The Motherhood in Motion series is a very special collaboration with ALN Images.
When she transitioned the last child to school, Danielle decided to dedicate her newfound free time to other mothers. She turned her passion for motherhood into serving women in our community, helping them fall in love with their own experiences. Danielle was gracious enough to chat with us about the way she mothers with intention, how she’s using her transparency about parenting to serve others, and what this past year has looked like from a care provider’s perspective.
Did you always know you wanted to be a mom?
Yeah, I did. My first job was working at a daycare center. When I was thirteen I was babysitting kids all summer long. I’d been around kids so long it was an easy transition for me. Going from one to two kids was a bigger transition for me, actually. I remember thinking I must be doing something wrong because this is really difficult! I can’t keep up with the laundry, there’s dishes, I’m exhausted. Surely, there’s something I’m not getting right here. Turns out, it’s just really hard! It was easier to go from two to three.
How has pivoting been for all the different ages you parent?
I have a thirteen year old, ten year old, and six year old. My youngest was going from Kindergarten to first grade and you know, that was really difficult because there’s a lot of learning that goes on there – it’s actually a big leap to go from Kindergarten to first grade. I think it depends on your child. Even when you have multiple kids, they’re not the same kids. They all have personalities and different needs. My thirteen year old son is always on top of everything. I luckily never have to check on what he’s doing and he makes straight A’s. He’s driven in that way, whereas my ten year old knows her expectations so she’ll do it, but she doesn’t have her own self-drive. The six year old is, you know, not as independent, she has her own anxieties about things, if things start happening too fast on the computer she cries because it’s too much for her – on top of trying to learn all these new skills, like reading fluently.
Did your own upbringing impact the way you show up in motherhood?
I kind of went into motherhood in a very conscious way because I feel like I’m a highly emotionally-connected person. I pick up on people very quickly and have a high level of emotional intelligence. I do not feel like my needs were met in that way as a kid. I don’t think that was something my parents intended by choice, but they didn’t have their needs met as kids and so they didn’t know how to give those tools to me. My mom stayed at home for a little while but then she worked and wasn’t a warm and fuzzy person that as a child I needed. It was just that old school type of parenting where children were meant to be seen and not heard. So when I was a kid, I just had a hard time speaking my thoughts or feelings. Even as I grew up I had a hard time sticking up for myself and being able to say “hey, I don’t like this.” because I wasn’t allowed to have those kinds of conversations as a kid. There was no discussion. When I went into parenting, I really wanted to have a more emotionally connected style.
I wanted our kids to have more autonomy over the situation and I think that the more kids are invested in what’s going on the more it clicks for them, as well. The rules actually tend to be followed more if they have part in making them. There’s a lot more talking and hugging, and my husband makes all the kids tell each other that they love one another every night. There’s a lot of checking in with them and taking the time to make each one feel heard and that they’re loved for who they are in this family. There’s a Mr. Rogers song I love, “It’s You I Like” – like that they know that just the way they are is good enough. I feel like so many people don’t feel good enough and so if I can start that at home, that would set them up to be happier people in the long run. I also read a lot of parenting books and took stuff from each book that I liked. I often tell my clients that this is their time to decide what their family is going to be like and it’s okay to decide what works for you and make boundaries with family and friends.
A lot of people have trauma and when they become mothers or parents those Band-Aids are sort of ripped off and you start thinking about those things again. How do I want my kids to feel in my home? How do I want my kids to go away thinking about their childhood? For me, I wanted that in my childhood so that’s what I did. I’m always trying my best and try really hard to be responsive instead of reactive to them. I learned that from a book called Calm and Compassionate Child. Society kind of pushes this ego on parents like “Don’t let them talk to you that way.” But that’s really a teaching moment; Let’s talk about why that’s disrespectful, let’s talk about why that hurts my feelings. There’s much more opportunity if you’re responsive rather than reactive, to teach kids.
So you began your own company outside of the home. How did Chesapeake Birth and Baby come about?
Right after my last daughter was born, I thought to myself that I needed to be prepared when she went to school that I have something to do. The thought was that by the time she started Kindergarten, my business would be big enough to where I could work five days a week. That actually happened in my second year of business and I was like “Oh my goodness!” My business was just growing faster than I could handle but I had to find a balance and I’m lucky to have the balance now. The births are the only things I can’t work around. They always happen in the middle of the night, though. Haha!
