Mama Shaker: Lisen, Helping Moms Work, Pause and Thrive

Author and workplace culture advocate Lisen Stromberg has a message for her younger self, and for all of us who feel overwhelmed as working mothers of young children.

“I remember feeling panicked all the time that I wasn’t doing what was best for my children, and I wish I was a little kinder to myself.”

She describes her memories of “being in a constant state of triage.”

“Before 8 a.m. we’ve got to get clothes on, teeth brushed, lunches packed, baby breastfed,” the mother of three recalls — and all before the work day begins.

Lisen describes this ability to juggle as “accordion-like,” where moms are capable of expanding and contracting “in a beautiful way.”

“I wish I had known that my capacity would expand and I would be able to do all those things — not always well — and the kids would live through it.”

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Since we talked in January about her book, Work PAUSE Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career, I took a pause of sorts from writing, while I transitioned into a new job and dealt with an intense new chapter of parenting.

In the eight months since then, I’ve found myself repeating Lisen’s mantras–and sharing them with other moms navigating career and parenting pivots of their own.

“Frankly when I was a new mother, in some ways professionally that was a productive phase of my career because I was so darn focused and so capable of getting everything that needed to happen done,” she says. “And that’s a powerful place to be.”

It helps to hear–from someone who’s lived through it–that this stage of parenting can be a “Phoenix rising” moment, as Lisen describes it. She also believes all the hormones coursing through us in early motherhood are actually a benefit.

“You’re just like on fire in this gorgeous way,” she says. “At the time it feels like hell.”

And that cocktail of physiology and limited time can lead to clarity.

“I got very clear on what I needed to do and who I was fighting for,” she says. “In my case I was fighting for my kids and my future.”

For Lisen, that meant every aspect of her life had to fit: her work, her relationships, her health, “everything.”

“It changed me in a powerful way.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Work PAUSE Thrive is a wonderfully thorough analogy of research on working motherhood, which features stories of women who’ve successfully paused their careers–in a number of ways.

For Lisen, it meant rethinking her role as a journalist after maternity leave ended (which she wrote about in The New York Times), taking turns with her husband to amp up their careers at different times, and starting her own non-profit organizations and consultancies.

She cautions that pauses are not about getting relief from the stressors parenting.

“Being overwhelmed is the reality of parenthood,” she says. “You are now responsible for another soul.”

Instead, it’s about taking a moment to reassess what you want for yourself and your family. That can mean making adjustments in a current job, returning to work after taking time to focus on family, starting a business, or finding another passion to pursue.

“The women who I saw truly thriving were the ones who just had clarity,” says Lisen.

She describes these success stories among mothers who were “very intentional about their choices, and very empowered about their capacity as humans and what they can deliver.”

Lisen points out that these same women were willing to live with their choices even if it didn’t work out the way they planned.

“I think the women who suffered–that I interviewed with–are the ones who weren’t clear on their values and weren’t clear on what they were willing to give up and risk, and felt guilt about it.”

Lisen originally set out to interview 25 women, which then grew to 150, and then 1500 interviews later she had a comprehensive body of data to back up her instincts about the non-linear paths of working mothers.

“I wanted to be really sure that my intuitions and my beliefs and my experiences were real,” she says.

It Takes a Village

I was surprised to learn in Lisen’s book about a period in U.S. history where childcare was provided by the government so that mothers could support the economy during wartime–guilt-free.

“There seemed to be absolute clarity that this was an important thing to do for your country and to do for your community,” she says. “And it was liberating in some ways, right.”

When their husbands returned from war, the support went away, and mothers “re-claimed their roles” at home.

(And we all know what’s happened–or I should say hasn’t happened–for childcare since then.)

“With 64 million millennials right in the prime childbearing years–not having paid leave and not having affordable childcare–we’re seeing so many women pause their careers who never even envisioned they would do that,” says Lisen.

She cites the paradox of wanting to advance women in the workforce, but not having the structures in place to support them.

“We don’t honor caregiving in our country in terms of our policies and our workplace,” she says, noting the added pressure of being available 24/7.

The secret to thriving is what Lisen refers to as “time mastery” and it was shared by all the women she interviewed who stayed in the workforce. They successfully affirmed their commitment to their jobs while speaking up when they needed to make time for personal responsibilities.

“Their employers didn’t punish them for that, and that’s a distinction we need to make,” she says.

