Mama Maker: Shweyta, Going the Distance

After leaving New York to spend a year in Singapore and Mumbai, Shweyta Mudgal reconnected with a childhood memory that inspired her to repurpose her design skills as an airport architect into an ancient form of Indian textile printing.

“Singapore is a takeoff point for anybody to travel that side of the world,” she says, which exposed her to Asia’s maker economy and gave her the opportunity to rekindle a creative pastime from her youth.

Shweyta fondly remembers how she would “walk in to a tailor in Mumbai in this lane that I was living in and give him a piece of scrap cloth, or even fabric or material that I found somewhere,” and together they would design something completely original out of it.

“So that’s the how the idea of ‘8,000 miles’ really started after all of that travel and being inspired by the rich textile culture of Asia,” she says about the birth of her clothing brand.

It was integral to Shweyta to weave social impact into the fabric of Eight Thousand Miles from the start, so that it wasn’t merely an “afterthought.” She identified two ways to empower the local community of artisans in India who would bring to life the garments she designed.

“One was to be able to work with artisans and communities that were either disadvantaged, financially,” says Shweyta, or “were working in textile cultures which are being threatened by extinction now due to mechanized, digital printing and more modern techniques of fabric production and printing.”

She was equally clear about the other major thread of her purpose-driven model: “I wanted it to be done in a fourth generation textile printing design community based out of a village investor in India, which has been block printing for generations on fabric.”

“Both of these worlds came together” when she found a “small sewing unit, which was very, very self reliant and independent because it was set up by a woman who really just wanted to do the same, which was to give work to disadvantaged women,” she says.

This culminated in a process that requires Shweyta’s presence in two time zones (primarily through WhatsApp), now that she’s living back in New York with her husband and daughter. She designs all the prints by hand or on her computer; they’re printed out at scale and attached to two pieces of wood back in India, and then replicated for every color needed for that particular print.

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“This is in fact a very, very ancient way of printing fabric but to me it was the best way of representing drawings,” she adds.

Women Helping Women Succeed

In the six years since she launched, Shweyta has maintained the same standards for her garments and the women who craft each one by hand.

“Every unit that we’ve ever worked with has been composed or vetted to make sure that the end artisan is also someone who has undergone training, but is also very, very happy working in the unit, not being exploited,” she says. “It’s fair trade, the unit is well lit and clean; the artisans are being provided for.”

Going back to Shweyta’s original vision, she ensures the artisans are paid for each piece that they make instead of “an assembly line method because then you know they’re not sort of small cogs in the machine, but they are responsible for having created the entire garment from scratch.”

“We also invest back in their children and in their lives by doing this on a day to day basis,” she says, noting that making it to work is not without its challenges “if you’re a woman in that strata of Indian society.”

“Women are not always available to come work because they’ve had a problem at home or they just were not able to walk to work that day or had to stay home to take care of an ailing mother-in-law and things which you know come in the way of your working life,” she says.

The endurance required by all involved is not lost on Shweyta.

“We’re just happy that we’ve been able to keep the business model alive and always have social impact in every little piece that we make.”

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Shweyta has had to learn how to pace herself and stay present in her two different worlds of motherhood and entrepreneurship.

“I try not to push myself too hard,” she says reflecting on how far she’s come since the “initial years trying to set things up and establish everything.”

Shweyta admits to “mom guilt” while not feeling totally present with her daughter.

“We would read at bedtime, but I would still be thinking in my head about my next print that I should line up for the season ahead,” she says.

So she’s started treating her evenings like more of a “9-to-5” and tries “not think about work unless it’s just before a show, we’re rushing a deadline, or things like that.”

“I used to be really, really harsh on myself about trying to get a lot done and this whole philosophy that I’ve literally been brought up with of ‘if you have to do it tomorrow, you do it today; if you have to do today, you do it now,'” she says.

Shweyta cautions other entrepreneurs just starting out to temper their enthusiasm so it doesn’t snowball into martyrdom.

“I know it’s very difficult early on, especially if it’s your passion that you’re transitioning into a profession or if your business is really your baby,” she says. “In that case, ImI know it’s very difficult to draw a line between how much of yourself you want to invest in it.”

“If you’re going to do a lot of it yourself, then you really have to understand that you’re doing four or five different jobs at the same time,” she says, pointing out how long it would take that many people to work together to get a job done.

“If you’re doing it all yourself then give yourself that kind of time,” she says.

