Mama Maker: Megan, Getting the Most Out of Every Room

While our homes are multitasking more than ever, Megan Hersch wants to help families make the most out of every square inch.

“A lot of people don’t have a separate space that they can make their office,” she says, which is leading to requests like, “How can I put a desk in this corner? I really need to be able to focus. I need to feel like it’s away from my family. But also, I don’t want to feel like work is always in my home.”

As someone who’s sharing a home office formerly known as “mine” with my husband, I find myself dodging his booming voice during competing conference calls, and slipping into whichever bedroom isn’t occupied at the moment to escape the hollers from our two rowdy boys. For parents of school-age kids, online learning is a whole other dimension of space planning.

“Luckily, about two months ago, I converted a corner of my kitchen into an art zone with a countertop and cabinets under it, in lieu of a breakfast nook and I have been thankful for that every day,” says Megan. “My older daughter is on a Zoom call with her school and she works on that countertop and then my younger daughter will be in the dining room. I did get these plastic blow up chairs from Amazon that are have glitter inside of them and they sort of became portable reading chairs.”

Options also provide the opportunity for movement, which may feel aspirational during the workday as an adult but—as Megan points out—is a necessity for kids.

“They go to a Montessori school so they’re used to walking around their classroom all day,” she says. “I think in any classroom, kids are used to moving a little bit more. The biggest thing I’m focusing on is moving around and changing the location of activities, so we’re going to do art in the kitchen and then we’re going to do reading on a couch my younger daughter built for this morning.”

Beyond work and school, families spending all their time together in the same space gives us perspective and motivation that we may not have had before.

“I think the most important thing right now is to be grateful for what we have and focus in on what we can do,” is what Megan has been telling her daughters. “This is an amazing opportunity that we’re never going to have, again, to really be together.”

All of this togetherness provides inspiration to make the rooms we share more fluid, and perhaps even carve out a space for ourselves to catch a breath.

“I think getting a little bit of separate me time is really important and I think that that’s super hard, especially for moms, because we’re usually the ones that the kids come to if there’s a question or a problem,” says Megan. “But I think it’s also really good for kids to learn that everyone needs a break and sometimes we can’t be available.”

“That’s something that I’m trying to work on,” she says. “Maybe we’ll be really good at it, by necessity.”

Regardless of whether you have the space to spread out, the opportunity to reflect on what matters most in the spaces where we live, learn and work is spurring a lot of creativity. (Our toddler-proofing strategy changes on a weekly basis.)

“There are a lot of people who are sitting in the house that they don’t normally spend a lot of time in thinking, ‘Oh, it’s time for me to change this room’ or ‘I really need more seating because we’re just hanging out here,’” says Megan.

A growing focus of her interior design business, RoomLift, provides everything clients need to embark on a redesign in the convenience of a box shipped to their home.

“My eye for design put into an easy package for people to implement themselves is the idea behind it,” she says. “I’m just giving you a few great ideas to work in the room—something that comes from an expert opinion—and then you take it from there.”

Before and after: RoomLift client results

“You don’t need a major renovation to really change your space,” she says. “I came up with the name RoomLift because it’s like a facelift; you’re working with what you have. You might have your grandmother’s beloved table that you want to keep, but you want some new chairs and some paint or wallpaper and a light.”

While Megan believes it’s “so important to have a printed image as opposed to looking at furniture on a computer screen,” and “it makes such a difference to have it actually in front of you printed in color so that it feels as real as it can,” she offsets her high quality card stock, photos, samples and packaging by donating to One Tree Planted with every order.

“I try to focus on the fact that so much is going to change and hopefully we’ll be less wasteful and more cognizant of our impact on what we’re doing in our day to day lives,” she says, as we reflect on the positive changes resulting from families staying home together.

“Even just like eating the heel of the bread,” she says, providing a perfect metaphor for how we’re doing more with less.

Mama Maker: Christy, Embracing Parenthood in the C-Suite

When Christy MacGregor traded her position as a law firm associate for a commute across the street to join her husband’s startup as Chief Parent Officer and General Counsel, the barriers between parenting and career came tumbling down.

