Let me first start off saying this - Brooklyn Baby Hui has saved me during my pregnancy. It’s been an amazing resource for all my curiosities, I have met some amazing friends that I’ll become new moms with, and I have met almost all the mothers in this Mamapreneurs series through “Hui” (as it’s affectionately shorted to). I am eternally grateful for Penny, who I will be featuring today, for her role in keeping the Hui community going and keeping it a place that feels warm and safe for all my unanswered concerns and questions.
Brooklyn Baby Hui is an online group of parents who support, inspire and empower each other in the challenge of raising children through sharing experiences, stories and resources. It is a members-only Yahoo Group based in my neighbourhood of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Hui (based on the Hawaiian term “da hui” which means group or club) was founded by Yvette in 2004 as a way for a small group of moms to plan outings. Yvette eventually moved away and Penny took over moderating the group in 2007 – and has since been joined by friend and fellow mama Jess. Its not just a "mommy group" - and it’s even got some street cred: earlier this year NYC police were able to nab a serial groper based on the power of the group who put together enough evidence and testimonials to take action.
Let's pause to think about what it means to have an online community that’s been going for 11 years: In 2004 the main social community was MySpace, the iPhone had not yet been rolled out, you probably cried over Ryan Gosling in The Notebook, and Britney Spears’ “Toxic” was still playing on the radio. Williamsburg was not “hipster” (and certainly not yet “gentrified”) and real estate prices were $269/sq ft (the neighborhood is now renowned for being one of the most expensive in the city).
A lot has changed in 11 years but there’s one thing that hasn't: new moms have the exact same questions and concerns they have always had. Sure, the clientele has shifted (there’s more chatter on the comparison of costly night nurses, and more questions coming from waterfront properties), but when it comes down to it new moms just want to know how they can make sure their babies are eating and sleeping enough.
Being a Hui moderator is no easy feat. There are over 6,000 members and 2,000 messages a month, which can mean 50-100 emails a day to approve. There’s been multiple offers to buy out the list, and there has been considerations to charge a membership fee like some other communities do but in the end Brooklyn Baby Hui remains a free service that is run by unpaid staff, Penny & Jess. Penny is lucky to work mainly from home (shes an interior designer), because being a moderator can take over 2 hours of her day. Every. Single. Day. She would never complain though – the rewards in helping others through this difficult stage of life are well worth it.
Here’s my Q&A with Penny (also affectionately known as “xo Penny, Mela 9”)
One of the most distinctive things about Hui is that each post *must* be signed with your name, as well as your child’s name and age. How did this tradition start?
It started organically with that first group of moms. We’ve kept the tradition by requiring posts to be signed in that way. We feel it really fosters a sense of community, and it makes it easy to recognize each other on the playground and around the neighborhood. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone because I recognized the mom and baby name combo being called across the park! It’s also interesting and helpful for others to see the perspective on certain topics in relation to a child’s age.
Being a new mom is tough – there’s a lot of crazy hormones, no sleep, and everything is changing every minute. What is your favourite way that Hui helps moms through this time?
Hui helps new moms by being a free resource, run by local mamas. If a new mom is having nursing troubles at night, she can get instant responses with tips to try, who to call, when the next La Leche League meeting is. We’ve had posts from parents whose child is having a rare/scary/unidentifiable medical issue, and amazingly someone else has been through it and can offer insights and comfort within a few hours! When a mom is exhausted and at the end of her rope and just needs to vent, the list is there. Getting advice and commiseration from your actual neighbors, with children of varying ages, is invaluable. And we’re so happy to help new mamas meet each other in real life, by starting up the sub-groups seasonally. Sub-groups let mothers who are expecting at the same time or have babies at the same age to meet to have the support they need for free.
Not all topics are met with shared enthusiasm. In fact, some conversations can easily turn into major “mommy drama”. Can you tell us about some incidents in the past?
Oh, there has definitely been drama over the years! Sometimes it’s not a topic you’d expect, like schools. During one flare up a few years ago, there was one mom who was creating false email accounts to agree with herself! My partner Jess is really good at sniffing out those email trails. There are definitely a few subjects that always have the potential to get touchy, like "Cry It Out". But many times the thread comes up with no drama. It’s good to remember that many moms on the list are newly post-partum, and can be particularly raw and sensitive; nervous, exhausted and really hormonal.
Because of the nature of how sensitive the topics are, and how trusting people are, it’s important that there is a social fabric in place that protects the group. Tell us more about the guidelines to keep this a sacred place for moms.
A few years ago, we starting asking for potential new members to complete a questionnaire, asking for their phone number, where they live, names and ages of children or due dates, how they found out about the list, etc. We check them out to the best of our abilities, sometimes we call randomly if something seems suspicious or we need verification (but that's very rare). And it’s another reason we insist upon the proper sign off. We also started charging a small fee for Commercial Posts. This has drastically reduced the amount of spam we get, and kept the commercial posts relevant to our listserv.
Your daughter is 9 years old now, and you have seen generations of “new moms” since being a new mom yourself. What inspires you to keep taking such an active role?
Motherhood completely changed me. I had no idea how much love and fierce protectiveness I would feel for this perfect new being. It changed the way I viewed everything. Knowing how much this list helps so many new mamas, like me, inspired me to take it over when it was ready to shut down. So many women don’t have a support group in NYC when becoming a parent. Many of us don’t have family in NYC, and don’t have parent friends yet. It can be very lonely and confusing in those first few weeks and months. Having a community to reach out to is crucial, even if it is online. And because we are local, parents meet in the neighborhood and become real friends. Through all the years of running this list, many of the same threads come up over and over again: is my baby eating enough? sleeping enough? Why am I having problems nursing? How can I go back to work? All any mama wants to know is “is my baby ok?” It’s universal. And I’m happy to be a part of a community that will give you confidence and comfort.
Finally, if you had 3 tips for other mothers that you wish someone would have told you, what would they be?
- Sleep when baby sleeps. Really. It’s more important than doing chores. Every mom I know wishes they’d done that sooner!
- Trust your mama instincts and listen to your baby. You’re a team! All the answers are there. Just follow her lead.
- Enjoy! You will not believe how much you can possibly love another human being when you become a mama! It is life-changing, mind-blowing, earth-shattering stuff!
xo Penny, Mela
Brooklyn Baby Hui also has a Facebook page and there is a separate list run for dads (independently) for all new parents in Williamsburg and Greenpoint (Brooklyn). If you don't live in North Brooklyn, there are plenty of other online support and neighbourhood groups and I highly recommend that you join one!