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 Maker: Elizabeth, Embracing Imperfection and Support Through Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It Takes a Village

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

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

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

“How are people finding their tribes and support?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

 

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.”

Winter-Ready Gifts for Working Mamas

‘Tis the season for baby announcements. So what do you get for the working mamas on your list?

How about something soft, warm–and most importantly–practical, from mompreneurs who’ve been in the same shoes…

The team at Bloomingdale’s helped me highlight brands created by mama makers, some of which are featured below. (Clicking on the photos takes you to Bloomingdales.com, using affiliate links, where you can shop online through Dec 21 12pm EST and choose express shipping at checkout to receive your order by Dec 25.)

San Francisco-based Ingrid & Isabel makes super soft and flattering maternity wear (in fact, I’m still wearing the mama-led brand’s cowl neck sweaters well beyond my basketball-belly pregnancy). It’s evident that founder Ingrid Carney knows what matters to busy mamas: this Maternity Nursing Wrap Cardigan ($88) does double duty and is machine washable.

What’s cuter than a baby adorned in an animal-ear hoodie? LIVLY makes this Unisex Hooded Cardigan with Bunny Ears ($58) and other dreamy baby clothes out of Stockholm. The brand was created when founder Lisa Carrol had premature twins whose delicate skin called for the softest cotton she could find, ultimately leading her to Peru for its signature Pima.

Speaking of Pima, Kissy Kissy has been in the baby business since 1996, when its Peruvian-born founder, Roxana Castillo, sought out the softest pajamas possible for her grandson. The brand is widely celebrated for its jammies, like this Unisex Moon-Print Footie ($36) — and donates clothing and fabric to six women and children’s charities.

Based in Utah, Freshly Picked was started by Shark Tank alum Susan Petersen, known for setting the baby moccasin world on fire. Working mamas can be interchangeably office- and weekend-ready with this Faux Leather Diaper Bag ($175).

I’m going to assume I’m not the only working mama that still has a long list of holiday shopping to do. For more ideas and inspiration, check out Gifts for the Tired Mama and Mama Makers from Head to Toe.

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!

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 Maker: Manisha of Playfully

When Manisha Shah started taking her premature baby–born at 28 weeks–to see an occupational therapist, her eyes were opened to the importance of play.

“A few minutes with her was so transformational.”

As the therapist played games with Manisha’s daughter, she would explain how one action leads to another. Early smiles pave the way for emotional expression. Hand gestures during songs matter.

“In three sentences, she had completely changed how I interpreted what my daughter was doing,” she says.

Manisha says it was then that she realized there are people out there that have this knowledge, that work with kids day in and day out, and yet “the only reason we got access to it is because we were in this special situation.”

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She began thinking about how to make it accessible to other parents. Her “aha moment” eventually led to the creation of Playfully, an app that helps parents connect the dots between playtime, milestones and development.

Inspired by apps like Headspace, Manisha tapped her software development background and assembled a team of advisors to create “little lessons in the moment that you need it.”

“We give you five activity ideas that you can play and some of them are going to be things that you’ve probably done before, or heard of before. And some of them will feel new and different,” she says.

The app is accompanied by personalized emails for each child. For example, this week’s message explained the significance of my nearly 3-year-old son reciting books from memory, like when he recently wowed me with all the words to Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.

Women Helping Women Succeed

“I’m the kind of person that likes guidance before jumping in,” says Manisha. “I enjoy people explaining things to me and showing me the way.”

And she pays it forward. In fact, Manisha reached out to me to offer support after I posted in a moms group we’re both part of about having a late pre-term infant. (When I downloaded the app for the first time, it even adjusted my son’s current and upcoming milestones based on his due date, to better match his early arrival.)

It’s no surprise that Manisha pioneered a maternity leave policy at the company she worked for before starting Playfully. But what impressed me most of all, is that she continued working remotely while her daughter was in the NICU–spending mornings at the hospital two time zones ahead of her colleagues, then returning home to work at lunchtime.

“It gave me a little bit of community during that time,” she says. “Like a little bit of normalcy in what was such a crazy time. So it actually ended up being helpful.”

A similar spirit is demonstrated by the team of experts she’s assembled. As moms themselves in most cases, they even offered to help while she went back out on maternity leave again earlier this year.

“They not only bring their professional expertise to this, they’re also thinking about it from a parent lens, which makes a big difference.”

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

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Manisha says she never imagined she would become an entrepreneur. Now that she’s a mother of two, she’s finding that the more fluid schedule suits her.

“I feel like I’ve been lucky that I’ve done this in this phase of my life, even though it is hard to be doing something on your own,” she says. “The flip side is you have so much flexibility. So I could really craft something that felt right for for me and my family.”

This includes driving her almost 4-year-old daughter to school, and then returning home to her dining room to begin working while her nanny watches her son.

A typical workday involves “juggling between coding and email and customer support, and just doing a little bit of content planning,” social media–and of course, taking breaks to play with her son.

Later in the day, Manisha carves out time for her daughter, “usually from the time that she’s leaving her school until her bedtime. It’s all about getting the family through the routine.”

Manisha wants other busy parents to know that the time they spend interacting with their kids each day has meaning, no matter how short on time they are.

“You still are putting into practice, probably, a lot of the stuff we have in Playfully.”

So next time you sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or play Peekaboo after a long workday, rest assured you’re helping your child reach their next milestone.

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.”