“I have a lot more flexibility now and it’s really nice to be able to move back and forth more fluidly between the world of parenting and the world of my job,” she says. “I feel like it’s very integrated. So I wouldn’t necessarily say I have balance, but nothing feels in conflict, like when I was at the law firm.”

The mother of four-year-old twins and a one-year-old now clocks her hours meeting with parents at Colugo, which her husband launched as a direct-to-consumer model made popular by fellow Wharton brainchild Warby Parker, after a disappointing experience stroller-shopping at big box stores.

“It releases a lot of the anxiety of being a working parent because you don’t have to pretend you’re not a parent,” she says, now realizing the noticeable absence of stress as a result of the “lifting of that burden.”

Previously, if one of her kids was sick or she had to go to a doctor’s appointment and “something had to be rescheduled, that would never be the reason,” at the risk of being perceived as “unprofessional.”

Christy’s experience at Colugo has been a stark contrast from day one. She made the transition from advising on the sidelines to a full-time leadership role when her third child was about 6 months old.

“One of the first calls I was on with the team, I had my baby with me and he was making noise,” she says. “Our head of marketing was like, ‘oh, that’s very on brand for us.’”

At the time, she remembers thinking “wow, a whole new world I’m in, it’s such a gift.”

While Christy is the first to point out that she’s lucky to be in a position where kids are core to the company’s mission—and she has childcare and family nearby to help—feeling the urge to apologize for the sound of kids in the background is a scenario any parent who works remotely, or joins calls from home or the car, can relate to.

“Now I’m on calls with parents all the time and you hear a baby crying in the background, or someone needs to get picked up early from school, and we all get that,” she says, adding that it can be “a great way to connect with people” and it “brings you closer together faster.”

Whether or not companies are ready for the rapidly increasing blend of work and parenthood, Christy believes it’s an opportunity to bring out the best in employees, especially when they don’t have to waste energy trying to separate their dual roles.

“More workplaces should recognize that if they let parents be fully themselves at work that’s only going to make them better employees—better team members—because they’re able to be open about where they’re at,” she says, and feel motivated by being “seen at work instead of feeling like they’re having to hide this huge aspect of their identity.”

“I’m now at a company that is so parent-focused that I’m seeing what can be done when you are all in on that,” she says. “And the strength of that, and the way that parenthood can amplify the work you’re doing because you’re much more efficient and focused.”

“You want the work you’re doing to be meaningful in a different way because there are so many other things you’re juggling and you want to feel like this is worth it,” she says. “Your time just means so much more.”

It Takes a Village

Christy believes that a family-friendly, community-oriented culture is not only “hugely beneficial to Colugo,” but it’s good for customers too.

“Our entire customer service team is moms who work part time,” she says. “So they’re able to do flexible, meaningful part-time work, which is what I feel like a lot of parents want instead of having to choose one or the other—to be completely out of the workforce, or to have to work full-time.”

In return, customers get the benefit of hearing from someone who “understands what they’re really asking” when a question comes in about product features, and ultimately “feel like the brand has your back.”

Building a family and a brand has taught Christy the importance of not being too “attached to outcomes,” and instead, “confident that I’m doing my best.”

“I can focus on that instead of trying to focus and feel anxiety about the ultimate result and that has served me well,” she says. “I think that is something I have learned through parenting, that I’ve been able to then apply to my career; and it’s a strength that I don’t know that I would have had certainly thinking back to myself in school, or early on in my career, when I was very attached to the gold star.”

She now finds “peace and fulfillment through the process” of spending her time listening to parents, thinking about how to continually improve their products, and build a strong community over time.

“It’s not something you can just snap your fingers and create,” she says. “So being part of that process, and comfortable with that process, has been something I have been able to take from parenting and apply to my career.”

Christy’s evolution as a mother and Colugo’s innovation as a company go hand-in-hand, thanks in part to the seamless integration between the two.

“We’re creating the products people want, we’re improving the products people have, and we’re building an even stronger community because our mission is to give parents the confidence they need to take on the adventure of parenthood,” she says.

