The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is particularly true these days. Young couples with children often live far away from family, and often they have limited support systems in place that will help them in times of crisis. One group in Ankeny — the Ankeny Area Moms Meetup Group — was formed with the idea that moms need other mom friends — people to call on when kids are sick, times are tough or they need a shoulder to cry on. This group has spawned many friendships and, even more importantly, it’s given these moms something they all desperately need: camaraderie with others who are in the same boat.
Chrissy Eberhart, Ankeny mom of two, formed the group in the summer of 2007. She joined a Des Moines area moms group when her son was born. As she met people in that group, she decided she wanted to start a group in Ankeny.
“I just decided to start it,” she says. “I had met a couple people through the Des Moines one, and so we did our first meet-up in my tiny townhouse. We didn’t know anyone with kids when Brody was born, and through it we met so many people with kids his age.”
Eberhart used the website www.meetup.com to form the group. It allows organizers to utilize a calendar to plan meet-ups, a message board and other tools to stay connected. Soon she was planning park play dates, in-home play dates, lunch meet-ups and other ways for moms to sign up to meet other moms and their kids.
The group has since been through a couple different organizers over the years. Current organizers Megan Flynn and Amy Kort agree that the group has been a godsend for them and others.
“I joined in 2011 when my daughter Emma was about 6 months old,” Flynn says. “I had just decided to stay home with my daughter, and I wanted to find people to interact with and things to do with Emma and have her be around other kids and find friends myself.”
Kort had just decided to stay home with her daughter after going back to Principal Financial Group for nine months after she was born.
“A friend of mine said to look on meet-up and see if there are any moms groups,” she says. “One of the common complaints in staying home is you might feel isolated. You don’t have water cooler talk. I wanted a sense of community and to meet people and have play dates.”
Since its beginnings, hundreds of moms have been involved with the group. Currently there are about 90 members, and they run the gamut — stay at home, work at home and full-time working moms. There are meet-ups scheduled for all days and times, and moms are free to pick and choose what activities appeal to them.
“It just took off,” Eberhart says. “There was clearly a need for it. And there still is because it’s still about 90 moms.”
All of the moms involved agree that the best thing that comes from the group is the friendships they make with other members. They joke that they find their posse in the group — there are always sets of friends who end up clicking and becoming close both within the group and as families outside the group.
Moms Hollie Smith and Stephanie Petersen met in 2011, and they’ve become very close. So have their girls. In fact, Hollie’s daughter Chloe, 5, and Stephanie’s daughter, Hannah, 6, consider each other to be best friends. The families have also become close, gathering for holidays and going camping together.
“We moved here from Denver and only knew a couple people in Ankeny,” Smith says. “The meet-up group saved my social life. I have enjoyed all of the activities and events that we have participated in over the years. But I was even luckier to have made some lifelong friendships. Not only are Chloe and Hannah best friends, but Stephanie and I developed a true friendship as well.”
The best thing about these friendships is they result in having someone to call on when things get tough. Kids are sick? A mom will offer to make an ice pop or Pedialyte run. Have a dentist appointment? You have someone to call when you don’t have family close by who can watch the kids in a pinch.
“When someone has a new baby or surgery or something, we can arrange meals and other things to help them,” Kort says. “That’s how I met Megan Flynn. When she was having Abby, I signed up to bring her a meal, and have kids the same age and connected that way.”
Flynn says the group was amazing when she was diagnosed with breast cancer during her second pregnancy.
“I talked to the leaders at the time, and they wanted to help,” she says. “People would come over and help out with watching the girls, walking the dogs, helping with laundry and housework. It was such an incredible support for us.”
Flynn hopes the group can start to more formally arrange a way for families who are struggling to get the help they need. They hope to establish an emergency loan fund for families who are in crisis to help with medical bills, lost wages or other necessities.
One mom’s story
Lisa Ann Ackermann knows firsthand how important a support system can be when a family is hit with a crisis. The family moved to Ankeny from Minnesota when Lisa’s husband Jon was transferred here. The couple had four boys, and the meet-up was a great way to meet people in the area. It was after Ackermann delivered her fifth child, Kaitlyn, in 2012 that she realized just how important the group would be for her family.
“When she was born, she had low blood sugar that resolved, and we went home,” she says. “But at her two-week checkup, she’d lost weight. From that point on, I was seeing the doctor every week. She was failing to thrive, had sleep apnea, and no one knew what was wrong.”
The doctors thought maybe it was an issue with Kaitlyn’s larynx, so she had surgery on her three-month birthday. But she continued to have breathing problems and wouldn’t eat. Doctors put in an NG (nasogastric) feeding tube, but she continued to lose weight. She wasn’t meeting milestones, and then she started having seizures.
“We were in the hospital the entire last summer,” Ackermann says. “She was born a year after we moved here, and if I didn’t have that group, I didn’t know what I would have done.”
Group members rallied, providing meals for Ackermann’s family. They sent gifts, cards and letters to Kaitlyn’s hospital room. Moms would pick up the Ackermann boys and take them for outings. They’d stop by the hospital for a chat and a coffee for Lisa Ann.
It took nine months, including long hospital stays at Blank Children’s Hospital and Mayo Clinic to figure out what was wrong. Kaitlyn was diagnosed with a metabolic disorder: glycogen storage disease, type a1. She couldn’t process sugar, and the formula she was given had lactose in it. The body breaks lactose down into sugar, and Kaitlyn’s body couldn’t process it.
There is no cure for GSD, but it can be managed. Kaitlyn is on a strict eating schedule and is given special soy formula every two hours around the clock. She’s now a bubbly and energetic 18-month-old, but she will live with her challenging disorder for the rest of her life, as will her mom. The time spent in the hospital and her husband having to take off so much work was hard financially, but again, the group tried to help.
“We had depleted our savings,” Ackermann says. “Jon and I aren’t sure how we paid for the travel back and forth from here to Mayo. People sent gift cards anonymously. A lot of times we didn’t know who they came from. That’s how we put pieces together and how we bought groceries for our family. It also brought awareness of who Kaitlyn was and her disease. We’d get cards from people saying we’re praying for you. That’s how we got through it, and I can’t ever thank everyone enough.”
The group organized a garage sale. Members donated items, and all the proceeds went to the Ackermann family. AAMMG member Jessica Hansen, who owns the local Rhea Lana consignment franchise, donated proceeds from the event to the Ackermanns, too.
“I was at the hospital nearly 24/7, and you have to keep going,” Ackermann says. “The stress level was so high, and if someone could call and cry with me, to have that connection was so great. People would go to the hospital and sit with Kaitlyn and hold her while I had to be gone taking care of the boys. I don’t know what I would have done without that.”