The launch of this company is a dream 5 years in the making. The dream began with my entry into motherhood, so I want to share that story with you.
But Totum is as much about you as it is me. I wouldn’t be starting this if I hadn’t heard from scores of women who “admitted” their trials during their sacred passage into motherhood. Over the coming weeks and months, you’ll be hearing from women from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and points of view. I want to hear your story, too so I hope you’ll be in touch on Instagram or by email.
Mine is a story about the identity-based, physical and emotional challenges I faced when entering motherhood and how those challenges felt particularly lonely because help and resources either weren’t there, didn’t get me, or weren’t effective. I’m a huge lover of women and think we’re sensational, miraculous, endlessly capable creatures. I think we deserve a means to serve each other better, and my story is the foundation of why I’ve come to that conclusion.
Before I became pregnant, I didn’t think much about pregnancy or babies. I wasn’t the babysitting type, and I definitely wasn’t watching my biological clock. Having grown up in a small town in the rust belt of Ohio but traveling around the world with my mom, I had big dreams and was eager to experience life beyond my hometown borders.
When I did become pregnant in my early thirties, I surprised myself by becoming a bit of a hippie when it came to childbirth. I started reading everything I could and gained a lot of wisdom from girlfriends who’d given birth naturally. Our son George was born naturally on July 6, 2012. After a totally unmedicated labor, George actually crawled up my belly and started nursing right after he came into the world. I couldn’t make that up. The whole birth experience was beyond empowering and even made my husband look at me in a whole new light of reverence (ok, for like 48 hours).
It was after I gave birth to George that I started encountering the most fierce emotions and physical sensations of my life. My love for him absolutely overwhelmed me, altered me forever. I suddenly felt like my entire purpose in life was to be his mother. It was all I wanted to do, and I started having visions of having 5 more babies right after him, back to back (even though I was way too old for this to be a reality, and it was probably the result of a hormone-induced trip). The experience was awesome but also really confused me at an identity level.
This was in 2012, and the Lean In movement was beginning. While I fully respect what Sheryl Sandberg has created and the intention behind it, I made the whole thing mean that I was failing as a woman if I decided to focus on my new child instead of my career. At the time, I was on maternity leave from Indiegogo, a startup I’d joined with just the founders and two other people. I was in charge of business development and business affairs, and I was very close with the CEO. He called me during maternity leave and offered me an opportunity to take on even more responsibility for a very senior, potentially C-level position. This was at a time when the company had received robust venture funding and was growing to nearly 100 employees.
I was honored, and frankly, like most women who add so much value to the work place, I deserved the promotion. So from that standpoint, I appreciate the whole Lean In philosophy. However, the bigger instinct guiding me was that I wanted to Lean All the Way Out. Here was my first born son, looking up at me adoringly with big brown eyes, and for the first time in my life, I felt needed in a way that was entirely in line with how I wanted to be spending my time.
In short, while I wanted to please our CEO and to make good on the financial investment and hard work I’d put into my career to this point, everything in me was telling me not to go back to work. My greatest instinct was to sit out a season and unfold into the role of mother.
I ultimately didn’t have the self-confidence to trust my instinct. While I was in Canada with George visiting my best friend and her family, my husband thought he was helping me by hiring a nanny. He picked me up from the airport upon my return and told me the “good news” that he was pretty sure he’d found the woman who would make a great nanny for George. I dissolved into tears. Just couldn’t help it. I told him that I felt like he’d just made the first moves to subcontract out the best part of my life. If I’d known then what I know now, I really think I would have approached the whole thing differently and just stood in my truth that I wanted to be a full time mom for the first year of our son’s life.
I went back to work at Indiegogo when George was 3 months old. I cried a lot. I’ll never forget the first day I pulled out of the driveway and pretended to pull it together. I was barely ok. At work, I again donned the characteristics that had worked for me before entering into motherhood. Specifically, I reverted to being stoic, strategic, direct and committed to the concerns of the fellow members of our management team.
In my first weeks back, I had to co-head a meeting on our vision for partnerships. I sat in a San Francisco conference room for 5 hours, my boobs bursting with milk, too afraid and ashamed to excuse myself to pump. When I finally did, I felt physical relief, but I also felt rushed and ashamed, letting down colleagues more than milk.
As milk pumped out of my nipples and into plastic bags to the machine’s rhythmic “neee-puuul” sound, I was hit with a sudden, crippling message: “Erin, you cannot have it all. Succeed at one thing: work or motherhood. Choose.”
Over the coming months, that feeling intensified as I saw my milk supply dwindle severely. I went from pumping up to 5 ounces on each side to eking out 2 ounces at each session. Likely it was due to my stress levels, living more in my male polarity back at work and my rookie “failure” at pumping on schedule.
It was from this experience -- and a nasty bout with mastitis -- that I began my search for a food that would satisfy my new craving for sweets, help make me feel full and comforted (I was STARVING while breastfeeding -- can I get an “Amen”?) and maybe help with milk production. During that search, I learned about lactation cookies and teas, but the cookies and bars on the market just didn’t taste good to me. And I didn’t find that they performed.
It was on a visit to my husband’s uncle Robert Mann, former COO of Mrs. Field’s, that we created the recipe for our cookies. I loved how they stayed soft, were full of natural, wholesome ingredients, filled me up between meals and just tasted awesome! And I noticed that my milk production started to soar again. Truly, these cookies helped me reach my goal of exclusive breastmilk for George until he was over 6 months old. And my friends, baby group moms, colleagues and neighbors reported the same results, too. Women were urging me to go into business.
You may be afraid to eat a cookie with the intense pressure to “get your body back” after baby. There’s a lot to say about that, but I will share that the cookies absolutely did not make me gain weight, and I quickly got into my pre-baby clothes and wellness routines while feeling satisfied and whole.
Even though it’s taken me 5 years and 2 more babies to bring this brand and this first product to you, I can absolutely say that the journey I’ve been on has opened my eyes. The relationships and experiences of people I’ve met through work, our lovely nanny (my husband DID end up finding the perfect woman to help our family through this transition), and the experiences I’ve had are making this launch much richer than it could have been in 2012.
Sparing you all the details of my working mom life, it’s worth mentioning that I’ve truly tried every configuration: working full time in a senior position; full-time mom; part-time mom with working hours in the office; and part-time mom with working hours at home. No solution has been perfect, and I’ve found that no matter what, the role of CEO of the family almost always defaults to the woman.
But you know what: it’s because women are awesome. It’s because we can and do do it all. In many cases, we’re as ambitious about our careers as we are our need to nurture and serve. So we each determine a path to make it work. As the 80+ year old Italian man at our eponymous local market Guidi Marcello said to me about a week before I gave birth to George, “Women are better people. They just are.”
It’s with great love and reverence that I offer this brand and our first products to the finest people I’ve met: women traveling through motherhood.
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