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 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 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: 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 Maker: Chandler, Being Open to the Unexpected

Chandler Lettin believes that moms deserve much more than a one-size-fits all approach to motherhood. As the co-founder of a line of nursing-friendly bras, she’s a refreshing oxymoron.

“I have a strong stance on ‘fed is best’ because some people aren’t able to do it and that doesn’t mean that they’re failing,” she says about the pressure on moms to breastfeed.

“I can tell you this firsthand,” Chandler says. “My world was crashing,” is how she describes what her own struggle to breastfeed felt like in the moment.

“I didn’t know why I couldn’t do it, but it was just not in the cards for me.”

By creating a design to “ditch the clips,” AVYN can work for any active woman since “there’s nothing aesthetically that screams ‘this is a nursing bra’” she says.

“The journey in motherhood is something that you just are never going to be prepared for,” the mother of two girls 13-months-apart says. It’s why her approach for herself and her company is to “just go with the flow.”

“I’m really big on just saying no to the mom guilt,” she says. “It’s too much and the pressure today is unreal. You can’t be great at everything.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Chandler and her business partner, Lauren Woodworth, have enjoyed getting to know other women in a similar path.

“All this is very new and we have pretty steep learning curve,” she says. “We are definitely still learning and we’re very transparent about that.”

Unlike hyper-competitive business environments where egos clash, they’re reaping the benefits of a more honest, open approach to the growth of AVYN.

“The best part about doing this is the more you let your guard down and ask the questions, people are amazing and so willing to help and offer advice,” she says. “Women are really supportive of each other and that has been my favorite part about it.”

“I like learning a new way and hearing what all these amazing people are doing and what worked for them,” she says. “Even in different industries, you still find similarities and processes to make things more efficient, and cheaper and better.”

Chandler finds comfort in connecting with other entrepreneurs locally and online, in all sorts of businesses.

“It’s really great to have a support system of other people who might not necessarily be in in your same place, but who understand your battles.”

She’s learned that know one really knows that they’re doing when they first start out. With the plethora of information available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by opinions and options.

“Finding your support system is the best piece of advice I can offer because if you have people to back you and understand your decisions and let you be who you are and not pass judgment, then it’s a better experience,” she says.

“At the end of the day,” Chandler faces the unknowns of motherhood and entrepreneurship by “trusting my gut and making the best decision with what I have available in a moment and going from there.”

Mama Shaker: Jane, Helping Women Bloom as Mothers

It took having a third baby for Dr. Jane Shomof to finally ease into motherhood without the postpartum OCD that clouded the early days with her first, or the inevitable pull when her second came along.

“I feel like we’re all taken by surprise when we bring home that baby,” she says. “Like as much as we can prepare and plan for the birth, I think it’s really what comes after that’s so shocking to our system.”

Any mother can relate to those feelings that come in the middle of the night, when you’re at your most vulnerable, and desperately trying every trick in the book to get your baby back to sleep.

“I think we also have this unrealistic expectation of immediately feeling the same way about our second as we do with our first,” Jane recalls.

“They both turned out to be incredible little humans,” she says, having gained the confidence in her third pregnancy that “whether this person is going to be a boy or a girl, whether they’re going to be challenging or easier, it’s all a phase and it’s all going to be fine, and it’s all going to work out.”

Third time was a charm, and everything clicked—even breastfeeding. After recurring mastitis the first two times around, Jane invested in “the most amazing like Nespresso machine for formula” for her daughter and then “lo and behold, she ended up having breast milk for almost a full year.”

“I really was able to finally enjoy and relish in the moments of having a newborn and taking time away from my older two, if I had to, and spending the time all together.”

“It was a really lovely experience.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

No matter whether it’s a mom’s first baby or fourth, Jane created Bloome to make each transition easier.

“It was birthed from too many women that had to struggle too much, more than they needed to,” she says.

While Jane still sees clients in her private practice, moms who feel overwhelmed by the thought of the leaving the house can benefit from the virtual, on-demand programs she’s developed.

“In our society we have a tendency to wait until we’re really sick or really struggling to ask for support and I think it’s really backwards,” she says, which is why she’s taking a proactive approach with women to talk about what to expect even before the baby comes.

