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: 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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before and after: RoomLift client results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes a Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Maker: Ramona, Creating Space for a Fluid Career and Family Life

When Ramona Albert arrived on U.S. soil at the age of 16 on a one-way ticket from Romania, she began constructing a life of limitless potential. With a Master’s degree in architecture from Harvard in hand, she landed in New York and began a career designing skyscrapers–until motherhood changed her perspective.

“I had a kid and before that I was literally building these humongous buildings,” she says. “I realized, okay, I can’t possibly be thinking about 100 things in the same time. I have to think about things in the present and realize that I have to do whatever I can do best right now, because I have only two minutes or five minutes or 20 minutes.”

Before motherhood, Ramona says it wasn’t unusual for her and her husband to stay up working until midnight.

“I feel like I have become more humane because of time,” she says. “I’ve become more understanding rather than” what she describes as a “crazy New Yorker.”

Ramona’s high-profile projects have appeared in Gotham, including one of her early experiments laminating the glass panels of a high-rise in Hermès.

“I was in China, stretching the fabric and we’re all looking at this, like, ‘Oh my God, how do we do this?'” she recalls.

Ramona now gravitates towards “projects that have this kind of tangible quality to them,” she says in reference to direct interaction with her clients and interiors “down to the levels of like door knobs, or things like that.”

“My work is very inspired by nature,” she says. “So it’s very fluid. It’s very organic, in a way, but very minimal, so to speak.”

It’s apparent that Ramona’s approach to workplace culture and parenting are similarly intertwined.

“I really want to keep the integrity of who we are,” she says about Ramona Albert Architecture. “I’m very careful about hiring people because it matters a lot to be trustworthy and reliable, and be able to think for yourself and be independent.”

She works from a home office upstairs in her Brooklyn townhouse, which affords her the opportunity to pop downstairs to see her 2.5-year-old son anytime she wants to grab a cup of coffee or get a quick hug.

“We just did a house in the Hamptons and literally there were times where Egon was in my lap while I was there talking to contractors trying to get things done and it was such a normal thing,” she says. “But I’m thinking like, I can’t believe I’m holding this child on a construction job talking to these guys.”

“But I wouldn’t do it any other way.”

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Ramona loves that she can work right up to 6 p.m. when the nanny leaves–which she points out is still considered early in the architectural community–and then switch into dinner prep with her son.

“One thing I don’t compromise about is my gym time in the morning,” she says about her daily self-care routine of CrossFit, Pilates or yoga, that gets her out of bed at 5 a.m.

Ramona and her husband foster a sense of self for each member of their family.

“When you have a kid you always want to be with him,” she says about one of the many contrasts in parenting. “I like his own independence. I like the fact that he does his own things. That’s how he should be, you know, have his own opinions.”

Seeing her son’s “relationship to the world outside is so precious,” she says, noting that it drives her to “make it better in a certain way” by taking on experimental projects like a solar-powered installation in the Children’s Pavilion at Design Week in May.

“I feel like my parents were very brave to send me here when I was so little,” Ramona says. “It was a lot of growing on my own–because they’re still in Romania, my parents weren’t there. It was a little bit of trying to figure things out as they go. But it was great. I learned a lot, I’ve worked with some amazing people, and I think a lot of it has been very, very fruitful.”

Although Ramona got a jump start on building a life of her own, motherhood has reinforced what she learned early on.

“There’s nobody on this planet that can tell you what to do, but you yourself, and you can figure it out,” she says.

Mama Shaker: Claudia, Encouraging Us to Believe We Can

About 15 years ahead of the curve, Claudia Reuter chose to start her own company as a return-to-work path after staying home full-time with her two young boys.

“When I stepped away, I remember feeling like I didn’t think of it so much as a choice,” she says, describing her initial decision to pause a career she was passionate about, despite the fact that she “didn’t see how I was going to make that work with a new baby.”

Without the blended approach to commingling careers and motherhood that we’re seeing more of now, Claudia felt she was forced to choose between the two.

