Entering motherhood is a daunting undertaking, no matter where you are. An experience that can be isolating, and marks a significant life change.
"Motherhood is a wonderful transition and it's a joyous time," said Kim Benscoter, a co-director of the Pleasanton Mothers Club. "It also can be a time where women feel very isolated; they feel very overwhelmed with problems that they've never dealt with before."
That's where the mothers club comes in. A community of moms, primarily those with kids between infancy and 6 years old, the group aims to provide a support network, to share in the joys and the pitfalls of being a mother.
"I don't think anything can fully prepare you for it, even if you've been around kids your whole life and have a big family or whatever," said Samantha Niesen, also a co-director. "Being actually thrown into it is not what you would expect, and I think that no matter what your situation, you always need the support and the community.
"And I think that Pleasanton is a great community to have a family and to raise kids. The mothers club is just a way to make it a little bit smaller and more accessible," she added.
The Pleasanton Mothers Club was founded by Sandi Mende in 1992, the 22nd such group in the Bay Area.
"She (saw) that there was a void in the community where women with small children weren't connected into a network to further support them and allow both themselves as well as their kids to flourish and grow," Benscoter said.
After Mende reached out to local businesses for support, the Pleasanton Police Department put up half the funds for a workshop to kick off the group's initiation, with Mende herself supplying the rest.
Within a few weeks, 50 mothers had called in to express interest in joining, while the 15 women who attended that first workshop formed the first board of directors. At their first official meeting, the moms set up playgroups, holiday parties, outings and a monthly newsletter -- all of which are still ongoing today.
They grew rapidly after that, reaching 100 members over the course of eight months. Currently, they stand at 250 members, mostly from Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore, but some journey down from Danville and San Ramon as well.
Aside from regular meetings and playgroup hang-outs, the club hosts a series of social events and outings, including family harvest, holiday and spring parties in the respective seasons. At this year's harvest party on a sunny mid-October day, dozens of mothers, children and even some dads milled about amidst rows of pumpkins at G&M Farms in Livermore, eating, crafting and enjoying one other's company.
There are also moms-only events -- the annual Mother's Day brunch is an especial favorite.
The benefits of collectives like the Pleasanton Mothers Club are well-established. Researchers around the globe have found that the fellowship and shared resources provided by maternity clubs and support groups can help mothers gain self-confidence in their parenting skills, and even prevent postpartum depression.
Niesen has two sons, ages 5 and 3.
"I was not new to Pleasanton when I had kids, but my friends did not have kids," she said. "And so I wanted to meet friends for them, and then mom friends for me, because it's just a different kind of support."
The club is organized into 17 age-determined playgroups, named after flowers, which stay together as the kids grow older. When a Pleasanton woman is expecting, the club will often reach out to let her know if a new playgroup will be forming.
It's a built-in social network not just for the moms, then, but for the kids too.
Kasia Crane, this year serving as the club's co-chair for moms events and outings, has twins just starting elementary school, who joined a playgroup when they were 4 months old.
"They really look forward to seeing their friends that are not their school friends, not the kids that they see every single day, but the kids that have been their buddies for really the majority of their lives," Crane said.
Most families drop off from the club after kindergarten or first grade, though they still remain connected, Niesen said.
Aside from the physical meet-ups, the group also has an active Facebook page, where members can share all sorts of resources, from best parenting practices to activities to pediatrician recommendations.
Motherhood takes on many different forms -- varying by family structure, cultural background and a myriad of different factors. Oftentimes, though, it does involve changes to a new mother's career life, which can lead her to feel "very out of sorts," Benscoter said.
"A lot of mothers are transitioning from full workforce to perhaps stay-at-home mom," she said. "Or even if they're not going to stay at home, a maternity leave of four to six months."
Crane, who previously worked for PG&E for 10 years, decided to leave the workforce to take care of her twins when they were born.
"I have my MBA, and so I was always very career-focused," she said. "Stepping back and just being home with the kids, which I've done now the last 5-1/2 years, has its challenges. You sometimes feel like you're not stimulated enough."
The mothers club offered her a social outlet.
"It really gave me a chance to connect and become friends with such a nice group of people," Crane said. "As the kids got a little bit bigger, and the part-time became a little bit more possible, I really just looked forward to having those meetings."
And the club has another purpose, the mothers say. It welcomes new residents to town, using the common bond of motherhood to attach newcomers to the community at large.
"Most people are not from here, or a lot of people are not," Niesen said. "So it gives you the community and the network for your kids, to be supported in the community and have opportunities for community service, for social gatherings, and just to meet moms."
"I moved to town three years ago, and I almost immediately got involved in the mothers club and on the board, which was a little crazy at the time," Benscoter said. "But I'm so glad I did it. And I can genuinely say that so many friendships for both myself and my kids, and even my husband, have blossomed out of that. And it was really for our particular family, one of two things that grounded us very quickly in this new area."
Club officials say they always welcoming new members. Dues are $48 for one year. For more information, visit pleasantonmothersclub.org.