Now, when Shweyta finds herself up against a deadline that’s pulling her mentally away from time with her daughter, she takes a different approach.

“So now what I’ll do is I just talk to her about it,” she says. “She has her own inputs. I realized that sharing it with someone is better than actually just ruminating about it in your own head and constantly being obsessed with your work.”

“If you just seek out or find a mentor, or just tell a friend or family, it gives you some sort of a break from the journey, which is really, really hard as somebody starting out,” she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama Maker: Olga, Weaving Together Fashion and Childhood

Growing up in communist Belarus, Olga Jaeckel found respite soaking in vibrant colors at her local museum on Sundays, which were a stark contrast to her restrictive, monotone wardrobe.

“There was no fashion at all,” she says. “We all had to pick one brown dress that we would wear to school every single day.”

Olga’s experiences at the museum opened her eyes to a new world of self-expression, “so when I came to United States, I feel like I had such an appreciation for all of it,” she says.

Now with two sons and a daughter of her own, “all the choices and colors, fabrics and textures” have inspired her to create unique, high-quality clothing that’s able to transition seamlessly between school and special occasions.

Olga didn’t let lack of design experience stop her from launching Little Olin. After taking online classes and talking to friends to get her business off the ground, she subsequently sold out her first collection.

“One thing that I learned growing up is that I never really had much to lose,” she says. “So I’m never afraid to hit the rock bottom because I’ve been there so many times.”

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It Takes a Village

Olga’s journey as an entrepreneur and as a mother are intrinsically linked. Her children have also directly influenced her design choices.

“I don’t think we, as adults, appreciate how much our kids know and understand at this age,” she says. “They have their own styles. They understand more, and in a children’s business they’re going to be the biggest judges of success of the line.”

“My daughter who’s six, she loves it,” says Olga, describing how she comes back from Europe with fabric to show her, sparking a mother-daughter design session.

She even takes sketches to the playground at her children’s school in the Washington, D.C. area, so she can get feedback from the kids and the parents.

“There’s so much overlap,” she says. “This is like the best thing that happened to me as a mom because I feel like my friends, and their children, are part of the process of designing and development and they’re just as invested as I am in different level of course, but it’s super fun. It’s fun to do it together and I love the feedback.”

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Despite growing up in two different worlds, Olga sees a common thread.

“When I look back at my childhood and I look now at my daughter, I feel like she resembles me so much in what she likes and what she likes to wear,” she says.

“Being a mom is the most amazing thing,” she says. “It’s transformed me as a person and made me so much better.”

“As they grow, I grow with them.”

Mama Maker: Dawn, Bringing Our Struggles Out in the Open

In a room full of multitalented women, Dawn Fable was struck when her accomplished friend shared when “things are speeding wildly out of control,” she wished for a tattooed reminder on her wrist to “pause,” during their word-of-the-month club gathering.

“As we went around and we started sharing our words, all of us were really, really, really struggling–whether it was with our marriages, or finances, or issues with our kids, or climbing the corporate ladder, or starting new businesses,” she says.

“But in looking at each of these women, you would have no idea,” she says about her “career-driven, family-oriented” girlfriends who she describes as “beautiful, not only on the exterior, but such cool people on the interior.”

In that moment, Dawn realized she was not alone, after living with generalized anxiety disorder for as long as she could remember, and especially postpartum after the birth of her third child.

“There’s such a stigma around that where, as women, I think we naturally try to do it all,” she says.

“We’re ashamed of feeling anxious, and so often we’re drowning ourselves in bottles of Kim Crawford or sleeping pills,” she says, while “trying to present ourselves as these perfectly put together women.”

Once Dawn swapped her prescription for a CBD regimen, she says “I started shouting from the rooftops to a lot of my girlfriends who were struggling with similar things, and frankly, complete strangers that I would run into.”

As co-founder of the Press Pause Project, Dawn is on a mission to “share and be super transparent about my very personal struggles with anxiety and postpartum,” she says.

“That’s what’s been the most rewarding part of it, is just sharing my personal experiences,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many women have been like, ‘thank you so much, because I’ve felt so alone, and I felt ashamed.'”

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While the Press Pause Project line can be found in yoga and pilates studios, clothing stores and boutique hotels, Dawn says that most of their business comes directly through online orders.

“I can always tell when people are gathered together over the holidays, or in a big group for something, because all of a sudden, we see this influx of orders,” she says.

