Mama Maker: Viola, Drawing Us Towards Happiness No Matter What Happens

Viola Sutanto found joy within the four walls of a hospital room where her 9-year-old daughter awaited a bone marrow transplant for aplastic anemia, ultimately defying the odds of a match with her 3-year-old brother.

“They had told us of course we’ll test your son, but just know that sibling matches are a 25% chance, so don’t hold your breath,” Viola recalls her doctors saying at the time. “So when we heard that he was a perfect match, we couldn’t believe it. It was such a miracle.”

Now Viola wants to pay her gratitude forward by publishing Eat Cake for Breakfast and 99 Other Small Acts of Happiness in partnership with The Collective Book Studio and will give a portion of proceeds back to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. She’s been amazed at the response to her iFundWomen crowdfunding campaign, which has reached all the way to her hometown in Singapore.

“I was really very touched and overwhelmed,” she says. “In the first 24 hours of the campaign, we had raised thousands of dollars. Longtime friends of mine, people in our community and even friends I hadn’t heard from in years—suddenly I’m getting texts and messages from them saying, ‘I cannot believe you went through this’ and ‘here you go, I want 10 copies of your book.’”

Sharing Her Story

“I’ve been pretty isolated for more than a year since Maika was diagnosed, and I’m a very introverted person so I tend to hold it all in,” Viola says. “I realized, gosh, I’ve never even told most of these people what had happened.”

The inspiration for Eat Cake for Breakfast and 99 Other Small Acts of Happiness began when Viola and her daughter came up with sketchbooks as a way to keep themselves occupied during the hospital stay. The “100 days” creative movement had also recently gained popularity.

“So that’s when the drawings started happening,” she said. “We’d pick one thing to draw and it could be just the most mundane thing in the world. I think my first drawing was actually a dinner at the hospital or something silly like that— but over time it just became something fun for us to do.”

Viola started posting the drawings on Instagram and as a former book designer, she naturally began to imagine them taking shape in page form.

“What happened last year made me realize, as a family, how much resilience we have,” she says. “I’m a more optimistic person now than I ever was before, and also very mindful of being grateful for everything that we have.”

Because Maika was immunocompromised following her treatment, Viola’s family entered another year of social distancing and mask-wearing with plenty of practice and perspective.

“I think it really helps to find the silver lining in everything and every day,” she says. “Being able to see that on the upside, while stuck at home I get to spend a lot of time with my kids, which I love. I have the privilege of working from home—some people don’t. There’s just so many things to be grateful for despite everything else that’s happening.”

Viola’s perseverance has helped her carry her sustainable bag and home goods business through the abrupt changes that came earlier this year.

“Our wholesale business plummeted between March and now,” she says. “It’s still very much in recovery mode and that was a real bummer because we had started off the year strong. Every day we’d pick up the phone and get order cancellations and postponements. It was really devastating because most of our accounts are mom and pop stores, or they’re small businesses like mine. We have real relationships with these people and worked with them for years.”

She stays grounded by centering herself with meditation and journaling, before jumping into full days of distance learning and running her now booming e-commerce business. It’s a practice that helped Viola get through her darkest days.

“The only other person who was really in the thick of it with me is my husband and that’s all we talked about,” she says. “Sometimes I just don’t want to talk. I felt like my journal and my meditation practice was my own thing that I could do solo, without having to worry about how everyone else is feeling. And that felt sacred to me.”

No matter what life throws your way, Viola recommends giving yourself a break, taking it one step at a time and focusing on the small things you can start with.

“Try to find the silver lining somewhere,” she says. “There’s going to be light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a super long tunnel and these days of not seeing where it’s going to end. But I do believe it will be there.”

“If you just take the time to notice, there’s always something, some small joy to be found.”

Mama Maker: Sarah, Deciding How We Want to Live

Sarah Kelly’s rebound from a breast cancer diagnosis at 32 weeks pregnant to building a clean beauty brand featured by the likes of Good Morning America, exemplifies what “salty” women are capable of.

“I was up in Maine at my parents’ house and my sisters were there and it was one of those moments that you’ll never forget,” she says about the dreaded phone call that no one ever expects.