Mama Shaker: Sarah, Unleashing Extreme You

During Sarah Robb O’Hagan’s ascent running brands like Virgin, Nike, and Gatorade, she learned there’s no time like the present to push the limits of what you’re capable of.

“Life is too short to put your potential on hold,” says Sarah. “It is for sure a lot of work to balance parenting and career — and only you can set an agenda that meets your own level of energy.”

Her message arrived at the very moment I needed to hear it. The last few weeks have served up a heaping dose of FOMO mixed with a cocktail of close calls that quickly put things in perspective.

Sarah and the fellow “Extremers” she writes about in her book, Extreme You: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat, are living proof that you can aim high, stumble, and reinvent yourself–in many cases while embracing the messiness of parenthood.

“There are times in parenting when the sheer exhaustion of it means that being your best self is just totally indulging in time with your kids,” she says. “There are other times when you have the energy to set new goals for yourself and share with your kids what you are achieving in your life.”

In her book, Sarah recounts how Laura Wolf Stein elegantly described her drive surrounding career, family, fitness goals and other passions as “cylinders” that “often fire separately, not all at once.”

By doing so, Laura allowed herself to stay fully present during maternity leave, and later to not feel guilty if one night she missed her kids’ bedtimes because she’d “get to binge on them all weekend long.”

It Takes a Village

While interviewing with Gatorade, Sarah discovered she was pregnant with her third child. To her surprise, her soon-to-be boss, PepsiCo CEO Massimo D’Amore, welcomed the mother-to-be with open arms. She eventually went into early labor, just as she was putting the finishing touches on a rebrand that would kick up again during maternity leave. Sarah ultimately saved the brand from peril through a Jerry Maguire-like maneuver chronicled in Fast Company.

The parallels between parenting, leadership and endurance training are not lost on her.

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“Parenting and families in general are a team sport,” says Sarah. “There is so much to be gained by surrounding yourself with others that can partner with you just as you support them. That’s the way to raise a great family.”

She shares the stories of Alli Webb, founder of Dry Bar, and national news correspondent Janet Shamlian, who kept their passions alive while staying home with their kids by taking incremental steps toward their goals. For Alli, it meant perfecting her craft by making house calls and taking a cue from her parents’ retail prowess. Janet started by watching and critiquing the news from her kitchen, then traveling to cover stories for days or weeks at a time, later enduring a cross-country commute, and finally landing her dream gig filming from her home base.

Whether or not your ambitions are career-related, Sarah believes every parent can tap into their potential–and in the process–inspire their kids to do the same.

“There are so many opportunities to take on responsibilities that stretch you and give you new skills,” she says. “Maybe it’s volunteering at an event at your child’s school. Maybe it’s picking up a musical instrument that you always wanted to play. Or maybe it’s getting the whole family involved in an activity you’ve never tried.”

“Just try something new. Along the way you might learn about some new aspects of yourself that you want to develop more.”

For Sarah, it meant finally venturing off on her own and building the Extreme You brand from scratch.

“My kids have really unleashed in me a desire to not be complacent, to keep learning and growing and to get out of my comfort zone — just like I ask of them!”

Oxygen Masks

“I have come to learn that the most important thing I can be is a role model for my kids,” says Sarah. “I dealt with a lot of ‘mommy guilt’ when I first became a parent. Through the mentoring of other moms, I learned that the best thing you can give your kids is the example of you just loving what you do in your life and work.”

I know I’m not the only parent of young children who mentally puts their bucket list on hold while changing diapers and making chicken nuggets on rotation. So how do we move past guilt as one of the obstacles to living up to our potential, now?

“The way to get over mom guilt is by recognizing that the best parent is the parent who is thriving in their own life,” says Sarah.

“Guilt is a wasted emotion. Most people who are in their later years have more regret for what they did not do in their lives–to assuage their guilt–than the times they chose to pursue the things they cared about.”

I recently heard this same sentiment from Ric Elias, a passenger of the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight in the moments that he thought would be his last, and again from Alison Hadden who’s championing her “No Time to Waste Project” following an advanced breast cancer diagnosis at 38 years old.

