Mama Maker: Talla, Honoring Grief with the Gift of Life

Talla Kuperman lived more life in her first five years as an Iranian refugee, and again when she lost her brother to cancer at age 30, than many do in a lifetime. And yet, she radiates joy and immediate warmth—both of which are propelling her entrepreneurial journey as the founder of Love Talla fine jewelry fingerprint pendants—as I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know as my first client, friend in my new neighborhood and fellow food allergy mama.

“I was born into the war and the revolution had already been happening for so long, so that was normal life to me, you know,” she says. “I have memories where we were asleep in our apartment in Tehran and all of a sudden, the sirens would start wailing throughout the capital of the city, and if you looked out the window whoever was awake at that time, or whatever lights were on, would immediately be shut down.”

“My mom would scoop me up and scoop my brother up–we lived in a high rise apartment at the top floor– so she would run us downstairs and into the bottom floor, where it’s the safest if a building gets bombed or comes crumbling down, and she would hide us under the stairs and that’s where we would wait until it was safe again to come out.”

Talla recalls memories of driving by friends’ homes in piles of rubble, and hiding her mother’s precious ring at the airport as her family carried suitcases full of the belongings they were allowed to take out of the country as they boarded a plane for Switzerland.

“I remember walking up to like what we would consider TSA,” she says. “One of the guards took my doll out of my hand and ripped her head open to look inside of her body to make sure I wasn’t taking anything. I remember being so traumatized by it, because I’m like, ‘he killed my doll!’ But luckily, he did not see the ring that I was hiding in my hand so that was a good thing.”

“Still to this day, every time I see that ring in her jewelry box, I remember that night when we left Iran.”

Talla’s family made their way to safe haven upon arrival at the embassy in Switzerland, where they were placed in shared housing with fellow refugees. Her attitude towards the experience is a good reminder of the resilience that kids display in even the most trying of circumstances.

“For me and my brother it was incredibly fun because we got to live in basically a big house with 50 other people and a ton of other kids, and we got to spend the night with our parents every night in the same twin or full sized bed–it was tiny but for us that was so much fun because, what kid doesn’t want to sleep with their parents every night?”

“I think about it from my parents’ point of view, and it just blows my mind, the bravery that they had to escape that kind of a situation and get their children to a country where they can actually have a life.”

Eventually, a two-week hotel stay awaiting approval to join family members that would accept full financial responsibility for her family in the United States turned into three years. In the meantime, Talla found warmth and beauty in Switzerland as she “acclimated really quickly.”

“I remember my mom taking me to the grocery store so that she could ask me questions in Farsi and I could translate for her to the employees,” she says. “I just I never really felt that different. I remember falling in love with my teacher, because I just thought she was so beautiful. I’d never seen blond hair and blue eyes and she was so sweet.”

Talla arrived stateside in time for her ninth birthday, when her family was able to settle in to San Diego after a temporary stay with family in Los Angeles.

“My dad was educated in Santa Barbara, but he was in love with San Diego and he always talked about San Diego as heaven on earth,” she says. “The beaches and the people; it was like a fairy tale in my mind. My mother had another brother who lived in in San Diego in North County in Escondido and so after we wore out our welcome in LA, we moved into his house and then eventually he helped us get on our feet and get our own place.”

Fast forward to her twenties, Talla outgrew her surroundings and traveled the world after getting a degree in biochemistry.

“I told my mom I needed to find myself but all I really found was more partying and more fun and more adventures,” which continued into her next decade as a bachelorette in LA and her “really wonderful career in insurance, which is an incredibly well kept secret, as far as careers go for young people who are willing to work hard—there’s a lot of entertaining.”

Talla started her next decade near her brother’s side as his cancer battle continued for five months beyond her 30th birthday.

“It was a rollercoaster,” she recalls. “One month, he would be so sick and I would be so worried about him and I had all sorts of anxiety and depression over it, because he and I were incredibly close—he was my best friend. Then the next month, we would get news that his tumors had shrunk and he was doing incredible and he was responding to the new chemo treatments.”

“For the people who have been through something like that, you hold on to every shred of hope—one positive thing that the doctors deliver to you—so that we don’t crumble into an absolute mess,” she says. “You can’t really feel joy when you’re in that situation. There’s always this hole in your heart.”