The word-of-mouth momentum could also be attributed to quality, given that Dawn and her co-founder Torrey Benson are rigorous about “third party testing and manufacturing practices.” She adds that there are “companies out there that just aren’t doing the right thing for the industry,” as voiced by the FDA recently.

Ultimately, their goal is to give women “permission to press pause.” One of the first steps along the way is to “stop the whispering or shame around anxiety,” she says.

As a result of sharing her own experience and encouraging others to do the same, Dawn is beginning to see a shift in how open women are about what we’re struggling with.

“It’s just become this very cool time where women are feeling more vulnerable and they’re allowing themselves to not be perfect all the time.”

Mama Shaker: Nicole, Guiding the Way to a Sweet Family Life

Nicole Seawell was a high-achieving attorney when her first baby plotted his own course by arriving three weeks early. Now with three teenage boys, she’s learned how to navigate the unique personalities within her family, channel her peak productivity, and ultimately guide others to do the same.

“My professional life kind of went topsy turvy,” she says about her jolting start to motherhood. “I didn’t value the supporting role enough. Once I did, I realized I’m actually excellent at supporting others to get done what they want to, and that has taken me from a good attorney to a great one.”

Nicole found her sweet spot when she “worked one leg in the business world and one leg in the legal world,” because she liked the fast pace of business.

“Where I found my special power was being able to be in both worlds,” she says.

“I was born under a productive star,” says Nicole, adding that she’s been told by Tibetan monks and Guatemalan ancient women that “I have a way of tuning into my ancestors’ wisdom and youth energy.”

“I’m able to see the path forward in any situation.”

Today, that means weaving together her work as an attorney with her husband’s law firm and her coaching business, Sailor’s Sweet Life, which is named after her golden retriever.

“I can’t have a more supportive partner in my legal work than the father of my children and my co-creator in life,” she says.

The ability to tap into prime opportunities for creativity and productivity has also helped Nicole’s coaching clients. In fact, she’s learned it’s not about dramatic, sweeping changes.

“Really what they’re looking for is helpful tweaks,” she says. “Inherently they are them, and they want to stay that way, but they want to be a more productive, more enjoyable version of themselves.”

It Takes a Village

At the root of Nicole’s mission to help families maximize joy and decrease stress are tools like Enneagram to learn about the unique personalities that can form our families and support systems.

“Ninety percent of the time you have good intention by people,” she says. Instead, “it’s miscommunication; people speak to one another like they’re speaking to themselves” that causes tension and stress within a family.

“There’s no better way than honoring each other by speaking to that person or acting with that person the way they want to be treated,” she says.

For Nicole, learning about her sons’ different personality types has been a game-changer.

She recalls feeling frustrated, thinking at the time, “I don’t understand, I’m doing the same thing” as a parent, until she realized, “they’re three different people.”

“It was like a light shone upon our family and so much stress disappeared,” she says.

As a fellow fast-talker, I found my conversation with Nicole energizing. But with her boys she’s learned to change her cadence and count in her head to give her son 20 seconds to respond.

“So much with teenagers is letting them talk when they want to,” she says.

Even so, Nicole believes that every stage of parenting comes with its own challenges. She believes the “enjoy every minute, it goes so fast” reminder commonly dished out to parents of young children is “cruel advice.”

“It is magical, but it’s absolutely exhausting,” she recalls.

And if you don’t love every stage of parenting, Nicole doesn’t believe that mom guilt is necessary either.

“Spare yourself all of that and be your own champion by arming yourself with tools that help you get through it,” she says.

“Along that whole spectrum, if you know you and if you’re doing this with someone else and you know them, this can be so much more of an enjoyable journey.”

As an achiever married to a perfectionist, Nicole and her husband took the time to learn about each other’s personalities and communication styles.

“We conscientiously–when they were real little–figured out how we work well together and how to honor that,” she says. “I can see when I trigger him and he can see when he triggers me, and then as your kids grow you can pull them into the fold.”

She also believes this insight can be applied to other caregivers and extended members of the family.

“Our mentors, our people who teach us, are all over the place in our lives, so being open to that is really important,” she says.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Self-care as a goal can feel intimidating until you know yourself and “what feeds your soul,” says Nicole.

“I love being in nature and that’s one of my coaching principles to reset the heart and reset the mind, but also to open us up to creativity,” she says.

