Mama Maker: Katherine, Recasting Motherhood On The Double Shift

Journalist Katherine Goldstein’s migration from New York’s media mothership inspired her to launch an unconventional podcast about working moms from her basement in North Carolina.

A punk rocker aspiring to be a Rabbi, a thirty-something mother of three on the campaign trail, and Nevada brothel workers parlaying earnings into nursing school are among the first episodes of “The Double Shift.”

“I think one of the problems with journalism and resources is if you only talk to the people you know, you’re going to have a pretty limited conversation,” she says. “This show is breaking out of that.”

In fact, Katherine and her bi-coastal team intentionally seek out women outside of big cities who don’t have PR people.

“Nydia Sanchez, who runs a 24-hour daycare, she’s committing her whole life to serving mostly single mothers who need childcare and don’t have a ton of money to pay for it,” says Katherine.

“She’s not trying to get a bunch of attention and credit for all the great work she’s doing–she’s trying to run a business–but she does it with a kind of compassion that you don’t see enough for a group that doesn’t get talked about a lot.”

Listening to these intimate, previously untold stories of working motherhood summons feelings similar to watching “60 Minutes” or listening to NPR.

“The reason I decided I wanted to do it as a podcast is that I really want to create community and movement around changing the way people think about things, and bringing new perspectives in a more in-depth way,” says Katherine.

“I think there’s only so far you can go with someone who just reads an article and likes it on Facebook and moves on.”

We also talked about how podcasts are more amenable to multi-tasking moms who can tune in while commuting or taking care of kids, and discover a connection to women in other walks of life.

“I feel like I want to create a much longer and larger and more substantial conversation about changing how society sees working mothers and how we see ourselves,” she says.

How this Mama Made it Work

Moving from New York to North Carolina provided Katherine with the financial means, family support and mental energy to build a podcast from scratch.

“I joke that since I no longer have to fight the transit authority in New York, I can spend all my energy fighting the patriarchy,” she says.

“I have so many more resources because everyday life is not stressful,” she says, noting the benefit of having grandparents nearby so she can go on date nights and connect with her partner — with whom she credits for helping make “The Double Shift” possible.

“I’ve always known that I’ve had an amazingly supportive partner; but, when you’re taking a big swing in your life, it’s not just having someone in your life that says ‘yeah, good job,’ but who’s like willing to readjust their life too.”

In addition to changing location and lifestyles, the two swapped parenting shifts, trading morning and evenings with their 3.5 year old, so Katherine can take advantage of productive hours in her homegrown studio.

She goes full steam on the podcast until 5 p.m. when she goes to pick up her son at school and uses the drive there and back, and dinner as a family, to unwind.

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Women Helping Women Succeed

Katherine originally started exploring working motherhood as a journalist after struggling through health complications during her son’s first year.

“It was a very stressful time and I lost my job when he was 6 months old,” she says. “I had been a very hard-charging, high-achieving professional, and it led me to really feel like a failure.”

“I was very convinced that everyone had this working mom thing figured out, except for me and I was just personally defective.”

Once she discovered that no one had it figured out, and that many mothers internalized personal blame like she had, Katherine became emboldened to investigate family dynamics, the workplace and public policy.

“As I started to look at it through a journalistic lens, I really felt like there’s a lot of content about parenting but there’s not much about our independent identities as working mothers,” says Katherine.

“We are our own people with our own needs and ambitions and abilities to do amazing things in the world, and that’s just not being addressed in a lot of conversations.”

“There are so many ways that working mothers are revolutionary in their own lives and that’s one of the big things I’ve taken away from this show,” says Katherine.

“Probably none of the women I interviewed would ever claim the label ‘revolutionary,’ but what I think is so inspiring about them is the way they’re addressing their own challenges and the challenges of the things they see around them in new ways.”

“I just love getting those new ideas out there.”

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.”

Gifts for the Tired Mama

‘Twas the night before work, when all through the house, all the creatures were stirring — even a mouse!