Just 72 hours earlier at a routine prenatal checkup, Sarah mentioned the lump she’d recently found to her OB-GYN, at the encouragement of her sister Leah, an oncology nurse who’s now her business partner. That Tuesday appointment led to an ultrasound on Wednesday, followed by a biopsy on Thursday and confirmation on Friday that it was indeed stage 3, triple-negative breast cancer.

“They wanted to start chemo right away, and it was too big for surgical removal,” she says. “The first cancer treatment that you do, you can receive while you’re pregnant. So I started two rounds of chemo and then they induced me at 38 weeks.”

What Sarah calls her “warrior week” started with the birth of her daughter, followed by blood transfusions two days later, and her third round of chemo two days after that.

“It’s just amazing; I always say, your body can handle so much,” she says. “You just have to have the right mindset.”

Sarah also credits the support she had during treatment, especially while she and her husband were between houses and living with her in-laws. She points out that her 14-month-old and newborn were in incredibly capable hands with her mother-in-law, a neonatal nurse.

“Cancer sucked, but it also gave me perspective on how I wanted to live,” she says.

“I think I was checking the boxes—half of them were making me happy and the other half were creating a lot of toxicity,” says Sarah about life back in Boston, which involved battling traffic to and from work, taking time away from her kids.

The idea of starting a business with her sister Leah entered the equation, inspired by the emerging interest in green beauty and a lifelong dream to build her own brand after working in sales and corporate marketing.

“Having lost my hair and everything, putting on a lipstick really empowered me to feel a little bit more feminine throughout my journey,” says Sarah. “That’s the direction we decided to go in and then it just evolved, talking about how we take care of ourselves, eliminating stress in our lives.”

Salty Girl Beauty took a minimalistic approach to cosmetics and body care, made locally in small batches using organic coastal ingredients. The name is a double entendre, honoring the resilience of women.

“What we were going through at that time in our lives, you needed a lot of grit and sass and attitude,” she says. “I think women feel that throughout the day they need to have that armor—whether you’re going through amazing things or a really hard time in your life.”

Sarah noticed that while she was getting a lot of attention during her treatment, finding ways for her husband to feel supported too was critical. So she, Leah and their siblings started Foundation4Love as a non-profit arm of the brand to carve out quality time with caregivers.

“Making sure that we were staying connected was really important to me, and so people would come over and watch the kids while we could go out to dinner,” Sarah says. “So that’s kind of the thing we do with other people going through this. Who’s their number one, is it their family or is it a sister, a husband? We try to do something that allows them to disconnect from their cancer and connect with whatever is love in their life.”

Through the spirit of partnership they’re also funding the cold cap program at New England Cancer Specialists, running workshops with Mount Sinai, and even spun up a new kind of cancer wellness retreat called Warrior Revolution—together with Cynthia Besteman, the cancer survivor behind Violets are Blue Skincare.

“There are so many conferences around the medical side and the treatment side but we really wanted to focus on, ‘yes, you’re going through cancer, but how do you live through that?'” she says about the full-day events which covered a range of wellness, intimacy and mental health topics and ended with a pajama party.

“At the last retreat, we had about six stage IV 30-40 year-old women they didn’t know in our own community,” she says. “And now they’re best friends. Being able to create those connections has been really great.”

While 2020 brought a lot of uncertainty for Sarah, Leah and their team through the spring and summer months, things took a very exciting turn when the opportunity to be featured on Good Morning America popped up.

“Getting that national exposure has been life-saving,” she says. “It’s been literally the biggest whirlwind ever. To see how the four of us, as well our greater community, helped and pitched in so that everything came together for it was just really, really special.”

Coming together, whether it’s as “Salty Girls” or as a family has given Leah the life she reimagined for herself five years ago.

“As much as I probably work too much, it’s on my own terms and I can do it in the living room while my kids are around,” she says. “I’m very present and we’re able to do the things that they want to participate in and spend a lot more time outdoors and all of the things that I think create a happy house.”

While that often means Sarah has a six-, five- and two-and-a-half year old clinging to her while trying to put makeup on, she still believes in the importance of self-care “without it being a big production.”