“A lot of women don’t know that these feelings are normal and everybody thinks they’re alone in their misery,” she says.

Mothers have the added challenge of putting our own needs after everyone else’s, and not making ourselves a priority until we reach a boiling point.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we’re going to help you see that,” she says. “The struggle is temporary.”

“Bloome is here to just help make this incredible life-changing, life-consuming transition enjoyable.”

Mama Maker: Jen, Casting Motherhood in a New Light

Photographer Jen Goldberg found herself having a mother-daughter talk about boudoir photos, when she started fielding questions from her 68-year-old mom about her evolving style of portraits.

“I said ‘I think it’s boudoir, mom, but I’m not sure because the boudoir I knew before was very red and glossy,'” she recalls, while they reviewed her sophisticated black and white photos together.

Her mother responded with a simple but powerful question.

“Can I do this?”

When Jen reassured her it’s for anybody and everybody, the cowboy boot-wearing art teacher she calls “mom” had one condition: no high heels or lingerie.

“I think you’re the most beautiful when you’re wrapped in a towel and you’ve just come out of the shower,” Jen suggested, an ode to the style of Mario Testino — which some of us may remember from his portraits of Cindy Crawford in the 80s.

Together, Jen and her mom created the stunning image that headlines this story.

Conjuring each subject’s personal definition of style, comfort and confidence is how Jen draws mothers of all ages out of their shells to reveal their most radiant selves.

“I want to feel that I am capturing the essence that is you, and you recognize–in the image–the beauty that you create, and we create together,” she says. “We talk about who you are in this moment of your life and why we’re capturing these images at this time.”

“Some people come for reasons that are quite hard for them, or they’re marking the end of a moment, or something has happened and they feel that these pictures will add positivity in their life,” says Jen. “Some people cry.”

She says that more often than not, it’s an emotional release that she describes as exhilarating, “freeing and liberating,” and even surprising, to see themselves “in such a beautiful way.”

Jen often meets clients earlier in the journey of motherhood, starting with maternity shoots and continuing through newborn portraits. By becoming familiar with her and the process after those initial sessions, if and when they decide to return to be photographed by themselves, she notices an immediate level of comfort.

Either way, she believes “it’s never too late and never not the right time to do it,” she says. “You’re different now than you were 10 years ago, you’d have made a different picture.”

In fact, it was the return of one of her maternity clients two years later asking for Jen “to photograph me with that same feeling of empowerment and beauty and delicacy that those pictures represented for me,” that inspired this new direction.

Not all moms immediately grasp the power of being in front of the camera–even during family photo shoots with their kids, when she’ll reassure them, “they want you in the picture.”

From Jen’s point of view, it’s not only family portraits that can create powerful memories for our children — it’s how we see and treat ourselves during these selfless seasons of motherhood.

A new mom 3-4 months postpartum and mothers of kids in their twenties have had identical reactions to seeing themselves photographed by Jen, “I can’t wait to show my daughter how beautiful this picture is.”

“They want to know what you look like, and having these kind of photographs becomes a legacy of things that you pass on to your kids as something that you did for you that was really beautiful,” she says.

When Jen did what many people do with boudoir, and gifted a portrait of herself to her husband–holding a guitar for the music-lover’s 40th birthday–she learned the biggest lesson of all.

“Living with it changed the way I felt as I started my day,” she says, about her striking silhouette hanging in her bathroom.

“This feeling is real,” she observed. “It feels tangible that I have inspired myself in the morning, getting up, in those two minutes while brushing your teeth.”

Jen’s reaction to seeing herself was, and always will be, completely different from her husband’s or her two daughters.

Her image is uniquely hers.

“I always say love it for you first.”

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Photos courtesy of Jen Goldberg Photography.

To access Jen’s gallery of sophisticated boudoir photos, visit PrivatePortraits.com. Her gallery at Jen Goldberg Photography features maternity and family photos, as well as headshots.

Mama Shaker: Ashley, Getting to the Heart of the Matter

As a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine toggling between practices in Malibu and Beverly Hills, Ashley Beckman knows firsthand why many women feel spread thin across business and motherhood.