The laundry wasn’t hung because I opted for self-care, in hopes that the weekend soon would be here

The children were nestled all snug in our bed, while visions of Paw Patrol danced in their heads

And mama with my breast pump, hoping to fill a bottle to its cap, wishing I could settle down for a long winter’s nap…

While I haven’t slept a full night since May, the gift ideas below are some of my saving graces–whether it’s a hot cup of lactation tea that actually tastes good, or a 1-minute shower facial before bed.

(Note: The links below are affiliated with products and brands I personally use and love. By shopping on the sites they’re linked to, you can support mompreneur- and women-owned businesses, and help keep Best for the Moment story-first and clutter-free.)

1. This Moba moses basket doubles as an infant “play” space while I brush my teeth or squeeze in a shower within eyesight. I love it because it’s made of medical-grade rubber polymer and both the surface and breathable cotton liner are washable.

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Moba is female-founded and designed, and manufactured in the UK. It’s available in pretty pastels for just under $130 at Trouva.com.

(I purchased mine at NORDSTROM.com, but they’re currently sold out. In case their supply returns, here’s FREE shipping, pick up in store and more.)

2. Now that I’ve made it to the shower–a feat in itself–it’s time to scrub my tired looking skin with Belli Fresh Start Pre-Treatment Scrub. At just under $25, it’s safe enough for pregnancy and smells delightful too. Plus, peppermint is known to help “wake up” your senses–which can’t hurt when coffee isn’t cutting it.

3. My face is now primed and ready to “glow” even if I’m not as hydrated as I’d like to be. My super-dry and sensitive skin does so much better with oil than the greasy moisturizer I used to swear by, all thanks to OSEA Essential Hydrating Oil.

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I first heard about the mompreneur-led brand from The Box of Style and recently upgraded to a full-size bottle from Bloomingdales.com for under $75.

Free Shipping on all orders at Bloomingdales.com! Offer valid through Dec 20.

4. Lash extensions are my tired mama’s secret weapon. So treat yourself or a fellow sleep-deprived mom to a meticulously applied lash session, which doubles as a nap. What under-eye circles?!

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5. To top off my low-maintenance beauty routine, I love 100% Pure, a woman-owned, Bay Area-based beauty brand that has gone to great lengths to use only the purest fruits, vegetables and other foods in its locally made products. (More peace of mind for pregnant and nursing mamas.)

As a reformed lip gloss-only gal, I’ve graduated to their Fruit Pigmented® Pomegranate Oil Anti Aging Lipstick in Buttercup. For the holiday season, mamas can get some much-deserved sparkle with their Red Gold and Rose Gold Pomegranate Lipsticks limited edition set for just under $40.

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My other hacks are putting a little Fruit Pigmented Tint on my cheeks, and if I’m feeling extra fancy, highlighting my brow bone with their Luminating Creme.

Get Free Shipping on Orders $50+ at 100PercentPure.com

8. Whether a nap, night out, or nursing session comes next, Rachel Zoe–mompreneur stylist to the stars–makes me feel glamorous while doing so. Each Box of Style seasonal shipment comes with loungewear, baubles, beauty products, handbags and other accessories. She frequently supports women-owned businesses too.

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Each seasonal box contains $400 worth of items for just under $100, and you can get $15 off a new subscription using code WINTER15AFF here.

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7. If all else fails, a hot cup of tea that smells as good as it tastes is a good way to squeeze in some self-care, while “priming the pump” as it were. Before I discovered Pink Stork and it’s inspiring Mama Maker Amy Upchurch, drinking mother’s tea felt more like gulping down unsavory herbal medicine.

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At just under $12 each, Pink Stork Lactation: Herbal Mint Nursing Support Tea and Pink Stork Lactation: Smooth Vanilla Nursing Support Tea are my favorites. Or, you can opt for Pink Stork Nursing Bundle: Lactation Herbal Mint, Lactation Smooth Vanilla, Calm Blends for just under $30.

8. Audible is the only way this sleep-deprived mama can get through books–many of which can be found on my Working Moms Reading List.

You can gift yourself Two Free Audiobooks, or gift monthly subscriptions ranging from 1-month for $15 all the way up to 12 months for $150.

9. When I’ve got my hands full with my kiddos and want to listen to said Audible books, Pandora, or if I need help restocking an item from the pantry, Amazon Alexa comes to my rescue. The newer Echo is just under $100, but I’m still happily using my 1st generation Echo, which you can get for just under $60 Certified Refurbished.

