Mama Shaker: Jessie, Giving Back On Your Terms

Chicago-based event planner Jessie Williams could have succumbed to the school of hard knocks, but instead she pays it forward in all elements of her business and daily life with her daughter.

“I want people to realize that just because you grew up in a certain neighborhood or with a certain financial status doesn’t mean you can’t make something of yourself,” she says.

“I grew up with not a lot,” says Jessie, sharing that she traversed teen pregnancy and adoption at 17 years old. She credits her mother for pushing her to go to school and get a job. Eventually, she married a supportive partner and they started a family of their own.

“I’m super blessed right now,” she says. “I could have potentially not been; I could have been a complete statistic.”

Jessie’s resilience paved the way for her to create a business–on her terms–in response to a toxic boss.

“I woke up one morning and I was like, I can’t do this anymore,” she says. “I’m too old to have to work for somebody like that and like dread going into work, or go in crying, because he asked me if I needed to be home early so I can make my husband dinner.”

Jessie built a purpose-driven event planning business, WE Events Chicago, to help non-profits and individuals incorporate activities that give back while hosting fundraisers, parties and parents night out.

“Everything I do has a charitable component with my event planning,” she says. “This way I can do it my own way doing something I love, which is the creative side, as well as, we have a crafty side to it to like collaboration art and all that kind of stuff.”

In addition to paid client work, Jessie and her lean operation make time to support preferred charities through a pro bono program. This year, that list includes Hello Baby, The Nora Project and Shine Fertility.

“I’m exhausted,” she admits. “I wish that I could shut off after five o’clock. But it has also been fantastic because I have made some amazing connections and it’s also nice to know that I’m doing it on my own and I’m a role model now.”

Jessie tries to make it a fun work environment for her “twenty-something” employees as well as family-friendly enough for parents to bring their kids if childcare falls through.

“If it’s something that we can do and you can still hang out with your kids–we’re prepping a backdrop, whatever–I’m fine with that,” she says.

“I want it to be a better work experience more fun, open, making people feel good, too, because every part has some sort of giving back component.”

Giving Back: How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

Jessie feels the same way about building a business model that works for her, and a workplace that supports the unique needs of her employees, that she does about giving back.

“There’s no one size fits all,” she says. “Some people want to write a check. Some people want to go volunteer at their organization. Some people want to do it at home.”

When we spoke, Jessie rattled off several ways to give back that don’t require a lot of time or money, including picking up trash in your neighborhood, or using sidewalk chalk to write inspiring notes.

She encourages clients to rethink occasions where guests feel compelled to bring a gift as an opportunity to give back, like asking for board books that can be donated to a local shelter.

“It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and just getting your kids involved early on, makes a huge difference,” she says.

Jessie’s daughter wanted to do something for babies at her birthday party, so she set out to donate 100 boxes of diapers.

“She wrote letters to everybody and she ended up getting 250 packages,” says Jessie. “She saw that impact and it was enormous.”

Even if you’re in a season of parenting puts time or money at a premium, Jessie believes that small gestures like holding the door open, or making an extra batch of cookies for a nursing home, can go a long way.

“A lot of it is just like being kind,” she says. “A smile can make a big difference, and that is a way of giving back.”

Mama Maker: Alitzah, Planning a Future of Being Enough

Former full-time social media influencer Alitzah Stinson began to wrestle with, what looked like, a glamorous gig promoting Fortune 500 brands. Her feelings compounded when a debilitating pregnancy put the future with her daughters into perspective.

“I was on home healthcare, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t bathe myself, I had tubes going into my chest to feed me,” she says, describing her experience with hyperemesis gravidarum.

Suddenly she couldn’t shake the sense that “when I posted a picture on Instagram, I knew there was someone else on the other side of that feeling like they weren’t good enough and I couldn’t be a part of that anymore.”

“I’m portraying this image of perfection that isn’t real…to make them think this skincare cream is going to solve their problems, or this $300 pair of jeans–that I can’t even afford but were sent to me–means something,” she says.