“If there’s anything I could wish for the next generation of talent,” says Lisen, “it’s that they feel empowered to be able say ‘I know I will give you 110 percent but I have to give it on my schedule.’ ”

 

Mama Shaker: Ashley, On Maternal Sleep Deprivation

Ashley Olivine wants sleep-deprived moms to know they don’t have to suffer through months, years or even decades of sleepless nights.

“Clinically I’ll talk to a lot of women who will say, ‘Okay my kids just went to college and I really have not slept since they were babies,'” she says.

“It just gets to the point where they don’t really know what it’s like to feel rested anymore.”

Ashley says many moms don’t believe they deserve to get help because they’ve let it spiral out of control.

“That’s the big problem we see long term with moms,” she says. “They get in this habit of sacrificing their own sleep and their own health for everyone else.”

Meanwhile, Ashley believes healthcare professionals don’t take maternal sleep deprivation seriously.

“Everybody looks at first 6 weeks postpartum, and everyone focuses on postpartum depression,” she says.

“You’re a mother for life. It doesn’t stop after 6 weeks.”

For those of us with babies not yet sleeping through the night, Ashley says there’s no need to panic.

“Moms have this magical ability to condense the sleep cycle,” she says. “Especially in the first 3 months, you are made to wake up multiple times during the night.”

“Let’s say your baby wakes up at the same times every night, and it’s a lot. Your sleep cycles will shrink so that they will fit into that amount of time.”

When the fog of frequent nighttime wakings extends beyond the end of maternity leave, it can leave us feeling much less in sync.

“You’re right that you can’t go on like that forever, because babies are supposed to grow out of that,” says Ashley. “If they don’t, that’s when you need to get help.”

I mentioned how I was “spoiled” with my first born, who slept through the night by 4 months old. But now I’m 8-months-deep into the second time around, and I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since May. Apparently I’m not the only one.

“It’s not uncommon for second kids to be harder, because they’re often carted around for their older siblings’ schedule,” Ashley points out.

And then there’s the added obstacle of keeping one sibling asleep while the other is awake–which can feel especially challenging when you’re running on fumes.

“Let’s say you’re older kid doesn’t know and runs in and and wakes up the baby and you lose it,” Ashley says, describing that moment of rage many of us know all too well.

“Basically when you’re sleep-deprived and stressed, your interactions with your children and spouse are going to be more short and negative,” she says.

Ashley says early research suggests maternal sleep deprivation impacts all family dynamics–meaning divorce rates increase, children don’t hit milestones as quickly and they start having trouble in school.

“You have to eventually put your foot down and say ‘I’m going to do what it takes,’ she says.

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How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

Ashley reached her own limits as a new mom, so she learned to apply techniques from her private practice to her own daily routine.

“My career is brain work,” she says. “I’m pretty big on doing that first thing in the morning.”

Ashley says anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes of brain work can “give me so much recharge it’s like having a babysitter for 8 hours.”

(I can imagine, as I find myself choosing a workout, hot shower or solo Starbucks run over a cat nap to get a much-needed mental break and energy boost.)

“I’ll do the woo-woo meditation stuff; plus the very medically respected, scientifically proven cognitive behavioral therapy; plus some deep restructuring brain work,” she says.

“I just do kind of a mix because I feel like all of them have their own advantages and you can’t get as much benefit with just one.”

Not surprisingly, Ashley is “not someone that ever, ever skips breakfast.”

She also checks her “old-fashioned, handwritten calendar” to see what events are coming up that day.

Next, she walks her older daughter to school as “part of our bonding time” and often extends school drop-off into a stroller run by the water with her youngest.

The remainder of her weekdays are spent juggling her sleep practice and coaching fellow mompreneurs, along with after-school ballet and swim lessons.

Women Helping Women Succeed

“Women should not feel that they need coffee or wine to get through the day, and there should be other options readily available when you go to your doctor,” Ashley says.

Instead of piling on to the jokes about intravenous caffeine drips and wine o’clock, she’s determined to help the medical community better understand maternal sleep deprivation.

“It shouldn’t be laughed off as ‘oh hey welcome to being a parent, it sucks, it’s hard, get used to it’ because these are real medical conditions,” says Ashley.

“What’s really kind of scary is that there is not very much research on all of this,” she says. “Nobody knows the full extent of the impact of all of this stuff 20 years down the road.”

This is why Ashley carves out time for writing papers on maternal sleep deprivation on the weekends, while her daughters are playing.

Her goal for the sleep-deprived among us is to “reverse it, no matter how bad it is,” and ultimately to “get into this good place where you’re feeling good and everything that you’re putting out into the world has good energy behind it.”

In other words: what dreams are made of.