10. Some of my most peaceful moments happen when both boys are strapped into their chairs at the kitchen table with me. (#realtalk) I didn’t think this would be possible with a baby until I found the Bloom Fresco Contemporary Baby High Chair, which transitions from a reclined position for infants, all the way up to 8 years old. At $550, it averages out to less than $70 per year — and the freedom for tired mamas is priceless.

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Speaking of blooming, we’ve really enjoyed filling out the Bloom Universal Snug newborn insert in a few short months!

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So there you have it. While the gift-giving season is upon us, there’s no reason to wait for someone else to bring tidings to you. Oxygen mask, mamas!

Mama Shaker: Carly, on Sharing Household Duties

Carly was the first of a blitz of pregnancies among me and six of my colleagues this year. Mind you she was on her third baby, while the rest of us were on our second or first.

So it’s especially impressive how Carly has managed to divvy up household responsibilities with her husband, while raising a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a new baby.

“Mornings are me,” says Carly. “I’m fully on deck.” (As a teacher, her husband leaves for work at 6:45 a.m.)

Often that means feeding the baby while “trying to keep the boys from killing each other,” she says. “That hour is pretty manic.”

She takes a 20-minute walk to school with her oldest for “special Carter time” after the nanny arrives, unless she has an early meeting.

Carly’s in back to back meetings starting at 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. She typically arrives home to her husband making dinner, in the first of several clever partnerships.

“I do all the planning, and figuring out what we’re going to eat,” she says. “He does the execution: the grocery shopping, and the actual cooking of the meals.”

They use a whiteboard in the kitchen that, as long as her 2-year-old doesn’t erase it, features the week’s menu.

“There are no elaborate meals,” she says. “We still eat healthy.”

Recently, Carly had an “eye opening” moment when she ask her husband if there was anything she could be doing to help. In return, he asked if she could set the table.

In her mind, it was a simple task that had big impact.

“I think that’s where silent resentment can build up,” says Carly, noting what happens when couples don’t check in with each other.

The open lines of communication extend to her whole family. During dinner, they sit together at the table and talk about one thing that went well during their day, one thing they learned, or one thing that frustrated them.

“After dinner we switch who cleans up vs. who does baths,” she says, enlisting roshambo when needed.

“We usually tag team storytime,” she says, unless she’s feeding the baby.

After the last toddler standing finally goes to sleep, Carly’s very full day can finally start to wind down. (This non-stop marathon is one of the realities of parenting that no one is truly prepared for, in my opinion.)

How This Mama Makes it Work

Transitions can put a lot of pressure on relationships, so Carly and her husband have put safeguards in place.

“Going from one to two, you’re going from ‘one person can have a break,’ to man-on-man, and now we’re on full-zone defense,” says Carly. “No one’s free.”

“One thing that has really worked for us is that we’re just both in it, together,” she says. “We know that there’s not really a break.”

So they carve out “alone time” for each other. He takes the kids grocery shopping on the weekends, and she picks one night per week to attend a networking event or happy hour.

Since her husband runs a summer sports camp, Carly makes sure to set expectations around other times of the year when she gets a break for some good old-fashioned self-care.

“Over-communicating that stuff is key,” she says, both literally and figuratively. An iPad in the kitchen is dedicated to their family calendar and Google reminders.

Dedicating one-on-one time for each kid is an ongoing challenge.

“I haven’t done as much of that as I would like to,” says Carly, as we compared stories of our toddlers (hers 2, mine 3) struggling from not getting as much attention as they’re used to when another baby enters the picture.

Women Helping Women Succeed

The topic of household division of labor is the subject of endless articles, books and mom groups on Facebook.

In fact, when Carly posted this photo of her husband holding her baby girl with one hand while running the Dyson with the other, it got 349 likes and 81 comments. She reflected in this Medium post on how this wouldn’t be as big of a deal if a mom was pictured in the same scene.

img_8993If you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, there’s no time like the present. Carly recommends tackling the issue “the sooner the better.”

“The longer you let it go, and just do it, that becomes the norm,” says Carly. “And then 5 or 10 years from now, you have this load of work that you’ve always done.”