“Being able to have that message to talk to women about taking care of themselves and not putting themselves last,” is what fuels her.

“Because when you’re healthy, everyone else around you can be healthy,” she says.

Mama Maker: Angela, Creating Our Own Story

Angela Engel flips right past the “why me?” question that many stumble over when the opportunity to make a difference presents itself. The mother of three is a publishing industry disruptor by day, who mobilized the creation of PPE at the start of the pandemic–while continuing to lead the San Francisco chapter of Hey Mama, support social causes, and navigate distance learning.

Her response when people ask how she raised $30,000 and distributed 10,000 face shields across the country—including Children’s Hospital Minnesota, Alameda Health Consortium and Navajo Nation clinics in Arizona and New Mexico— says everything about her willingness to spring into action.

“When this all hit and I saw my best friend literally in the ER when the Princess Cruise landed and he was working night shifts and lost it when he couldn’t get a face shield, I was like, ‘who else is going to save him?’”

“I think that same spirit is the greatest thing you learn when you’re an entrepreneur,” she says. “That fire, that spirit, that idea…what’s the worst that could happen? Someone says no, right? That’s not a big deal.”

Angela felt a similar call to action when she was “really pregnant” with her third daughter and had grown weary of publishing industry trade shows where she struggled to find a humane place to pump in concrete convention centers.

She dabbled in children’s apparel for a while, which was more kid-friendly and introduced her to the faster pace of retail.

“I would bring the baby with me and put her in the stroller and that was great, but I missed publishing,” she says. “It’s the creative piece.”

While doing business development for an independent publishing house in Petaluma, Angela “noticed the surge of self publishing” that was more akin to the speed of fashion than the traditional publishing industry.

“Why are we letting Amazon and self publishing take that market share?” she realized. “Why not pull together my colleagues from traditional publishing who are fantastic, who are graphic designers, who are typesetters, who are editors and let’s form a collective? We can do this as good as any big house and we can do it fast.”

The Collective Book Studio was born in 2019 around the idea of “partnership publishing” which retains the authors’ creative control and has gained the attention of her industry peers for its disruptive business model.

“We don’t print on demand,” she says. “We really believe the book is an art form.”

One example is how the team packaged up a series of beautifully crafted pages from parenting coach (and Mama Shaker) Sue Groner in Parenting with Sanity & Joy: 101 Simple Strategies in a way that even the most exhausted among us can digest at our own pace.

“What is the message that you want your reader to take away?”

It’s the first question that Angela asks prospective authors (and something that anyone creating content should take the time to answer).

“That will help decide why are you writing this book,” she says.

For Maika handbag designer Viola Sutanto, it’s a reminder that even in our darkest days, happiness is all around us. She’s working with Angela and iFundWomen to fund Eat Cake for Breakfast and 99 Other Small Acts of Happiness—inspired by Viola’s 9-year-old daughter’s hospital stay while she awaited a bone marrow transplant from her 3-year-old brother.

Whether our story involves putting an important message out into the world, or giving back in another way, taking action is the antidote to fear.

“I think the first step is to practice,” Angela says. “Write a sample chapter. Just write, even if it’s not good at all. It could literally be bullet points for all I care. But just get it down on paper.”

Mama Shaker: Tina, Empowering the Whole Family to Take Part

A set of color-coded cards plays a significant role in Tina Murray’s household, helping her teenage son track his daily routine while navigating distance learning with a visual impairment.

“I can just put those Kanbans next to his breakfast and he knows sometime throughout the day, ‘I’ve got to shower, I’ve got to go water my cucumbers,’ and later empty the dishwasher.”

“I think that COVID has actually gotten more kiddos involved in independent living skills,” she says.

While it can be tempting to speed through her son’s chores herself, Tina has learned to delegate out of necessity and to foster independence in the long run.

“He used to have an aide in the class that could help him locate the position in the notebook or the textbook that he needed to go to if he couldn’t get there as quickly as the teacher,” she says. “So that support is not physically close to him anymore; or, the vision teacher who’s teaching him how to cut safely because he’s down right where the knife is with his cucumber.”