Winter-Ready Gifts for Working Mamas

‘Tis the season for baby announcements. So what do you get for the working mamas on your list?

How about something soft, warm–and most importantly–practical, from mompreneurs who’ve been in the same shoes…

The team at Bloomingdale’s helped me highlight brands created by mama makers, some of which are featured below. (Clicking on the photos takes you to Bloomingdales.com, using affiliate links, where you can shop online through Dec 21 12pm EST and choose express shipping at checkout to receive your order by Dec 25.)

San Francisco-based Ingrid & Isabel makes super soft and flattering maternity wear (in fact, I’m still wearing the mama-led brand’s cowl neck sweaters well beyond my basketball-belly pregnancy). It’s evident that founder Ingrid Carney knows what matters to busy mamas: this Maternity Nursing Wrap Cardigan ($88) does double duty and is machine washable.

What’s cuter than a baby adorned in an animal-ear hoodie? LIVLY makes this Unisex Hooded Cardigan with Bunny Ears ($58) and other dreamy baby clothes out of Stockholm. The brand was created when founder Lisa Carrol had premature twins whose delicate skin called for the softest cotton she could find, ultimately leading her to Peru for its signature Pima.

Speaking of Pima, Kissy Kissy has been in the baby business since 1996, when its Peruvian-born founder, Roxana Castillo, sought out the softest pajamas possible for her grandson. The brand is widely celebrated for its jammies, like this Unisex Moon-Print Footie ($36) — and donates clothing and fabric to six women and children’s charities.

Based in Utah, Freshly Picked was started by Shark Tank alum Susan Petersen, known for setting the baby moccasin world on fire. Working mamas can be interchangeably office- and weekend-ready with this Faux Leather Diaper Bag ($175).

I’m going to assume I’m not the only working mama that still has a long list of holiday shopping to do. For more ideas and inspiration, check out Gifts for the Tired Mama and Mama Makers from Head to Toe.

Mama Maker: Amy from Pink Stork

Military wives are warriors in their own right, and Amy Upchurch takes this to a whole new level. When she was 21 weeks pregnant, Amy’s doctor told her that she and her baby had 24 hours to live.

Amy had contracted a blood infection from a “picc” line while being hospitalized for hyperemesis gravidarum (HG)–extreme nausea, vomiting and other symptoms that can lead to severe dehydration and weight loss.

Fortunately, within 24 hours she had made a “complete turnaround” along with little John Hamilton who was later born premature, but healthy nonetheless.

Amy’s pregnancy was a miracle in itself.

“I had always been told I was not going to be able to have kids growing up,” says Amy. “It was a big surprise when I found out I was pregnant” just three weeks after marrying her Marine Corps husband and settling into Virginia.

Three “HG” ridden pregnancies later, when Amy found out she was pregnant with her fourth child, she threw up her hands.

“Out of desperation, I really started researching and working with doctors and midwives, and came up with this protocol to combat this HG that was going to come and hit me like a train,” says Amy.

“I ended up having an amazing fourth pregnancy with all this information that I had gathered, and implemented in my body,” says Amy.

“No more emergency room visits or ambulance rides.”

She delivered a 9-pound baby boy full term.

Soon after, Amy developed Pink Stork to “help other women who struggle during their pregnancies” beginning with a line of morning sickness products.

“It was really cool that it was starting to help other people–close friends and people in the military community,” says Amy.

Word of mouth gave Pink Stork a boost as it expanded into prenatal vitamins, nursing supplements and fertility products. (Their lactation tea smells and tastes delicious as I unwind after putting the kids to bed — a welcome alternative to suffering through other “mother’s” tea on the market.)

Women Helping Women Succeed

It’s no surprise that military wives rallied around Pink Stork at its inception. Amy says they’re not only advanced problem solvers, but also “really strong women, really smart women and really resourceful women” and they excel at forming a connection with their community, more so than the “civilian world.”

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Looking back Amy says, “it was always helping other people–that’s still what I enjoy so much today–that’s what makes everything full circle.”

She recalls a note from one customer who had a double-digit number of miscarriages before finally delivering a healthy baby.

“My heart goes out to them,” says Amy. “That’s why I do what I do.”

Helping other moms is both personal and spiritual, for Amy.

“I clearly remember laying in the hospital beds and doing nothing for months,” she says. “Minutes seemed like hours. I just remember thinking, why in the world am I laying here? Why am I so sick? How come I can’t have a normal pregnancy? Why is God putting me through all this pain?”

