Erin Boyle is the founder of Reading My Tea Leaves, a blog where Erin writes about slow, simple living in a big city. She is also mom to Faye, who just turned five, and Silas, who’s two and a half.
If you live for carefully chosen things and thoughtfully considered words… and if clutter hurts your soul, then you’re going to love Erin Boyle. Side benefit: This episode is probably going to inspire you to finish your most recent Konmari-ing attempt.
2:05 – The story of how the birth of Erin's first child inspired her to do her own thing and start blogging full time.
4:38 – For those of you who wonder like I do, this is what it actually means to blog on a full time basis.
11:40 – Why Erin's reticent to be too prescriptive about how to do anything.
17:00 – Why parenting forums aren't Erin's speed.
19:24 – On listening to one's gut and why Erin doesn't consider herself an anxious parent.
26:22 – How becoming an aunt before becoming a mother prepared her for her first.
28:10 – How minimalism came into Erin's world. (“Oh there are words to describe what I was already doing?”)
34:10 – Why Erin loves having little kids in a small space. For real.
36:55 – How Erin curates what makes it into her home and what doesn't.
44:07 – Erin's number one piece of advice: JUST START WITH LESS.
50:20 – Despite living a life of less… these are thing things Erin loved during the baby stages.
51:54 – Why buying a double stroller felt somehow counter to her values, but turned out to be exactly in line with her needs (and therefore, values).
Reading My Tea Leaves – Erin's blog, where she celebrates a practical and purposeful approach to simple and sustainable living. (I love her weekly newsletter, Tea Notes, and I genuinely look forward to receiving it each week.)
@readtealeaves – Where you can find Erin (and her simple space and her wonderful family) on Instagram.
What Erin Said
When you're putting little portions of your life up for public consumption, it's hard to know how people will interpret that. I have people who are very surprised that I work full time. I have other people who are surprised that my kids are not with me while I'm writing. Other people are surprised there's not a team of us. The suspension of disbelief goes both ways. “Oh, she's doing this with two kids on her lap!” Or, “Oh she's doing this all with three other adults!”
In parenting it hits you with such stark relief that you really know so little. You're an expert at yourself, but you're not an expert at anyone else.
I don't think there is a unicorn. I just think you try and you try again and you find something that works for you.
It's okay to just sit with yourself. And I don't think that's a message young parents get that much, which is to be like, “You know what? Trust your gut. Go with your instinct. Most everything is going to be okay. You are equipped to do this.”
I love having little kids in a small space. When I'm at my mom and dad's house—which is a much bigger an old colonial farm house, I'm like, “Where is everyone?” Here, we're always all together. I can see them—and hear them—all the time. But that's okay! I really like it.
We are definitely doing things that are a little wacky. Just a little bit off the beaten path. And for me that feels good.
My number one piece of advice which literally almost never gets printed—and I say this all the time and then people interviewing me for an article are they're like, “No, no. That's great. We'll definitely print it and then someone cuts it at the end…” The key is truly, truly just start with less.
I love hearing stories of moms making entrepreneurship work for them, and Dana’s is a great one. If you have that side hustle bug (or even if you don’t) I have a feeling you’re going to love Dana and what she has to say.
Dana is the founder and CEO of Dana's Bakery, a direct to consumer bakery specializing in French macarons with an American twist, and also mom to Leni, who's almost three, and another baby girl due later this summer.
In this conversation, we talk about motherhood, entrepreneurship, and some of the little life stuff in between.
1:25 – Why Dana started Dana's Bakery, why entrepreneurship didn't scare her (she ain't afraid of no ghosts), and why the guys at her previous job joked that she was definitely going to be making creatine cupcakes.
9:25 – The shitstorm of all shitstorms. The worst thing that could’ve happened to Dana and her business… happened. While she was super pregnant. During the height of her season. She survived #thanksforasking.
12:13 – Running a business while becoming a mother is no joke. Dana tells the story of managing a photoshoot on her way home from the hospital with baby Leni in arms.
12:55 – How she’s planning to do things differently this time around.
16:30 – Dana's Bakery (Baby #1) meets Leni (Baby #2/Real Baby #1) and how motherhood has changed the way she works.
17:48 – Dana's outlook on being a woman in business. (And Megan's too.)
25:03 – How parenthood factored (slash didn't factor at all) into the business plan (because Dana is way more go-with-the-flow than Megan could ever be.)
26:06 – How she and Adam co-parent like champions (with the help of a great nanny).
29:05 – Sisters!! A bit about Dana's sister, and why Dana is so excited to be the mother of sisters.
30:49 – What Dana's excited to do differently this time around. (Ditching anxiety is high on the list.)
33:18 – The curse of a great first born (a.k.a. hopes and prayers the second born is as easy). Chill parents; chill baby.
41:56 – Dana's favorite baby gear. (Megan's too.)
47:47 – Dana's advice for new moms.
Dana's Bakery – Where you can get yourself some American-style macarons immédiatemment.
Solly Baby Wrap – Megan's go-to for the fourth trimester. (Would it even be an Also Mom podcast without a totally unsponsored Solly plug?)
What Dana Said
You’re in a constant state of panic and discovery and learning when you first start. And then it starts to become more familiar. And you start to get a little more confidence. And it’s not your first time at the rodeo. That’s when it starts to get a little easier.
Being an entrepreneur never really scared me.
For the longest time, I definitely had—and I still do—mom guilt, in terms of not being there and feeling absent and feeling like I want to be in two places at the same time. Because this… the bakery… is my first baby. I have 40 children here.
Having Leni has definitely made me a stronger business woman. I’m so much more aware of my time. I know I need to get certain things done because if they’re not done it means I can’t leave or I can’t do other things, and then that takes away from my time with my family. So I think it’s actually helped me and structured me in a way. I feel more urgency now to be a little bit more rigid. “Time is valuable” has a new meaning for me.
I have a different outlook on what being a woman in business is all about. But now that I have a daughter—and I’m going to have daughters—I want it to be a take away for them, and [for] them to see that they can do anything.
How does an experience like this that changes your life and is something that you live every day not affect every other aspect of your life for the better?
If you don't know Hannah yet, you’re going to want to. She’s a photographer, a content creator, a seeker of beautiful things. A knitter, a calligrapher, a surfer, a skier, a freaking medical doctor, and, of course, she’s also mom to two little boys, Oscar and Wilf.
Basically she's a quintessential also mom. I say that partially because she has this awesome, multi-layered identity that I admire big time, but mostly I say that because her approach to doing everything she does—which is A LOT by the way—is positively enlightened.
We talk about how and why she used her long British maternity leave to re-engage with her creative side, how that helped ground and recenter her as she redefined her new postpartum identity, and her thoughts on Instagram in general, which I personally find to be quite refreshing.
1:52 – Hannah discusses why she didn't originally tell her followers she's a freaking medical doctor in addition to all the beautiful, artsy, crafty, clever things she shares on Instagram
4:30 – British maternity leave > American maternity leave
8:10 – I embarrass Hannah by rightly calling her a Renaissance woman, and she reveals more about her personality type.
12:35 – Hannah's tips for becoming a better photographer.
14:33 – Hannah's thoughts on Instagram cliches and Instagram vs. reality.
20:47 – Hannah shares details about the ugliest space in her home right now. (We all have one!)
29:00 – Why Hannah feels more like herself and more recharged this year.
31:06 – Hannah shares her baby must haves, including a non-parenting book parenting book she's loving.
Weirdly, even though work is incredibly intense, I feel like I'm having respite from being a mother in going to work. And that's why being a mom some of the time and a doctor some of the time works so well for me, because each bit recharges me for the next bit.
It took quite a long time to re-find myself, who I was, as this completely new persona. I was now Hannah, who was a mother and who was rediscovering creative interests. And it just genuinely felt like a completely different person than the career Hannah that I had been.
As adults and as parents we don't do enough playing and anything that makes you feel silly and fun and makes you forget the everyday stresses of life is a good thing.
Initially, the reason I loved Instagram and taking photos and blogging so much was because it allowed me to have a complete escape from [medicine]. Medicine as a career can all too easily become all consuming. So when I first went on maternity leave with Oscar, it just felt like a shock leaving. It had been at least ten years of living and breathing medicine from when I first started training through graduating and being a junior doctor which is really, really intense. And I really wanted just a complete break from it.