“Most importantly — you only have one life,” says Sarah. “Allowing your kids to see you thriving and living to your potential is the best thing you can do for them.”

 

 

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 Maker: Katherine, Recasting Motherhood On The Double Shift

Journalist Katherine Goldstein’s migration from New York’s media mothership inspired her to launch an unconventional podcast about working moms from her basement in North Carolina.

A punk rocker aspiring to be a Rabbi, a thirty-something mother of three on the campaign trail, and Nevada brothel workers parlaying earnings into nursing school are among the first episodes of “The Double Shift.”

“I think one of the problems with journalism and resources is if you only talk to the people you know, you’re going to have a pretty limited conversation,” she says. “This show is breaking out of that.”

In fact, Katherine and her bi-coastal team intentionally seek out women outside of big cities who don’t have PR people.

“Nydia Sanchez, who runs a 24-hour daycare, she’s committing her whole life to serving mostly single mothers who need childcare and don’t have a ton of money to pay for it,” says Katherine.

“She’s not trying to get a bunch of attention and credit for all the great work she’s doing–she’s trying to run a business–but she does it with a kind of compassion that you don’t see enough for a group that doesn’t get talked about a lot.”

Listening to these intimate, previously untold stories of working motherhood summons feelings similar to watching “60 Minutes” or listening to NPR.

“The reason I decided I wanted to do it as a podcast is that I really want to create community and movement around changing the way people think about things, and bringing new perspectives in a more in-depth way,” says Katherine.

“I think there’s only so far you can go with someone who just reads an article and likes it on Facebook and moves on.”

We also talked about how podcasts are more amenable to multi-tasking moms who can tune in while commuting or taking care of kids, and discover a connection to women in other walks of life.

“I feel like I want to create a much longer and larger and more substantial conversation about changing how society sees working mothers and how we see ourselves,” she says.

How this Mama Made it Work

Moving from New York to North Carolina provided Katherine with the financial means, family support and mental energy to build a podcast from scratch.

“I joke that since I no longer have to fight the transit authority in New York, I can spend all my energy fighting the patriarchy,” she says.

“I have so many more resources because everyday life is not stressful,” she says, noting the benefit of having grandparents nearby so she can go on date nights and connect with her partner — with whom she credits for helping make “The Double Shift” possible.

“I’ve always known that I’ve had an amazingly supportive partner; but, when you’re taking a big swing in your life, it’s not just having someone in your life that says ‘yeah, good job,’ but who’s like willing to readjust their life too.”

In addition to changing location and lifestyles, the two swapped parenting shifts, trading morning and evenings with their 3.5 year old, so Katherine can take advantage of productive hours in her homegrown studio.

She goes full steam on the podcast until 5 p.m. when she goes to pick up her son at school and uses the drive there and back, and dinner as a family, to unwind.

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Women Helping Women Succeed

Katherine originally started exploring working motherhood as a journalist after struggling through health complications during her son’s first year.

“It was a very stressful time and I lost my job when he was 6 months old,” she says. “I had been a very hard-charging, high-achieving professional, and it led me to really feel like a failure.”

“I was very convinced that everyone had this working mom thing figured out, except for me and I was just personally defective.”

Once she discovered that no one had it figured out, and that many mothers internalized personal blame like she had, Katherine became emboldened to investigate family dynamics, the workplace and public policy.

“As I started to look at it through a journalistic lens, I really felt like there’s a lot of content about parenting but there’s not much about our independent identities as working mothers,” says Katherine.

“We are our own people with our own needs and ambitions and abilities to do amazing things in the world, and that’s just not being addressed in a lot of conversations.”

“There are so many ways that working mothers are revolutionary in their own lives and that’s one of the big things I’ve taken away from this show,” says Katherine.

“Probably none of the women I interviewed would ever claim the label ‘revolutionary,’ but what I think is so inspiring about them is the way they’re addressing their own challenges and the challenges of the things they see around them in new ways.”

