I have long been fascinated by the different ways that women, especially mothers, make decisions for themselves and their families about their work and home life. Equally curious is how their choices actually play out in the day to day, because there are so many ways to make it work.
The BoldHeartMama Storytelling Series offers a peek into the lives of mothers from all over, and highlights their unique BoldHeart stories, from struggles to triumphs in work and mothering and life.
Melissa Yeager, Richmond Virginia
Melissa Yeager, 39, is an immigrant to the United States from the United Kingdom and received her citizenship just this past summer. She came here in 2007, met her husband Sean soon after, and their three boys David (6), Henry (4), and Peter (2) followed in quick succession. A former history professor profoundly changed by motherhood she become a birth doula in 2011 and a lactation educator in 2014. She currently owns Open Arms Birth Collective, and is on a path to become a homebirth midwife.
The labels of "work" that we use to define ourselves in motherhood can be telling. I can relate to the fact that you are a part-time student and co-owner of a birth services business—by all accounts a working mama—yet you call yourself a stay at home mom who also owns a business. Can you share some about your work and your thinking on this?
I am a stay at home mom but I also own a business, Open Arms Birth Collective, with two friends, offering doula services as well as pretty much everything birth related you can think of from childbirth education through prenatal massage and herbal support.
I think of myself as primarily a stay at home mom because that is my main focus most of the time. The vast majority of the waking day I am with my children—at least some of them. I fit in work and school around their needs for the most part. I am also aware of the privilege of this choice and that not everyone who wants to make it can make it, and it seems important to acknowledge that.
What factors went into your decision to pursue mothering and professional work and when did you know it was the right decision for your family?
Did you have to let go of anything in order to reach this place?
I definitely had to let go of my academic ambitions, especially writing, and the prestige that goes along with being a (just) tenured professor. However, I still teach—which I love—and I still have ambitions. They are just different.
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do differently?
Not a thing. Going back to work when David was tiny was really hard, but it also cemented for me, and for my husband and I as a partnership, that staying at home was the right choice. Birth work involves a lot of challenges for our family, especially being on call and tied to my phone and the city, but it is incredibly fulfilling and my children see that.
How do you make your days work for you?
Usually we have a pretty strict routine at home, one that grew out of the patterns the boys fell into as they grew. We learned that trying to change it hurts everyone! Now that the boys are a little older though, they can be more flexible, and they are used to Grandma being here when they wake up or a friend picking them up from school if I am at a birth. My incredible mother-in-law makes it possible for me to do on-call birth work by looking after my boys when I need to go, and I have also been part of a birth-worker babysitting co-op. This combination has pretty much eliminated the stress of birth work related childcare. We have welcomed friends' children into our home at 5am as a sister doula has gone to work, and we have dropped off our own kids the same way. I actually love that most women labour in the wee small hours, because then I can be gone after my children's bedtime and home before they wake. We have also found it important to schedule in months when I am not on call, to plan any time off well in advance, and to keep everyone really closely in the loop at all times.
|In the moment: love and light and dutch baby pancakes|
What is your sense of purpose right now?
Synchronicity relates to the meaningful coincidences that happen in our lives—those seemingly random events that you can’t foresee, but that make total sense in hindsight—and that serve to tell us something or to point us in a new direction. What role has synchronicity played in your journey of professional work and motherhood?
What are some of the fears or worries that you feel in your life and how do you overcome them?
I experienced my greatest fear this year, when I lost a baby girl, Gracie, at 12 weeks gestation. I had always thought that was a loss I would not be able to endure. But it turned out that there was no choice other than to endure, because I have these three other babies who need me. I also have a wonderful family and incredible friends who together held me up until I could stand again. Like most parents, I fear sometimes that my parenting is not good enough—that I yell too much or look at my phone too much or fail to have the same intensity of parenting with my second and third children as I was able to give my first when he was the only one. I remind myself often that 'perfect is the enemy of done', that I am one human, that my kids all know they are loved. They are fed and clothed and secure and read to and booted to the back yard to make mud pies by themselves while I make supper in the blissful silence.
What’s your best advice for another mama out there who may be in your shoes?
As much as I hated to hear it when my first was tiny, this time does flash by. There is no holding on to it or slowing it down. You do not have to relish every moment, but noticing and calling out the moments of joy, or hilarity, or sweetness brings them into relief against the mundane repetition and hard hard work of parenting.
Name three ways you take care of yourself on a regular basis:
1. I plod step by step along the path to my dream. This may not sound like self care, but for me, having a plan for the future and using the intellectual, academic part of my brain is essential for sanity.
2. Regular outside time is necessary for me—sometimes that means running, sometimes walking, sometimes sitting somewhere beautiful while my children play.
3. Alone time in silence is also absolutely crucial. Often with a novel and a cup of tea.
How do you find balance in the context of your future career aspirations and mothering, your primary sense of purpose?