I do follow some Instagram accounts who are 99% positive all the time in their photos and their captions, and I enjoy that. But that's, I think, because I've gotten to a place where I'm confident and comfortable knowing that that doesn't mean that their life is perfect. It means that that's what they choose to share.
It's really difficult to picture yourself without children when you have children. You think, “What did I do with my time?” I must've just slept whenever I wanted. I mean, was I bored? I had so much time on my hands. What did I do?
I've never met a parent who's said, “Oh this is really hard and I wish I'd never done this.”
In addition to sharing beautiful, healthy recipes on Instagram, Robin is a nutritionist, a fitness aficionado, a former model, and also mom to 8-month-old Poppy.
Talking with Robin felt like a breath of fresh air. She is a beautiful mother. I mean, she’s literally beautiful (she was a former model), but mainly I mean figuratively. She is a woman who is soft and fiery all at once. Her fitness and modeling backgrounds have informed much of who she is these days, as a mother and otherwise, but in ways you might not expect. She has a refreshingly gentle take on mothering intuitively, on how she and her husband think about parenting together, and on how she thinks about her creative pursuits going forward.
1:34 – How and why Robin started “What Robin Eats” and how she's integrated motherhood (and Poppy) into her channel
4:54 – Mothering instinctually (and with a touch of Google).
9:10 – How the “one more rep” every evil/wonderful fitness instructor ever has employed helped Robin have an awesome labor and birth.
12:32 – How pregnancy shifted Robin's body image after years in the fitness and modeling industries.
15:33 – How staying scheduled gives both Robin and Poppy the structure to thrive.
21:34 – Why she's not on the gluten-free bandwagon.
24:31 – A slightly different (dare I say more “traditional” perspective on sharing the parenting load with her husband.
30:34 – Her absolute favorite baby products. (Spoiler: THE SOLLY WRAP!)
36:26 – Advice she wishes she wishes she could've given herself (and wishes she could've been able to hear!) as a new mom.
YogaGlo (Glo) – Megan's go-to for at-home yoga. (Want me to send you a free class? Email me at email@example.com!)
Audible – Megan's go-to for audiobooks while folding endless laundry. Sign up for the free 30 day membership and receive two free audiobooks! Recent favorites include Becoming by Michelle Obama, Educated by Tara Westover, and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
MEGAN: I found you—I think I must've found you via the Solly Baby Instagram, and I was like, “This chic looks so cool.” And I think Poppy was born about a month before my second—Cora is her name—and they look remarkably similar by the way, so every time I see photos of Poppy I'm like, “Aw she looks just like Cora.”
So I know you from Instagram, which means I know you like and are really good at photographing pretty toast and other beautiful, mostly healthy foods. But I also know you're a nutritionist and a personal trainer, and there's probably a million other roles and identities that you have. So, when people ask, what is it you say you do? Who do you say you are?
Once I had Poppy I totally switched gears. I mean I still work with brands and recipes, but it's all on kind of a side hustle type of feel. I feel like I'm all in on the mom game.
ROBIN: It has changed so much within the last six and half months. Before Poppy, I'd say I'm a nutritionist, personal trainer, but I'm also a contact creator through my Instagram, @whatrobineats.
I started @whatrobineats, gosh, three and a half years ago just kind of as a creative outlet. I've always loved cooking, been really into making my own food since I was 14 years old.
After just seeing the food Instagrams kind of pop up and become more popular, I was like, “I'm gonna do that, too.” I had just moved into a new apartment where eventually my new husband would move in with me. We had great lighting, so I was like, “Okay I'm gonna do this.” And that kind of opened my photography interests. I modeled from age 15 to 25, so I was always kind of the canvas rather than the creator. And this kind of gave me a creative outlet for myself.
So before Poppy, that was my full time thing. I was working with brands, creating recipes, shooting photos, and going to events. I was teaching iPhone food photography classes at Whole Foods up until I had Poppy.
And then once I had Poppy I totally switched gears. I mean I still work with brands and recipes, but it's all on kind of a side hustle type of feel. I feel like I'm all in on the mom game. And I think I've done a really good job with my Instagram of bringing Poppy to my page, but also still providing recipes, but some more simple recipes that moms can do. You don't have to be a five star restaurant to create what I'm creating. But they're also delicious and fun. And I really take pride in what I create for everyone, not just moms, but anyone.
MEGAN: Yeah, that's sort of what—I found you after you became a mom, so I don't know the before. But what you have now certainly seems to resonate really well with mothers, and I'm sure anyone who doesn't have that much time, because it's not just moms who struggle with that problem.
But cooking can be so simple with just some spices and really just anything you have on hand. So I'm trying to make cooking seem more friendly to everyone.
ROBIN: Right, and I would hope so. Especially nowadays, everyone is jam packing their schedule with every little thing they can think of. And a lot of people want instant food to appear on their plate, basically, and they're afraid of cooking.
But cooking can be so simple with just some spices and really just anything you have on hand. So I'm trying to make cooking seem more friendly to everyone.
MEGAN: I love that. I was just having this conversation with my husband the other day, because he just started at a new start-up. We're in our early thirties, but he is the oldest guy at the company. And none of them know how to cook. They're all terrified of cooking.
It's like, “No, it can be very simple. You pick three spices and you can make something really nice in the oven, and it takes two seconds.”
ROBIN: Right, one hundred percent. I totally agree.
MEGAN: So back to motherhood. How has the transition been so far, I mean it sounds like you're doing a great job of integrating it into your life and figuring out your priorities. But how has that been?
I Googled everything, but I just more followed what I was feeling and tried to really look at her and be like, “Okay, what do you need?” Go down a checklist.
ROBIN: It was so scary at first because I am an only child. I never had a younger sibling to take care of. Even all my cousins are older than me. So even thinking about having a kid was not on my radar until I met my husband.
He has nieces, and now we have a nephew, and he's always wanted kids because he's an oldest of three. And I was like, “Uh, I don't know. That sounds scary.” I'm so independent, doing my own thing. I have this going on—modeling, food, whatever.
And once Poppy was born it was so instinctual, and just whatever I was doing—I Googled everything, but I just more followed what I was feeling and tried to really look at her and be like, “Okay, what do you need?” Go down a checklist.
So it was really just following what I believed that she needed, or trial and error. “Oh, you're crying, do you need this, this, or this?” And I would say after the first month I just became so in tune with who she was. And it just keeps growing.
Now that she's developed so much since then, it's just—even from her switching from three naps to two naps, I didn't do it, she did, and I just followed her lead. So it's been really just allowing her to lead, but also me being the parent and guiding her.
MEGAN: Yeah. Do you think that she's partly to credit for leading you into what what feels—it just strikes me that you feel really comfortable in this role, and really comfortable with this new identity. Do you think she's kind of helped lead you there, too?
ROBIN: She really has. I've always been one to want to be the leader, or kind of be in charge of whatever I'm doing. And I realized early on, I had to carry her for all of her naps for seventeen weeks, she would not go down if I set her in her crib, no matter what. I could let her cry for hours.
So that was kind of like, “Okay, I have to Solly wrap you.”
MEGAN: Same! I had a Solly napper. It was wrap nap central.
I wish someone just would have told me within the first month, “Just wear her!” And I think my first month would have been so much easier.
ROBIN: One hundred percent. Any time she wasn't feeding or hanging out for her awake period, she was wrapped on me. So that was—I wish someone just would have told me within the first month, “Just wear her!” And I think my first month would have been so much easier.
[Poppy] is going to give me hints on what she wants, and then I can help get us all the way there.
So after realizing that, I'm like, “I just have to wear her until four months.” I nap trained her at four months, and that was kind of like, “That's what I have to do. That's what she wants. How am I gonna make this easier for me?”
And I think that's where I keep taking the next roles. Even her being awake for three hours, now I'm like, “Okay, I have to give you more attention. What do you want to do? This could get us out of the house.” And so realizing that she is going to give me hints on what she wants, and then I can help get us all the way there.