Nicole takes a “brisk walk” early each morning and in the evening with Sailor, no matter what the weather brings in her home of Colorado.

“Unbelievable solutions come and brainstorming that you didn’t think was possible,” she says about recommending afternoon walks to her clients.

She incorporates the “science of timing” in her practice and to plan out her day, based on the book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink.

“On the whole, the way that the world operates and the way that the majority of humans do is that you have an uptick of analytical activities first thing in the day,” she describes.

“There’s a slump that we all kind of recognize around lunchtime.”

According to statistics, more mistakes are made in mid-day surgery, and “judges are more cantankerous, less likely to be compassionate in the afternoon,” says Nicole.

“Afternoon is good for creative, restorative activity, quiet work, collaborative work,” she says.

As a parent who experiences the daily “witching hour” with my boys, I wasn’t surprised to learn that around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., we all get an energy uptick.

Fortunately for Nicole, she has plenty of it to go around, which she channels into “nourishing” her teenagers after school and at dinner time.

While the path through each stage of motherhood looks a little different, Nicole believes that there’s wisdom to be gained along the journey.

“This is an amazing set of skills and experiences that you’re having,” she says about parenting young children.

“It won’t be forever but put that framing on the whole ride–that you’re an amazing supporter–and you’ll have so many wonderful opportunities.”

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: Sarah, Unleashing Extreme You

During Sarah Robb O’Hagan’s ascent running brands like Virgin, Nike, and Gatorade, she learned there’s no time like the present to push the limits of what you’re capable of.

“Life is too short to put your potential on hold,” says Sarah. “It is for sure a lot of work to balance parenting and career — and only you can set an agenda that meets your own level of energy.”

Her message arrived at the very moment I needed to hear it. The last few weeks have served up a heaping dose of FOMO mixed with a cocktail of close calls that quickly put things in perspective.

Sarah and the fellow “Extremers” she writes about in her book, Extreme You: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat, are living proof that you can aim high, stumble, and reinvent yourself–in many cases while embracing the messiness of parenthood.

“There are times in parenting when the sheer exhaustion of it means that being your best self is just totally indulging in time with your kids,” she says. “There are other times when you have the energy to set new goals for yourself and share with your kids what you are achieving in your life.”

In her book, Sarah recounts how Laura Wolf Stein elegantly described her drive surrounding career, family, fitness goals and other passions as “cylinders” that “often fire separately, not all at once.”

By doing so, Laura allowed herself to stay fully present during maternity leave, and later to not feel guilty if one night she missed her kids’ bedtimes because she’d “get to binge on them all weekend long.”

It Takes a Village

While interviewing with Gatorade, Sarah discovered she was pregnant with her third child. To her surprise, her soon-to-be boss, PepsiCo CEO Massimo D’Amore, welcomed the mother-to-be with open arms. She eventually went into early labor, just as she was putting the finishing touches on a rebrand that would kick up again during maternity leave. Sarah ultimately saved the brand from peril through a Jerry Maguire-like maneuver chronicled in Fast Company.

The parallels between parenting, leadership and endurance training are not lost on her.

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“Parenting and families in general are a team sport,” says Sarah. “There is so much to be gained by surrounding yourself with others that can partner with you just as you support them. That’s the way to raise a great family.”

She shares the stories of Alli Webb, founder of Dry Bar, and national news correspondent Janet Shamlian, who kept their passions alive while staying home with their kids by taking incremental steps toward their goals. For Alli, it meant perfecting her craft by making house calls and taking a cue from her parents’ retail prowess. Janet started by watching and critiquing the news from her kitchen, then traveling to cover stories for days or weeks at a time, later enduring a cross-country commute, and finally landing her dream gig filming from her home base.

Whether or not your ambitions are career-related, Sarah believes every parent can tap into their potential–and in the process–inspire their kids to do the same.

“There are so many opportunities to take on responsibilities that stretch you and give you new skills,” she says. “Maybe it’s volunteering at an event at your child’s school. Maybe it’s picking up a musical instrument that you always wanted to play. Or maybe it’s getting the whole family involved in an activity you’ve never tried.”

“Just try something new. Along the way you might learn about some new aspects of yourself that you want to develop more.”

For Sarah, it meant finally venturing off on her own and building the Extreme You brand from scratch.

“My kids have really unleashed in me a desire to not be complacent, to keep learning and growing and to get out of my comfort zone — just like I ask of them!”