To get the ball rolling, Carly and her husband made a list of all the things they’re each responsible for, many of which were surprises to each other.

“I think it’s something that couples should do,” she says. “Set aside time when you’re not absolutely not in a fight, to discuss what you do, what you enjoy doing, and what you don’t enjoy doing, and figure out who should do what.”

Tiffany Dufu takes this to another level in her book, Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, emphasizing the importance of identifying our “highest and best use,” noting the things that only we can do and align with our values.

Even with a divide-and-conquer approach, there will be moments that push us all to our limits–calling for a dose of “this too shall pass” perspective.

“This isn’t forever and we’re going to miss this at some point,” says Carly.

Mama Maker: Suzanne of Mompowerment

Suzanne Brown wants to empower moms to create our own personal definition of “work life balance.” She’s a living example of how to design careers and family life around what matters to us individually, in each season of motherhood.

For her latest book, The Mompowerment Guide to Work-Life Balance: Insights from Working Moms on Balancing Career and Family, Suzanne spoke to more than 100 women to answer a simple yet daunting question, “how do you create the work life balance you want?”

“A lot of times, especially for professional women, they really just look at it as very black and white: either I’m in the workforce or I’m out of the workforce,” she says. “There is this area of grey.”

Suzanne dealt firsthand with the consequences of making assumptions about motherhood, while trying to keep up business as usual as a first-time mom.

“I was horribly misguided and I thought we could just kind of ‘tuck’ our son into our lives,” Suzanne says. “We could continue to travel the same way, have the same lifestyle, travel and network.”

Her son was born 10 weeks premature, with boundless energy and determination. She describes him as “a mover and shaker since the day he was born.”

After powering through the blur of her first year of working motherhood, Suzanne recalls looking in the mirror around her son’s birthday and thinking “what happened?!”

“I was in survival mode,” she says. “That was a wake up call. I wasn’t paying attention to my own needs or my own goals.”

Nearly three years later, her second baby arrived at 36 weeks, but she was in a better position to face the challenges of juggling a newborn, a “spirited” almost 3-year-old and research for her first book, Mompowerment: Insights from Professional Part-Time Working Moms Who Balance Career and Family.

“When we had our younger son, it was making sure that didn’t happen again,” she says. “Being able to go through that once was enough for me to say, okay, what do I need to put in place so that the second time around I’m much better equipped for what’s coming my way.”

“I had to make the moments count, but I also had to embrace the good stuff and keep it rolling,” she says. “I had to keep up the momentum because if it stalled out, I was afraid of what would happen.”

Once Suzanne realized how much of a precious commodity her energy was, she put herself in the drivers seat.

“I wanted to decide where I would pull my energy from,” she says. “I had to have a very honest conversation with myself to do that.”

She asked herself the same questions that now make up the backbone of her guide, which she says can lead to “creating what we need” for a career and family life that doesn’t constantly deplete our reserves.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Now as an entrepreneur with a 7-year-old and 4.5-year-old, and two businesses, Suzanne says she has to allocate her time and energy very carefully or she will “literally getting nothing done.”

“I try to be very intentional with my time,” she says, describing how she preps for her day the night before–including articles she wants to read–so the next morning she can hit the ground running instead of wasting otherwise productive moments getting her bearings.

After reading The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life, which helps moms “fill your cup,” Suzanne was inspired to start doing a self care check-in each morning, in the moments she takes to get out of bed, before diving into her email.

Her boys start school an hour and 20 minutes apart, so she uses that gap to spend some quality time outside with her youngest. After that, it’s time to get down to business.

“Once I drop off our younger son, my power hour starts,” Suzanne says. “It’s my time of the day to get my hardest, most challenging, most strategic work done.”

“If I don’t do anything else in the course of the day, I have accomplished that goal…whatever that thing is that’s going to move the needle in my business or my client’s business.”

“Mid-day is when I start to have my lull so that’s when I start to take calls or I might do volunteer stuff for the boys’ schools,” she says. “It’s also when I might do some of my social media that needs dedicated time.”

Suzanne picks up the boys at 2:30, when she switches back to “mommy mode.”