MEGAN: Totally. And it's just this constant recalibration.
ROBIN: I think with being comfortable and being a mom, I don't worry too much about things. I don't stress. I don't get anxious very often, or ever. So I think that really helps, too.
I just really know that, like, “Okay, God put me in this position. He will give me everything I need to succeed with this.” I just kinda take everything as it comes.
MEGAN: Yeah, we have a motto, chill parents, chill baby. And it seems to really ring true across lots of different types of parents and lot of different types of parenting styles. It's like, as long as you're chill, they're chill. It's amazing.
MEGAN: I was just thinking about how you were saying that you had to wear her for the first four months. I'm also an athlete, I have a very athletic background, and it didn't really bother me that much that I had to wear her for four months.
MEGAN: Like, whatever, she was just kinda there. I actually had two hands free, and it was lovely. And I just watched your birth story on Instagram Stories last night—doing a little Robin recon before our chat. You're such a quintessential fitness guru! You're going for midnight walks, you're doing lunges—while you're in labor!
MEGAN: How do you think that fitness background helped you both to have the birth that you ultimately had, but also just how has it helped you in motherhood so far?
The fitness background helped me during labor. You know when trainers are like, “Okay, you're gonna do ten reps of bicep curls,” and then you get to the tenth rep, and they're like, “Oh, one more.”
ROBIN: The fitness background helped me during labor. You know when trainers are like, “Okay, you're gonna do ten reps of bicep curls,” and then you get to the tenth rep, and they're like, “Oh, one more.”
And you look at them like, “I want to kill you.” I think after having—I probably had five different trainers in my life, and just being a trainer myself, I know I've done that to my clients. I'm like, “Okay, we're at 12, let's do 13. One more, one more.”
Having my sister-in-law, Mallory, with my husband and I while I was laboring, she was like, “Just do one more lunge. Do this.” That was just like, “Okay, I have to do it.” I didn't give myself a choice, “Oh no, I'm not gonna do it.”
She's had four kids, she knows what can help me reach this goal of having this baby quicker rather than later. I'm going to do it. And I think just having that mindset of, “You're going to meet your baby. You can do that extra lunge. You can go for a walk.”
So with motherhood, I would say it just kind of helps me remember the goal.
And with my labor I realized that the minute I sat down or stopped moving, my contractions would go farther apart. So if I kept moving and doing things, I was getting closer and closer to having all this pain be done and meeting Poppy. So with motherhood, I would say it just kind of helps me remember the goal. When working out, when you're running on the treadmill, there's—minutes take forever when you're running on the treadmill.
But you're like, “Okay, what's the goal? Am I reaching this many miles?” Or, “This is my fitness goal.” And I think with motherhood, it's like when she's crying when I'm trying to feed her she doesn't know what she's doing. My goal is just to teach her, “This is a spoon. This goes into your mouth.” So I just kind of keep remembering the goal is for me to teach her and show her these tools for life.
MEGAN: Yeah. It's a little less specific than we might be used to in the fitness world. But nonetheless important. Yeah.
What does in shape look like for you today? These days?
I wasn't hard on myself to get back into the gym. I was excited to get moving, like doing yoga or going on walks, so I did that as soon as I got cleared, but getting back into weight training, back into running, I just realized that I needed to be Poppy's mom first.
ROBIN: That has been a huge change, too. I think throughout my pregnancy I learned how to embrace what my body was doing to the full extent. I remember my midwife telling me I had gained too much weight in one month, and I'm just thinking, “I haven't indulged barely at all, and I'm working out.”
I'm a big movement person. Moving makes me happy, I love going on walks, to cycling, to yoga, to running. I just love it all. So as long as I was doing something for myself, I knew that that would make me a better mom.
My body's just doing what it naturally needs to do to grow Poppy. And now, having Poppy outside of my belly, I wasn't hard on myself to get back into the gym. I was excited to get moving, like doing yoga or going on walks, so I did that as soon as I got cleared, but getting back into weight training, back into running, I just realized that I needed to be Poppy's mom first. And as long as I was feeding myself nutritious foods and at least moving—I'm a big movement person. Moving makes me happy, I love going on walks, to cycling, to yoga, to running. I just love it all. So as long as I was doing something for myself, I knew that that would make me a better mom. I remember the first time I went to yoga after having Poppy. I just came back so refreshed and like I could be the best me possible.
MEGAN: Yeah. Did you have such a great relationship with your body before you got pregnant, too, or is that something that came with the knowledge that your body was doing something so incredible?
The way people praise you for your belly really helped me, too. It's like, “Okay, I'm gaining weight, and you're praising me for it.” You know, everyone loves a pregnant belly.
ROBIN: Being in the modeling industry as long as I was—I started at 15 and stopped modeling when I was 25, so only two and a half years ago. It went back and forth. I was very hard on myself because you have to stay the same size, because these designers need to know what clothes to put on you.
I love a good entrepreneur hero’s journey, and Nell’s is a solid one. She started her business with seemingly every advantage —she studied at Ivy League universities and her father was a Wall Street titan who probably whispered business wisdom to her in utero. She also has impeccable taste, a key component when starting a home style brand.
She had it all figured out until, unexpectedly, she found out she was pregnant two weeks after launching her business. And not only was she pregnant, she had hyperemesis and was sick the entire nine months.
Here, Nell and I talk about how she’s juggled motherhood and entrepreneurship, how she built a thriving business while simultaneously growing a thriving human, and what she’s sacrificed—both knowingly and unknowingly at the time—along the way.
1:57 -Why Nell's style has gotten “even more aggressive and extra” since becoming a mom.
8:18 – Nell's entrepreneur hero's journey, a.k.a. finding out she was pregnant two weeks after launching Hill House Home. (Can you even imagine?)
10:40 – Never one to miss a great trend, Nell had hyperemesis and was throwing up her entire pregnancy just like the one and only Kate Middleton.
15:56 – Henry's birth story. (Surprise to no one: She went into labor at work.)
18:54 – On Nell's short maternity leave and why it made things hard for her.
19:59 – The trauma of being a NICU mom, and how devastating it was to leave the hospital without her baby.
25:24 – Nell talks about her experience with postpartum anxiety, including scheduling and going through with a full blown colonoscopy to assuage her worries.
28:36 – How she and her husband Teddy make parenthood work logistically (God love nannies and grandmas). makes this work logistically, nanny + camp grandma daytime care vs. nighttime care
32:08 – Why she loves parenting in NYC.
35:57 – Great books and trashy TV are her jam.
37:43 – Why we should all get better at asking for help. (WORD.)
Hill House Home – The très chic NYC bedding and bath company Nell founded and runs.
MEGAN: For those of us who don't know you, who are you? How do you usually introduce yourself?
NELL: I'm Nell Diamond. I'm the founder and CEO of Hill House Home, and I'm Henry's mom.
MEGAN: How old is that little guy now?
NELL: He is almost two and a half.
MEGAN: Two and a half, so he's right smack in that sticky fingers age?
It's so funny, I feel like I get the question a lot, “How has your style changed since having a baby?” And I think if anything, it's gotten more aggressive and extra.
MEGAN: So, you have this incredible sense of style, and you always wear these fun dresses and awesome coats and feminine pieces that most mothers would consider too woefully impractical even to consider, but you totally rock it. How do you do that with a little two and a half year old?
NELL: It's so funny, I feel like I get the question a lot, “How has your style changed since having a baby?” And I think if anything, it's gotten more aggressive and extra.
MEGAN: I love it.
NELL: And that's primarily because I see it as a personal mission to prove how little I've had to change my core self since becoming a mom.
But yeah, I think we've certainly had our fair share of accidents, and him getting crazy things on me. But, to be honest, it's no more than I was getting on myself to begin with. I spill coffee all the time. I get my makeup all over my clothing. As long as I factor in my dry cleaning bill into my monthly finances, I'm okay.
MEGAN: Yeah, but it sounds like that was maybe a consideration beforehand anyway, so.
NELL: Yes, exactly. It hasn't really changed.
MEGAN: What's an extra dab of syrup here or there? It's fine.
Clothing brings me a ton of joy, and I think getting dressed for the day really is something that makes me happy. I think I knew pretty intuitively that I wasn't going to change something that made me really happy.