Five years later Talla met her husband Zach in an elaborate setup at a friend’s dinner party. The southern gentleman impressed her with phone calls in the era of text messages and dating apps. They returned to his hometown of Austin shortly after they had their daughter Lexi.

“I remember from all of the times that we talked about his childhood he had this like ideal all-American, homegrown childhood,” she says. “I had a great childhood, I don’t want to minimize my childhood, but it was nothing like his and it was definitely not all-American in any way, shape or form. I love the stories that I would hear from him and I really wanted to provide that to my child.”

Talla’s idyllic vision for her baby was tempered by something else that bonds us together as mothers, which is being traumatically flung into the world of food allergies that doctors initially missed or dismissed.

“Every kid has their thing, and my kid has severe food allergies,” she says, describing the first clues that something was wrong in the first month. “She wasn’t gaining weight and she was a very emaciated looking, eczema baby. I remember talking to the pediatrician about it, and she was like ‘no, this is normal, don’t worry about it, just breastfeed her.’”

“I started cutting out dairy from my diet, but every morning I was eating like piles of almonds and lots of eggs and really nutritious food because I knew I was then going to pass it on to her through my breast milk,” she says. “I wanted that chubby Gerber baby, and so I was just trying my hardest to do that, not realizing that I am eating everything she’s allergic to, I’m touching everything she’s allergic to and then touching her body, and this poor child has like hives up the wazoo.”

Talla introduced scrambled eggs at 6 months old, like many parents do, to which her daughter hesitated. So she tried again a month later at a restaurant.

“My baby started to turn purple,” she recalls watching her daughter’s skin change color. “Within 10 seconds, it was like purple, white, pink blotches, purple, white, pink blotches and around her lips, she started to turn blue.”

Like any of us facing our first allergic reaction as a newcomer, Talla assumed they should rush home to Benadryl and it wasn’t until later that she realized, “in hindsight, what I should have done was rushed her to the hospital.”

“For how allergic Lexi is to the foods that she’s allergic to, seeing the allergist once every eight months to challenge her with the food was not going to cut it for us,” she says, referring to typical food allergy protocol of “challenging” a specific allergen in the form of a muffin or some other small dose and hoping a reaction doesn’t occur over the course of hours sitting in an allergist’s office with your small child.

“We wanted to get her to a point where she could eventually live a normal life as an older kid,” she says. “People don’t think that you can treat a food allergy. What they say is just avoid it. Well, first of all, that’s not a solution. At some point, something’s going to happen.”

Fortunately, the pandemic brought its first of two silver linings for Talla and her family. Originally, she was placed on a 2.5 year-long waitlist for a tolerance induction program at the Southern California Food Allergy Institute, but with people in lockdown and not traveling, she got a call to start the program within a week’s time.

“We threw her on a plane and went to Socal Food Allergy and started our little adventure in using immunotherapy with food to treat her for her various anaphylaxis food allergies,” she says.

The other silver lining also comes in yellow gold and rose gold. While the pandemic stirred up Talla’s grief watching families lose loved ones without being able to hold their hands in the hospital, she was inspired to create a way to stay close to those we love, even when they’re no longer within reach. Love Talla launched with great success shortly after her 40th birthday, thanks in part to Mother’s Day and the many milestones since.

As we’ve all grieved loss in different forms these past few months, Talla’s shining tribute to her brother and his legacy to “love her life” has inspired many. Not to mention it’s also been “an emotional roller coaster, but it has been worth it. It’s worth every single tear,” she recently told the Austin-American Statesman.

Next up, Talla is ushering the return of best friend necklaces, as profiled recently along with jewelry heavyweights like Kendra Scott, in the Wall Street Journal.

The world is just starting to see how much she sparkles.

Mama Maker: Pamelyn, Finding Gratitude in Any Situation

Pamelyn Rocco wants to remind us that no matter how busy life gets, we can still carve out moments to feel grateful.

“Instead of being annoyed at all of the driving that I have to do, we take it as a time to look outside at nature and be grateful,” she says about chauffeuring her girls between activities. “Tennessee is so beautiful right now, like the amount of colors coming off of these trees and plants, it’s just gorgeous.”

“We’ll see how many colors we can count of flowers getting from here to the soccer field.”

It’s just one of the ways Pamelyn taps into her surroundings to guide her family through the practice of gratitude without it feeling like a lesson or chore. She also published a children’s book, Gratitude the Great, to help parents and kids learn together.