“That first interaction can make a huge difference with my boys,” she says, noting they each have their own disposition requiring a different style and energy level. She’ll listen to music accordingly on the way to pick up.

Despite her mastery of daily rituals, Suzanne is also a realist.

“Not every day is going to be a great day,” she says. “There are days where you’re going to say ‘today sucked’ and you know what? Who cares! Stick it in a box, understand why was today so bad; that doesn’t mean tomorrow has to be bad.”

“I’ve tried to instill this in my children as well,” she says.

Suzanne often tells her oldest, “you get to decide how today starts…you can leave the bad day in your bedroom. You have the power to shift what happens in the course of your day.”

“It’s a mindset shift for any of us being able to use what it is you know, to take it in a different direction,” she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

I can’t help but think of Matrescence, when I reflect back on the refreshingly honest note that Suzanne ended our conversation with.

“It is highly unlikely that you will enjoy every season of motherhood and that is absolutely okay,” she says.

“We definitely don’t talk about that enough.”

“For some people, toddlerhood is magical and for others it’s nails on a chalkboard,” says Suzanne. “For some that newborn phase is absolutely delicious and for others it’s like ‘I can’t wait until I get through this. From one child to the next, it might change how you enjoy those seasons.”

“Toddlerhood for me is hands down the most challenging period.”

When a friend and former family therapist gave her this piece of advice, Suzanne no longer felt alone.

“Your tribe is unbelievably important and that can be a lot of different things,” she says. “It can be literally, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues…it can also be if you have a housekeeper, a mother’s helper, or you use whatever service to buy your groceries.

“The most important thing is to make it your own story,” says Suzanne. “Create what you personally need. Because people will dish out advice left and right; that’s just the reality of–not just when you become a working mother–but as you go from one stage to the next.”

She says it’s tempting to compare yourself with your friends, coworkers, siblings, neighbors and try to maintain the façade of having it all together.

“Figure out what it is you need to deal with that season and move onto the next,” Suzanne says.

“Take what you need, leave what you don’t, and adjust whatever it is that people give you, and make it work for your situation.”

Turning a New Leaf After Mat Leave

As I anticipate my return to work amidst Fall’s cooler mornings and cozy evenings, it feels like the closing of one chapter and starting of another–despite how taxing and complex the handoff may be.

I always feel a wave of nostalgia this time of year, especially since three years ago I became a mother for the first time–experiencing Matrescence firsthand–and one year ago when I learned I’d go through it for a second time.

Reflecting back on the baby and toddler milestones that whizzed past us over the course of the past four sleep-deprived months, I now feel a sense of pride of what ensued.

Here’s a typical “work week” by the numbers, as a temporary stay-at-home mom (and aspiring Chief Household Officer):

  • 14 hours of breastfeeding per week, typically every 2-3 hours around the clock
  • 45 ounces of pumped milk per week, typically while multitasking one-handed thanks to my pocket-size Spectra S9
  • About 15 bottle feedings per week from the aforementioned supply, plus more than 400 ounces of supplemental formula (until we got hit by silent reflux, nixing dairy)

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  • Nearly 1,000 diapers, from teeny-tiny Pampers Swaddlers to my favorite super-soft and sustainable Bambo Nature, where we grew up to size 3
  • Countless hours of eye contact and smiles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cobbled-together dinners, and bedtime stories

All together, these helped double the size of our once 7-pounder, while his older brother started preschool and became a “threenager” before our eyes.

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I squeezed in self-care through the help of my village, technology and conversations with a group of Mama Makers & Shakers who appeared at the most clandestine times:

And then there are the memories that don’t have a number attached to them, but are immeasurable in the way they’ve brought our family closer.

Together, the four of us have continued to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that started when life caught us by surprise on the last day of May. Both boys keep us on our toes, but when the chaos settles, the sweetest moments are revealed.

While I’m still not sleeping, I don’t have a freezer stash, and I can’t tell you what the next six months will bring, I will embrace the unpredictability.

I won’t feel like I’ve stepped away from my career, but rather enhanced it by overcoming non-stop challenges over the last four months.

This time around, I won’t strive to be super mom, but will remind myself to stay present and do my best for the moment.

