The Tools You Need, The Friendships That Last
By David Glass
April 5, 2021
Detroit Dad, Justin Jacobs has been a fan of Jbaby since first taking the prenatal class with his wife.
“JBaby’s prenatal class really helped me become more confident in my role and understand how I could best support my wife during her final trimester, during the birth and how to continue to be the best husband and father I could,” he says. “Without the class, I would have been completely unprepared.”
Jacobs went on to describe how JFamily programs have helped them stay in touch with families going through the same steps in their kids’ lives as theirs. The Facebook groups and text threads become a support group.
“As an interfaith family, it’s been so helpful for my wife in understanding some of the basic Jewish principles of how we are raising our children, and making our house feel like a Jewish home,” Jacobs says. “I am so thankful and appreciative of the JBaby and JFamily programs. I’ve even become an ambassador, as I don’t think any couple should go into a birth without the tools they provide.”
This kind of praise motivates Jbaby Detroit Director Stephanie Erez to work even harder.
“There’s so much more to be done, and we hope with every new season we can do even more to support the community,” she says.
“The beauty of Jbaby is that it goes so deep,” Erez says.”I like to think of it like a hug around people. That’s what we want people to feel, that they’re part of the club and part of the family.”
Housed under the umbrella of the JCC of Metro Detroit’s JFamily, Jbaby has become a trusted, innovative one-stop destination to help expectant and new parents make connections and friendships and engage in Jewish life.
It’s a go-to for its popular prenatal series, new baby care programs, postpartum support groups, parenting education workshops, Daddy Boot Camp, bubbie and zaydie groups and more.
“Over the years leading up to the pandemic, the connections have grown so strong that individual cohorts have taken on communities in and of themselves,” says Jbaby Detroit Director Stephanie Erez.
“It’s adorable if you look back — they met in their prenatal class and now they’re on to potty-training and going from two naps to one nap. Groups of families become their own little bubbles that they progress through together. You can see the progression of what they’ve done over the past two years, and they’ve been able to do it together. That is the connection Jbaby strives to create for everyone.”
Rachael Gerstein, who has been in a Jbaby cohort since attending a prenatal class, feels that connection. “This group has become a sounding board for any questions or concerns, activities and projects, recipes — or just to brag about our little ones’ newest achievements and milestones.”
In the early days of the Covid pandemic, Erez and her team of staffers and volunteers — including Jbaby ambassadors and trained volunteer facilitators — stepped up without missing a beat.
“We’ve adapted, and so much positive has come out of it,” Erez says. “All of our programs are stronger because of it. We are moving forward and even increasing what we are doing.”
Jbaby’s five-part prenatal program switched immediately to virtual in April. ”We had 10 couples, and everyone was very happy to do it this way,” Erez says. “It’s not exactly the same as being in person, but it still provided families with the support they were counting on.”
Margot Peck, a local mom-to-be, had a lot of questions and some concerns about being pregnant, particularly during a pandemic.
“It was so nice being able to connect with other parents-to-be over Zoom during the Jbaby prenatal course,” Peck says. “Even if we weren’t physically together, there was a definite sense of camaraderie. It was so nice to be in a safe space where we could ask questions and be vulnerable with one another.”
New mom Sara Craig agrees. “If it wasn’t for taking the Jbaby prenatal class, I would have felt even more alone during this crazy time. My husband and I developed lifelong friendships — I feel so lucky to have formed such close bonds with other moms who are in the same place as I am. It’s hard enough to have a baby, but then layering on a pandemic is insane. If it wasn’t for these friendships, I’d feel so lost.”
“Even virtually, we’re celebrating our friends’ milestones as they celebrate ours,” Craig says. “This wasn’t the year any of us expected, especially being first-time parents. But the memories we have will absolutely last a lifetime.”
Jbaby also offered much-needed respites for parents running out of ideas for entertaining their kids during quarantine.
“It’s been a great resource of programming in a safe way for my toddler during the pandemic,” Jennie Maxbauer says. “We have loved celebrating Jewish holidays with Rhythm & Ruach and having the Noon Year’s Eve party with so many friends.”
Like the families they serve, Jbaby has also been growing, adding new classes, groups and programs. Infant CPR and car seat safety workshops have been introduced. Monthly conversations with experts will launch in June. New baby boxes, brimming with curated gifts and new baby “must-haves”, will go out to all new parents courtesy of Jbaby and PJ Library.
And this winter, Jbaby offered new panels on pregnancy loss and infertility, in partnership with Federation’s NextGen.
“Parents get into a Jbaby class, and moms will say, ‘It took us six years to get pregnant,’ or ‘We did five retrievals.’ It would have been so nice for them to have Jewish support,” Erez says. “There’s nothing really like this in the Jewish community, and there’s a need.”
In March, Jbaby launched a weekly virtual New Moms’ Postpartum Group, providing a continued connection for women who’ve finished the prenatal class but are not due for a few months. Although the group has been offered before, it will now follow a new model of being facilitated by Jbaby Ambassadors Rachael Gerstein and Erica Wedes, Jbaby alums who have been trained by Jewish Family Services. Beyond connecting families and communities, they work with Erez to come up with new ideas to serve their families — including moms on bedrest, moms in the hospital, babies in the NICU.
“We work against the idea that you only get to feel good about your pregnancy and baby if everything goes as planned,” Erez says. “We want to be there for all of our families, no matter the situation.”
Mikki Frank, of GoodNight Zoom fame – also Senior Director of JFamily Detroit, said “the strength of our Jbaby program comes from the families it serves.”
Frank knows that having your first child is both “a beautiful and challenging time” and a supportive community is critical. “The Jbaby community provides that meaningful support, connection and education.”
“In 2014, when Jbaby Detroit launched in our community it was an innovation. We are very proud that now it is a core community offering,” Frank said.
“We couldn’t do this incredible work without the help of our amazing lay leaders and donors: Adam and Hannah Kessler, Jeff Johnson and Erica Wedes-Johnson and Elliot and Lacey Foon.”
Join the Jbaby community! To get involved with Jbaby and everything they have to offer, please contact Stephanie Erez at email@example.com or 248-432-5631. You can learn more about Jbaby by visiting jfamily.jccdet.org/jbaby.
(Featured image: Photobooth strips from the JBaby bash in 2019 serve as happy mementos of our Jbaby family until we can safely smoosh each other’s faces again.)