“A deep soulful feeling of gratitude is what I’m trying to get out there,” she says, pointing out the difference between gratitude and good manners. “Gratitude is like a whole different beast.”

“Our job as parents is to model that behavior on a daily basis and that’s why I think rituals are so important.”

As a busy mom that stays up late to work while everyone’s asleep, Pamelyn spends her first waking moments making mental thank you notes.

“My eyes wake up and I just start with anything that comes to my head,” she says. “If there’s something special that’s about to happen that day I make sure I give gratitude for that and it just like starts me off on the right foot.”

Pamelyn uses the “gratitude train” to illustrate the interdependence of the meals we eat and gifts we receive—which we all have a new appreciation for after dealing with 18 months of strained supply chains.

“If you can backtrack and explain to your kids all of the different stages and people and effort that had to go into that one meal on your table, from the farmers, to the truck drivers, to the grocery store workers, to your mom and dad working so hard in making this beautiful meal—that makes children understand that we all depend on each other and that it’s not just about us,” she says.

Her new book highlights the tradition of giving Rea bracelets as a visual reminder and gift to the people we’re grateful for.

“I’m all about prompts because you’re so crazy during the day,” she says. “You can be sitting waiting for your doctor’s appointment, or waiting for your oil change or waiting in the car line at school and you just look down.”

Pamelyn and her daughters have been giving out Rea bracelets to first responders, frontline workers, cashiers and delivery drivers throughout the pandemic.

“Even through bad things that happen in life, COVID and all these things, it has really been the most amazing tool for me to use to get through the darkest days,” she says.

“You have space for thoughts, and thoughts are what drive gratitude.”

Mama Maker: Cameca, Savoring the Time to Refine Your Craft

Cameca Bacchus doesn’t shy away from reinvention, having toggled between corporate roles, baking and motherhood. She takes inspiration from women like Sylvia Weinstock who achieved success much later in life.

“I can crunch numbers well, but my passion really is baking,” she says.

“When the subprime crisis happened, I remember walking to my office one day and seeing people leaving with all their stuff at the time, losing their jobs left and right,” she recalls. “I said, ‘it might be a matter of time before I’m one of those people, so maybe I should figure out what I really enjoy instead of what I just do well.’”

One week later, she filled out an application for culinary school, and then nine months later left her corporate finance job, and began classes while working for a catering company. Things changed again when she started her family.

“The thing with working at bakeries, is that you start really early, like, I was working a shift from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. but not being around in the mornings is what’s tricky,” she says. “You also would work on the weekends, so that was another point of losing Saturdays and Sundays–when can we ever have a day when we’re all home together–because you just don’t get to replace that time.”

Now Cameca approaches baking as a part-time passion, one cake at a time. Her goal is to grow Creations by Cameca at a gradual pace as her kids get older and more independent. Meanwhile, she is back in a corporate role and also has time to support causes like Behind the Book as a board member, which is hosting its Book Bash fundraiser on June 19 in Washington Heights to give 3,000 books to young people in the neighborhood.

“The biggest goal I have now is to continue to just refine my craft,” she says. “I have a two year old, and I still want to be able to enjoy that season of her life, so I don’t necessarily want to sacrifice the key parts of the day for baking at this point.”

As any mother who juggles a corporate job and young kids can attest, there isn’t a lot of energy left at the end of the day. That’s precisely when Cameca heads into the kitchen.

“Baking has always been something that I find reduces my stress,” she says. “The key is just that I can take my time and really give it the deliberate, intentional devotion it needs. It’s because I enjoy it, it gives me a sense of calm, so even though I’m doing it at the end of the day, I know I’m the only one in my kitchen and I can take my time.”

Cameca encourages fellow moms to focus on the long game and not put pressure on ourselves to achieve milestones at the pace we were once accustomed to, and to be “okay with things not happening in the exact time frame that you wanted.”

“You can take your time and you can really let yourself grow in stages,” she says. “So that when you do land on the top, you can stay there.”

And for those moments when you’re feeling overwhelmed or questioning yourself and your choices?

“Remember your reason why you’re even pushing for this in the first place,” she says. “Where you might be right in that moment is not where your story’s going to end. That’s just one point where you are and your story is still being written.”

Cameca sees burnout as a sign that it’s time to reevaluate and make changes, pointing to the critical need of a support system when you’re “taking any leap.”