“I look back now and I understand exactly why I was laying there and exactly why I went through those struggles,” Amy says. “I feel very blessed to be able to go through those challenges and have those questions answered.”

She’s on a mission to continue finding answers for moms and solving problems for “this stage of life.”

“Pink Stork is going to take their hand and walk them all the way through until they get the answers and results they want,” says Amy.

“I love to see what people are looking for, what moms think, what moms need,” she says. “If any of our customers are looking for something we don’t have, let me know. We can help you, and if we can’t help you, we’ll point you in the direction of someone who can.”

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Running a business is truly a family affair, in Amy’s eyes. Her husband, who was deployed during some of her most difficult moments in pregnancy, now plays an active role in growing Pink Stork.

“He’s very much a part of the business,” says Amy. “He’s very supportive of helping other families because he knows what it’s like to see your partner suffer and to feel helpless.”

“I like to think of Pink Stork as not only my family but also all of our employees,” she says. “It’s a family, it really is.”

Amy wants her employees to know that she takes pride in being a woman-owned company, and that she understands and celebrates working moms.

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“We have babies that come into our office everyday,” beams Amy. “You can give a mom sitting in front of me, with a baby laying next her, seven different jobs and she will complete every single one of them just like the next person.”

“I get energized from a good challenge,” says Amy, about becoming an entrepeneur. “I knew nothing; I didn’t go to school for business. I Googled a lot of words. I sat in a lot of meetings and phone calls and learned from osmosis. I’m still learning from osmosis.”

“I would hate for someone to have looked at me when I was starting Pink Stork and had four little kids running around–which I did–and say, ‘You’re crazy.'”

“When you find something that you believe in, and you want to go for it, I encourage anyone and everyone to believe in themselves and just go for it,” says Amy. “Don’t be afraid of what other people think.”

“Keep doing your thing. Don’t worry about it. It will all fall into place.”

Turning a New Leaf After Mat Leave

As I anticipate my return to work amidst Fall’s cooler mornings and cozy evenings, it feels like the closing of one chapter and starting of another–despite how taxing and complex the handoff may be.

I always feel a wave of nostalgia this time of year, especially since three years ago I became a mother for the first time–experiencing Matrescence firsthand–and one year ago when I learned I’d go through it for a second time.

Reflecting back on the baby and toddler milestones that whizzed past us over the course of the past four sleep-deprived months, I now feel a sense of pride of what ensued.

Here’s a typical “work week” by the numbers, as a temporary stay-at-home mom (and aspiring Chief Household Officer):

  • 14 hours of breastfeeding per week, typically every 2-3 hours around the clock
  • 45 ounces of pumped milk per week, typically while multitasking one-handed thanks to my pocket-size Spectra S9
  • About 15 bottle feedings per week from the aforementioned supply, plus more than 400 ounces of supplemental formula (until we got hit by silent reflux, nixing dairy)

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  • Nearly 1,000 diapers, from teeny-tiny Pampers Swaddlers to my favorite super-soft and sustainable Bambo Nature, where we grew up to size 3
  • Countless hours of eye contact and smiles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cobbled-together dinners, and bedtime stories

All together, these helped double the size of our once 7-pounder, while his older brother started preschool and became a “threenager” before our eyes.

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I squeezed in self-care through the help of my village, technology and conversations with a group of Mama Makers & Shakers who appeared at the most clandestine times:

And then there are the memories that don’t have a number attached to them, but are immeasurable in the way they’ve brought our family closer.

Together, the four of us have continued to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that started when life caught us by surprise on the last day of May. Both boys keep us on our toes, but when the chaos settles, the sweetest moments are revealed.

While I’m still not sleeping, I don’t have a freezer stash, and I can’t tell you what the next six months will bring, I will embrace the unpredictability.

I won’t feel like I’ve stepped away from my career, but rather enhanced it by overcoming non-stop challenges over the last four months.

This time around, I won’t strive to be super mom, but will remind myself to stay present and do my best for the moment.

Mama Shaker: Amy from TendLab

One week from now, Amy Henderson will open the relief valve for a group of working mothers in the heart of San Francisco’s high-pressured tech scene, during a lunchtime “Career Moms” cohort that starts up September 5.

“We ask each mom to share one of the moments they’re most ashamed about in the confluence of their journey of working and parenting,” says Amy, CEO and co-founder of TendLab.

“There’s so much that happens when you become a new mom that feels isolating and shameful,” says Amy. “When you’re in a cohort of others who have either experienced, it or are experiencing it, it de-stigmatizes it and you realize you’re not alone.”