Alitzah also felt like she would set a better example as a mother by staying true to herself, rather than hiring stylists to come to her home under the watchful eye of her 18-month-old daughter.

“For four years there wasn’t a single day where my hair was naturally curly,” she says. “How am I supposed to tell her that her natural self, and her curly hair, is beautiful?”

“Someday she’s going to be looking at people just like me and they’re going to make her feel like she’s not enough,” she feared.

During her inevitable break from blogging, Alitzah realized she was more passionate about charting a course for her premium stationary business, Ivory Paper Co, which she had recently launched after searching for an organizer to meet the demands of her role as an influencer.

So she shifted her focus to helping people take charge of their future–rather than lust over someone else’s curated lifestyle–by providing them with tools “to make plans for everything they’re passionate about–their goals and their life.”

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How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

To say Alitzah is driven is an understatement. She wakes up every morning at 6:00, is out the door by 7:00, works straight until 3:00, spends two hours with her girls, goes back to work for another 3 hours, tucks them into bed and then does one last night shift.

Her mantra to “find planner peace” after carrying around a 15-pound bag to manage her family’s schedule led her to build a local manufacturing operation from scratch. It’s also allowed her to maintain quality control and a family-oriented culture, which includes her husband heading up marketing and her kids running around the office.

While the company is growing 10x month over month, Alitzah says she’s “the least qualified person in the entire world to be running this company.”

“But that makes me happy. I don’t have some fancy degree from Harvard Business School, and I’m an African American, 22-year-old,” she says.

“I always told my husband that I wanted to be what I wanted to see.”

She encourages others to do the same, adding “if I can build a business, anyone can build a business.”

It’s no accident that Alitzah has carried around a planner most of her life and yet, she takes goal-setting in stride.

“I break down my plans to the most miniscule level, because that makes it feel accomplishable.”

In other words, Alitzah has realized that by taking small actions towards our larger aspirations, we are enough.

Mama Shaker: Jenn, Leading Two Careers, Kids and Marriage into the Teens

Tales of two high-powered tech careers in one household are hard to come by unless you’re Bill and Melinda Gates. In a nearby neck of the woods, Jenn McColly and her husband of 18 years are navigating the complexity of senior leadership roles that both require business travel, while actively parenting two boys in middle school.

“Our time with them is not sacrificed,” says Jenn. “Our careers are important, but we prioritize our family.”

Her story brings much-needed visibility and encouragement for those of us designing our families around the idea that dual-career parenting is not a zero sum game.

“Figure out what is best for you and what is best for your family,” she says. “You don’t need to rationalize that or defend that to anybody.”

Precision-like prioritization is key. When Jenn and her husband faced the prospect of overlapping business trips to Europe last month, she boiled her itinerary down to the essentials.

“In an ideal world, I would have gone in on Saturday so I arrived on Sunday feeling a little fresher on Monday,” she says. Instead, Jenn took a Sunday night flight after spending Saturday at lacrosse with her boys and husband who had just arrived home the day before.

“I was fully present for what I needed to be present for,” she says, about maximizing time in the office Tuesday through Thursday, before jetting back home in time for school commitments.

“I was on a 6 a.m. flight outta there Friday morning because that was going to get me there the soonest.”

“We can all do anything for a short amount of time,” adds Jenn, which any working parent who’s opted for the red-eye option can relate to.

While it’s easy as a new parent to assume that travel will get easier as kids get older, Jenn points out that life gets complicated–in a different way–when school and activities expand outside a half-mile radius.

“Your kids need you differently at different stages,” she says. “Every stage has different complexities with it.”

“I wish I had traveled more when they were younger,” says Jenn, noting that routines are simpler to share with other caregivers in the early years.

“I’m less physically exhausted and more mentally exhausted,” she says, describing how they’ve already had to have conversations with their boys about incidences among local teens of elicit texting, drug overdose and suicide.