“Everything I was reading on one hand was saying stick with your career, and on the other hand was saying the most important thing you could do is be with your baby,” she recalls. “I’m like, these two things are not adding up.”

A few years later, when financial reasons drew Claudia back to work, she was concerned that the skills she honed at home wouldn’t be recognized in the business world.

“I remember realizing that no one was going to really value the experiences I had had as a stay-at-home parent, even though I knew that they were incredibly valuable,” she says. “And I knew that other moms, too, are in the same boat.”

“You’re doing a million different things, you’re managing a million different priorities, you’re worried about the long-term outcomes for your kids,” she says, noting the parallels with a start-up.

With two young kids just 23 months apart, Claudia bootstrapped a software business, raised capital (which led to some all-too-familiar clandestine conference call scenarios that any working mom can relate to), and successfully sold her company.

“All these years later, now I can connect the dots,” she says. “But at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to predict how this would have all turned out.”

Now she’s encouraging other women to do the same by “celebrating entrepreneurship as a way to lean in” in her brand new book Yes, You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up, and Build The Life They Want (Techstars).

“What I realized is that I think we talk a lot about celebrating female founders, but we don’t talk enough about why to become one,” says Claudia. “If you become an entrepreneur, you have an opportunity to improve your own personal outcomes and have more control over your destiny.”

“If you can either build a company that’s big enough–or if you’re acquired and you can have some influence at the new company–you have a real opportunity to think through why only 17% of companies have paid maternity leave,” she says. “Why do we spend all our time talking about bringing dogs to the office, but we don’t really talk about kids in the office?”

“I just think there’s this huge opportunity to rethink things.”

How This Mompreneur Made it Work

Claudia started laying the groundwork for her business when her boys were babies, especially when sleep was at a premium with her youngest.

“I remember thinking, well, I’m already up,” she says, identifying herself as a morning person. “I have some of my best thinking really, really early in the morning.”

Even so, it wasn’t as if she had all the answers.

“I didn’t know anything about how to start a business at that point in my journey,” Claudia says. “So I started with a lot of research, and a lot of reading, and a lot of looking at what other people had done and trying to figure it out.”

She also points out that “it wasn’t totally linear,” and she often had her boys in tow, like the time she took them to the bank to open her first business account.

“I negotiated my first term sheet from my older son’s closet,” Claudia says. “I remember thinking, that was the one area I could go where I knew it would be quiet.”

“I was starting to fundraise and I got a term sheet, which was a huge deal for me just to even get a term sheet,” she says, describing how she put the kids in front of the TV with crackers and hoped the noise wouldn’t echo too loudly in her 1920s home.

You can hear her story on her podcast, The 43 Percent, which is currently in its second season.

“Now, I’m so much more open about the blend of personal and professional lives,” says Claudia. “But at that point, I remember being so nervous about letting anyone know that I had all these other things going on. Work at home wasn’t quite as common and that was 17 years ago, give or take.”

Claudia remembers at the time noticing “the contrast between how I was in my yoga pants” and “what I assumed to be the mindset of the people on the other end of the call, who had administrative assistants and people who are making sure they could be focused on what they’re doing.”

“I think that’s one of the challenges moms have, but it’s also one of the benefits,” she says. “We actually know how to juggle things and how to deal with a lot of different inputs coming at you, at once.”

In her current role as general manager of TechStars, Claudia has an eye on the next generation of startup success stories. In doing so, she sees similar traits that will help future leaders thrive.

“The Fortune 500 today is not going to be the Fortune 500 a few years from now,” she says. “Leaders know that their business can be disrupted. They’re going to rely on people who can balance both an operational mindset–to keep things rolling steady and growing–and people who are entrepreneurial–and can keep coming up with new ideas and thinking about how to incorporate those into the core business–in a way that is cost efficient and yet produces results.”

Claudia points out that the value placed on “disruption and innovation” opens the door for women who are constantly finding solutions to the challenges of motherhood and business.

“I think it’s important to own your experience, own your value and be able to talk about where you can contribute from a leadership perspective,” she says.