“Who’s going to help catch you?” she says. “You can’t have it all without support. It’s just impossible to do by yourself.”

Cameca seeks support from her husband, her mom and friends when she needs an extra set of hands or hours outside of her late night baking sessions. And her kids will pitch in, especially for a taste test.

“They definitely have an appreciation for it and so I do hope, at some point, they can see that ‘hey, mommy’s a business owner,’ like this is something that people can do,” she says. “You can own a business and run a business, so that’s important for them to know.”

“Someday, I do want to have a bakery where they can run in and be like, ‘mom, let me help you.’ That’s my goal.”

Mama Maker: Lesley, Creating the Space for Women to Feel Supported

Every day Lesley Osei answers the call to help others, beyond her five children under four and her six siblings, across fifteen acres where she and her husband are building a church in Connecticut, with the thousands of followers she motivates on Instagram, all the way to Ghana where she’s bringing basic comforts to rural mothers-to-be.

“We actually stumbled upon a village where you can’t even take a car or bus there,” she recalls. “Once a month, they have to go and fetch water–it’s like a big thing–and so what we’re doing now is we’re getting developers to go and dig a well so that it will be easier access for water for them.”

After making progress with four wells, Lesley felt compelled to do more—especially after a group of husbands expressed what it was like to watch their wives suffering through labor and delivery in the elements.

“What we are creating are maternity pods where they can actually go and at least have a midwife there coach them through, be there with them, where they can lay on the bed–because a lot of them are squatting in the middle of their houses to give birth.”

It’s not the first time that Lesley has extended her arms out to fellow mothers. While counseling couples at church, she’s discovered that education and support is needed across the full spectrum of pregnancy and postpartum, which inspired her to start Moms Algorithm as a hub for “systems and processes” to support moms.

“I realized that a lot of people didn’t know things like folic acid was something that you should be taking, even before, to make sure you get your body right,” she says.

“I truly believe the Lord gave me a lot of kids just so I can get it done and teach people how to get it done and shifting your mind is very important to me. I am the the third of seven, and so my siblings are always calling me for advice, always in some type of emergency situation.”

Lesley makes it a priority to be present with her kids through all of her endeavors, and often wakes up before dawn to put her ideas on paper. For her latest project, she’s drawing inspiration from the experiences of her 3-year-old daughter.

“She loves princesses and anytime I’m trying to find her a black princess they don’t have any,” she says. “So what the Lord laid on my heart to do is to create my own and so that’s what I’ve been doing recently—trying to get all the different things and items and products that children normally use, and get characters that are biracial, that are African American, that have white friends, that have black friends and just trying to get more mixture into what they see.”

Lesley’s aspirations to support young girls and women all around the world are fueled by the care and attention she receives from her mother and husband.

“He always maintains time for me and when he sees that I’m withdrawn or quiet, he stops whatever he’s doing,” she says. “He doesn’t care who is around—he literally stops and has a conversation with me, which I always appreciate.”

The solid foundation of their faith-based family has stemmed into a global network of giving back.

Mama Shaker: April, Finding Flow on the Other Side of Disruption

April Beach grew up tumbling around the waves of California and Hawaii long before she established the rhythm of entrepreneurial life as a mom of three boys.

“I learned how to stay calm in really scary situations,” she says, a skill which helped propel the growth of her companies while her kids were still babies.

“Frankly, then it was like survival,” April recalls. “I would literally have 20 minutes to work and then I would have to go breastfeed, and then 15 minutes to work and then break up a fight, or three minutes to work and somebody fell down the stairs.”

Fire drill scenarios are never out of the realm of possibility when managing a house of (now) teenage boys, food allergies, multiple businesses and a podcast.

“I’ve always designed my companies in a way that I could be the mom that I wanted to be,” says April. “I don’t believe anybody makes a better leader than a woman. We have the ability to see things in a different way, with a deeper purpose.”

This means embracing disruption, instead of constantly bracing for “if I was going to be interrupted,” and instead preparing for “when I was going to be interrupted, I knew exactly what I had to come back and do.”

As April’s kids become increasingly independent, she now structures her week to match her energy output.

“Every day is different, but it’s strategically different for a reason,” she says. “My business work, or content creation, or anything I need to do that is original thought or laying out any sort of plans or roadmaps is always Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday–what I call messy day.”