The network of services and experts that Tina constructed for him over the years—thanks to the advice of fellow special-needs parents—has been reshuffled based on what’s available virtually and still funded amidst budget cuts.

Vista Center and its “expanded core curriculum that’s available to blind and visually impaired students” remains at the top of her list.

The 75-year-old Bay Area non-profit (which is currently running a back-to-school fundraiser to bridge the education gap created by remote learning) has empowered Tina and other families to think beyond the challenges posed by traditional sports and recreation to “push those boundaries a little bit,” she says.

“Let’s do kayaking, or maybe whitewater rafting. Let’s listen to a movie that is audio described as a group and enjoy that experience together.”

Tina says it’s “amazing to be a fly on the wall as a volunteer,” and it’s an opportunity for the parents to check in with each other.

“It’s pretty brilliant,” she says.

Tina also hosts the Vision Parents Google Group to continue the conversation.

“If my child is feeling successful, if my child is independent, if they are making their own dinner—hey, I am now in my ‘wow,’” Tina says about hitting a groove as a family. “It’s that progression towards independence in adulthood, given the state where we are. Those are my shining days.”

For those times when it “feels like one big long day” while blending school, work and everything else under one roof, she recommends reading Raising an Organized Child: 5 Steps to Boost Independence, Ease Frustration, and Promote Confidence by Dr. Damon Korb.

As a professional project manager and natural multitasker, Tina believes in “not trying to boil the ocean, not trying to solve everything at once, not taking on too much–because that is overwhelming.”

Instead, she suggests breaking up problems into manageable parts and celebrating the milestones along the way.

“It’s the opposite of low hanging fruit,” Tina says. “You have to pick the hardest things because that’s where you’re going to see the biggest gains.”

“You’re never done being a parent,” she says. “You’re never done figuring out how to connect with and relate to your child.”

“It has been a complete roller coaster to get to where we are, and I know there’s more coming,” she says about parenting in the teen years. “And I love roller coasters.”

When Our Presence Leads to Progress

Leanne Sherred wants to reassure busy parents that the conversations we have with our children throughout the course of a day–even while negotiating meals and bedtime–are incredibly powerful for speech and language development.

“You can put language across every area of the day,” she says. “All those routines that are already going to happen in a very busy, crazy, hectic day–you’re still going to get up in the morning, eat breakfast, brush your teeth–all of those are opportunities for interacting with your kiddo, modeling language.”

It can be hard to recognize the silver lining of so much time together at home, but it’s presenting a unique opportunity for parental involvement.

“A lot of times when kids get speech therapy from school, parents barely have any idea what’s being worked on, or how it’s being addressed,” she says.

As the president and founder of Expressable, Leanne flipped the old model of speech therapy on its head. Instead of parents sitting in the waiting room while their kids meet with their therapist once a week, she and her husband launched a virtual option for families to participate together from home.

“One of my professors at Northwestern who taught early intervention made sure that if we walked away from our graduate career with anything in our minds it was that parent engagement is one of–if not the–most powerful tools that we have as clinicians,” she says.

Working directly with families is what led Leanne to choose speech therapy as a profession instead of becoming a dialect coach, after a childhood of easily picking up voices and accents.

“This realm where you’re having a huge impact on the lives of individuals and the lives of families spoke to me,” she says.

Even in this incredibly stressful season of parenthood, our children are changing and growing right before us. To the untrained eye, it can be hard to understand what’s going on behind the scenes to make all these milestones possible.

“As a therapist, I like to really think about the small wins,” she says, noting all of the skills that have to be in place before a word is even spoken. “They had to pay attention to you. They have to have memory for that. They have to have joint attention. They have to be turn-taking to an extent.”

It’s a reminder that all of this time we’re spending with our kids adds up. We may get frustrated, we may lose our patience, but the progress is there when we pause to recognize it.

“There’s nothing I love more than helping a parent use a strategy,” she says. “Then the kid says a word, or maybe for the first time ever puts two words together,” she says.

“It is really powerful for the parents to be the ones who made the success happen.”

Mama Shaker: Jess, Building Relationships Around Experiences We Share

Jessica Gupta felt isolated as the first of her friends to get pregnant, before she knew that motherhood would bond her to women she barely knew.