For Amy, her boiling point came when she lost nine pounds working 20 hours a day for two weeks on the #YesWeCode initiative to increase diversity in the tech sector.

She had brought along her husband, two kids and mother-in-law to New Orleans, because her exclusively-breastfed youngest refused to eat anything else. So the four hours of sleep she was squeezing in, weren’t entirely hers.

To top it off, she found out she was pregnant again a few weeks later, which would mean she’d soon have three kids under the age of four.

“I had always been really committed to my career,” said Amy. “It’s like the wheels fell off the bus.”

Amy’s moment of panic led to an epiphany, as she dialed up dozens of high-powered working moms to find out how they managed it all.

“What happened was this organic revelation that many of these moms had: ‘I’m performing better in my career because of my kids, not in spite of them,'” she says.

Amy soon learned that there was neuroscience to back it up. (You can read more about the important role of oxytocin here along with more of the wisdom gleaned from her findings.)

In a particularly impactful conversation with the original VP of HR for Twitter, Amy learned the same skills acquired in parenting “are the skills needed in the workplace of the future.”

“The light bulbs went off, the heavens opened up, and I was like okay!”

Amy had stumbled upon the catalyst for TendLab, and the woman who would become her future co-founder.

And so their mission became “to unlock the power and potential of parenthood in the workplace.”

In addition to the “Career Moms” cohort, which Amy believes “can actually be fuel for really positive transformation in our own lives and in our collective society,” TendLab also offers workshops, consulting and special events.

To learn about scholarships available for the 4-week cohort, leave a comment below or contact me directly.

In addition, you can read more about the neuroscience and career benefits of parenting–for actively engaged mothers and fathers alike–in articles Amy’s penned for Mother Magazine, Fast Company and Slate.

When Life Catches You By Surprise

Today is the original due date of our now 3.5-week old baby. His early arrival and the transition for our whole family have kept us on our toes ever since.

When I became a mother for the first time with my oldest, and then a working mother, life changed dramatically. Little did I know that baby number two would completely rock our world again, in his own unique ways.

Here’s what I did (and didn’t) expect while expecting, and what’s surprised us most now that he’s here:

The third trimester was faster and more intense the second time

Around the mid-point of my pregnancy, I started to sense that this baby might run ahead of schedule. He was measuring a week ahead at his 20-week anatomy scan and the technician and doctors all made comments about active he was, making it hard to measure him as he did flips and somersaults for the camera.

Right at the start of the third trimester, the doctor confirmed he was already head down, which was no surprise to me. I was having strong Braxton Hicks, which I didn’t have until the very end of my first pregnancy.

(I also learned that if you’re dehydrated, contractions can quickly turn into something more serious. It still seems to be a little known secret of just how important drinking water is during pregnancy.)

I carried on, preparing at work for the countdown to my planned start of maternity leave, and enjoying our final moments in the family routines that we had become accustomed to. We took lots of evening walks and I savored bedtime snuggles with my toddler, anticipating those moments would be harder to come by after the baby’s arrival.

However, I was growing increasingly slow on those walks and often felt too tired to read more than a couple of books before bedtime. (I would liberally edit our big brother-in-training’s favorite “hospital book” aka Babies Don’t Eat Pizza: A Big Kids’ Book About Baby Brothers and Baby Sisters.)

At my 35-week appointment, I was already 3.5cm dilated and 80% effaced, so the doctor predicted a couple of more weeks at most.

Little did I know, I’d be back in L&D 9 days later with contractions, another 1.5 cm dilated, and no signs of stopping.

Just because we’ve done it before, doesn’t mean it’s easier this time

When we found out we were having another boy, my first thought after laughing at our luck, was that we had everything we needed so it would be easy. From clothes to baby gear, and eventually less hormonal teenage years, I felt like we were all set.

Then I delivered a “late pre-term” baby at 36 weeks + 4 days, and everything changed.

That morning I had taken our first born to school, feeling like it might be my last time for a while. I took one more conference call and then walked into the family birth center to get checked out. While sitting there chugging water, I went from 4.5 cm to 6 cm, at which point they decided to admit me.

The labor itself was about as comfortable and peaceful as you can get. I repeated the low-dose epidural that had worked well with my first delivery, and sat around waiting to progress.

Meanwhile, we started to wise up to what it might mean to have a baby almost a month early. Despite reassurance from nurses and doctors that had preemies of their own who are now thriving 20-somethings, we didn’t know what to expect other than the immediate goal of delivering a 5-pounder.