April reserves the end of the week for her clients and what she describes as “brain work,” where she can be “totally 100% focused on building their business, their offers, their marketing, all the things that they need,” followed by a weekend to recuperate.

“I am a big advocate of what I call burning the picket fence—burning what society says is right and wrong, and how we parent, and how we make money, and how we work, or how we don’t work,” she says.

In fact, April welcomed cameras into her home to provide a behind-the-scenes look at how she and her family Burn the Picket Fence. In one episode, the tears that follow a call from her son’s school about food allergy protocol in the middle of the workday hits painfully close to home.

“We are worthy of the walk that we’re supposed to walk, even when we don’t feel like it because we don’t always feel like it,” she says. “We are worthy of that walk that was only designed for us. Nobody else can take that walk but us.”

Burning the picket fence also gives us permission to surrender to what we need instead of sustaining a pace merely because we can.

“I always wanted to do ‘all the things’ and frankly I did a really great job at doing it all, and now I’m realizing that I don’t want that anymore,” she says.

“I believe I’m soul-tied to the ocean and it’s just always been a part of who I am,” she says. “The hardest and the best lessons I’ve ever learned have been taught to me from the ocean. But now getting in that same flow state, I’ve had to learn how to tap into that being in different parts of the country.”

“Right now I need the ocean,” April says, after living in Colorado for 20 years. “I definitely think I’m ready for my beach house. I have to get back to that. It’s like going home.”

Mama Shaker: Gladys, Summoning Our Superpowers

Gladys Simen is known as the “motivation whisperer” among friends and colleagues–something we could all use right now. She’s recognized her own courage to propel forward through any circumstances, whether that’s starting over in five different countries or navigating the compounding responsibilities of working motherhood.

“I came to a country that was not originally mine with no support system and it stretched me and I didn’t break,” she recalls.

For Gladys, it took a pandemic and racial tension reaching a tipping point to finally recognize her superpowers: being brave and “super acutely aware of things.”

“There’s a lot of things that changed in the world,” she says, reflecting on 2020. “It hit me hard–harder than I thought it would–because I’m parenting Black kids, so I had to start thinking about what am I leaving for them not to have the same struggle.”

“Every parent, no matter what color you are or race or creed or whatever, you want the best for your children,” she says. “I want my kids to look at me and say ‘you contributed to this being a better place.'”

Another superpower Gladys had to get comfortable with is being a role model. She’s quick to point out that it took courage to recognize her influence beyond her own children, and recalls a time when she hesitated to assert herself publicly.

“I discovered that having an edge is not a bad thing,” she says. “I realized that using my voice brings me more support than I thought. People come and say, actually I like the new Gladys better.”

Now, she’s expanding the use of her forces for good to help people define post-pandemic life on their own terms at www.mylifecouch.com.

“I won’t be shocked or surprised if people now realize maybe that life is not about racing to have a title anymore,” she says. “It could be just being present or enjoying what you’re doing. I’m trying to create that platform for other people, because that’s what fuels me.”

Gladys is particularly passionate about the intersection of career and motherhood, having been through her own transformation after her first and second experiences returning to work after having a baby. She encourages new moms to focus on everything gained in the process, especially during a particularly rough day (or year).

“You’re more powerful than you think because you have that tiny human being that you created and you have gone through a crash course of any leadership thing that people can teach you,” she says.

It’s one of the reasons that Gladys gets so frustrated when people in the workplace don’t recognize–over even go so far to discount–the superpowers that only motherhood can teach you.

“Becoming a mom is juggling so many things at once and still showing up,” she points out. “I think boards of directors or companies need more moms because you know how to make things work with very little.”

Gladys wants to flip the script on how we often react when presented with a list of qualifications in a job description or career development plan.

“You should be coming with a badge, ‘I’m a mother. I tick all those boxes.'”

She’s also learned that it takes a lot of courage to say no and stay true to what provides meaning in your current situation.

“Every single day you wake up, there’s an opportunity to do something different, better, greater, bigger,” she says. “There’s no right or wrong answer.”

Gladys gained the 20/20 vision we were all hoping for—and in some cases may need to do a double take to realize is within us.

“I’m having so much fun building amazing human beings and satisfying their curiosity,” she says. “This is the amazing age where they will never be six and three again, where they’re just exploring and seeing the world through their eyes. It’s magnificent. It’s success for me right now.”