NELL: Exactly. Clothing brings me a ton of joy, and I think getting dressed for the day really is something that makes me happy. I think I knew pretty intuitively that I wasn't going to change something that made me really happy. I also totally understand the way that working out brings some people joy—and brings me just only pain and anguish—that some people don't feel that way about clothing, so…
I also have friends who are just like, “Okay, I don't need this extra step in my life of having to worry about whether a button's going to fall off, or this suede is too gentle, or whatever.” I feel the same way about physical exertion, so…
MEGAN: That's fair.
NELL: To each their own.
MEGAN: Totally. Do you feel like you've had to get more practical in some regards? I'm just thinking about the design challenges that might go through your head as you're thinking about what pieces to wear, “I want this to look amazing, I want to feel extra, and I want to make sure that it's functional, so that I can squat down and not feel like Kate Middleton.”
Although my appearances might be deceiving, I think I've always been a fairly practical person living in an impractical shell.
NELL: Yeah. Although my appearances might be deceiving, I think I've always been a fairly practical person living in an impractical shell. Even when it comes to home design, I really love my home to be beautiful, but I think there are hacks and ways around it. For example, in my home I have outdoor fabric on all of the chairs in the kitchen. So it's super durable—is able to withstand outdoor weather—so it can also endure the indoor weather of a toddler.
MEGAN: They're basically hurricanes.
I think there are still ways to be practical and not lose your sense of self and sense of style. It just takes a little bit of looking, and I think I'm willing to look because I care so much about what I wear.
NELL: Yeah, exactly. So, I apply the same kind of thing to my clothing. So, if I'm going to be at the playground, which in New York, there are these big sand pits—and they definitely are not the cleanest thing in the world—I think I am able to be careful about which shoe I'm wearing or whatever.
I think there are still ways to be practical and not lose your sense of self and sense of style. It just takes a little bit of looking, and I think I'm willing to look because I care so much about what I wear.
MEGAN: Yeah. And that thesis seems like it probably is in line with the reason you started your business in the first place, right? Hill House Home.
MEGAN: Can you tell me a little bit about how style's to credit for that inspiration, and how you came up with that?
NELL: Yeah, definitely. So, I was working in finance right out of undergrad. I was working on a trading desk just in an analyst program. And I loved what I was doing. I especially loved the people and team and learning from a massive corporation how to be an employee, which is definitely something that I didn't feel prepared to do from undergrad and school. So, I feel like I took a two year crash course in how to work somewhere and came out of that feeling like I understood everything from email etiquette to how to work with a team.
But, the actual subject matter of the work that I was doing wasn't supremely interesting to me, and I think I was able to sense that after about a year of being in the job. So, I was sitting at my desk and thinking a lot about the amazing companies that were springing up in the beauty sector, and the fashion sector, and the food sector, all really focused at our generation—the millennial generation. And I was thinking about what interesting things these people were doing, not only with their supply chain—so making things cheaper and higher quality at the same time as Warby Parker pioneered in the direct to consumer model—but, they're also speaking to customers in a different way, and they're listening to them, and they're adapting to a modern way of living.
And I've always really loved the home. I grew up moving all the time, and my bedroom in particular was always something that was really important to me. So, I remember sitting at my desk and thinking, “Oh, the home one will come. Somebody will speak to me the way I want to be spoken to in home, and somebody will make this process of trying to figure out how to shop for my adult home simpler and easier and also higher quality.” And I just kept not seeing it happen.
So, I applied to business school, and I applied to a business school that had a little bit of a focus on entrepreneurship. It was a super small class, and while I was there I toyed with the seeds of this idea of what is now Hill House Home.
And the whole time there, I'm a reluctant entrepreneur. So, the whole time there I'm thinking, “Come on, convince yourself not to do this. You don't want to be an entrepreneur. It's so not your style.”
MEGAN: Why do you think it's not your style?
NELL: Well, first of all, I think most of the reasons I thought it was not my style were preconceived notions, but I'm generally a very risk averse person. I like order and planning and careful thought, and you have to just make a lot of decisions and figure stuff out.
But then, I think there are elements that I didn't know about that are so my style—like, extremely collaborative, extremely challenging all the time. I think I hate to be bored, and I definitely hate to be bored in a workspace. So, all of those things really appeal to me, but I didn't necessarily know yet.
But, sitting in business school, I basically couldn't convince myself out of this idea. I kept finding more reasons why it made sense. So I launched it about six months after I graduated, and it's been three years. Three years in business, and it's been amazing. We have a little store. We've shipped to dozens of countries, thousands and thousands of customers. It's been really exciting.
MEGAN: So, I think I read somewhere that you were pregnant while you were launching it? That must be true because if it's three years old …
So, I basically found out I was pregnant two weeks after I launched. Definitely not planned. I was 27, which in New York is teen mom status.
NELL: Yes. Yes. So, I basically found out I was pregnant two weeks after I launched.
MEGAN: Oh my god.
NELL: Definitely not planned. I was 27, which in New York is teen mom status.
MEGAN: Yeah. San Francisco too.
NELL: But in the rest of the world is not.
It certainly wasn't planned. A very happy surprise, obviously, but I think that I had thought, “I'm going to spend the next few years really focusing on work.” And I had this—again a preconceived notion—that I'm supposed to be settled in my workplace by the time I have kids. And that wasn't going to happen.
I also found out that my only other employee at the time was leaving. I think it was on the day I got pregnant—or sorry, the day I found out I was pregnant.
I definitely remember the high of that first week finding out, and being so excited, and it's all so new and crazy, and funny in many ways. And then, a week later throwing up into a bucket, like, “Oh my god. I'm here alone. I cannot stop any of these things that I've put into motion.”
I had literally just set the ship out to sea, and it was already going, and I couldn't pull it back. And I remember just thinking, “Oh my god, I wish I had known. I wish I had planned. I would've waited another year,” or whatever, whatever.
But, sometimes I think that the best things come out of those times when you have no choice. And I certainly had no choice. Every penny I had ever saved was in this company—people relying on me. My crazy factories in France that I had convinced to take a chance on us, they're sewing away, and I'm like, “Oh God, I've just got to do it.”
So, that's what happened.
MEGAN: Yeah, that's a wonderful introduction into motherhood, right? Because that's motherhood in a nutshell, just doing stuff that you're like, “Well, guess I just got to do it. Don't really have a choice.”
And I think that so much of the language around motherhood and entrepreneurship is similar. So, you hear a lot of “brave.” You hear a lot of “courageous.” And it's like, “No, no, no, no. There is no brave in this. This is just you just got to do it.”
NELL: Yes. And I think that so much of the language around motherhood and entrepreneurship is similar. So, you hear a lot of “brave.” You hear a lot of “courageous.” And it's like, “No, no, no, no. There is no brave in this. This is just you just got to do it.”
MEGAN: So, you were super just starting, and how was the pregnancy for you? Were you sick a lot? I know you mentioned throwing up into a bucket.
NELL: Yeah. I was super nauseous. So, I had hyperemesis, which—the only good thing about hyperemesis is it's apparently extremely chic because Kate Middleton had it.
MEGAN: So in.
NELL: I feel good about that. That was my silver lining.
I had hyperemesis, and that was pretty confusing, because—again,—you hear “morning sickness,” and you're like, “Alright, I can handle coming into work a little late.” But it's really 24 hours.
I was super, super nauseous. My doctor ended up prescribing me—again it's the funniest thing—it was a medicine called Diclegis, which Kim Kardashian got embroiled in a scandal for promoting on Instagram. And I was like, “Well, look at me living this modern pregnancy. Sure.” But, the medicine actually really helped me. It was the only reason I could leave my house, basically.
I was on that medicine until the day I gave birth, throwing up in the hospital from nausea. So, that was super isolating. I heard that it's not necessarily the same in every pregnancy—some are different—and sounds, like—again—that's a metaphor for pregnancy in general. We all have different experiences of the exact same physical situation.