Every new stage presents an opportunity for Jenn and her husband to open the conversation about how to manage it all, together.

“Sometimes it’s really messy and sometimes it’s easy,” she says. “When it’s easy are those times when we’re feeling connected as a couple, and when it’s hard is when we’re not feeling connected.”

Jenn says “the move to middle school” and the addition of a new puppy to their household “has created some really good conversations.”

For example, her husband’s math prowess has come in handy, while Jenn continues to be the resident proofreader and history buff. She’ll even text pictures of schoolwork to him during business trips so they can continue to play an active role.

“School is starting to matter,” she says. “They get legit grades in middle school.”

Jenn also points out that now that communication with their boys is getting more limited as they get older, she and her husband can help each other fill in the gaps while the other one’s away.

Oxygen Masks

Jenn, her career and family have all blossomed as they’ve entered the teens. She reflected on a time when she didn’t have the same sense of priorities or awareness of her own limitations.

“I didn’t feel like I was a present mom. I didn’t feel like I was a present employee. I didn’t feel like I was a present wife.”

“I really felt like I was just spreading peanut butter and was feeling physical effects as a result of operating at that pace and I knew something needed to change,” says Jenn.

“I knew there were people around me that wanted to support me but I didn’t know any other way than just tapping out.”

So Jenn took a pause to try a different path. To her and her husband’s surprise, it ended up turning into a 6-month period of hyper-speed transition while her husband was “going full throttle into the CFO role.”

She ultimately returned to the same company (where I worked at the time), feeling a renewed sense of balance. Now looking back, I can see how this showed up in her commitment to building company culture and driving employee engagement.

“I will never regret taking that time away to figure out ‘how do I move forward in a meaningful way?”

“It gave me a lot of clarity, a better foundation of boundaries and being more intentional about tradeoffs,” says Jenn.

“We, collectively as a society, spend so much time comparing ourselves to other people and we just need to stop,” she says.

“We so often put ourselves last, and putting yourself first isn’t selfish,” she says.

Jenn recommends identifying “that thing that you do for yourself on a regular basis” even if it’s taking a short walk outside “and don’t feel guilty about it.”

“We’re all doing the best that we can. How are we giving others grace and how are we giving ourselves grace?”

For Jenn, that means focusing on seeing her “kids thriving, and being happy and healthy, and that they know that they are loved and supported.”

Plus, now that her boys are older, she and her husband find ways to spend quality time together–like they did during a recent Saturday when lacrosse practices overlapped.

“What I am most proud of is that we have always prioritized our family, our kids, and we are really coming back to prioritizing our relationship as well,” she said.

Mama Shaker: Lisen, Helping Moms Work, Pause and Thrive

Author and workplace culture advocate Lisen Stromberg has a message for her younger self, and for all of us who feel overwhelmed as working mothers of young children.

“I remember feeling panicked all the time that I wasn’t doing what was best for my children, and I wish I was a little kinder to myself.”

She describes her memories of “being in a constant state of triage.”

“Before 8 a.m. we’ve got to get clothes on, teeth brushed, lunches packed, baby breastfed,” the mother of three recalls — and all before the work day begins.

Lisen describes this ability to juggle as “accordion-like,” where moms are capable of expanding and contracting “in a beautiful way.”

“I wish I had known that my capacity would expand and I would be able to do all those things — not always well — and the kids would live through it.”

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Since we talked in January about her book, Work PAUSE Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career, I took a pause of sorts from writing, while I transitioned into a new job and dealt with an intense new chapter of parenting.

In the eight months since then, I’ve found myself repeating Lisen’s mantras–and sharing them with other moms navigating career and parenting pivots of their own.

“Frankly when I was a new mother, in some ways professionally that was a productive phase of my career because I was so darn focused and so capable of getting everything that needed to happen done,” she says. “And that’s a powerful place to be.”

It helps to hear–from someone who’s lived through it–that this stage of parenting can be a “Phoenix rising” moment, as Lisen describes it. She also believes all the hormones coursing through us in early motherhood are actually a benefit.