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: Luba by Hannah Payne

A mere month after the launch of Luba–a clothing brand to honor and support resilient women–Hannah’s own strength was put to the test as she faced a jolting start to motherhood.

“If I wanted to have a baby, it needed to be then,” says Hannah, about the moment she learned she had a severe case of endometriosis.

The self-described “feminine and girly” Parsons graduate had just started a socially conscious, lace-adorned line in contrast to the rugged outdoor brands that surrounded her in Denver, where she had relocated for her husband to attend law school.

Things took a turn for the worse when Hannah found out 20 weeks into her pregnancy that she had a mass on her placenta, called a chorioangioma. As she went digging for stories from women who’d been through it, she kept running into case studies that cited a 50 percent survival rate and risk of heart failure following birth.

“The whole time I was trying to figure out if I was going to keep Luba alive and I decided I needed to continue it,” she says.

“I obviously pulled back a little; but, it helped me keep my mind off of this terrible thing that was happening.”

Her daughter arrived eight weeks early, which introduced its own set of complications, but they all made it through that difficult chapter.

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The rest of Hannah’s story is full of intricate layers and textures, just like the clothing she creates.

The inspiration for the brand comes from its namesake: her tough-as-nails grandmother Luba, who survived a concentration camp but was taken by cancer at just 42 years old.

“I never had the chance to meet her,” says Hannah. “But just from the stories that I’ve heard about her, she was such an inspirational person. And my mom is so strong and so inspirational, and so are my aunts. So I just thought she’s the perfect kind of matriarch for the brand.”

Hannah treasures her heirlooms from Luba–including a leather trench coat with an emblem stitched into its lining that inspired the logo for her brand–as well as from “Glamma,” her dressed-to-the-nines grandmother on her dad’s side.

“I just love the idea of passing something down,” she says, about designing clothing to last a lifetime.

Women Helping Women Succeed

“I know the women that are actually sewing the clothes,” she says. “We’re a brand for women by women. Most of these women are immigrants who came to the United States to get a better life for their family…and so it’s full circle. It’s really cool to see and to know these women.”

With generations of strong women as the inspiration behind Luba, there’s meaning woven into every garment and aspect of Hannah’s business and accompanying foundation.

“Like a woman, she’s beautiful on the inside and the outside,” said Hannah, as she showed me the silk interior of one of her pieces.

“It’s a clean finish and really quality product and it’s beautiful and feminine and really fun fabric. At the same time, you really are doing more because a percentage of every sale is going directly to a shelter.”

When Hannah was taking a social entrepreneurship course in college, she uncovered some jarring statistics about the lack of funding for women’s shelters.

“She said our biggest problem is we turn down women and children every day,” recounts Hannah of her conversation with a director of a women’s shelter at the time. “It’s not just like getting them out, you know, and giving them shelter for two nights. You really have to break the cycle. You have to give them all these opportunities that they don’t normally have.”

The idea to create a foundation that helps women’s shelters overcome their lack of funding came into the forefront again when Hannah was dreaming up Luba.

“When I went to actually write my real business plan, it was the exact same kind of structure and idea and mission statement when I had written it three years prior,” she says.

She experienced the same sense of serendipity while deciding on a name for the foundation. After Googling Luba, Hannah discovered it means “Love” in Russian. And so the Luba LOVE Foundation was born.

Hannah points out that domestic violence can show up in places where you least expect it. She recalled a story where she spoke at a women’s luncheon in Aspen. Afterwards, a well-to-do woman approached her.

“You were just talking about my life,” the woman said. “It took me eight times,” she told Hannah, about finally getting the courage to take her kids and leave an abusive relationship.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Working in the fashion business means Hannah has to spend time on both coasts, despite her land-locked home base. Understandably, she’s spent a lot of time carefully working out childcare arrangements that she feels good about.

“I feel like I have to make my time away from her valuable and important,” she says. “There’s such a thing as mom guilt and I have it all the time; especially when I’m traveling a lot. And so I think to myself, I’m doing this for her.”

“I was just so close to losing her that I’m just so cautious about everybody,” she says, recalling the first time she left her with a new caregiver.