So, that was hard. And then I also found it really difficult to be in such a different place from most of my friends. They were all on Tinder and in clubs and living a life that was so foreign to me. I had my fifth college reunion while I was pregnant, and I remember just walking up to the Princeton campus, so bloated, so disgusting, and just immediately seeing some ex-boyfriend who had been so mean to me, and just being like, “Alright, well, this is just my path. I guess I'm just going to go right up to him with my enormous face, but sure.”
So, lots of little anecdotal, humbling moments like that. Luckily, incredibly healthy pregnancy. Truly not one, single thing wrong the whole pregnancy. Totally textbook normal. So, especially as my mom went through horrible pregnancies, and I was an IVF baby—so was my brother. And all those things give me real perspective. I'm happy to have been nauseous and lonely because the baby was healthy. But, it is still funny. It's just a series of humbling moments over and over again every day.
MEGAN: Yeah. And I imagine just—yeah… it's lonely that your friends weren't going through that experience also, but I imagine you were also just working all the time, right? Because, you're building a business? Were you? Am I assuming something? Does that sound accurate?
You can never know what you would've done, but I think that if I had been working at a big corporation while I was so nauseous [during my pregnancy], I really think I would've asked for time off. I think I would've taken leave, and maybe even thought, “I can't do both of these things. Some women can do this; I can't.”
NELL: Yes. No, no, no. I definitely was working all the time, and I actually am really grateful for that. I'm grateful that I had a distraction.
I'm not sure—you can never know what you would've done, but I think that if I had been working at a big corporation while I was so nauseous, I really think I would've asked for time off. I think I would've taken leave, and maybe even thought, “I can't do both of these things. Some women can do this; I can't.” And because I had no choice, I really had to just work all the time. And so, I'm grateful for that because I think that I probably would've made a different decision. And then, I'm also grateful for that because I think I needed the distraction. I needed something to focus on that wasn't my physical form, and..
Alicia Quinn—who you likely know by her self-described alter ego, Alicia Sacramone—was the team captain for Team USA’s gymnastics team at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where she helped the team earn a silver medal. These days, in addition to coaching gymnastics here and there, broadcasting for the SEC Network, and keeping fit with the help of her side project “The Gympire,” Alicia is also mom to Sloan, who’s 2.5 and Teagan, who’s 8 months.
Those who know me know I’m a bit of a gymnastics nerd… and, you know, also a mom… so it’s probably no surprise to you that this conversation was insanely fun for me. As it turns out, Alicia’s life and my own share remarkably similar timelines, including everything from when we were born to when our sports careers peaked to when we got married to when we had kids. Here, we talk about how Alicia decided it was time to move on from gymnastics and onto quote unquote real life, how pregnancy positively affected Alicia’s body image and self-esteem, how to be gentle on yourself as you try to stay fit as a mother, and some of the things Alicia wish she knew before she was thrown into the thick of things.
4:30 – The story of Alicia's comeback to elite gymnastics in 2010
10:35 – Alicia thinks she “could've worked harder” before the 2008 Olympic Games (and I tell her that sounds like motherhood talking)
11:55 – How her training as an elite gymnast has helped her in these early years of motherhood
14:50 – Body image! Pregnancy, postpartum, and the gymnastics body image warp for baby #1 and baby #2
18:57 – A tiny snippet of Alicia's birth story with Sloan
20:53 – Alicia's experience with surgery as an elite gymnast and how it prepared her for the challenges of recovering from a cesarean birth
24:15 – How she makes time for workouts, or more accurately, how she's changed her definition of what counts as a workout these days
30:20 – Alicia's top four product recommendations for new moms
32:04 – A shared mutual hatred for laundry (you too?)
Linkable Mentions (in order mentioned)
The Gympire – Alicia and former teammate Samantha Peszek's Instagram account full of fun ways to stay fit
YogaGlo (Glo) – Megan's go-to for at-home yoga. (Want me to send you a free class? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!)
Audible – Megan's go-to for audiobooks while folding endless laundry. Sign up for the free 30 day membership and receive two free audiobooks! Recent favorites include Becoming by Michelle Obama, Educated by Tara Westover, and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
Blinkist – Alicia's go-to for SparkNotes-style summaries of non-fiction books she definitely doesn't have time to read.
@asaq3 – Where you can follow Alicia (and also find cute pictures of Sloan and Teagan)
MEGAN: So most of us know you as Alicia Sacramone, Olympic gymnast, second most decorated world championship gymnast (behind Simone Biles by the way, which is—that’s like a really impressive title to hold. [Laughter.] But these days you actually go by Alicia Quinn. So what are you up to these days and who is Alicia Quinn and what are some of the many hats she wears?
ALICIA: I like to think of my former life before marriage and children as my alter ego. So Alicia Sacramone is my alter ego, and I’m now Alicia Quinn, a mom of two. I was coaching gymnastics literally up until this past December, but then I decided to stay home and be with the girls more—because I know I’m never going to get this time with them back when they’re so little, and it’s just—like—very formative years, so I decided to be home with them more. I’m still doing broadcasting for the SEC Network so I’m going to cover college gymnastics which I’m in the midst of right now. And I actually do camps and clinics and appearances here and there all throughout the summer so I’m home more but I’m also still very busy and very involved in the gymnastics community.
MEGAN: Yeah and you also have The Gympire with Sam Peszek, right?
ALICIA: Yes. So The Gympire is our little side project, which we can’t get—seem to get on the same page on what we want to do with it, because I’m in a different phase of life than Sam. But we both know that we want this to be—almost a community where—like—everyday people can come together and be like, look, just because we’re Olympic athletes doesn’t mean we have our shit together and that we’re gonna be working out and being super healthy all the time. Sometimes I just need to drink a glass of wine—and probably eat a bag of popcorn.
Look, just because we’re Olympic athletes doesn’t mean we have our shit together and that we’re gonna be working out and being super healthy all the time. Sometimes I just need to drink a glass of wine—and probably eat a bag of popcorn.
So we just do it more as a way to stay connected ourselves and just, you know, try to be inspirational and get people motivated to work out. Or just—like–have a little better self care if they don’t have that already.
MEGAN: Yeah, just kind of normalizing it too. Like even Olympic athletes—this is all part of the normal way of doing things.
We’re trying to be relatable. Where these people on Instagram are putting up like, “Oh, I’m in the Maldives doing lord knows what!” I’m like, “That’s not real life.” You know what I did today? I got vomited on. That’s what happened to me today.
ALICIA: A thousand percent. We’re trying to be relatable. [Laughter.] Where these people on Instagram are putting up like, “Oh, I’m in the Maldives doing lord knows what!” I’m like, “That’s not real life.” You know what I did today? I got vomited on. That’s what happened to me today. [Laughter.]
MEGAN: That is relatable. So relatable!
ALICIA: That’s real life, man.
MEGAN: Yeah. I love how you talk about Alicia Sacramone and Alicia Quinn being kind of like alter egos or different identities. And—so, talk to me about how you thought about moving on from gymnastics, because you had sort of an on again off again relationship with the sport after the 2008 Olympic Games—like, maybe a little unfinished business. And then you came back and dominated. You won a vault title and then—how did you know that it was time to move on? Like what was it in your heart that told you it was time?
So, after the Beijing Olympics—I look at it this way. I have always been a talented athlete. Maybe not the hardest worker in certain cases, but I always kind of relied on my talent to get me where I wanted to be. And I think at Beijing I probably could’ve worked harder.
ALICIA: So, after the Beijing Olympics—I look at it this way. I have always been a talented athlete. Maybe not the hardest worker in certain cases, but I always kind of relied on my talent to get me where I wanted to be. And I think at Beijing I probably could’ve worked harder—which my coach would probably dropkick me if he heard me say that right now because I would’ve never admitted that back then—but I’ll say it now. Now that I can reflect back on my life.
And so I kind of walked away from the sport embarrassed because my Olympics didn’t go the way I wanted. I had two really big mistakes, and it was just not something I was overly proud of. So I literally went into hiding for almost two years. Like, didn’t work out—so I—like—imagine just blowing up—and was consuming a decent amount of alcohol because I had just turned 21. And so I just had a toxic breakup with gymnastics at that point.