Well, our little guy arrived at 9:26 p.m. on May 31 at a whopping 7 pounds, with a head full of thick black hair. All over again, we were instantly in love and mesmerized to finally meet him after all this time.

He passed all the tests they run for things like breathing, blood sugar and temperature regulation. He was sleepy during feedings, so the nurses encouraged me to try hand-expressing — but I quickly turned to my old friend Medela and a syringe to make it easier.

We were released from the hospital on schedule, and made an appointment to return to the doctor 48 hours later to check for jaundice. The doctor’s main concern at that visit was his weight, which had dropped down to 6 lbs 6 oz, so my new goal was to make sure he was eating enough.

Out came my brand new pocket-sized breast pump, bottles that claimed to be the next best thing to mom and a whole lot of math to figure out how often to pump, how long the milk could stay at room temperature, and how long before I had to toss a bottle he had started. (All while sleep deprived, since he was eating every 1-2 hours around the clock.)

It wasn’t until 5 days later that our instincts told us that his coloring didn’t look right, so we requested a blood test. Our suspicions were confirmed with a phone call that I don’t wish upon anyone, telling us our 6-day-old newborn had to be re-admitted to the hospital. His bilirubin levels had spiked and he needed blue-light phototherapy to flush out the jaundice.

One of the hardest parts of that dizzying moment was fighting back tears while telling our toddler that we needed him to be a big boy, and get back in the car to head to the hospital, right after he had walked in the door from school. This is one of the many reasons we’re so grateful to live near his grandparents.

I grabbed all the bottles I had pumped and some basic necessities, and we rushed out the door. What followed were two days and two nights of sitting in a hospital room while our tiny, lethargic 6-pounder lay under a blue light with a mask on for hours at a time.

My mission during that hazy hospital stay was simple: get him to eat and fill as many diapers as possible. I bottle-fed him under the light, and passed the hours by scheduling out feedings, pumping, and hand-washing bottles and pump parts, over and over again. The nurses came in every hour or so to check how much he was eating and what his diapers weighed.

He passed his final blood test with flying colors, and we celebrated with our much more alert baby. We came home and started to settle back into what felt like the beginning of a new routine for our expanded family.

Our whole family is changing, together

The four of us are operating on little sleep, so we can instantly go from happy to sad or angry in a flash. We’re all being challenged and pushing up against each others’ boundaries.

The stressful moments have been peppered in with plenty of happy times too, like visits from the grandparents, starting out weekends crowded together in bed, and sitting at the kitchen table enjoying daddy’s new dinner creations.

Some of what we’ve experienced has been pretty textbook, including the potty training regression and acting out by our toddler to get attention.

What I didn’t expect was being hit by a ton of bricks when I couldn’t be available to my first born for routine things like helping him get dressed or putting him to bed. I was a puddle of tears the first night home, but now my heart swells watching father-son bonding take its place.

While we’ve dedicated so much time and attention to helping our newborn gain weight and keep the jaundice at bay, our now 2 3/4 year old is blossoming before our eyes.

His vocabulary has doubled again, as he uses full sentences, asks questions and energetically narrates what we’re all doing. He’s obsessed with how things work, and can use his age-appropriate screwdriver surprisingly well.

Friends told me he would seem like a giant next to his tiny little brother — which is exactly what he looked like when he came to the hospital to meet him — but what I didn’t expect is how quickly he would take to his newfound independence. He loves to be a helper, too.

We’re learning, all over again, to prioritize what’s best for the moment

The first time around, it took me a lot longer to surrender to the changes brought on by parenthood. We basically added a child to the lifestyle we had created in an urban setting, and I attempted to keep my foot on the gas pedal at work.

It wasn’t until I realized I was putting too much pressure on myself to be super mom, right around the same time that we began house hunting in the burbs, that we realized how much change was inevitable.

This time, just under a month of two kids under our belt, we are turning everything upside to create the life that’s best for right now. We’re even flirting with the idea of getting a minivan.

Through more doctors appointments and lab visits than seem possible in 27 days’ time, we’ve learned to advocate for our family when something doesn’t feel right, even when we’re told otherwise. We’re mama bear and papa bear on steroids.

And while I’m looking forward to reconnecting with working mamas and mompreneurs to tell their stories, I’m currently in awe of moms who stay home full-time.

(The prospect of being outnumbered for more than a few minutes at a time was terrifying at first, until I reminded myself of what I’m capable of managing in the workplace.)

I’m so grateful for the village of parents who’ve been through this before us, and amazed by those who’ve dealt with much more.