“You’re just like on fire in this gorgeous way,” she says. “At the time it feels like hell.”

And that cocktail of physiology and limited time can lead to clarity.

“I got very clear on what I needed to do and who I was fighting for,” she says. “In my case I was fighting for my kids and my future.”

For Lisen, that meant every aspect of her life had to fit: her work, her relationships, her health, “everything.”

“It changed me in a powerful way.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Work PAUSE Thrive is a wonderfully thorough analogy of research on working motherhood, which features stories of women who’ve successfully paused their careers–in a number of ways.

For Lisen, it meant rethinking her role as a journalist after maternity leave ended (which she wrote about in The New York Times), taking turns with her husband to amp up their careers at different times, and starting her own non-profit organizations and consultancies.

She cautions that pauses are not about getting relief from the stressors parenting.

“Being overwhelmed is the reality of parenthood,” she says. “You are now responsible for another soul.”

Instead, it’s about taking a moment to reassess what you want for yourself and your family. That can mean making adjustments in a current job, returning to work after taking time to focus on family, starting a business, or finding another passion to pursue.

“The women who I saw truly thriving were the ones who just had clarity,” says Lisen.

She describes these success stories among mothers who were “very intentional about their choices, and very empowered about their capacity as humans and what they can deliver.”

Lisen points out that these same women were willing to live with their choices even if it didn’t work out the way they planned.

“I think the women who suffered–that I interviewed with–are the ones who weren’t clear on their values and weren’t clear on what they were willing to give up and risk, and felt guilt about it.”

Lisen originally set out to interview 25 women, which then grew to 150, and then 1500 interviews later she had a comprehensive body of data to back up her instincts about the non-linear paths of working mothers.

“I wanted to be really sure that my intuitions and my beliefs and my experiences were real,” she says.

It Takes a Village

I was surprised to learn in Lisen’s book about a period in U.S. history where childcare was provided by the government so that mothers could support the economy during wartime–guilt-free.

“There seemed to be absolute clarity that this was an important thing to do for your country and to do for your community,” she says. “And it was liberating in some ways, right.”

When their husbands returned from war, the support went away, and mothers “re-claimed their roles” at home.

(And we all know what’s happened–or I should say hasn’t happened–for childcare since then.)

“With 64 million millennials right in the prime childbearing years–not having paid leave and not having affordable childcare–we’re seeing so many women pause their careers who never even envisioned they would do that,” says Lisen.

She cites the paradox of wanting to advance women in the workforce, but not having the structures in place to support them.

“We don’t honor caregiving in our country in terms of our policies and our workplace,” she says, noting the added pressure of being available 24/7.

The secret to thriving is what Lisen refers to as “time mastery” and it was shared by all the women she interviewed who stayed in the workforce. They successfully affirmed their commitment to their jobs while speaking up when they needed to make time for personal responsibilities.

“Their employers didn’t punish them for that, and that’s a distinction we need to make,” she says.

“If there’s anything I could wish for the next generation of talent,” says Lisen, “it’s that they feel empowered to be able say ‘I know I will give you 110 percent but I have to give it on my schedule.’ ”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes a Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women Helping Women Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Shaker: Ashley, On Going Remote to Be More Present

Ashley Bernardi’s career took a couple of Goldilocks-style turns before she landed on something just right. Her story is punctuated by broadcast-worthy soundbites, which she honed after spending a decade as a network TV producer.

“I was traveling the world producing breaking news stories and I had a baby at home,” she says.

While covering events like Virginia Tech, presidential elections, and renewable energy, Ashley began to feel the tug of working motherhood.

So she traded in her passport for a 90-minute commute in the Washington, D.C. region. While Ashley loved her pivot to PR, she couldn’t help but do the math, recounting “that’s three hours I could spend with my family.”

“I am missing out on the most precious moments of my daughter’s life,” she remembers feeling at the time.