“I thought that what I was going through emotionally and physically was something other people couldn’t understand completely,” she says.

And even if friends do have kids, it can be hard for them to remember all of the minutiae that occurs weekly and monthly as your body and your baby grow.

“When I was pregnant, I was connected to two women that were due at the same time as me,” she says. “We started chatting and the relationship grew. I kid you not, there were days when we would probably send over 50 text messages between the three of us.”

Jess and her new cross-country confidantes supported each other through the physical and emotional changes that carried them well into motherhood.

“I think what’s really special is they were the first people I told when I went into labor,” she says. “They were the first people I really reached out to because they had been with me through it all.”

The experience inspired Jess to create Taavi, an abbreviation of “it takes a village,” to match together moms-to-be from all walks of life.

“Getting out of the house can be tough,” she learned after the birth of her daughter. “It’s really intimidating to put on clothes and do your hair and go meet other mothers.”

“What I wanted to create for women was a support system because that’s what I had created for myself,” says Jess, noting the importance of doing so before baby, when you have the “mind space” to “focus on building strong bonds as women first.”

Sharing a similar mindset with her co-founder, Renee, was also helpful in creating a partnership in the early days of Taavi.

“When I met her, we had this really natural connection of ‘hey, we want to honor women during pregnancy,’ to focus on the woman, not just the mom,” she says.

“It’s been a really awesome relationship because we’re both mothers, we both had different experiences in our pregnancy and so we can speak from different vantage points,” she says. “At the same time, we believe in this immense need for community for moms and the support that comes from that community.”

While plenty of pregnancy apps and groups provide information about every milestone and symptom, it was important to Jess and Renee to focus on building relationships between mothers.

“The goal is that we’re actually creating dialogue or creating intimate connection through nurturing friendships,” she says.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Just shy of three years into motherhood, Jess has built a relationship with her daughter using a similar support structure—rooted in the routine that toddlers find comforting, which affords a few moments of solace every parent needs.

“There are some routine components that I started to put into place this year, which has been incredibly helpful,” she says. “One of the goals I had this year was to wake up before my daughter and actually shower and be ready.”

Jess also spends a few minutes in the morning alone writing in a journal about the things she’s grateful for and the things she wants to let go. So she’s refreshed and has a cup of coffee in hand by the time her daughter wakes up.

“I have to be that backbone of routine for my daughter too,” she says. “I think that makes her happy and gives her something to look forward to every day.”

“She’s a stickler for plans. I think that’s just part of their age group. They want to know what they can expect.”

Structure also helps Jess balance the less predictable path of running a startup.

“As an entrepreneur, I think the hardest part is not knowing exactly what you should be doing all the time,” she says. “One thing that I’ve been trying to achieve more of is setting weekly goals as opposed to these grandiose quarterly goals.”

Compassion is also key for Jess. When we spoke earlier this year, neither of us knew how timely her words would be, “understanding that I know shit happens, life gets in the way.”

“It’s hard because in the space of creating your own company, you don’t have a boss telling you you’re doing a great job,” she says. “You don’t have traditional reward structures.”

Jess has realized the reward for any of us achievement-oriented mothers comes in the compassion of reminding ourselves and each other “that you’re doing a killer job, even if it doesn’t feel like it.”

“I think the hardest part of motherhood is that as women we forget to take care of ourselves,” she says. “My hope is that Taavi will bring back some of the nourishment that we we don’t get to experience daily.”

Mama Shaker: Ari, Seeking to Understand Each Other in Business and Family

Working in close proximity to her husband is nothing new for Ari Krzyzek. The couple runs a creative agency from their home office in Chicago, while tending to the special needs of their son.

“In our early years doing business together it was definitely very hard,” she says. “I found that trying to separate our feelings and our relationship as spouses, versus us as business partners, was a little bit tricky in the very beginning.”

Ari says that setting boundaries has helped—as tempting as it may be to talk shop over dinner—and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship for all the “different scenarios building a business and in life.”

“We’re obviously not perfect, but we try our best to respect one another and try to really find our own strengths and weaknesses,” she says.