And I remember going to see Mihai [Brestyan] at a competition in California, because I was living out in L.A. at the time, and he was there with Aly Raisman, and our national team coordinator was like, “Ooh, Alicia! I didn’t know you were coming!” And I was like, “Yeah, I just thought I’d come over and see Mihai.” And she was like, “Oh, well, you know we need vaulters.” And I was just like, “Yeah, no, thank you.”
And then I had an hour and a half drive back to L.A. after that, and I was getting all up in my own head. Like, “Do I want to do gymnastics again? Can I do gymnastics again?” And then I’m going crazy talking to myself, like, “Woman! You can’t do gymnastics again. Are you out of your damn mind? Yes! You can do gymnastics again.” So it was like a little angel on my shoulder and a little devil on my shoulder going back and forth.
So then I finally get home and I think I called my best friend. I’m like, “Hey I’m thinking about making a comeback.” And she’s like, “Are you serious?” And I was like, “Yeah, man I don’t know.” And so that’s kind of how it all started. And I ended up moving back to Massachusetts, because I decided if I was going to train, I wanted to be with Mihai, because he had been my coach from the time I was a little girl. And I slowly started chipping away at that process.
At that time I also had just started dating my now husband, Brady, and so he was playing football I was training for gymnastics. So we both had very busy schedules, but we tried to see each other when we could. There was just a mutual understanding that we had these goals we were trying to accomplish, so I think that was a good thing for me to have going on as well as this “comeback,” because it was tough. Like—I went from not working out at all for two years to trying to get back in gymnastics shape, and my coach wouldn’t let me do anything besides just conditioning and strength. [Laughter.]
MEGAN: So fun!
ALICIA: Literally for months. He’s like, “No offense you’re chubby.” And I was like, “No offense. I know.” [Laughter.]
So it was—like—this whole deal. And then I was just approaching it more with open eyes. Like I had been to the Olympics, I knew what that entailed to be there, and I was doing it more out of—I felt like I wanted to find the joy of gymnastics again. And that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard getting back in that process and that mindset, but I was doing things a little differently. I was lifting on the side. I was going to yoga. I was doing not just seven hours a day of gymnastics training like I had been. So for me this was a much more enjoyable process in that comeback, and it was just about having fun and going out on my own terms.
And I came back. I made a World Championship team that first year—which—I won my first vault medal which was huge. That was super exciting, and that kind of fueled the flame to keep going—until I couldn’t go anymore, basically.
And then I got to 2011 Worlds, tore my achilles—which was tough because I was—honestly—I felt like I was in the best shape of my life. I was like, ahh, I’m so prepared. I worked so hard! And then it was just like, tear jerker.
But then I made a commitment to myself after that. I was like, “Know what? No more tears. I’m going to get surgery. I’m going to bust my butt to come back.” And I competed nine months post-op, made it to Olympic Trials, and at that point, the way they wanted to build up the team, it wasn’t in my cards to make another one. So I knew at that moment, I was like, “Know what? I came back from this major injury. I did the best that I could.” And I was like, “I think I’m ready for this chapter to be done, because I went out on my own terms—best showing that I could have.”
And I was proud of the work that I had put out there. For me I was ready to move on from that. It just felt like gymnastics had come—you know—played its course, and I was ready to do something different with my life at that point.
Alicia Sacramone - Beam - 2012 Visa Championships - Sr. Women - Day 2 - YouTube
MEGAN: Yeah. It’s so beautiful that you were able to do it in such an enjoyable way—that last chapter, too. So it wasn’t—even though it ended in a way that didn’t feel as climactic as I’m sure you would’ve preferred it to be, the journey was at least beautiful in and of itself. So it—it didn’t feel like it wasn’t worth it, you know?
ALICIA: Definitely. It was a bittersweet moment. Like I definitely was angry and upset right after not being picked for the Olympic team, but like I said, for me I can walk away with no regrets. And people are like, “Do you miss it?” And I’m like, “Nope!” [Laughs.]
I got out at the perfect time. And now gymnastics is just—like—way too crazy and Simone is way too good. And I was like, “This old lady couldn’t keep up!” [Laughter.]
MEGAN: Yeah. I keep going back to what you just said at the beginning of this—that you were super talented and you didn’t actually work—you didn’t work as hard as you could’ve. And I wonder how much of that actually ties in to your new role as a mom. Because it strikes me that moms have this uncanny ability to dig deeper—just—like—incessantly dig deeper. You get puked on and you just gotta deal with it. [Laughter.] And like you might be sick too and you just gotta deal with it. And there’s so many instances where that happens.
Did you feel like you weren’t working hard enough then or is that something that you think about now as a mom and you’re like, “Man! I really could’ve done a lot more because now look at how much I can do?”
I think right after [the 2008 Olympics], I thought—I was like, “Oh I probably could have worked harder.” And now as a mom where you’re wearing all these hats—you’re taking care of all these other people—I’m like, “Man if I had this much drive and tenacity when I was competing I would’ve been an Olympic champion!”
ALICIA: I think right after, I thought—I was like, “Oh I probably could have worked harder.” And now as a mom where you’re wearing all these hats—you’re taking care of all these other people—I’m like, “Man if I had this much drive and tenacity when I was competing I would’ve been an Olympic champion!”
I’m way better with time management now. Before I would be like—ugh, like, what did I used to do with my day before I had kids? I used to complain that I never had time. Now I really don’t have time and I still get stuff done. [Laughs.]
So I think it’s a little big of both. Like it’s just getting older and then realizing, “Okay. You definitely could've worked harder.” And then having kids and, like, “Holy crap! You really could’ve worked harder. You had nothing to do with your day besides workout and rest.
MEGAN: Rough life. [Laughter.]
ALICIA: Oh my—I know! Like you didn’t even know how good you had it! I wish I could talk to myself back then and be like, “Girl you don’t even know!”
MEGAN: But you don’t know! Which—you know—that’s the beauty of motherhood is it totally changes your perspective. I just love that we’re able to dig into that space. I wonder what—did anything else from your training as an elite gymnast kind of help you in these early years of motherhood? I’m just thinking—you know—coming back from adversity, training, and digging deep, and having to do things that you really don’t want to do—that must all come in handy.
In gymnastics you have to be very disciplined, and there’s a lot of structure and order. I think for me that was super helpful as a mom, knowing how to keep a schedule and be able to implement that for other people. Because if I didn’t have my kids on a schedule, it would be chaos here.
ALICIA: You know, in gymnastics you have to be very disciplined, and there’s a lot of structure and order. I think for me that was super helpful as a mom, knowing how to keep a schedule and be able to—kind of implement that for other people. Because if I didn’t have my kids on a schedule, it would be chaos here. And—I think gymnastics taught me that because I was like, “You know what? You need to be on time. You need to get this done. You need to get this done. You need to get this done.” So just being task oriented definitely translated over from an athlete to being a mom.
And it’s just—I coached too when I was training, so I got to work with kids. I felt like before I had kids I was like, “Oh, you know, I’ll be fine.” I didn’t realize what it was going to take to have a newborn. I never held a newborn until I held my daughter for the first time.
ALICIA: So for me I was—like—freaking out. I was like, “I’m not qualified for this.” Looking at nurses like, “Are you sure I can take this thing home with me?” And they’re like, “Yes, ma’am. That’s your child.” I’m like, “We need to reevaluate this situation.”
And my husband and I are like laughing because we’re like, “Nobody knows if we’re qualified for this. We just gotta figure it out.”
MEGAN: Yeah. And you have a lot of life experience to help you do that, which is more than a lot of people have I think. Because at least you have the discipline and the ability to dig into something that might feel scary and foreign and—like—know that step by step you can get there.
I think the one thing that was comforting for me as a new mom—I was just, like, talking to other people—like, nobody knows what they’re doing. Like, we may look like it if we have kids and whatever but nobody knows what they’re doing that first time. So they’re like, “Don’t feel bad. And don’t feel like you’re being judged by other people.”
ALICIA: Definitely. And I think the one thing that was comforting for me as a new mom—I was just, like, talking to other people—like, nobody knows what they’re doing. Like, we may look like it if we have kids and whatever but nobody knows what they’re doing that first time. So they’re like, “Don’t feel bad. And don’t feel like you’re being judged by other people.”