When Ashley’s second daughter was born, an “entrepreneurial fire lit inside,” and she began to dream up a way to fully integrate her career and family life.

Taking inspiration from her own mother’s journey as a “mompreneur” behind a successful dance company, Ashley took the plunge with the help of mentorship and resources from the Small Business Administration.

“I launched my company literally in my daughters’ playroom in my basement,” she says.

“Here I am four years later and loving it.”

Today, Ashley runs Nardi Media, a media relations and publicity business, with a fully remote staff, so she can be present for her three daughters.

“I want to be the first person they see when they get off the bus,” she says, describing how important it is that her daughters see her–and only her–at 3:30 p.m. every day.

While starting a company isn’t the only way to go remote, it’s what has allowed Ashley the most flexibility to meet this goal.

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Women Helping Women Succeed

“My life is really fun and I wouldn’t say balanced or the same any day,” says Ashley. “It’s all integrated: my work and my play and my children.”

She’s a big advocate for anyone looking to do the same thing–whether it’s her employees or clients she works with.

“It’s no coincidence or mistake that the majority of authors that do come to me are focused on–my interests–parenting, supporting women at work, supporting women at home, health, wellness, science and business.”

Ashley shared lessons from her journey to get to a harmonious place for her career and her family. They’re as relevant for entrepreneurs as they are for anyone looking to continue building their career remotely.

Her first tip? Timing is everything.

“I wish I hadn’t waited so long but everything in my world that has happened has been the right timing,” says Ashley.

Surround yourself with the right people, including experts and “a team that can help support you and grow with you.”

“I don’t have my MBA, I didn’t go to business school but I knew I needed people who knew what they were doing,” she says.

Finally, don’t forget self-care.

“As a mom and business owner, I learned the hard way that one of the most important things I need to take care of is my health,” she says.

Whether you’re building a business or you’re on conference calls from sunrise to sunset, it’s easy to blur the lines working from home.

“I didn’t realize the serious health implications it has when you don’t take care of yourself,” says Ashley.

“But it’s so true when they say put your oxygen mask on first.”

 

Mama Shaker: Linh, on Working Motherhood and Start-ups

Newly minted CMO Linh Ho has been through numerous acquisitions in her career. However, it’s the skills that she acquired while becoming a working mom that have helped prepare her for this new chapter.

“It is all hands on deck every day in a start-up,” she says.

Linh cites “directness” as a skill she learned from having kids–and from her kids–which she finds to be equally useful on a start-up timeline and budget.

“They’ll tell it like it is, there’s no sugar coating, no filter,” she says. “At the same time, as a mom you have to be direct and assertive with your children when it comes to their safety or establishing a routine. In the start-up world it’s like that too.”

It’s also the source of a New York Times best-selling book, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and podcast.

Linh says this kind of unfiltered exchange leads to mutual growth. For example, she recently spent time with her data science team which is “full of ideas” and has a “ton of energy.”

“They’re doing super cool things, so I’m learning from them as well–and equally as a mom, I’m learning from my kids. They’re so raw and I find start-up environments are raw too.”

How She Makes it Work

“In a start-up you’re on the clock,” says Linh. “And the investors are watching.”

This isn’t so different from Linh’s daily routine. Most days, she’s responsible for getting the kids up and out the door in the mornings, even if it’s after a 5 a.m. conference call or two.

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Her husband picks up the kids and makes dinner, and then does a handoff back to Linh for bath and bedtime–except when one of them is traveling.

“Evenings are packed and by 9 p.m. I’m exhausted,” she says, noting that some nights she has to turn her laptop back on if there’s a deadline. She typically gets 4-6 hours sleep.

Her weekend mornings are her “yoga time” or kickboxing.

“It’s my hour or hour and a half on both days, and I don’t give that up very easily,” she says. “My husband can attest to that.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Linh supports the female entrepreneur community, both as a founder herself, and a mentor to other women through platforms such as the Female Founders Alliance, started in Seattle by Leslie Feinzaig.

