It was 2014 and I was 26 and a new mom to a beautiful baby girl. And while I was years away from the world shutting down, that first year of motherhood was one of profound loneliness. As the only working mom among my coworkers, I quickly realized that I didn’t have another working mom who could acutely understand the pain of pumping, or the exhausting late-night feeds and sleep regressions, or that odd combination of feeling both thankful for the chance to get away from your baby and be someone other than mom and missing your baby so much it physically hurts. That harrowing realization gave me existential whiplash. I felt as if no one I worked with could understand — or even cared about — the difficulties of working motherhood. I felt discouraged. I felt isolated. I felt alone.
Now, six years later, I really am isolated. I’m staying home to protect myself, my family, and my community from a devastating virus that has claimed the lives of over 240,000 Americans. I’m wearing a mask and practicing social distancing and logging into Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting. And after contracting COVID-19, I’m coming off 14 days of quarantine. But the feelings of loneliness and discouragement that led me to leave my corporate job six years ago have not reemerged, because I have an online village of like-minded moms that make me feel more connected, more supported, and more understood than I’ve arguably ever felt before. And at a time when I need it the most.
After I left a career focusing on corporate partnerships — a career that had me working with brands like Apple, Intel, and Conde Nast — I co-founded HeyMama, an online community of working and entrepreneurial moms specifically designed to provide support, connection, and collaboration. I wanted what wasn’t available to me in the corporate world — something that is rarely available to any parent regardless of their career field. When moms are paid less than dads, women are less likely to be hired or promoted because their managers fear they’ll one day require maternity leave, and moms don’t have access to mandatory paid family leave or affordable child care, it’s difficult to feel welcome in the workforce, personally or professionally.
So I created what I didn’t see, and in 2014 HeyMama was born and quickly became the largest and fastest growing online community of working and entrepreneurial mothers.
And now that working moms are being disproportionately impacted by the ongoing global health crisis — in September alone more than 865,000 women were pushed out of the workforce — I have seen the power of that community pay off in ways I could have never imagined back in 2014, when I was simply looking for what I and other women needed. I’ve witnessed entrepreneurial moms mentor others at a time of intense financial uncertainty, helping them secure another round of funding so they can keep their business doors open. I’ve watched moms brainstorm ways for other business owners to pivot, providing their communities with what they need most during this unparalleled time and still maintaining a lucrative revenue stream.
These moms are financially backing other moms. They’re talking them through ways to advocate for themselves so they can finally secure that raise they’ve been owed for years. They’re recommending online and virtual tools so they can streamline their workdays while they’re handling at-home e-learning and childcare. They’re providing mentorship and guidance to moms who are using this time to finally start their dream business.
And they’re doing it all while simultaneously offering parenting advice and personal support at a time when moms are being asked to do more than arguably ever before. This community, in many ways, is acting like all of us working moms — it’s doing multiple things at once. It’s the online forum you turn to for advice. It’s the Slack channel that allows you to talk to coworkers. It’s the Facebook mom group you rely on when you need to vent.
It’s a village, and it is saving me as this pandemic continues and, unfortunately, shows no signs of slowing down.
When I contracted COVID-19 it was a HeyMama member who emailed me kind words and well-wishes. When I feel like I’m the only business owner feeling the pressure of keeping people employed while simultaneously attempting to help her kid with her umpteenth Zoom meeting, I just go to one of our HeyMama Slack channels and start typing. And when I do feel those sinister feelings of loneliness trying to creep in — the feelings that tend to piggyback off lingering self-doubt and mom-guilt and burnout and overwhelm — I turn to the community that helped me navigate mom life and entrepreneurship and the ups and downs that came with both.
From the day we find out we’re pregnant, us moms are told “it takes a village to raise a baby.” I’ve found that to be true, for sure, but that sentiment falls short. In truth, it takes a village to do anything of consequence in life — we rely on those around us for guidance, for empathy, for solidarity, for advice, and for support. There are so many things about the pandemic that have been truly horrific — the massive loss of life, the job losses, the looming evictions, the changes to how our children learn and how our teachers teach — and I put the isolation of it all rather high on that list. We have been cut off from our villages, and that was never part of anyone’s parenting or work plan.
But I have never once felt alone as I’ve dealt with the parental, social, and financial ramifications of COVID-19. Instead, I have felt supported, understood, and encouraged. Most importantly, I've been given the opportunity to help other working moms feel the same; a chance to give others what they have to selflessly given me.
My online village is constantly reminding me that through parenthood, a change in my profession, pandemic, and whatever else life throws my way, they have my back. As a working mom, it’s other working moms who are saving me. Who have always saved me. And who will likely save me time and time again. Who have formed a virtual village I can turn to when I need to be reminded that while I might feel discouraged, isolated, and lonely, I am never alone.