“The main thing is honestly that they’re usually the last to take care of themselves and they’re so rundown,” she says about the moms she meets with in person and virtually through DrAshley.com.

It’s one of the reasons Ashley relishes the opportunity to get ahead of the inevitable exhaustion that comes with motherhood, by providing support and resources before the pregnancy journey begins.

“I really love to help patients focus on getting really healthy prior to actually getting pregnant,” she says. “Not everybody is planning and knows when they’re going to, but at the same time, often there’s a window when people know they’ll be starting to try in a year or two, and that’s the perfect opportunity to start cleaning up your system.”

Ashley applies traditional Chinese concepts of body constitution, seasons, and warming and cooling foods, to help women through infertility, conception and postpartum.

As described in The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother, many cultures place a strong emphasis on postpartum care for moms. However, it’s not part of modern healthcare in the U.S. where Ashley points out, many women lack “the same sense of community where there’s somebody there to also take care of the mom, and those times are crucial.”

Even if those postpartum days have become a blurred memory, she believes there’s still plenty of ways for moms to find support and get back on the road to health.

“As a mom, everyone is sort of overworked and exhausted and it can get much better,” Ashley says. “There are a lot of tools out there–and that’s the whole point is to see someone who is experienced; you don’t need to wade through all the different options.”

As caregivers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being so consumed by the well-being of others that the thought of addressing our own lingering needs feels daunting.

“What I love to do is figure out a very targeted solution for each person that I talk to,” she says. “I like to help you come up with a plan, and then we can bring you back to balance and try to get you feeling exactly how you used to feel prior to kids.”

Even beyond motherhood, Ashley cautions against following popular trends or extreme dietary restriction, “unless warranted by their health situation,” she says.

“Ideally you work with somebody who can guide you to find out what is the best thing for you to be doing, as opposed to something you read somewhere that’s really popular,” she says. “The whole point is to really get to the root cause, as opposed to just keep removing things from your diet or adding medications or supplements to balance it temporarily.”

While most of her clients have “multiple layers of things happening,” Ashley begins with small, manageable changes while simultaneously “peeling back those layers and addressing them one at a time to really create some lasting change.”

Nutrition provides a good starting point for her clients, because “they have the control over the food they buy and what they’re putting in their body every day,” she says.

Ashley believes “just getting people to learn to read labels,” can be a simple first step. “A lot of times, even those healthy swaps have a huge impact. Some people have things they just won’t give up, so I find healthier options for them.”

“My main thing is to just help women make the choices that will help them have really great health in the long term, and especially for your little kids–we want everyone to be happy.”

She counts fellow mama Gabrielle Bernstein, author of Super Attractor: Methods for Manifesting a Life Beyond Your Wildest Dreams, among “people that I really love that talk a lot about the power of our thoughts,” she says.

“Even though we’re exhausted and overworked and tired,” says Ashley, “so much really boils down to taking care of yourself, and loving yourself, and even just telling yourself that you know everything’s okay and that you have the power to create amazing health.”

Mama Shaker: Natalie, Helping Generations of Mothers Finally Heal

Decades of dancing carried Natalie Garay through university and all the way into her seventh month of pregnancy with twin girls, before it came to an abrupt end when she was placed on bedrest and immobilized by a C-section.

“My body completely atrophied,” she says. “I could barely stand up straight. After the surgery the doctor is like, ‘okay, get up on your feet and start moving around as soon as you can.’ I could barely get my body out of bed.”

Fortunately, Natalie rediscovered movement through a friend that taught Pilates and soon realized it was something she wanted to teach to other women. Eventually, she started helping moms through post-baby rehabilitation as part of her services as The Pilates Mama.

“Nobody talks about how to rehabilitate after having children,” she says, describing the all-too familiar scenario of being sent home in excruciating pain with a newborn (or two) to take care of on little-to-no sleep.

“For a woman to have a C-section and not be prescribed physical therapy seems absolutely ridiculous to me,” says Natalie. “It’s a major abdominal surgery, and if someone was having a shoulder surgery or knee surgery they would get prescribed physical therapy right away.”

“I knew none of this when I had my girls,” says Natalie. “Back then, I probably could have advocated for myself more but we’re kind of conditioned to just go along with what the doctors say.”