“I just love getting those new ideas out there.”

Mama Shaker: Marlene, Growing Businesses and Babies at The Inc.

Marlene Mejia Weiss longed for a place where she could talk to other women who were also figuring out their next career move after staying home with young kids.

“While I had an amazing time being at home, and don’t regret that, it has been quite the journey back trying to rebuild what I had before,” she says.

Marlene had previously worked in sports marketing in New York City, where she forged licensing partnerships for Major League Baseball.

When her family was transplanted to Seattle, she tried her hand at consulting for small businesses in the neighborhood, but found herself wanting more.

“Freelancing life is a bit lonely,” she says. “I’m more of a collaborative person.”

Fortuitously, Marlene found parents who were trying to get a non-profit women’s business incubator off the ground. She became a founding board member for The Inc., where she helped shape the mission, goals and even the physical space–which included co-working and part-time preschool.

“I loved that I was helping to solve a problem that I myself faced,” she says. “I know that feeling, of feeling isolated, and not knowing exactly who to connect with, where to go career-wise, or even parenting.”

It Takes a Village

The Inc. attracted mostly part-timers, consultants, students or “anyone who could work remotely and was in charge of their own schedule.”

Plus, Marlene says full-time working parents often showed up when nannies or daycare fell through.

“Which made you realize, gosh, childcare is such a big issue for so many parents, no matter what type of work or schedule,” she says.

When I asked Marlene about the complexities of setting up a preschool from scratch, she pointed out what made it possible.

“The four hour mark is the big differentiator,” she says.

Plus, they applied what Marlene describes as the “IKEA rule,” meaning parents had to stay close if there kids weren’t potty-trained.

“We were set up to have some time for parents to work on their own while still being nearby their children,” she says. “A lot of parents just need those 2-4 hours.”

“Nap time was actually our biggest competitor,” she says.

“By 12:30 or 1:00, you could feel and hear when the energy changes.”

As parents themselves, the founders brought perspectives from a variety of childcare experiences to inform their approach.

“We were focused on making sure the care was quality care,” Marlene says. “So it’s making sure the curriculum was what was needed for the kids, that the teachers were caring, nurturing people and had the right credentials.”

For the parents, it was designed to be much more than a space to pop open their laptop while their kids are cared for.

“We have a lot of small business owners just starting up, like really in the early stages,” says Marlene.

“They have this idea. They’ve incubated it for some time. They needed the confidence and the feedback to try it out, and this was really a safe space for them to do it.”

She says lots of members reached out to the community to do a workshop, or a lecture, or offer different things.

“That was the heart of it all,” she says. “It was really about the parents and what we could do to help them during this time.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Marlene spent 2.5 years at The Inc., both as a community cultivator and executive director, all the while “trying to do it as a mom, building up yet another thing.”

With everything in good hands, she decided it was time to start thinking about her next chapter.

“My season of life has changed, and my boys are older now, and I felt like I was in a place for a new challenge,” says Marlene.

“I felt like it was in a really good place to kind of go on without me, as it should,” she says. “And it’s a non-profit, so it’s not my thing to own.”

“Just seeing it continue to help parents is really, really satisfying to me.”

Marlene says that while her experiences with The Inc. have served as a springboard for other opportunities, she’s taking time to figure out what those next steps are.

“I’m still trying to stay in touch with members of the community, because I helped to cultivate it,” she says. “I don’t want to lose touch with those relationships.”

In the meantime, she’s volunteering at her boys’ school, where her youngest started kindergarten.

“I was a little nervous for the transition but he did great.”

On the subject of transitions, Marlene and I talked about the blur of life with babies and toddlers, compared to the age of her boys now.

“It’s a little bit of a weird feeling because you come out of this crazy experience and you’re like ‘oh, that was actually really fun.’ They’re not little anymore,” she says. “It just happens and then it’s gone.”

Figuring out what’s next, professionally, has many parallels.

“I just love that creative energy in the beginning,” she says. “Not really knowing where it could go to, and when it does, it’s really awesome to see it blossom like that. Getting people really excited and energetic about it is really great too.”