Even though Gladys had to adjust to lockdowns and virtual school while juggling her full-time technology role, she loves that her children have so much more access to her.

“They know that I’m their best friend because we can go and jump in a mud puddle because we want to,” she says. “These are the moments that I was not able to give them before.”

“I usually say the superpower’s inside you and you don’t realize it until it is time.”

Mama Maker: Lisa, Growing Stronger with Grief

Lisa Herrington emerged from the most unfathomable experience a parent can have by choosing connection over confinement, ultimately helping others do the same.

“I was pretty quiet for like those first six or seven months because I didn’t know if I was going to survive it,” she says. “You suddenly feel like you’re completely alone and nobody understands what you’re going through, and I was so scared of the emotions that I was feeling.”

The life that Lisa and her husband had envisioned before they went to the hospital to deliver twins looked tragically different as they cradled one of their babies for the last time and left the other in the care of the NICU for six weeks.

“I couldn’t really separate the grief and the postpartum,” she says. “I had a child that was also living through this with me and I think that’s what changed it for me; this moment of ‘this is his story too’ and this story cannot end sad. It’s going to take a lot to fight out of this, but he’s worth it. My family’s worth it.”

Walking into a room filled with parents and a vivacious moderator who had been through similar experiences gave Lisa the courage to step out of her solitude.

“I remember thinking that things happen to good people—we’re all good people in here,” she realized in that moment. “I saw this person who had climbed out of a place where I was. I was like, I’m going to get there.”

And get there she did. Lisa went on to moderate the group and comfort parents in the NICU.

“You probably want to punch me in the face right now and that’s okay,” she would tell them. “You can be mad. I understand there might be a time months or years down the road where you’ll appreciate knowing that you’re not alone in this.”

Lisa was also determined to strengthen her marriage in therapy after reading that 80 percent of couples who lose a child don’t make it.

“Grief can sometimes be selfish where it’s all about you, it’s all about your feelings, all about your emotions and how sad you are and how life is so unfair,” she says.

With the combination of exercise, therapy and anti-depressants, she was able to “stop this wheel turning in my head of the guilt” and continue her “self exploration of what worked in terms of surviving grief as hard as I was grieving.”

Lisa finally reached a point where she was able to reconnect with people outside of her circle of grieving parents, and close friends and family.

“I think the hardest part in the beginning is the loneliness and that’s sort of a catch-22 because you also need that space,” she says. “I am a huge extrovert. I was just too nervous about what I was feeling to have a lot of people in our life.”

She also returned to her fitness studio, FIT House Davis even though she would “leave sobbing” at first, overwhelmed with memories of being pregnant.

“You have to just know that the first time you do things after a loss—any type of loss—they’re going to feel a lot different than they did before the loss,” she says. “You’re going to feel very vulnerable and that’s where you have to make this decision of ‘I’m going to sit in those feelings and I’m going to work through those feelings,’ because it’s worth it to me that this stays in my life.”

Over the course of the last 8 years, Lisa’s family grew by two more boys and a girl, all of which help keep the memory of Brady alive.

“A lot of people said to me, ‘I’m so surprised you got pregnant again so fast. Weren’t you scared?’ Yeah, of course, I was so scared,” she says. “If you live in the negativity of ‘bad things are going to happen,’ that is not living.”

“Finding the joy in every single day knowing that we’re not necessarily guaranteed tomorrow, or really appreciating the good when it’s happening instead of fearing what may happen, that’s where I found this balance in between the joy and the grief, being present and focusing on the good, and knowing that the sad will always be a part of our lives.”

She started to share her experience in social media, before it became more commonplace on Instagram, or more recently by Chrissy Teigen on Medium and Meghan Markle in the New York Times.

“When tough situations happen in life, it’s okay to be mad, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be sad,” she says. “But you also have to find the joy in the situation and the appreciation of there’s a future ahead of us, always. No matter how bad it feels, there’s guaranteed good in the future as long as you choose to move forward.”

This fall, Lisa published her first book, Your Amazing Itty Bitty® Grief Book: 15 Chapters on How to Support Family and Friends on Their Journey, inspired by the conversations she’s had with her kids or those looking for guidance.

“I never thought I’d feel comfortable in the chapter that included losing a child but I do,” says Lisa. “Sometimes you have to go through some really tough stuff to find some of the beautiful things in your life that you may not have had, including a perspective that’s completely different.”