“I remember I drove to the airport and I was terrified something was going to happen,” she says. “I was like this is probably not a good fit if I am that nervous about leaving her.”

“We finally found someone that I love. She is just so sweet and my daughter loves her. And so that’s been really nice to have like a steady person that we really like.”

During the summer, when airports are less germ-ridden, Hannah brings her daughter along to stay with family members in New York or Los Angeles, where all of her clothing is made.

“I would not be where I am today without my support system,” she says.

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“I feel like designing is in my soul, says Hannah. “And so if I stopped, I would really lose a part of myself.”

In the spirit of her grandmother, her daughter and the legacy she wants to leave behind, Hannah has learned to celebrate small victories and take the “really low lows” in stride.

“I would just say, keep going. That’s the biggest thing; never give up. Just keep going.”

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.”

When Life Catches You By Surprise

Today is the original due date of our now 3.5-week old baby. His early arrival and the transition for our whole family have kept us on our toes ever since.

When I became a mother for the first time with my oldest, and then a working mother, life changed dramatically. Little did I know that baby number two would completely rock our world again, in his own unique ways.

Here’s what I did (and didn’t) expect while expecting, and what’s surprised us most now that he’s here:

The third trimester was faster and more intense the second time

Around the mid-point of my pregnancy, I started to sense that this baby might run ahead of schedule. He was measuring a week ahead at his 20-week anatomy scan and the technician and doctors all made comments about active he was, making it hard to measure him as he did flips and somersaults for the camera.

Right at the start of the third trimester, the doctor confirmed he was already head down, which was no surprise to me. I was having strong Braxton Hicks, which I didn’t have until the very end of my first pregnancy.

(I also learned that if you’re dehydrated, contractions can quickly turn into something more serious. It still seems to be a little known secret of just how important drinking water is during pregnancy.)

I carried on, preparing at work for the countdown to my planned start of maternity leave, and enjoying our final moments in the family routines that we had become accustomed to. We took lots of evening walks and I savored bedtime snuggles with my toddler, anticipating those moments would be harder to come by after the baby’s arrival.

However, I was growing increasingly slow on those walks and often felt too tired to read more than a couple of books before bedtime. (I would liberally edit our big brother-in-training’s favorite “hospital book” aka Babies Don’t Eat Pizza: A Big Kids’ Book About Baby Brothers and Baby Sisters.)

At my 35-week appointment, I was already 3.5cm dilated and 80% effaced, so the doctor predicted a couple of more weeks at most.

Little did I know, I’d be back in L&D 9 days later with contractions, another 1.5 cm dilated, and no signs of stopping.

Just because we’ve done it before, doesn’t mean it’s easier this time

When we found out we were having another boy, my first thought after laughing at our luck, was that we had everything we needed so it would be easy. From clothes to baby gear, and eventually less hormonal teenage years, I felt like we were all set.

Then I delivered a “late pre-term” baby at 36 weeks + 4 days, and everything changed.

That morning I had taken our first born to school, feeling like it might be my last time for a while. I took one more conference call and then walked into the family birth center to get checked out. While sitting there chugging water, I went from 4.5 cm to 6 cm, at which point they decided to admit me.

The labor itself was about as comfortable and peaceful as you can get. I repeated the low-dose epidural that had worked well with my first delivery, and sat around waiting to progress.

Meanwhile, we started to wise up to what it might mean to have a baby almost a month early. Despite reassurance from nurses and doctors that had preemies of their own who are now thriving 20-somethings, we didn’t know what to expect other than the immediate goal of delivering a 5-pounder.

Well, our little guy arrived at 9:26 p.m. on May 31 at a whopping 7 pounds, with a head full of thick black hair. All over again, we were instantly in love and mesmerized to finally meet him after all this time.

He passed all the tests they run for things like breathing, blood sugar and temperature regulation. He was sleepy during feedings, so the nurses encouraged me to try hand-expressing — but I quickly turned to my old friend Medela and a syringe to make it easier.

We were released from the hospital on schedule, and made an appointment to return to the doctor 48 hours later to check for jaundice. The doctor’s main concern at that visit was his weight, which had dropped down to 6 lbs 6 oz, so my new goal was to make sure he was eating enough.