But you have to do what works for you. And I think as a gymnast with always having everything so regimented and like—okay—cut and dry—it needs to be done like this, this, and this—that was a hard pill for me to swallow. I’m like, “What do you mean? I just need like a handbook for telling me that it should be like this, this, and this, and that way I know that I’m doing it right and I know I can be really good at it.” [Laughs.]
MEGAN: Like drills when you’re learning a new skill, right?
ALICIA: A thousand percent.
MEGAN: You just want to know exactly what you’re supposed to do and then you can do it. But unfortunately…
Motherhood didn’t come with a handbook.
ALICIA: Yeah. No. Nobody… motherhood didn’t come with a handbook.
MEGAN: No. So I kind of want to segue into another topic that totally fascinates me with athletes and mother—like moms that are athletes or were athletes and–anyway, that was said very stupidly but… [laughter]… something that fascinates me about women who have become mothers who used to be elite athletes which is—how we think about our bodies as they change from athlete to pregnant to postpartum and kind of the whole world of postpartum—after what people call postpartum. Right? Like we’re always postpartum.
MEGAN: And I’m curious how you’ve thought about body image for yourself through your pregnancies and through postpartum.
I didn’t want to be photographed while I was pregnant, because I just felt like I was fat, which is such a weird gymnastics mental warp to think that but for me that’s how my brain was working.
ALICIA: So I think both my pregnancies my mentality was different. So with my first one I was like, “I’m going to be super active and just have a belly.” And, like, was very anal about only gaining 25 pounds, because that’s what my doctor told me I needed to gain. And I was like, “Not a pound more.” And I was like—such—I was like so anal about that. And I wasn’t—I didn’t want to be photographed while I was pregnant, because I just felt like I was fat,..
MacKenzie Miller Kozlowski is a world renowned yoga teacher and also mom to one and a half year old Adler.
Here, MacKenzie shares about how she’s transformed since becoming a mother, how meditation has helped her process her grief after miscarriage, and why she’s so inspired to support mothers with the platform she originally created to share great pictures of fancy backbends.
2:51 – MacKenzie talks openly about her recent miscarriage, how she's doing, and what it's been like since
7:02 – How meditation and mindfulness have helped MacKenzie process her grief
10:53 – Why MacKenzie despises the phrase “get your body back” and how she thinks about postpartum body image
12:33 – How pregnancy gave MacKenzie a newfound respect for her stomach
21:36 – How miscarriage and a complicated birth history has made it difficult to plan for her professional future
24:34 – Why MacKenzie believes cesarean birth is natural birth
33:13 – MacKenzie discusses why she likes science and also why she likes more holistic approaches too
38:59 – On making decisions based on what feels right in your heart
42:11 – Sleep training, and why MacKenzie swears by it (even though she never thought she would)
AloMoves – You can find some wonderful yoga classes taught by MacKenzie on AloMoves ($20/mo after a free 14 day trial) or you can also find some free classes on the AloMoves YouTube channel.
MEGAN: For those who are not familiar with you or your work, who are you what are some of the many hats you wear?
MACKENZIE: A lot of people just know me as MacKenzie Miller, but my married name is Kozlowski. I’m a yoga teacher by trade, and I feel like more and more that’s taking the backseat and motherhood is my career—and sharing that.
So I’m pretty fortunate to have just found a little piece of the world that is interested enough in me to invest in me both as a yoga teacher and as a mother. So that’s where I spend my time and energy investing it.
MEGAN: That’s so fortunate and so beautiful. So obviously yoga has played a huge role in who you are and who you’ve been and I definitely want to talk more about that. But I also just want to make some space here in the beginning of the conversation, if you’re comfortable with it, to talk about the big and heart wrenching elephant in the room—at least for me and those who follow you on Instagram. So, you announced your second pregnancy kind of right around Christmas time with this adorable photo of your toned little bump [laughter], and then you recently learned at your 19-week ultrasound that your baby had passed away. Which—just—ugh. I wish I could give you a big hug over the phone right now. But how are you doing with that and with that news?
MACKENZIE: Honestly it’s a bit surreal. It’s a week ago almost—like—to the minute that we would’ve found out that our baby’s heart had stopped beating a month prior to our ultrasound. And so, yeah—that was a week ago, and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. We essentially had to—well we didn’t have to—but we made the decision to get the processes started. In general if you miscarry, your body sometimes doesn’t know until about four to six weeks later, so I was about at the five week mark, and the longer—and I mean this is kind of graphic so anyone who is easily—they’re queasy—you might just want to skip ahead a few minutes—but the longer you have a decaying body—little human—in you, the higher risk of things going wrong for me as the mother.
So we made the decision that we would go straight to the hospital and get checked in and I would have to then—kind of go into labor. They induced me and it was a long process. You’d think that at—well—our little baby—which I haven’t announced on Instagram yet—was a little girl—and she was about 14, 15 weeks. So she was born at 11 centimeters and, like, nothing. She weighed so little. You’d think that birthing something so small wouldn’t be painful or wouldn’t take a long time, but it took about 12 hours and a lot of induction medicine. My body definitely wanted to hold onto this little angel for as long as possible and love and nurture it in any way that it could.
So it—yeah—it was—in a way it doesn’t even feel like it was me and it’s surreal that it’s been a week. And you almost wouldn’t have even been able to tell that I was pregnant to begin with—that in a way it feels like a bit of a dream. [Laughs.]
And physically I’ve really—I’ve healed, really nicely, so I’m really fortunate in that way. And so now it’s more just kind of healing my heart. And you know that’s a bit of a longer process. I think right now I actually have found quite a bit of peace around the situation. If and when we decide to start trying again and I get pregnant, I’m sure I’ll be a complete basket case. So [laughs] I feel like right now it’s good. Ask me in an hour, ask me in a week, ask me in a month, and you might get a completely different answer.
MEGAN: Yeah but that’s how these things go, and that’s part of the process.
Grieving is not linear.
MACKENZIE: Yeah that’s certainly—grieving is not linear.
MEGAN: No it’s not. Has your training in yoga been helpful at all and the way that you’ve had to train your mind? Obviously your body is so strong, but I mostly mean the way that you’ve been so thoughtful throughout this process. And I wonder how much of that can be ascribed to your practice.
MACKENZIE: I think a lot of it can be. I mean, I’ve been practicing, like, the physical practice of yoga for 13 years now, and I think that any—most people who practice for a decade go through quite a transformation and these ebbs and flows of what matters most or what’s important to you in your practice. And I think that working—you know I used to be quite about physically performing things. Being able to achieve “advanced postures.”
When I got pregnant with Adler, I completely backed away from backbends. And I’d say that that’s somewhat what I was known for—I was quite able to do very deep backbends. And so to stop that completely—it’s a mental practice to kind of let go.
Photo: Hanna Witte
MEGAN: Beating yoga basically? [Laughs.]
MACKENZIE: Yeah I was winning. I was winning at yoga hard. [Laughs.] And that’s not my priority now. It’s not saying that what I’m focused on is better now, but it’s just different. And I think though the dedication it takes to achieve what I did physically teaches you a lot of dedication and persistence and showing up for yourself.
So more recently, I’ve backed away from advanced postures in yoga. Specifically when I got pregnant with Adler, I completely backed away from backbends. And I’d say that that’s somewhat what I was known for—I was quite able to do very deep backbends. And so to stop that completely—it’s a mental practice to kind of let go.
I think motherhood in general is very similar to yoga. If you’ve ever injured yourself in the yoga practice, you kind of have to redefine what matters to you, how you define yourself within the practice. And motherhood is very similar. When you become a mom your whole definition of self begins to shift.
And so when I became pregnant with Adler I decided to shift even more towards therapeutic aspects of yoga, specifically meditation. And so I did a meditation training with 1 Giant Mind and I just got really into—I’ve always been really into—myofascial release, so I continued doing that, and meditation, and restorative practices were my saving grace throughout my pregnancy and postpartum for sure.