That’s especially the case with Natalie’s clients in their 50s, 60s and 70s that have endured a lifetime of shame and fear associated with accidents that happen while sneezing or jumping, and are afraid to veer too far from a restroom.

“We have generations before us that put everybody else first and we are just starting to learn that we have to take care of ourselves more so, and first, before we can take care of others,” she says.

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Women Helping Women

Natalie’s noticing a generational shift in how mothers are making time to take care of ourselves and address the issues that previously lingered for decades after giving birth.

“Moms of our generation are going ‘okay I get it, I can’t do anything and everything falls apart if mom’s sick or mom’s not feeling good,” she says. “The world falls apart when mom’s not available. Nothing’s working if I’m not working.”

As a single mother, Natalie knows this firsthand. She counts on the women she’s surrounded by to help her through the ebbs and flows of motherhood–especially now that her three girls are in their teenage years.

“This is a time where you really need the village, and you really need the team and I had to call in the aunties and the village to help me navigate all of this because it’s really, really hard.”

She also carves out time in the morning to set her intentions for the day. This includes writing her “morning pages,” a practice that’s helpful for capturing all the thoughts percolating in our minds, as described in the book, The Artist’s Way.

It helps to have a little humor too. Over the holidays, Natalie’s “Calm the F*ck Down” theramist went viral after a friend posted it on Instagram.

Before reaching our boiling point, Natalie encourages moms to get educated about the options available for things like ab separation and pelvic floor rehabilitation, and advocate for ourselves.

“We can’t be as present and we can’t mother, or run our businesses, or be the community members that we want to be, when we have this constant nagging pain or lack of energy,” she says.

Mama Maker: Joanne, Keeping Mothers Active in Pregnancy, Postpartum and Beyond

When Joanne Shepherd emerged from a “mum and bubs” mental health unit for postpartum anxiety and depression, returning to an exercise routine was critical to her recovery. As she started running again and struggled to nurse her newborn in a sports bra, she figured there had to be a better option.

“Mums deserve so much more,” she remembers feeling at the time. “We give so much to our kids, and here I am in the backseat of the car trying to change, just so I can feed my baby.”

After looking around for nursing-friendly fitness attire, Joanne was disappointed by what she found. So she set out to create something more “glamorous” for women like herself who really needed postpartum exercise to thrive.

“If I can provide that little bit of something, so that mums can access exercise postnatally to be able to help them cope and survive things, that’s what I want to do,” she recalls.

The mom of three started MummActiv without any design or business experience, but that certainly didn’t limit her creativity and innovation. In fact, she’s been the recipient of fashion industry awards in Australia.

“Everything that you can wear during your pregnancy, you can wear postpartum,” she says. “I still wear the leggings now, every single day, even though I’m like 20 months postpartum, because I designed it so that you can fold down your belly band. So they’ve got some nice extra coverage as well as support through that abdominal region.”

Joanne designs all MummActiv clothing and swimwear to be worn for years to come. Many of her customers have already owned her pieces through multiple pregnancies.

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How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

While building her business, Joanne takes care of her two toddlers and an older son, while continuing to teach primary school two days a week. She juggles it all while her husband works overseas for four weeks at a time.

“Once I put the kids down, I’m so shattered and exhausted but that’s my only opportunity to get real, chunky stuff done,” she says.

Joanne has also made time to get her personal training certificate so she can post online workouts for moms to do with their babies. When fires ravaged homes and wildlife in Australia a few weeks ago, she quickly set up a fundraising effort so proceeds of all sales could go towards providing relief.

“I like to be able to share my story so that mums can realize you can get there,” she says. “You can teach yourself how to do everything that I’ve done in my business.”

As a self-made entrepreneur, she’s learned by reading blogs, listening to podcasts and other online resources “to get myself to where I am right now.”

“I think that’s really important as well because a lot of mums find themselves, postnatally all of a sudden in this void,” she says, faced with the challenge of wanting to care for their children while making a living.

“But there are things that you can do,” she says. “You need a truckload of determination. You need a bucket full of resilience.”

It also helps to have the activewear to keep up with you.

“Anything is possible,” Joanne says.