“I think I just like building stuff,” she says. “I guess the Lego building of my boys really does come from me!”

Marlene encourages other moms to tap into the desire to create that comes with motherhood.

“I think a lot of moms–there’s just this inner voice–you want to do stuff but you just feel like you can’t do it,” she says. “We’re really good at making excuses.”

“It doesn’t have to be this one, big giant, enormous, great thing,” she says. “Just take the little steps because you’ll get there. But you gotta take the little steps.”

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.”

Mama Maker: Luba by Hannah Payne

A mere month after the launch of Luba–a clothing brand to honor and support resilient women–Hannah’s own strength was put to the test as she faced a jolting start to motherhood.

“If I wanted to have a baby, it needed to be then,” says Hannah, about the moment she learned she had a severe case of endometriosis.

The self-described “feminine and girly” Parsons graduate had just started a socially conscious, lace-adorned line in contrast to the rugged outdoor brands that surrounded her in Denver, where she had relocated for her husband to attend law school.

Things took a turn for the worse when Hannah found out 20 weeks into her pregnancy that she had a mass on her placenta, called a chorioangioma. As she went digging for stories from women who’d been through it, she kept running into case studies that cited a 50 percent survival rate and risk of heart failure following birth.

“The whole time I was trying to figure out if I was going to keep Luba alive and I decided I needed to continue it,” she says.

“I obviously pulled back a little; but, it helped me keep my mind off of this terrible thing that was happening.”

Her daughter arrived eight weeks early, which introduced its own set of complications, but they all made it through that difficult chapter.

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The rest of Hannah’s story is full of intricate layers and textures, just like the clothing she creates.

The inspiration for the brand comes from its namesake: her tough-as-nails grandmother Luba, who survived a concentration camp but was taken by cancer at just 42 years old.

“I never had the chance to meet her,” says Hannah. “But just from the stories that I’ve heard about her, she was such an inspirational person. And my mom is so strong and so inspirational, and so are my aunts. So I just thought she’s the perfect kind of matriarch for the brand.”

Hannah treasures her heirlooms from Luba–including a leather trench coat with an emblem stitched into its lining that inspired the logo for her brand–as well as from “Glamma,” her dressed-to-the-nines grandmother on her dad’s side.

“I just love the idea of passing something down,” she says, about designing clothing to last a lifetime.

Women Helping Women Succeed

“I know the women that are actually sewing the clothes,” she says. “We’re a brand for women by women. Most of these women are immigrants who came to the United States to get a better life for their family…and so it’s full circle. It’s really cool to see and to know these women.”

With generations of strong women as the inspiration behind Luba, there’s meaning woven into every garment and aspect of Hannah’s business and accompanying foundation.

“Like a woman, she’s beautiful on the inside and the outside,” said Hannah, as she showed me the silk interior of one of her pieces.

“It’s a clean finish and really quality product and it’s beautiful and feminine and really fun fabric. At the same time, you really are doing more because a percentage of every sale is going directly to a shelter.”

When Hannah was taking a social entrepreneurship course in college, she uncovered some jarring statistics about the lack of funding for women’s shelters.

“She said our biggest problem is we turn down women and children every day,” recounts Hannah of her conversation with a director of a women’s shelter at the time. “It’s not just like getting them out, you know, and giving them shelter for two nights. You really have to break the cycle. You have to give them all these opportunities that they don’t normally have.”

The idea to create a foundation that helps women’s shelters overcome their lack of funding came into the forefront again when Hannah was dreaming up Luba.

“When I went to actually write my real business plan, it was the exact same kind of structure and idea and mission statement when I had written it three years prior,” she says.

She experienced the same sense of serendipity while deciding on a name for the foundation. After Googling Luba, Hannah discovered it means “Love” in Russian. And so the Luba LOVE Foundation was born.

Hannah points out that domestic violence can show up in places where you least expect it. She recalled a story where she spoke at a women’s luncheon in Aspen. Afterwards, a well-to-do woman approached her.