“Leslie is basically trying to help other female founders get a leg up where traditionally it’s been a little bit harder for women to get in on funding from the venture capital world,” she says.

Linh extends this coaching and support to her personal life too.

“I would always tell my friends, ‘dream big,’ and I take that from my late father,” she says.

“He came over here as an immigrant with nothing; he was a dreamer and he just went after it. He just gave it a shot no matter what happens.”

Linh’s fearlessness and determination was evident throughout the six years she and I worked together, while both starting our families.

“There’s no limits when it comes to dreaming,” says Linh, about recently encouraging a friend to stop longing for her dream vacation to Portugal, but instead buy a property there. They’d do the research and visualize what it would be like.

“And then if you really want it, then work backwards from it and try.”

Once again, Linh’s outlook is dually relevant to entrepreneurship and parenting.

“You’ve got to give it a shot,” she says. “You’ve got to try and see what happens. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, you learn so much from trying and it helps make you stronger.”

Mama Maker: Amy from Pink Stork

Military wives are warriors in their own right, and Amy Upchurch takes this to a whole new level. When she was 21 weeks pregnant, Amy’s doctor told her that she and her baby had 24 hours to live.

Amy had contracted a blood infection from a “picc” line while being hospitalized for hyperemesis gravidarum (HG)–extreme nausea, vomiting and other symptoms that can lead to severe dehydration and weight loss.

Fortunately, within 24 hours she had made a “complete turnaround” along with little John Hamilton who was later born premature, but healthy nonetheless.

Amy’s pregnancy was a miracle in itself.

“I had always been told I was not going to be able to have kids growing up,” says Amy. “It was a big surprise when I found out I was pregnant” just three weeks after marrying her Marine Corps husband and settling into Virginia.

Three “HG” ridden pregnancies later, when Amy found out she was pregnant with her fourth child, she threw up her hands.

“Out of desperation, I really started researching and working with doctors and midwives, and came up with this protocol to combat this HG that was going to come and hit me like a train,” says Amy.

“I ended up having an amazing fourth pregnancy with all this information that I had gathered, and implemented in my body,” says Amy.

“No more emergency room visits or ambulance rides.”

She delivered a 9-pound baby boy full term.

Soon after, Amy developed Pink Stork to “help other women who struggle during their pregnancies” beginning with a line of morning sickness products.

“It was really cool that it was starting to help other people–close friends and people in the military community,” says Amy.

Word of mouth gave Pink Stork a boost as it expanded into prenatal vitamins, nursing supplements and fertility products. (Their lactation tea smells and tastes delicious as I unwind after putting the kids to bed — a welcome alternative to suffering through other “mother’s” tea on the market.)

Women Helping Women Succeed

It’s no surprise that military wives rallied around Pink Stork at its inception. Amy says they’re not only advanced problem solvers, but also “really strong women, really smart women and really resourceful women” and they excel at forming a connection with their community, more so than the “civilian world.”

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Looking back Amy says, “it was always helping other people–that’s still what I enjoy so much today–that’s what makes everything full circle.”

She recalls a note from one customer who had a double-digit number of miscarriages before finally delivering a healthy baby.

“My heart goes out to them,” says Amy. “That’s why I do what I do.”

Helping other moms is both personal and spiritual, for Amy.

“I clearly remember laying in the hospital beds and doing nothing for months,” she says. “Minutes seemed like hours. I just remember thinking, why in the world am I laying here? Why am I so sick? How come I can’t have a normal pregnancy? Why is God putting me through all this pain?”

“I look back now and I understand exactly why I was laying there and exactly why I went through those struggles,” Amy says. “I feel very blessed to be able to go through those challenges and have those questions answered.”

She’s on a mission to continue finding answers for moms and solving problems for “this stage of life.”

“Pink Stork is going to take their hand and walk them all the way through until they get the answers and results they want,” says Amy.

“I love to see what people are looking for, what moms think, what moms need,” she says. “If any of our customers are looking for something we don’t have, let me know. We can help you, and if we can’t help you, we’ll point you in the direction of someone who can.”