Do you feel like you designed your business differently because you’re a mother?
Yeah, definitely. I think it was more so the care I wanted to give women. I respected these women and what they were going through, as a woman who had gone through. I knew they needed a better level of care than the care I was hearing about. The more and more I got into doula work, I also became a part of the Annapolis Mental Health Network and so I really got to see the emotional side of women dealing with things like anxiety and bi-polarity before, during, and after pregnancy. The more I knew what was at stake, the more I knew that this care is emotional support for people at a time where it’s make-or-break for them. I want them to enjoy their life so it was my goal to make this time a little lighter for them so they could enjoy it. The more I was in people’s homes and hospitals I realized the true impact this had on the rest of their lives and I couldn’t consciously not give a hundred percent to that. It’s a short life and your kids are only young once and I wanted people to have a positive experience and to feel supported.
What do you feel like changed for you the most during the pandemic?
Well, for one, the hospitals closed to doula. We had to do virtual births and figure out how to give the same care and tools virtually to these laboring people. We had to write a lot of instructions and figure out how to communicate with parents on Zoom. When you’re on Zoom in a room with a doctor, and your client, trying to be involved is such a delicate balance like that because you’re just this person on a camera in a room. That was a big learning curve and the rules were changing all the time. It also impacted our in-home care because we had all these people who could not have their mom come, their aunt, uncle, whoever. So we were providing a lot more in-home support. There were no more in-person classes so we were teaching a lot of Zoom classes.
Not only were these new moms without the family they thought they’d have, they were extremely isolated – like to an extreme. Pregnancy was considered a risk with Covid so not only were they just like “Be careful” these mothers were at risk because they have a dampened immune system. And partners couldn’t be there. There were so many people that found out the sex of their baby without their partner there. There were so many people that delivered their babies without their partner there. Infertility treatments stopped. So, there were a lot of women with huge amounts of anxiety and women who weren’t prepared because the resources stopped. We saw a lot of the fear of whether or not they were doing things right, “Is this enough? Is this normal?” on top of, “I’m scared of getting sick and I’m scared of people in my home.”
Did you add anything in your business as a response to this?
We added a toddler doula offering. I saw people that were having their second baby, we’d attend their birth and then always do a postpartum visit with them and then they’d have two weeks of on-call support. What we found was that we’d come into these homes and the toddler would be just off-the-wall. They couldn’t send them to preschool, they were all in the house all the time, and they couldn’t get the attention they needed. These toddlers were going through huge emotional changes, not only because there was a new baby in the house, but because they were experiencing a pandemic. I really decided this would be a service we would offer as a way of continuing support postpartum. I think a lot of moms would say that the first five years are almost all really postpartum. There’s so much learning and growing. I just felt like this was a service that needed to be out there. There was a gap that I felt needed to be filled and I wanted to be the one to fill it.
So, a time where a lot of mothers were home spending more time with their children, this past year has actually pulled you away more.
I became really busy. But it’s such a balance. I spend a lot of time in people’s homes helping them adjust to things and the nature of work I do is very similar to that feeling of being “on” at home all the time. I saw a meme the other day that was talking about the mental load that mothers carry. Like, we’re the ones who change out the clothes from winter to summer, we’re the ones who make the appointments, we’re the ones who figure out what’s for dinner every night. The mental load that women and mothers have is huge. You always hear that you can’t pour from an empty cup and it’s true. You can’t continue to give, and give, and give without time to be yourself. So, it’s my goal as a doula to allow a little bit of time for those mothers to get the rest they need.
What do you feel like is the best part of life with your family?
Dinnertime together, for sure. There were a lot of hard parts right at the height of the pandemic. I’d come home and be just so exhausted. I had to learn to let things go; let those dishes in the sink go. And I’d be annoyed, right? Because I would leave the kitchen clean and then come home and everything would be a wreck. But of course my husband is trying to work from home, of course my six year old is going crazy with the scissors at her desk and there’s specks of paper everywhere, so there’s a lot of mess happening. And so much food. Oh my god, the food. And what’s so funny is that I would leave my clients’ houses so clean and beautiful because I didn’t want them to have that mental load and I would come home to a complete disaster. I had to go through figuring out how to be mentally okay with that and be like, I’m just going to enjoy my kids right now – I’m just going to move these dishes out of the way and make dinner. We love to be outside together and have all kinds of fun things in the yard to do but dinnertime is my favorite because it’s just a good time – all kinds of funny conversations happen at our dinner table. I also really enjoy waking my kids up in the morning.