“You were just talking about my life,” the woman said. “It took me eight times,” she told Hannah, about finally getting the courage to take her kids and leave an abusive relationship.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Working in the fashion business means Hannah has to spend time on both coasts, despite her land-locked home base. Understandably, she’s spent a lot of time carefully working out childcare arrangements that she feels good about.

“I feel like I have to make my time away from her valuable and important,” she says. “There’s such a thing as mom guilt and I have it all the time; especially when I’m traveling a lot. And so I think to myself, I’m doing this for her.”

“I was just so close to losing her that I’m just so cautious about everybody,” she says, recalling the first time she left her with a new caregiver.

“I remember I drove to the airport and I was terrified something was going to happen,” she says. “I was like this is probably not a good fit if I am that nervous about leaving her.”

“We finally found someone that I love. She is just so sweet and my daughter loves her. And so that’s been really nice to have like a steady person that we really like.”

During the summer, when airports are less germ-ridden, Hannah brings her daughter along to stay with family members in New York or Los Angeles, where all of her clothing is made.

“I would not be where I am today without my support system,” she says.

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“I feel like designing is in my soul, says Hannah. “And so if I stopped, I would really lose a part of myself.”

In the spirit of her grandmother, her daughter and the legacy she wants to leave behind, Hannah has learned to celebrate small victories and take the “really low lows” in stride.

“I would just say, keep going. That’s the biggest thing; never give up. Just keep going.”

Mama Maker: Esther from Virtual Assistant Internship

When Esther uprooted her life to move her son to Bali, “a very healing place,” she found solace within a community of entrepreneurs and expats.

“To have to leave my husband was really, really horrible. To have to leave America was really, really scary,” she says, describing the moment she distanced herself and her son from her husband’s dangerous mental breakdown, which was triggered by multiple head traumas in the military.

“Even when my personal life was totally falling apart, even when emotionally I was a complete wreck, you just keep going anyway,” she says. “You just get up the next day and do it again.”

The village of support that surrounds her in Bali has simultaneously allowed Esther’s virtual assistant business to flourish, while changing her perspective towards moments of fear and self-doubt.

Esther recognizes that “when you do the stuff that’s hard and scary, that’s what takes you to the next level.”

“If I’m feeling like ‘I can’t do this, I don’t know what I’m doing’…I now know I’m going through something,” she says.

“I’m up-leveling.”

In four years, she’s helped 100 women do the same through Virtual Assistant Internship, which gives them the tools to start their own lucrative businesses from anywhere in the world.

“It’s a very tangible way of changing someone’s life,” she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

Esther’s journey began as a working mom and military wife whose husband worked night shifts and could be deployed within a moment’s notice, leaving her feeling “depressed and sad and stressed” she says.

“It was so hard because I loved my job,” she says, describing her corporate role in software product management that required her to travel frequently.

“But I also love my family and my son, and I was watching him having to be taken care of by all these relatives all the time, and neither of us were ever around,” she says.

“I was crying in my hotel room one night and I was like ‘that’s it’,” says Esther. “I felt like God was saying ‘trust me, I have something better for you — this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.’ ”

“Women aren’t supposed to be stressed out all the time and not see their kids,” she added.

The next day she quit her job and began scouting out a virtual assistant gig that would give her the flexibility to work from home and set her own hours.

After six months on the job, Esther kept getting asked about how it works, so she began mentoring others around top tasks for online business owners, like content repurposing, light email, and calendar management.

“I don’t understand why no military wives, none of my friends, nobody knows about this. This is insane,” she recalls feeling at the time.

Fast forward six years and her community of graduates ranges from women in the military to local moms in Bali who’ve started their own virtual assistant businesses and agencies.

“It’s really like this tribe we’ve created of women that are all hiring, helping, and mentoring with each other,” she says.

“I literally save messages from them telling me ‘Thank you so much, you changed my life.'”

When self-doubt creeps back in, she reads the notes, stored in her phone, to remind her why she should keep going.

“I really feel like it’s my purpose.”

It Takes a Village

Bali makes it easy for Esther to create the kind of village that every working mom needs in order to thrive.