These so intense, so often hard, so all-consuming and so sweet and fulfilling years at home with small children will end up being maybe one eighth of my whole life. I am privileged to have them and I choose to enjoy them. That doesn't mean that it doesn't sometimes drive me absolutely bonkers. Enforcing simultaneous naps/quiet time for all three kids each day, protecting a little alone time on weekends (even my kids call it 'Mummy's sanity time'), and proceeding slowly along my chosen path all help me to stay sane in the face of the six year old's ferocious questions, the four year old's control freakery and bizarre sense of time, and the two year old's emerging tantrum mastery.
My mantra right now is 'One Damn Thing at a Time', even if that means ruthlessly compartmentalising where I focus my energy: 30 mins homework, 30 mins laundry, 30 mins building epic train track, and not necessarily in that order. As I move through all the phases needed to reach my formal midwifery practice, things will have to shift, juggling balls will have to be picked up and put down in different orders. But the timing of my school and life plan is such that by the time I get there, my children's need for me will be less all-consuming. And they will see me striding off to an incredible, fulfilling calling.
What does the phrase intentional mothering mean to you, and share two ways that you feel you are successful in this way?
|Melissa and her three darling boys|
Think about the last class/workshop/or opportunity that you took to teach yourself something you really wanted to know more about. What was the topic and what did you learn?
I just took 'Acupressure for Birth Attendants' with Keith Bell, which was a wonderful, mind-stretching class. One of the most extraordinary things I learned was the way in which many of the things we instinctively do and touch as doulas have importance in the energy pathways of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
How has time changed your mothering?
I joke that with every baby, you are forced to lower your standards. This is funny because it's true, but I would phrase it differently now. I am more relaxed, more able to let go of the small stuff and focus on what is important—even to be late on occasion! Time has also let me integrate my mothering more and more into my wonderful community. When I need help, I ask for it, which I had a difficult time doing before. It is totally possible to do this alone, but it is oh so much more warm and wonderful to do it together.
What role does your partner play in your BoldHeartLife?
Our partnership is the pivot of our family. If we are not strong, everything is at risk. Sean is my rock and my inspiration, my sounding board and my safe space, my tether to earth and my launching pad to my dreams. Talking through my ideas with him has been so important to figuring out who and what I want to be. There's a Cowboy Junkies lyric that sums it up: '...In the storm, you are my destination; in the port, you are my storm.'
What role does nature and time spent out of doors play into your experience as a mother?
We spend time out of doors every day, whether it's a playground or a walk or bike ride or just the back yard. I love how imaginative their play is, and how, now that they are older, they will go off and play by themselves and just come back to check in from time to time. Too, outside time has been the cementing of the community I talked about before. The hours sat around a picnic table talking over one another's glories and woes, periodically interrupted to count heads, dispense snacks, kiss boo boos and cheer new climbing skills have shaped me as a mother. I remember feeling pretty desolate at the realisation that this aspect of parenting—playground sisterhood—would be fleeting. Time spent out of doors is most often where I notice the wonder—right now, the low, late afternoon light on the ridiculously beautiful trees, for example. Those moments of awe and wonder, which I always think of (even though I am not religious) as moments of Grace, fill me up with something that is completely necessary to my being. I try to encourage my children to witness these moments too and it fills me with joy when they point out something that has moved them. Even when it's a dead wasp: 'oh look Mummy! Isn't it beautiful?!'
|Family time in Nature ❤|
Share an example of a time when you let your BoldHeart drive your decision making. What happened?
Right now I am driving a grass-roots movement to protect Planned Parenthood in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. I floated an idea, initially just that women could consider moving their Well Woman Care (annual exams for cervical cancer for example) to Planned Parenthood, so that private and insurance dollars could be used to subsidise care for those who cannot pay. A friend connected me with the CEO of Planned Parenthood RVA, Paulette McElwain, and I learned that here in town, Planned Parenthood (PP) offers not only Well Woman care, but Primary Care more generally—and for everyone, including our trans brothers and sisters. I made posts about this idea in various places and, in Richmond at least, the idea has really taken off. People are transferring their care and making appointments to see the wonderful primary care doctor at PP, Dr Carter. The funds that will come in from this movement will, I hope, bolster and protect Planned Parenthood against the attacks expected from the new administration, as well as sending a clear message of support and solidarity from the community. The idea is being picked up and spread by others, and people outside Virginia are starting to investigate whether their own local PPs would welcome and benefit from a similar movement. I've learned a lot about the power of a simple idea, the importance of finding the right place in which to voice it, the advantage of useful connections and the incredible amplifying power of social media.
For those who are local and interested in switching their well-woman care to Planned Parenthood, or in expressing support for this movement, what are some first steps they can take?
1. They can donate money here.
2. They can book an appointment with Dr Carter for primary care here, and planned parenthood staff will talk them through the process of getting records send from a current PCP if they transfer care.
|Marching together in Richmond Virginia|
In light of all that is happening politically right now in the United States, I'm wondering if there is anything you'd like to share about the current turn of events here and abroad in the context of your experience as a newly minted American citizen?
A Quote to Live By:
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. –Clarissa Pinkola Estes