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“I have come to learn that the most important thing I can be is a role model for my kids,” says Sarah. “I dealt with a lot of ‘mommy guilt’ when I first became a parent. Through the mentoring of other moms, I learned that the best thing you can give your kids is the example of you just loving what you do in your life and work.”

I know I’m not the only parent of young children who mentally puts their bucket list on hold while changing diapers and making chicken nuggets on rotation. So how do we move past guilt as one of the obstacles to living up to our potential, now?

“The way to get over mom guilt is by recognizing that the best parent is the parent who is thriving in their own life,” says Sarah.

“Guilt is a wasted emotion. Most people who are in their later years have more regret for what they did not do in their lives–to assuage their guilt–than the times they chose to pursue the things they cared about.”

I recently heard this same sentiment from Ric Elias, a passenger of the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight in the moments that he thought would be his last, and again from Alison Hadden who’s championing her “No Time to Waste Project” following an advanced breast cancer diagnosis at 38 years old.

“Most importantly — you only have one life,” says Sarah. “Allowing your kids to see you thriving and living to your potential is the best thing you can do for them.”

 

 

Mama Maker: Meghan, Using Creativity to Heal and Help Women Shine

The ebb and flow of creative expression in Meghan’s life reached a crescendo when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“My mom and I have always been very, very close,” she says, describing how their relationship had grown even stronger when she moved back to her hometown of Sonoma, and they starting seeing each other every day.

“To have my mom vulnerable was extremely difficult,” Meghan says.

“I used jewelry to channel my emotions,” she says. “I was able to do something that I enjoyed doing and that made me feel better about all the other craziness that was going on in my life.”

Her emerging jewelry line, Meghan Bo Designs, was starting to gain momentum while she juggled work as a part-time corporate recruiter, and two young kids.

“It was at a time when all of a sudden my business was picking up and I had to figure out–okay, I know I need to deal with my emotions and not push them away,” she says.

“It was a really tough time and having something to preoccupy my time was helpful,” Meghan says. “At least if I was sitting there crying I could make jewelry.”

“I get so emotional just thinking about anybody going through a parent being sick,” she says.

Women Helping Women

Meghan instinctively thinks about helping others, even in the midst of her own challenges. Her coworker at Google lost one of her twins to Leukemia, two days after Meghan had her first son 5-weeks premature and “was working through the emotions of having a preemie” in the NICU.

She later had to spend a week in a children’s hospital with one of her boys. And yet, it all fuels her desire to do more.

“I’ve always had empathy for other people, but when you see a parent going through having a child that’s sick, there’s nothing that I can imagine worse.”

Meghan started working with Unravel Pediatric Cancer–and makes a special necklace or bracelet each year for Unravel’s warrior moms.

The inspiration for Meghan Bo Designs stemmed from a need to make herself–and therefore other women too–feel a little better during the daily grind.

“I had two little kids, I was working from home, and I was running around all day trying to get it all done,” she says.

“I felt kind of frumpy and icky about myself,” she says about her rotation of gym clothes and dry-shampooed hair, which any mom can relate to.

“I’m going to put some jewelry on because it makes me feel better about myself,” Meghan told herself and suddenly she had a business idea that would separate her from the other Etsy shops.

“I wanted to make jewelry that you can wear with jeans and a t-shirt, or you can dress up–it can go both ways–and it’s affordable,” she says.

Her “athleisure” inspired jewelry is for any woman who “wants to elevate their look everyday” whether they work in an office, work from home, or they’re doing carpool and errands.

“They can throw on like two bracelets and instantly feel more put together than they did before,” says Meghan.

Sometimes that means glamorous Instagram influencers and oftentimes its busy moms like myself who are lucky to get a shower in.

Making jewelry satisfied a “creative craving” that was ever-present in Meghan’s life.

“I had always been into beads–I forgot–when I was younger too,” she says. “I had this huge bead collection. I used to make all sorts of things and sell them.”

“I’ve always had that creative bug,” she says. “When chalk paint first came out I literally painted every piece of furniture in my house.”

Meghan remembers living in a college apartment behind the sorority house we both belonged to at the time in Chico, and painting her room violet, when most college students were occupied by other things.

“So I have that addiction to arts and crafts,” she says. “If I find something that I like, I’ll research it, figure out how to do it, and then literally paint my whole house.”

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It Takes a Village

Meghan’s business is “a family affair” with her mom helping ship packages, and her husband and kids pitching in when she has a show or large order.