“I feel like I had an open wound and it’s always going to be a wound, but it’s much softer now,” she says.

“And I know we survived it. And now we share our story in hopes it will help others realize life still holds so much beauty after loss.”

Mama Shaker: Rhonda, Adjusting Expectations of What’s Enough

Running a startup and raising twin 5th graders through a season of wildfires, literally and figuratively, requires Rhonda Collins to be more compassionate about what’s possible in a 24-hour period.

“I end up feeling the way I know a lot of working moms feel,” she says. “If I never slept, if I didn’t have a family and didn’t have anything else to do, there would still not be enough time in the day for me to do everything.”

It’s why Rhonda recently began starting her days by asking herself what the single most important thing is for her business and her family, rather than a to-do list.

“Sometimes it’s two things, or maybe it’s three things, but it’s not 137 things anymore,” she says.

“I feel like that’s all I can do,” she says, adding that she ends the day reminding herself she did her best. “These times are just super challenging.”

Rhonda’s instincts to pare things down to the essentials are what led her down an entrepreneurial path after “an incredibly satisfying career that really fed me” as a social change documentary filmmaker.

“I had my twins a little bit later in life, and so I had a long stretch of living fairly minimally,” she says, recalling the visceral reaction she had to the growing pile of brightly colored toys and baby gear that began accumulating in her living room.

“I was faced with having two small children and having to figure out, ‘I gotta sell this stuff, or I’ve got to give it away,'” she says.

Rhonda’s realization other parents shared the same challenge was the impetus to create ToyCycle, specifically as a service that places value on the time spent with our kids instead of sorting through an excess of outgrown toys and baby goods.

“I did not wait this long to have children so that I could then just work my ass off all day long, every day of the week and never see them, never actually have quality time with them,” she says.

Interestingly enough, 2020 dished up an abundance of time that would normally be limited with tweens or teenagers.

“I see them in the morning and then I go up and I check on what’s going on, and they show me an assignment they’re working on,” Rhonda says about their co-located work and school schedules. “Then we eat lunch together and they bring me down a smoothie that they just made.”

“I feel like we are much more bonded and together than we ever have been,” she says.

On Fridays they have movie nights huddled in a chair with popcorn. She also carves out one-on-one time, as challenging as it can be with twins.

“I feel best about myself and about my life when I just step out of my business self and say what I want and need to do,” Rhonda says. “Right now, it’s been time with my kids.”

“I feel connected, like life feels like it’s supposed to feel,” she says. “If I forget that for a few days, I just keep reminding myself of that.”

“Let’s just read together, let’s spend some time together, let’s hang out,” she says about her new definition of accomplishment. “That’s it.”

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.

Focusing On How We Can Help

Just when we think life can’t get any crazier, it does. When things feel out of control, I regain my footing by helping someone else. It’s also the secret to telling your brand’s story.

Whether it’s complex enterprise technology or building sustainable products while raising small children, a successful brand and PR program boils down to being helpful.

1. How you help people (and why) is the basis for your brand

The good news is that you have everything you need to define your brand. Here are some ways to get super crisp on what you do to help people and why it’s different from the way other people do it:

You can develop a positioning framework using this step-by-step guide for startups, created by two incredibly sharp minds who I used to work for.

You can tell your story to someone who can shape it into a narrative about you and your brand—which is essentially the formula for how I interview and write the stories of “Mama Makers” and “Mama Shakers.”

Once you have clarity on what sets you apart, you can use it to become a helpful resource for journalists, which brings us to the basics of what drives media coverage.

2. PR is about relationships and timing

When it comes to PR, you have two choices. You can build your own media relationships, or you can invest in professionals who already have relationships.

Either way, reporters are looking for experts on particular topics that are available on short notice.

You can start by becoming a HARO source and have short, bulleted responses ready to send on a handful of key topics that you care about (and reporters are writing about). Even if they don’t use you this time, it’s an opportunity to introduce yourself.

If you feel like you don’t have the time to build relationships one-by-one, or you’re ready to do it at scale, then you could enlist a professional. Here are two of my favorites:

“Mama Shaker” Ashley is a former broadcast producer who offers virtual media training along with other PR services at Nardi Media.

The tech-savvy women behind The Key PR include former agency colleagues of mine who led startups through massive growth using the methodology mentioned above.

If you want to learn more or practice telling your story, I’m here to help.