“I’m honestly just trying my best to at least set some guidelines,” she says. “There are some exceptions on different occasions and different days, but at least I have some sort of guidelines that I can follow, so it’s not 100% strict rules.”

Ari recalls the advice of her mentor who emphasized the importance of being as flexible as you can while starting a family, because “things will change very fast, especially in the first 10 years.”

Now, almost five years into parenthood, she and her husband have found a way to run Chykalophia together and be hands-on with their son.

“The main reason why I’ve built the business the way I have today is because I want to see him grow too,” she says. “If I focus way too much on work that defeats the ‘why.’”

“My son is also in the spectrum, so I have to really understand he’s trying his best,” Ari says, making her keenly aware of questions like, “how can I try to figure out what he is currently learning, the way he’s learning, or what’s the best support he needs right now?”

Women Helping Women Succeed

When Ari first came to the United States, she looked forward to meeting other entrepreneurial women.

“I feel like I didn’t have that enough as I grew up in Bali,” she says. “There’s not enough opportunity for women to come together in a professional setting and even more importantly, in a more positive impact setting.”

When Ari didn’t find the degree of connection she was looking for from traditional networking events in Chicago, she built her own.

“I thought about it over and over, and then finally did it out of a simple need to connect with other women in business,” she says. “It took off and now we’re hosting events every month so that other women entrepreneurs can also connect with one another and really learn from each other.”

Creative Women’s Co. events have expanded beyond Chicago to connect women virtually around a variety of topics. Ari also makes herself available for speaking and mentoring through AriKrzyzek.com while volunteering for design organizations.

With her sights set on writing a book about “empowering women,” Ari invites fellow entrepreneurs to get in touch with her about a “particular moment in their life that they would like to share with me,” whether good or bad.

“I’d love to hear back from them and just listen to what others have experienced in their life,” she says. “I know it’s not always rainbows and unicorns all the time because I got my fair share like other women. I just want to see what other experiences women have.”

Mama Shaker: Charlotte, Joining the Sisterhood of Mothers

Charlotte Blake Kaplan brought new mothers together for a decade before becoming one herself. While helping postpartum women recover, she caught a glimpse of the healing power of the sisterhood of mothers.

“Motherhood has taught me how to be with women, how to not judge the kind of person I think that I would be friends with, ” she says. “It’s just opened my heart.”

“So many of us have grown up—or we were brought up—to gossip and not really know how to be in the circle of women, even though that’s our ancient lineage,” and it results in what’s described as the “sisterhood wound,” says Charlotte.

No matter what came before our children, or how adequate we feel going into it, motherhood is the great equalizer. It bonds us together as warriors who’ve been through similar physical and emotional battles.

“So I feel like that’s been a big, beautiful gift that I wasn’t expecting,” she says.

While it’s impossible to know what motherhood will be like, Charlotte’s instincts were spot on: spending time with moms is guaranteed to ease the transition.

“Women need to be together,” she believes. “In my twenties, when I was working with women who had just had babies, it was somehow imprinted in my brain that I was definitely going to surround myself with women who are going through the same thing as me.”

She started Charlotte Blake Pilates as a way to heal from years of dance that wreaked havoc on her body. Learning how to help others move without pain bonded her to mothers early on.

“I feel like I always held myself back because I loved working with moms, but I wasn’t a mom myself,” she says. “But I see, looking back how my work was really helpful and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t a mom.”

“I also have the perspective of being a single woman in my twenties to now being married with a baby, and having gone through that experience definitely changes how I work with women and how I relate to them,” she says. “I am giving myself a little bit more credit retroactively.”

Charlotte also created a Facebook group of women in her Brooklyn neighborhood who were due around the same time.

“It grew to 150 people, so I had a community of women when I was pregnant, and then postpartum and we continue to post and lean on one another,” she says. “We post on the Facebook group, we call each other, we text. Some of these women have never even met and I’ve had multiple conversations with them.”

“I love talking to women about her birth story and my birth story,” she says. “It’s just a different way of working with a woman.”

When we spoke, Charlotte was beginning the journey of reclaiming some of her identity as her 9-month-old son approached his first birthday.

“I really took a look at what brings me joy and where my heart really lies and was just feeling like it’s time to really do the work that I’ve been called to do,” she says.