She recently hired a couple of moms to help with production, in her home studio, during nap time or whenever it’s convenient for them.

“I really like the idea of supporting other women,” Meghan says, noting the flexibility required for mothers and that things are constantly in a state of flux.

“As my kids have gotten older, and now that they’re both in elementary school, I can take more on without that guilt that every mom feels no matter what stage you’re kids are at,” Megan says.

“Every year, especially with two, there’s a new challenge.”

She’s raising her sons to believe that when times get tough, they’ll “put their heads down” and get through it.

For Meghan, that means she’ll keep making jewelry no matter what life throws her way.

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.’ ”

 

Finding Our Way with Food Allergies

It’s taken six months to finally accept that this chaotic chapter of parenting doesn’t have the typical story arc–that it may never come to an end. But hearing from others who’ve been through hell and back with their own families’ challenges reminds me how important it is to share our stories with each other.

We’re juggling a mix of overwhelming knowns and unknowns, like anyone with food allergies. In many ways we’re very lucky, but that doesn’t prevent the ever-present feeling of dread when anything made out of peanuts, eggs or milk are being consumed in the same room, smeared across hands and mouths, dropped on the floor, or left in the sink.

It started in March, when we took a terrifying trip to the ER covered in vomit, after our hive-riddled 9-month-old ate a minuscule amount of peanut powder a couple of hours earlier. Ironically, what was intended to be an “introduction” to prevent the allergy is exactly what made its presence known. We weren’t properly educated about introducing allergens when your child has moderate eczema, like many babies do, or that doing so in a doctor’s office was an option.

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Haunted but stoic after spending our Friday night in the hospital, we armed ourselves with highly coveted Epi and AUVI-Q pens and slowly recovered from the emotional hangover of our baby’s anaphylactic episode. I flocked to Facebook groups looking for answers and camaraderie, like many food allergy moms do.

Thirty painstaking days later, we finally got in to see an allergist and got our first dose of the ambiguity that comes with diagnosing food allergies. Skin testing, which involves a grid of needle pricks on your baby’s tiny back–which you must hold flat for 15 minutes–revealed not just peanut, but milk, egg, and possibly cashew and pistachio. (This is a short list, compared to many other families.)

Follow-up blood tests could indicate the potential for tolerating an oral challenge of baked milk and egg, but bloodwork is even more rife with false positives than skin testing. Not to mention the trauma of trying to have blood drawn from the tiny, vanishing veins in your baby’s chubby little arm without success–which happened to us more times than I care to remember.

The prospect of transitioning to finger foods and finding a substitute for milk-filled sippy cups at 12 months felt overwhelming, so we turned to a pediatric gastroenterologist and nutritionist with mixed results. Under our allergists’ guidance, we continued introducing all the allergens that we tested negative for, one at a time, holding our breath with each new addition.

After learning about the nutritional deficiencies that milk-allergy infants and toddlers are susceptible to, we came up with a Google spreadsheet that left no stone unturned. We track every serving, every food group, every ounce of hypoallergenic formula and every critical nutrient’s daily recommended intake and tolerable upper limit.

The menu changes every week as our now 15-month-old (and I) get more adventurous. We’re still combining fruit, veggie, meat and grain purees with healthy fats like olive oil, batch-tested salmon, almond butter and coconut milk yogurt that don’t have “shared lines” with any of our other allergens–all which help make up for the surprising variety of essential vitamins and minerals (like iodine) that can only be found in cow’s milk.

Every day includes vitamin D and DHA drops, fortified baby oatmeal for breakfast, a potassium-rich banana, and calcium-enriched animal crackers (yep, the century-old classic) which we try, unsuccessfully, to keep off the floor. But we’re very proud that thanks to all the hard work, we get to squeeze a chubby toddler belly and thunder thighs.

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When we finally regained enough confidence to leave the kids home for a quick overnight trip, it was a foreign experience to not constantly race through a mental checklist around the clock.

I still diligently wash my hands after eating anything made with mayonnaise or dairy products, and shudder at the idea of peanuts anywhere in the house. I’m still wary of high chairs in restaurants and swings in the park. We prepare three different dinners, which is another story in itself.

I can’t imagine sending our little guy away from our safeguarded cocoon out into the world, but seeing moms do it every day gives me courage.

As years are layered upon the hearty foundation we’ve established in this first six months, I know from experience it will get easier.