My son’s thirteen but I still love to go in there and watch him sleep. It’s like watching a baby grow. I go to wake him up and am like “Oh my god, who’s this giant in the bed?” Their room always smells like them, too. You know? So you get that smell of them.
What is the hardest part about motherhood right now?
We’re all always thinking about how to be a good mother; how to be a better mother. When my son was a toddler, like I mentioned, I was thinking a lot about how to be responsive instead of reactive and that’s something that continues to be a struggle for me as a parent. As I said, I’d get home and the house would be a mess and my reactiveness would be to be mad. That was my reactive side. But my response needed to be stopping to think about it and let it go and give them a break. I try to be really thoughtful of how I talk to my kids. Will they think that I’m good at that? I’m sure no. I’m sure someone will think I gave so-and-so all the attention. Haha! But I’m always thinking about that. Something else that’s really hard for me is that my kids will ask me to play with them, and I’ll so badly want to go do the dishes or fold the clothes that are sitting a foot away from where we’re playing horses.
Do you feel like it’s a struggle to maintain your own identity in motherhood?
Oh, yeah, I think about this a lot. It’s okay to move through these times and be different things. You’re not a different person – it’s all a part of who you are. It all helps you grow. But there are certainly things that also ground me in who I am. I have a lot of hobbies and a lot of friends and I try to stay really connected. I’m that friend that will text you and just say “Thinking about you!”, “Let’s go on a bike ride!”, “I saw this and it made me think of you!”. I’m really a busy person and I like to do things – that makes me feel excited. When everyone was buying their “Homebody” sweatshirts at the beginning of the pandemic I was like that’s so not even close to me. My shirt should say “Busybody.” I always have my hobbies. We also have hobbies as a family, too; our boat, wakeboarding, and waterskiing. We like to be outside. It’s also really important for me and my husband to maintain our identities even from each other so that when the kids leave us so that we still have things to do separately and together.
Are there any passions you’ve found because of motherhood?
There are things I didn’t know I enjoyed doing before like cooking and gardening. I like growing our own food. Planting native gardens, stuff like that. Also figuring out how to use my emotional intelligence for good. Because being a very emotional or connected person can go either way, right? You can be that boat in the storm that just goes over every single wave, or you can figure out how to put your anchor down, make it through the storm, and help other people do the same thing. I think that was definitely something I learned about myself in motherhood. Like, hey, this is a relatable time. I’m going to tell other people this is hard. Yes, we all have a pile of laundry on the bed that we move to the floor before bed and in the morning we put it back on the bed. Haha!
I learned I can use my thoughts and feelings and outgoing personality to help other people. I think before I had kids I didn’t know the power of women. The more I became a mother and saw the power we have to not only give life and create things, but to also hold up their families and a million other things and I’m like, wow – they’re just really strong. I try to teach my daughters that. That we’re lucky to be women because we have all this strength and capacity to do things not everyone can do. I didn’t understand that power until I was a mother. I would say that I really have grown as a woman because of motherhood and because of my business. Because I’m able to see women’s strength. It gives me goosebumps on a regular basis – I walk away from clients regularly thinking, wow she’s so incredibly strong.
What do you hope your children remember about their childhoods?
I hope that they feel strong and powerful in who they are. That was a big reason I wanted to be more emotionally connected to them. I want them to feel empowered to make the choices that make them happy. I want them to live happy, fulfilled lives. I want them to remember that they’re loved and that we’re here for them through the thick and thin of anything. I hope when they look back on this time they feel like it was nothing but happiness.
What do you feel like the most beautiful part of motherhood has been for you, so far?
Learning and growing as a person, myself. I’m learning how to deal with other human beings – they’re not just kids. They’re their own people. Every one of my kids is very different. And that puts pressure on me, in a good way, to grow and deal with each one of them. They help me grow as a person and the evolution of our relationships has been such a blessing to me. I’ve learned to love life more, I’ve learned more respect for other people, and seeing them grow into those good people. Getting to see them to make good choices on their own. So, those things unfold – watching my kids grow and be happy, it makes me feel so fortunate.
You can follow along with Danielle and her business, Chesapeake Birth and Baby, on Instagram and on their website.
Thank you, Alli, for the beautiful photography.