“Something about motherhood just makes you fully commit because you kind of have to with your babies, so I feel this new responsibility for myself and for my family and for my dreams,” and “the message I want to put out in the world.”

“Really commit and just go for it,” says Charlotte, emboldened by the women she supports and no doubt are rooting for her too.

Mama Shaker: Rebekah, Providing Comfort When It’s Hard to Know What to Say

Rebekah Rosler dedicates her waking hours to supporting women who are trying to become pregnant, navigating postpartum and the rigors of motherhood—all of which she’s experienced firsthand on the uphill climb to conceive her 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twins.

“Whether you’re a therapist or a coach or a friend, what you really need to be doing is listening and supporting and helping—and oftentimes that’s all somebody else needs,” she says. “They don’t need an expert. They don’t need the most knowledgeable human being on a particular topic. They just need to be to be seen and they need to be respected and they need to be comforted.”

In the years it took Rebekah to prove the doctors wrong who told her she could never get pregnant, she formed bonds with a community of women going through their own infertility struggles. She learned how powerful it was to simply be present when someone is grieving.

“I often get messages from friends saying ‘I just found out my friend suffered a miscarriage. What should I say or what should I do? How should I act?’ and of course you don’t want to say the wrong thing,” she says. “But oftentimes, people just say nothing. And that’s the worst possible reaction. Even if you say the wrong thing, you’re trying and people want support, even if they don’t want it in that moment, or say they don’t want it.”

Rebekah’s advice is universal for the moments that we find ourselves sensing the pain that someone we care about is feeling, but we struggle to come up with the words to show them we care.

“I always say what you can tell them is you have no idea what the f*ck to say, you just know you want to be there for them,” she says. “You will be there when they want to talk. You are there for them now, tomorrow, in 10 years, whatever it may be.”

“Don’t leave them alone. Don’t leave them to their own devices. Let them know that they’re not alone, they have friendship and family and they have what they need. They might just not be ready or willing to dig deep and ask for it, but be present and be there.”

We often underestimate the power of sitting with someone—physically or virtually. Rebekah found a way to provide comfort through her Facebook “warrior” groups and 1:1 video calls available through It’s Conceivable, long before the rest of us relied on these forms of connection.

“Once I went through my own fertility journey and had my own experiences, really every aspect of trying to become a mother changed everything for me,” she says. “It shined the light on what it is that I’m intended to do with this wild and precious life.”

Even though Rebekah supports women all the way from pre-conception into the early years of motherhood, she admits to feeling the same imposter syndrome that most of us do.

“I’m an expert in some ways, but I’m obviously not a medical expert, and there’s a lot of things that I don’t know,” she says. “But I think sometimes just having a nonjudgmental ear or somebody to listen to, or talk to or communicate with or have camaraderie with; sometimes, that’s just what we need.”

Women Helping Women

While the healing power of human connection is undeniable, Rebekah cautions that all of the messages about motherhood that we consume digitally are a “double-edged sword.”

“Whether it’s celebrities or Instagram or social media or whatever social space and voice is out there now, I think there’s a lot more normalizing of things that either didn’t have a voice as much before—just by the nature of we didn’t have a platform for it—but I think the moms’ space, the fertility space, a lot of it is really being brought to the surface,” she says.

Whether it’s baby announcements, gender reveals, or breastfeeding, the social celebrations of motherhood can be painful to scroll through when you’re struggling with any stage of motherhood.

“I think we do need to be kinder to ourselves,” she says, and sometimes that can mean “hearing the positive stuff that’s coming from social media but blocking out the picture perfect images that people are putting up.”

“We’re all doing our best to get by, whatever that looks like. You have no idea what’s going on behind closed doors or the other side of a camera.”

Even when life feels overwhelming, the Golden Rule can help us figure out how to comfort those who need it.

“Treat your friends the way that you want them to treat you,” she says. “Treat your family the same way. Just love the people that love you and do your best. That’s all we can do.”

“People don’t want to be alone. People don’t want to be lonely. People need community, or at least a few people, or at least a person. Somebody, everybody needs somebody.”

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.