In hindsight, finding diapers and clothes that fit (a la Chrissy Teigen) and pumping around the clock are the least of our worries.

Thankfully, the couple of hours that we get to enjoy “wake time” with our sleepy little guy are growing in number each day.

Even though this month is a blur, we’re living this new life one moment at a time.

Mama Shaker: Dr. Sharon Somekh of Raiseology

When her oldest daughter started middle school, pediatrician Sharon Somekh decided it was time to re-orient her career around what she loved most about her profession: working with parents.

In March, she left her practice and launched Raiseology, so she could build “more meaningful relationships” with parents virtually from her home office while being an “accountability partner” for her 11-year-old.

“I help anxious parents go from feeling like a deer in headlights to feeling like they can really do this… to the point where they can stop being so anxious about the day-to-day and really enjoy what they have in front of them–which is their kids.”

“We all love our kids and want what’s best for them,” she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

As a mother of four daughters, ranging from 3 years and up, Sharon has personally navigated through multiple stages of working motherhood. For her, it was actually easier to get through 80 hour weeks as a resident when her first two were very young.

“One of my mentors said something to me that I’ve since told many, many moms,” says Sharon. “When your children are young is when you will feel better working more. A lot of moms think when their kids grow up, they’ll go back to work. You don’t realize that that’s when it’s hard to go back.”

She says feeling secure in your childcare arrangement and getting help are key to making it through the early years–I couldn’t agree more.

“Whether it’s emotional help, coaching help, physical help, outsourcing certain things you don’t enjoy doing at home–it will make your life much easier and it’s worth every investment in yourself to do that,” says Sharon.

Part of that support has come from moms who pitched in for preschool pick up and drop off. Her then 3-year-old started to notice and at one point told Sharon she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom when she grows up.

“Nothing hurts more than that,” she said. “But when she asked me ‘why do you work?’ I gave her a very honest answer. I think we underestimate what our kids understand and we need to have real conversations–that are age appropriate–with them.”

“Every mom has mom guilt,” she says. “They may have guilt about different things, but they still feel guilty.”

She says knowing your limitations benefits both you and your children.

“I think the example we set for our kids is really important. I like that they see that I’m a driven person and I value what I have to offer and think it’s important enough to put it out into the world.”

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How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

“If you’re asking how I manage four kids, I don’t,” Sharon says pointing to the independence that she’s fostered in each of her children.

She described a recent parent-teacher event where another mother she was volunteering with called her 11-year-old three times to make sure she was getting ready for school.

“I did not have a doubt in the world that my daughter was waiting for the school bus,” says Sharon.

Her 8-year-old makes her own lunch for school, and Sharon and her husband are currently training their 5-year-old to get herself dressed with the help of routines and checklists.

“It takes effort in the beginning, but it definitely has amazing payoff…and it’s great for the kids because one day they’re not going to be living in your house.”

You can learn more about Sharon’s “system of empowerment and independence” on her blog. In addition to her group program for parents of toddlers to school-age kids, she also consults parents of infants one-on-one, and she’s launching a podcast this summer.

Mama Maker: Veronica of Maia Moda

Trying to nurse her 5-month-old in a dress, while attending a wedding, inspired management consultant Veronica to do something she had always wanted to do, and start her own business.

“Once you have a child, it really zeros in on what’s important in life. What do I want my legacy to be and what do I want to spend my time on?” she says, describing what ultimately led her to bring the idea to fruition when her son was one year old.

“You go through so many changes as a new mom,” said Veronica. “One of the things you want to keep is some of yourself. Part of that is your ‘pre-mommyhood’ style. You don’t want to have it give it up, and why should you?”

“In today’s world, we have innovation all over the place. There’s no reason your nursing clothes shouldn’t have the look you want,” she says.

Veronica is tapping into virtual mom’s groups, along with NYC’s Garment District and burgeoning community of women entrepreneurs, to help propel her line of American-made breastfeeding-friendly apparel, Maia Moda.

She’s even been accepted into the 2018 class of Project Entrepreneur, started by Rent the Runway co-founders Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss, in partnership with UBS.

How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

For Veronica, it’s the blend of motherhood and running her own business that makes it all possible. She says her holistic approach now leads to more open and passionate conversations.

“I never used to talk to people that much about my work because it was very separate,” she says. “Now I feel like the two worlds collide a lot more. Because of my business, I’m super excited about it so I’m happy to talk about it.”

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As a mom of two now, Veronica has figured out a schedule that allows her to spend part of her week on the business, supported by a nanny for her baby and daycare for her oldest. She appreciates having dedicated days of the week for focusing on Maia Moda.