And perhaps most importantly, “not shy away from it.”

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.

Mama Maker: Priya, Rediscovering the Roots of Self-Care

After establishing a career and family in the United States, Priya Gogia found herself far removed from the 5,000-year-old ritual she shared with her mother in India.

“Somewhere along the way I forgot where I came from,” she says. “I forgot my roots and in this rediscovery phase I realized that I had missed just doing my simple, basic skincare and haircare routines.”

“Growing up in India, every Friday evening–or at some point in the weekend–my mom would sit me down in front of her,” says Priya. “She would literally grab a bottle of coconut oil, warm it up; occasionally she might use some herbs from the refrigerator, from her pantry, and infuse the oil with it and massage my hair.”

The weekly tradition traces back as far as her earliest memories as a four or five-year-old, and continued until she left India at the age of 21. But things changed on the road to becoming a mother of her own children.

“My excuse was life is in the way,” she says. “There is no time to oil your hair, it takes too long to shampoo after; I did not do that for a better part of a decade.”

When Priya started working from home, she carved out time to return to her roots, literally and figuratively speaking. She began shedding her collection of “beautifully packaged moisturizers, toners and lotion.”

“I just decided to say goodbye to all of that and just go back to the way we did things growing up in India, just using oil,” she says, noticing an improvement in her skin, hair, eyebrows and lashes.

Priya’s simplified three-step routine became the basis for Aaram, her line of Aruyaveda haircare and skincare products. It reflects her belief in being “restful when you simplify your routines,” and her brand’s namesake means “rest” in Hindi.

“When you simplify your overcomplicated life you will find yourself more rested and when you are more rested, you will feel beautiful from the inside, outside,” she says reflecting on how she reconnected to her origins of self-care.

Women Helping Women Succeed

If your first reaction to the idea of adding yet another thing to your never-ending list of commitments feels daunting, Priya wants you to know she’s walked in those same shoes.

“One hundred percent, I have been there,” she says. “You tend to prioritize your job between the hours of eight to six and then you’re constantly a mommy–a full-time mom and full time job. It’s not easy for anybody out there. I completely understand that.”

“But at the same time, I wanted to do this so badly for my kids and I knew I had to make the time for them to have these memories with me,” she says, likening it to the time we spend preparing meals for our children.

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It’s helped to have the support of women whose own memories from childhood have been reawakened by Priya.

“To leave my career of 17 years and then to go into the beauty business where I’m absolutely a novice and I didn’t know where to begin, they were my biggest supporters,” she says.

“Yes, you must go and do this,” she was told by fellow Indian women. “You must bring this to everybody. We know the value of it, we have all experienced it.”

“It’s one of the core reasons home-cooked food and homemade beauty routines is how Indian girls relate to time spent with their moms” says Priya, who lost her own mother two years ago.

“It’s very powerful. It’s very common. It’s an emotion that kind of ties us all together.”

“This concept that I am bringing to the American market of ancient Indian beauty rituals draw from nature, observing natural resources around you,”she says.

If you don’t have a ritual of your own, Priya believes you can look at your surroundings in the spirit of “what grows together goes together,” in your natural environment, even if that’s not necessarily coconut trees.

“I just feel like whatever grows near you is beneficial for you,” she says. “So if you’re consuming products that are in your environment, they’re meant to serve you, whether it’s for your nutrition or whether it’s for your beautification, they’re meant to serve you.”

“Nature is the smartest business out there,” she says, adding that it “just doesn’t have a very aggressive marketing campaign.”

Fortunately for Priya, memories are more powerful than the most compelling marketing message.

 

Mama Maker: Elizabeth, Embracing Imperfection and Support Through Change

The new year is ripe with transition for second-time mama-to-be and clinical psychology Ph.D., Elizabeth Adams. Starting this week, she joins Y Combinator‘s winter 2020 start-up accelerator in the heart of Silicon Valley. For three months, she’ll commute hundreds of miles back and forth each week between her co-founders, and her 5-year-old daughter and husband at home in the nation’s capital.