Out came my brand new pocket-sized breast pump, bottles that claimed to be the next best thing to mom and a whole lot of math to figure out how often to pump, how long the milk could stay at room temperature, and how long before I had to toss a bottle he had started. (All while sleep deprived, since he was eating every 1-2 hours around the clock.)

It wasn’t until 5 days later that our instincts told us that his coloring didn’t look right, so we requested a blood test. Our suspicions were confirmed with a phone call that I don’t wish upon anyone, telling us our 6-day-old newborn had to be re-admitted to the hospital. His bilirubin levels had spiked and he needed blue-light phototherapy to flush out the jaundice.

One of the hardest parts of that dizzying moment was fighting back tears while telling our toddler that we needed him to be a big boy, and get back in the car to head to the hospital, right after he had walked in the door from school. This is one of the many reasons we’re so grateful to live near his grandparents.

I grabbed all the bottles I had pumped and some basic necessities, and we rushed out the door. What followed were two days and two nights of sitting in a hospital room while our tiny, lethargic 6-pounder lay under a blue light with a mask on for hours at a time.

My mission during that hazy hospital stay was simple: get him to eat and fill as many diapers as possible. I bottle-fed him under the light, and passed the hours by scheduling out feedings, pumping, and hand-washing bottles and pump parts, over and over again. The nurses came in every hour or so to check how much he was eating and what his diapers weighed.

He passed his final blood test with flying colors, and we celebrated with our much more alert baby. We came home and started to settle back into what felt like the beginning of a new routine for our expanded family.

Our whole family is changing, together

The four of us are operating on little sleep, so we can instantly go from happy to sad or angry in a flash. We’re all being challenged and pushing up against each others’ boundaries.

The stressful moments have been peppered in with plenty of happy times too, like visits from the grandparents, starting out weekends crowded together in bed, and sitting at the kitchen table enjoying daddy’s new dinner creations.

Some of what we’ve experienced has been pretty textbook, including the potty training regression and acting out by our toddler to get attention.

What I didn’t expect was being hit by a ton of bricks when I couldn’t be available to my first born for routine things like helping him get dressed or putting him to bed. I was a puddle of tears the first night home, but now my heart swells watching father-son bonding take its place.

While we’ve dedicated so much time and attention to helping our newborn gain weight and keep the jaundice at bay, our now 2 3/4 year old is blossoming before our eyes.

His vocabulary has doubled again, as he uses full sentences, asks questions and energetically narrates what we’re all doing. He’s obsessed with how things work, and can use his age-appropriate screwdriver surprisingly well.

Friends told me he would seem like a giant next to his tiny little brother — which is exactly what he looked like when he came to the hospital to meet him — but what I didn’t expect is how quickly he would take to his newfound independence. He loves to be a helper, too.

We’re learning, all over again, to prioritize what’s best for the moment

The first time around, it took me a lot longer to surrender to the changes brought on by parenthood. We basically added a child to the lifestyle we had created in an urban setting, and I attempted to keep my foot on the gas pedal at work.

It wasn’t until I realized I was putting too much pressure on myself to be super mom, right around the same time that we began house hunting in the burbs, that we realized how much change was inevitable.

This time, just under a month of two kids under our belt, we are turning everything upside to create the life that’s best for right now. We’re even flirting with the idea of getting a minivan.

Through more doctors appointments and lab visits than seem possible in 27 days’ time, we’ve learned to advocate for our family when something doesn’t feel right, even when we’re told otherwise. We’re mama bear and papa bear on steroids.

And while I’m looking forward to reconnecting with working mamas and mompreneurs to tell their stories, I’m currently in awe of moms who stay home full-time.

(The prospect of being outnumbered for more than a few minutes at a time was terrifying at first, until I reminded myself of what I’m capable of managing in the workplace.)

I’m so grateful for the village of parents who’ve been through this before us, and amazed by those who’ve dealt with much more.

In hindsight, finding diapers and clothes that fit (a la Chrissy Teigen) and pumping around the clock are the least of our worries.

Thankfully, the couple of hours that we get to enjoy “wake time” with our sleepy little guy are growing in number each day.

Even though this month is a blur, we’re living this new life one moment at a time.