing (use of a baby carrier) for both child and caregiver;

Neighborhood Parents Network connects families with the resources they need to navigate parenting in the city;

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Updated: October 27, 2013 6:08AM

After months of preparing, you’re finally ready to be a mom.

Not exactly.

Despite reading every how-to book and taking an array of classes during pregnancy, you realize nothing can fully prepare you for your amazing — and terrifying — new role.

“The best analogy I have come up with is the Grand Canyon,” said Audra Lawlor of Ravenswood, mother of 4-month-old Grace. “People will tell you the Grand Canyon is really big, and then you actually get to the Grand Canyon. You just don’t understand what being a mom is going to be like until you go through it.”

Dr. Akua Afriyie-Gray, obstetrician and gynecologist at Loyola University Health System, said throughout pregnancy, women receive information from countless sources — some of it conflicting.

“Everyone’s experience is different,” said Afriyie-Gray, “but all of this advice can be used as a tool to develop your own way of being a good mother.”

The 34-year-old Lawlor found welcome advice when she joined the Chicago New Moms Group, a professionally led education and peer support program for new moms (

“We were all fundamentally dealing with the same issues,” Lawlor said. “We talked about everything from the emotional aspect of motherhood to the practical things. It was a safe environment to bounce ideas off each other.”

Founded in 2011 by Chicago resident and licensed clinical social worker Linda Szmulewitz, the Chicago New Moms Group provides women an opportunity to get together weekly for six weeks to discuss the ups and downs of being a first-time mother.

Szmulewitz said establishing relationships with other moms is important because many of the traditional support systems — sisters, mothers and aunts — aren’t available because people don’t live near immediate family.

“It is so important to reach out to other moms early on,” said Szmulewitz, a mother of two. “We are isolated; we live in these individual homes and apartment buildings and nobody realizes that we may be struggling with all the everyday things that come with having a baby.”

That’s something Chicago resident Leasa Navarro understands.

“The moment we brought our daughter home from the hospital, we quickly realized that this parenting thing was going to be much different than we had expected,” said Navarro. “We yearned for a community of parents to reassure one another that we were not all going crazy.”

So in November, 2012, Navarro and husband Carlo launched, a social and supportive community for Chicago parents. Today, kickSprout has active chapters in several cities where they host get-togethers, events and parenting workshops.

“kickSprout is a destination, a place where parents can go to connect with local resources and meet their neighbors,” said Navarro.

Kiran Advani and Alok Jhamnani envisioned a fitness and wellness center that would be a hub for moms and moms-to-be. In February, they opened CocoonCare, 409 W. Huron, where women can get fit and tackle the role of motherhood together.

“CocoonCare becomes a source of comfort for new moms,” said Advani. “Everyone is going through the same thing; you are meeting others who are pregnant or are new mothers, and you don’t feel so isolated.”

Jane Donahue is a local freelance writer.

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