As potentially the “first woman who’s visibly showing on Demo Day” in March, Elizabeth already feels like “a fish out of water,” in more ways than one. She’s a subject matter expert in a sea of younger start-up founders, who primarily bring tech and business chops to the table.

“Ninety percent of the time I don’t know what the people around me are talking about, which is both absolutely frightening and exciting because that hasn’t been my life for a long time,” she says.

After spending the last eight years as a clinical child psychologist at an inclusion school for children with “developmental differences,” where she was able to bring her daughter, Elizabeth is beginning a six-month transition to go all-in as Chief Clinical Officer of Trustle, an app for parents to connect with childhood development experts on-demand.

“One of the things that, luckily, I learned from wiser psychologists than me–throughout my years of training–was hearing people talk about change and saying there’s always loss associated with change,” says Elizabeth.

“The thing that makes change really difficult is that you have to lose something in order for the change to happen. Change and loss sort of travel as companions.”

Naturally, Elizabeth’s decision has roused feelings of fear and guilt; in particular, since her second baby won’t have the same experience her daughter has attending school in the same location she started working in while pregnant the first time.

“I was leaving this safe place that had been a comfort for eight years, and a program that I built and I really care about and people that I’m strongly connected to,” she says.

Elizabeth is giving herself “permission to feel that loss and to be okay and recognize that it’s hard, but also know that if there’s any change I want in life this is going to be part of it.”

During this transition, she’s also letting go of perfection and accepting that her house isn’t going to be as clean as she wants it to be, but more importantly, “being okay with that, and not having everything perfectly lined up and just trying to enjoy the process and just say ‘it’s okay.'”

“My word of 2020 is going to be ‘breathe.'”

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It Takes a Village

Elizabeth recognizes that support is critical, especially for parents during childhood transitions. She noticed this gap firsthand, when she started getting stopped in the hallway at her school by parents asking questions they assumed were out of scope for therapy. Eventually, she started hosting parenting workshops and one-on-one calls.

“I was spending my evenings on the phone talking to my friends, my friends’ friends and my friends’ friends’ cousins about whatever was going on with their kids,” she says, which led to an epiphany.

“We should just be supporting parents better; especially as, culturally, we’re moving away from networks of support and becoming more distant from that,” she says.

“How are people finding their tribes and support?”

Elizabeth decided to start an online parent-coaching business at night, but her window of time between 9-10 p.m. was consistently booking up.

It was around this time that she got introduced to her now co-founder Tom, a Google for Education alum who had reached out to his network to find a psychologist that works with kids, and can help parents.

While the two eventually added a technical co-founder who also had experience with Google–running an autism program for Glass–Elizabeth has spent the last year focused on curating Trustle’s expert coaches and clinicians.

“All of our coaches have a Masters degree or higher in early childhood education,” she says, adding that parents also have access to “a Ph.D. level clinician if they need it.”

“They’re all vetted and trained by me and they’re coming in with at least 10 years of experience working with children and families.”

A combination of credentials, and the ability to develop a personal relationship with each family, are by design.

“When you’re talking about supporting somebody with the most precious thing, their kids, on the most personal thing they can do–which is parenting–you really want to have somebody you can trust and connect with, that can give you non-judgmental but evidence-based support.”

Elizabeth believes that because the business of coaching parents is not a regulated industry, the “variability of quality of those coaches is kind of all over the place” and context is king.

“There isn’t one way to sleep train; there isn’t one way to put your child through school,” she says. “It really has to be contextualized based on the child individually and the family context.”

Over the four years since I became a parent, I’ve witnessed an explosion of resources available online for things like potty training, picky eating and tantrums.

With so many options and so little time to compare solutions that may or may not be right for our kids, Elizabeth and her team at Trustle are determined to simplify and personalize it for us.

“Figuring out how to help parents sort through all the noise that’s out there, and have a personal relationship with somebody who understands children–but is going to honor their context and them as the experts on their kids–is what high quality support is.”

You can try Trustle out for yourself, free for two weeks, with code BEST at http://trustle.com/free.