Women Helping Women Succeed

Veronica is encouraged by the changes she’s seeing around the culture of breastfeeding with “celebrities showing off their bumps and looking fabulous” and people posting “brealfies” (aka breastfeeding selfies).

“Women are feeling much more comfortable breastfeeding in public. We’re here to support that and to make that lifestyle work a little better through the clothes you wear.”

This also means Maia Moda clothes are washable, stain-resistant, wrinkle-free and “classic, but in line with the trends of today,” says Veronica.

“We want you to be really happy because there are enough things on your mind,” she says, noting she can be reached anytime, and welcomes feedback and requests.

While you can shop directly on the Maia Moda Web site, I decided to do so on Amazon so I could test-drive the Maia Top on my 7-months-pregnant belly.

As you can see, the flowing style can work all the way from baby bump to breastfeeding:

To read about more mompreneurs who are passionate about changing the culture of breastfeeding, check out Mama Maker: Sascha from Mamava and Mama Shaker: Jennifer Jordan from Aeroflow Healthcare.

Mama Maker: Sascha from Mamava

Finding a place to pump while out in public, or at work, is something Sascha Mayer, co-founder and CEO of Mamava, doesn’t want moms to have to worry about.

Since 2013, Sascha and her co-founder Christine Dodson have equipped stadiums, airports, schools, government buildings and other workplaces all over the United States with private pods for breastfeeding mothers.

You can see for yourself by downloading the Mamava mobile app to find nearby locations, as well as other public mothers’ rooms vetted by user ratings and reviews. (From a quick search in my neighborhood, I found more than a handful of options within a 5-mile radius. I see more outings in my breastfeeding future!)

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While building their own families, the two mompreneurs incubated Mamava at a design agency in Burlington, Vt. At the time, they traveled for work frequently, which meant “pumping in restrooms, closets and even the backseats of clients’ cars.”

From the beginning, Mamava has focused on sustainability as a certified B-corporation. It’s demonstrated both in the way they design and manufacture their American-made products, as well as their outlook on the role breastfeeding plays in a cleaner planet.

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“Sustainability to us means empowering every woman with the opportunity to breastfeed if she desires to do so,” says Sascha.

“In addition to its health benefits, breastfeeding eliminates any need for packaging and shipping that formula requires. It’s a zero-waste solution, and one that can help reduce the prevalence of many illnesses and health conditions, which results in lower health care costs.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Inspired by this New York Times article, Sascha and Christine are working hard to remove any barriers to breastfeeding in the workplace by taking to the halls of the Nation’s Capitol, the tech-spotting Consumer Electronics Show, and everywhere in between.

“We are really focused on our mission which is about changing the culture of breastfeeding by helping make it an accessible choice for all mothers,” says Sascha.

The pop culture shift is is starting to show, with recent photos of breastfeeding celebrities and political candidates going viral.

“A major milestone for us would be to have breastfeeding rates increase from 81% of new mothers to 90% by the end of this decade,” she says.

“In the months and years ahead we are bringing other tools and products to market that will make it easier for moms to reach their breastfeeding goals, and for facilities and employees to support them,” she says.

Just last week, they officially launched the Mamava Mini, designed for workplaces that need a compact solution that retains the privacy of their original suite and adds additional productivity features, like a laptop desk.

“We also hope to be able to bring the brand and our solutions to international markets in the near future.”

How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

“My mantra is that perfection is the enemy of progress – whether at work or at home,” says Sascha. “Sometimes good enough, is good enough.”

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“I have a wonderful supportive husband who takes on more than half of the childrearing, and believes in my company’s mission as much as I do,” she says.

Now that Sascha’s kids are getting older, she values their growing independence and recommends other moms “encourage their children to take on responsibility.”

“It can be painful when they make mistakes, but eventually they learn and are empowered by their accomplishments,” she says.

It’s something to look forward to for those of us still in the infant to toddler stages!

Speaking of which, if you’re a mom-to-be trying to solve the problem of where to pump in the office when you return from maternity leave, Mamava’s team offers the following tips:

  • Create a transition plan with your employer before you head out for maternity leave
  • In the transition plan, include your plans to pump at work and that you will need access to pumping accommodations upon your return
  • Check the laws and make sure your employer knows how to comply with them
  • Rally with other women in your workplace to request a Mamava lounge, as many other moms have done!

For help choosing a pump and other accessories, check out another “Mama Maker” with similar goals for making breastfeeding more accessible: Jennifer Jordan from Aeroflow Healthcare.