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Running a business is truly a family affair, in Amy’s eyes. Her husband, who was deployed during some of her most difficult moments in pregnancy, now plays an active role in growing Pink Stork.

“He’s very much a part of the business,” says Amy. “He’s very supportive of helping other families because he knows what it’s like to see your partner suffer and to feel helpless.”

“I like to think of Pink Stork as not only my family but also all of our employees,” she says. “It’s a family, it really is.”

Amy wants her employees to know that she takes pride in being a woman-owned company, and that she understands and celebrates working moms.

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“We have babies that come into our office everyday,” beams Amy. “You can give a mom sitting in front of me, with a baby laying next her, seven different jobs and she will complete every single one of them just like the next person.”

“I get energized from a good challenge,” says Amy, about becoming an entrepeneur. “I knew nothing; I didn’t go to school for business. I Googled a lot of words. I sat in a lot of meetings and phone calls and learned from osmosis. I’m still learning from osmosis.”

“I would hate for someone to have looked at me when I was starting Pink Stork and had four little kids running around–which I did–and say, ‘You’re crazy.'”

“When you find something that you believe in, and you want to go for it, I encourage anyone and everyone to believe in themselves and just go for it,” says Amy. “Don’t be afraid of what other people think.”

“Keep doing your thing. Don’t worry about it. It will all fall into place.”

Mama Shaker: Amy from TendLab

One week from now, Amy Henderson will open the relief valve for a group of working mothers in the heart of San Francisco’s high-pressured tech scene, during a lunchtime “Career Moms” cohort that starts up September 5.

“We ask each mom to share one of the moments they’re most ashamed about in the confluence of their journey of working and parenting,” says Amy, CEO and co-founder of TendLab.

“There’s so much that happens when you become a new mom that feels isolating and shameful,” says Amy. “When you’re in a cohort of others who have either experienced, it or are experiencing it, it de-stigmatizes it and you realize you’re not alone.”

For Amy, her boiling point came when she lost nine pounds working 20 hours a day for two weeks on the #YesWeCode initiative to increase diversity in the tech sector.

She had brought along her husband, two kids and mother-in-law to New Orleans, because her exclusively-breastfed youngest refused to eat anything else. So the four hours of sleep she was squeezing in, weren’t entirely hers.

To top it off, she found out she was pregnant again a few weeks later, which would mean she’d soon have three kids under the age of four.

“I had always been really committed to my career,” said Amy. “It’s like the wheels fell off the bus.”

Amy’s moment of panic led to an epiphany, as she dialed up dozens of high-powered working moms to find out how they managed it all.

“What happened was this organic revelation that many of these moms had: ‘I’m performing better in my career because of my kids, not in spite of them,'” she says.

Amy soon learned that there was neuroscience to back it up. (You can read more about the important role of oxytocin here along with more of the wisdom gleaned from her findings.)

In a particularly impactful conversation with the original VP of HR for Twitter, Amy learned the same skills acquired in parenting “are the skills needed in the workplace of the future.”

“The light bulbs went off, the heavens opened up, and I was like okay!”

Amy had stumbled upon the catalyst for TendLab, and the woman who would become her future co-founder.

And so their mission became “to unlock the power and potential of parenthood in the workplace.”

In addition to the “Career Moms” cohort, which Amy believes “can actually be fuel for really positive transformation in our own lives and in our collective society,” TendLab also offers workshops, consulting and special events.

To learn about scholarships available for the 4-week cohort, leave a comment below or contact me directly.

In addition, you can read more about the neuroscience and career benefits of parenting–for actively engaged mothers and fathers alike–in articles Amy’s penned for Mother Magazine, Fast Company and Slate.

Mama Maker: Esther from Virtual Assistant Internship

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m up-leveling.”

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

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

Women Helping Women Succeed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I really feel like it’s my purpose.”

It Takes a Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It just feels like home now.”

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

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

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