“It’s much more community oriented than in the States and I think that surprises people,” says Esther.

She lives in a shared villa and has staff that helps with her son, delivers freshly prepared meals, and drives him to school.

Between her neighbors and other Balinese women she’s be-friended, Esther says she has plenty of people she can call in a moment’s notice to help with her son.

“He goes to this amazing ex-pat school, Montessori style, so they do an international curriculum in English until about noon, and then in the afternoon they go on field trips,” she says. “They go to the beach, They go on hikes through the rice fields.”

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While her son’s at school, Esther works side-by-side with fellow female business owners who run agencies or are influencers in their own right.

They all “meet up and co-work together” in one of their villas, a cafe or a co-working space.

Even in such a gorgeous setting, Esther says it’s very tempting to work around the clock, so they’ll bring in a massage therapist or taking a painting class to get the creative juices flowing.

They often finish the day together at the beach or watching the sunset.

And while she and her husband are working on their marriage and figuring out living arrangements, the supportive community in Bali is hard to beat.

“It just feels like home now.”

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Whether Esther is teaching the next batch of virtual assistants how to grow their business or helping entrepreneurs create online course content that sells itself, she believes in the legacy that comes with building community.

“Nobody knows what they’re doing,” she says. “You think all your other mom friends have it together or that person on YouTube. Nope. We’re all just making it up as we go.”

“It’s not about you. It’s about the tribe you’re creating.”

Mama Maker: Karli from Unlisted Market

Karli’s longtime dream of owning a boutique was suddenly in reach when she found out Rachel, owner of Unlisted in South Denver, was also expecting. The two mamas-to-be eventually had their boys just 2 weeks apart.

“Once you find someone in your tribe…that bond, as most moms know, is incredibly strong because you can share all of life’s trials and tribulations,” she says.

The two had first met when Karli started selling vintage goods at Unlisted, during the final 4 years of her 15-year tenure in PR & marketing.

“I just knew in my heart that it was the right time for me to make the move to step away,” says Karli, describing how she spent her pregnancy “building my brand outside of my corporate life.”

Fast forward to 2017: Karli was running a freelance PR business, selling her wares at Unlisted and raising her 10-month-old, when Rachel approached her about becoming a partner.

“As a single business owner, she was doing it all by herself. She was literally maxed out on her time,” says Karli.

“I feel like it was such a blessing,” she says. “I always dreamed of having a brick and mortar. I didn’t know I was going to be lucky enough to find something that already existed that I could just walk in as a co-owner.”

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Karli and Rachel offer fellow dreamers “the chance to step out, try retail on their own while having their overhead taken care of, and a very competent, trustworthy staff there everyday.”

“We’re constantly asking ourselves ‘what will bring in more traffic?’ and ‘how can we help our more than 100 vendors be successful?’ however they define it,” says Karli.

Recently, this meant setting up a cafe featuring locally roasted coffee and tea in a highly trafficked booth after one of their former vendors ventured out on their own.

“This to me is the dream. This is why we do what we do,” says Karli, beaming with pride that one of their vendors had become successful enough at Unlisted to open their own store.

Women Helping Women Succeed

While the 9000+ square foot space features male and female makers alike, it works particularly well for anyone who requires a flexible schedule.

“I do think our model–in the way that doesn’t require them to work in the store–is conducive to people who are trying to balance family life and their own creative passions,” says Karli.

Among the women-led businesses featured at Unlisted are Prairie Rose and The Shabby Chandelier.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Karli takes her now almost 2-year-old son to daycare while she juggles various roles at the store, including running the cash register, stocking and doing social media.

“I learned very quickly that he will thrive and I will thrive and our family will be happier,” she says, while noting that some days are easier than others.

“I think mom guilt is so real,” she says. “You try to justify all of your decisions. And you know what? We’re all doing the very best we can with what we have at that moment. I’m not going to judge anybody who does anything different.”

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Just like she found Rachel, Karli believes that finding a tribe of “like-minded moms” who support your decisions is key.

“When you find someone who’s in that same path, it feels really, really good,” says Karli.