Mountains of diapers and hungry mouths to feed can be the reason why self-care and fitness fall by the wayside for many mothers. Because most childfree friends cannot relate, mommy groups — online and IRL — can be a godsend, but Latinas and other mamis of color who could benefit from the advice and commiseration a mommy group offers are having a hard time finding spaces that reflect their experiences, language and culture.
Prior to her pregnancy, Jo Anna Mixpe Ley was an avid runner. When she wasn’t jogging across bridges that connect Los Angeles’ historically Latino eastside neighborhoods to the once-gritty-now-gentrified downtown with her running crew, the Boyle Heights Bridge Runners, Ley was training for and running in marathons. She continued to run throughout her pregnancy, but when she searched for a mommy and me fitness class in her neighborhood after giving birth to her now 11-month-old daughter, she came up short.
“There wasn’t another mommy running group in the area, so I went to the westside to do an exercise class and it was cool, but I was literally the only Latina in the group,” said Ley, who after coming to that realization, felt compelled to ask the señoras taking care of other women’s children in a playground nearby if she would be judged by the women in the class.
(Photo courtesy of Running Mamis)
“Luckily, they didn’t judge me, but it was a really harsh reality to see. I mean, you know there is a lack of access for women like me, but to actually experience it was a whole other thing,” she told FIERCE.
The lack of Latina mommy groups pushed Ley and a small group of mujeres from Los Angeles’ eastside to start Running Mamis in March. The group has grown to include 15 mothers between the ages of 25 and 45 who meet twice a month to run, jog or walk with their babies and toddlers in tow. In addition to running, the group incorporates other activities, like circuit training, wellness classes and salsa night playdates for mamis and babies — all free of charge.
L.A.’s eastside is made up of mostly low-income predominantly Latino neighborhoods, where affordable fitness centers are lacking, green space is limited and dated infrastructure makes the streets unsafe for runners, so the moms decided to meet at the Los Angeles Historic State Park, a 32-acre space that is easily accessed from the eastside and downtown.
“We needed a safe space to run with strollers, but it’s also about creating a safe open space for women to share their birthing and postpartum experiences, breastfeeding and the struggles of being a mom,” said Ley of the group, which uses their Instagram account to share deals and discounts they find on jogging strollers and resources in the community.
(Photo Credit: Raquel Zamora)
The women have expressed their appreciation for having a group in their neighborhood, said Ley, but some come from as far as 20 miles away on Los Angeles’ congested freeways to meet up with other mothers of color, not only to run, but also for the community that’s been created.
“It’s a no-judgment zone. If you forget a diaper, nobody is going to think you’re a bad mom. We want to create these spaces where you’re comfortable enough to say my kid has a soggy ass diaper and nobody judges you,” said Monica Perez, a community organizer and mother of three.
Birthing experiences can affect a mother’s mental health and, as a result, her fitness routine. Such is the case for Running Mami Raquel Zamora. It took her more than a year to start running again after giving birth because of postpartum depression.
“I was expecting to have a natural birth, and when I didn’t, I was really disappointed. The healing process takes so much longer with a C-section, so it took me a while, but having this group has helped,” said Zamora, a mental health therapist and mother of a two-year-old toddler. “Its for my own mental health.”
(Photo Credit: Jo Anna Mixpe Ley)
The group is continuing to grow organically. Workshops and events transpire as the mamis express their wants and needs. In May, the Running Mamis were the only team that ran the Moms Helping Moms 5k with strollers. Since then, they have signed up to do three marathons as a group in October.
Their good fortune to be able to bond with their children while running does not go unnoticed by the moms. At a recent gathering, they set an intention before their run for the undocumented immigrant mothers and children being separated at the border.
“Knowing that everything is connected and us being able to be with our children in that way, in that space, is really special, and acknowledging that currently there are people who can’t do that is important, so we were able to dedicate the last run to them,” said Zamora.
Ultimately, that is why Ley created the space: for mamis of color to be there for each other and for themselves.
“A lot of times when you become a mom you feel like your body is not even yours anymore. It takes a while for moms to reclaim their bodies, so it’s great to see moms putting themselves first again and thinking about self-care, their bodies and their health,” said Ley.