MEGAN: That’s another piece I’d love to talk to you about—the whole postpartum yoga. Because, I know—so I was an athlete myself and with my first baby I was just so horrified by how long it took to get back into doing things. I wanted to go-go-go immediately. I didn’t have a very zen yogic mind about the whole thing. [Laughs.] But then with the second I realized, “You know what? Actually if you just take one foot in front of the other each day, you get there eventually.”
And how did you approach your practice postpartum and thinking about—not—I don’t even think we think about it as getting our body back unless maybe you do but—just—your new body and finding your new body in motherhood.
I pretty much despise the phrase get your body back.
MACKENZIE: I pretty much despise the phrase get your body back.
MEGAN: Yeah me too it’s just awful.
MACKENZIE: I think it’s really—there are certain phrases and these ideas that society pushes on women, and the idea that you can “get your body back” after growing a human and birthing a human is—ridiculous.
Your body will never be the same. Like you just can’t get it back. You can manifest a similar shape—and skillset—but there’s always going to be differences. And so that’s a phrase I avoid using.
And I loved being pregnant. And I—basically if I could be pregnant all the time, I think I would. It really changed my relationship with my body—and I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with my body. There’s—I mean I’m human so there’s things that sometimes I wish would change more than others—but in general I’m super grateful. Like I’ve got a healthy functioning body that is mostly pain free most of the time, so that in and of itself is really all that matters to me.
But pregnancy really gave me a newfound respect for my stomach and that’s an area I think most women don’t like. I mean I guess I can’t speak for all women but it’s an area that is spoken about a lot and it’s like “suck your stomach in” and all these kind of like “have a flat stomach.”
MEGAN: As a yoga teacher, I’m sure you can speak for a lot of women who come in and demand core…
MACKENZIE: Yeah for me I think it was such an empowering experience to let my core go, in a sense. And the reality is—I didn’t. Like, physically I didn’t know how to turn my abs off in my first pregnancy.
I—because I’ve been a yoga instructor, and before that a personal trainer and group exercise instructor—I’ve been in the fitness industry for almost twenty years—and so I’ve basically been doing core work and keeping my abs tight to look as fit as possible in front of my clients, in front of my students, on camera, on Instagram, everywhere. It’s like—look as fit as possible—and so my abdominal muscles were—they just didn’t know how to turn off, which isn’t healthy for any muscle. All your muscles should be able to turn on and off when needed.
And so I had diastasis recti with my pregnancy with Adler and worked with a physio through that and then this pregnancy I found my abs much more—they’re just much more supple—like, physically [laughs] they’re not as toned as they were when I was pregnant with Adler, but I just—I know how to turn them off. I’m not sucking in all the time throughout my day, and for me it’s really empowering.
The other act that while pregnant I found really empowering—and I’m trying to continue it postpartum because I think it’s kind of a lesson I need to translate outside of being pregnant—but when I’m pregnant I treat my body so, so well. [Laughs.]
You know I eat—like in general—I eat healthy. I’m married to a vegetable farmer, my brother in law is a grazier, so he raises beef and we—I know where 90% of my food comes from.
MEGAN: That’s amazing…
MACKENZIE: I see it grow. I see it graze. So I’m really fortunate. The food I put in my body is really healthy. I also like chips.
MEGAN: That’s allowed.
We just aren’t very kind, the thoughts we think about our stomach. And so I’m trying to really consciously shift that postpartum here and continue to send love to my center, because I really believe our stomach is where it all kind of begins—at least for me in my experience that’s where most of my emotions reside.
MACKENZIE: But when I’m pregnant, I’m doing all the right things. I’m taking my vitamins, I’m staying quite active, I’m eating well, but one thing I’m really good at is rubbing oil all over my body when I’m pregnant. It’s like I just want to give my skin all this—and it’s partially vain because I want to avoid as many stretch marks as I can if that’s possible—and so I lube myself up every night before I go to bed and there’s something really therapeutic I’ve found about massaging my stomach. And specifically when there’s a little human in there it just seems like an act of love.
I’m just trying to… create these loving practices just for me instead of using the excuse of “I’m doing it for the baby.” I’m trying to do these loving practices for myself.
And now that I’m abruptly not pregnant, I’ve decided to continue it because I feel like our abdomen—our gut—is so undervalued, and in general we don’t treat it well. And we don’t often—society, I feel like, in general—it’s like you don’t listen to your gut—we, a lot of people numb through food. We just aren’t very kind, the thoughts we think about our stomach. And so I’m trying to really consciously shift that postpartum here and continue to send love to my center, because I really, I believe our stomach is where it all kind of begins—at least for me in my experience that’s where most of my emotions reside. If I’m upset, my stomach gets upset. And so yeah I’m just trying to shift that and create these loving practices just for me instead of using the excuse of “I’m doing it for the baby.” I’m trying to do these loving practices for myself.
MEGAN: Yeah, that’s so key. And I know it’s almost cliche how often it’s talked about these days—like, “self care,” taking care of yourself—and, you know, you’ve gotta take care of yourself so you can take care of your humans. But it’s still so overlooked even though it’s this huge thing in the media these days. So props for actually doing it. [Laughter.]
You mentioned your husband’s a vegetable farmer, so I’m so curious. You’re mostly doing motherhood these days it sounds like. So how are you and your husband making things work? Like how do you structure your lives so that you get to be the mom you want to be and he gets to be the dad he wants to be?
MACKENZIE: Yeah, our lives—we live kind of a unique life. At this time of year, in the winter, up in beautiful Red Deer, Alberta, it’s really fricken cold, and the grounds are covered with snow, and they’re frozen. And so in the winter, essentially Adler has two stay-at-home parents, which we’re really fortunate that that’s our circumstances, because—
Last year Adler was born at the end of October. We were home from Germany by the end of November and he was out of the NICU at the end of November—or, yeah, end of November—and so last winter we had a newborn baby and we were all just cozy at home together getting so much time to bond. And then this winter it is similar. Basically since the end of October, Mike has been home with me, and we’re kind of two stay at home parents.
In the summer it’s chaos. I’m essentially a single mom, because he’s gone all the time. [Laughs.] Although he really prioritizes the family. Really it’s a big value for both of us, and we value time together. So we’ve organized our life so that we can optimize as much time together as a family as possible.
And so we do get time together in the summer. We go out—Adler and I go out to the farm and—we go, he runs a CSA program, which is “Community Supported Agriculture.” I feel like in the States, really popular is the idea of, like, a food box program, and that’s what he runs. So we often help with that—delivering—well he doesn’t deliver, he does pickups, so we go to the pickups, and Adler helps everyone get their vegetables. [Laughs.]
MEGAN: I’m sure he’s great at it.
MACKENZIE: Oh yeah I’m pretty sure he’s the reason everyone’s there. [Laughs.] And yeah so we kind of have a unique life. It’s surprising how fast the winter goes by when there are two stay at home parents and neither of us get much done professionally. [Laughs.] It’s sometimes mind blowing. So we have to find—we’ve gotten much better about prioritizing and scheduling time for ourselves. So, time to go to the gym, time to do some computer work, et cetera, so that’s kind of our key to maintaining some sort of balance.
My idea for the future has really had to shift because of Adler’s unique entrance into the world.
MEGAN: Yeah. And speaking of professional pursuits, what are your professional pursuits? What are you up to these days in terms of—that—what are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Prana-Enhancing Vinyasa Flow with MacKenzie Miller - YouTube
MACKENZIE: Well, my idea for the future has really had to shift because of Adler’s unique entrance into the world.
[Editor's Note: Adler was born several weeks early while MacKenzie and Mike were traveling in Germany for a yoga conference. It was a complicated ordeal involving bed rest, an emergency cesarean birth, NICU time in Germany, a complicated flight home, NICU time in Canada, and finally, a healthy thriving baby brought home to Red Deer.]
We—my travel insurance, which shouldn’t shock anyone—won’t cover me while I’m pregnant—outside of Canada—so, when we found out I was pregnant, I had to cancel all of my teaching—scheduled teaching gigs—they were all outside of Canada. So, essentially I thought I would be home until the end of June—I was due June 29th—so figured I’d be home this whole year, one, being pregnant, and then I wanted to spend the first, kind of, six months postpartum focusing on being a mom. And so I thought 2019 was a write-off professionally speaking.
I’m a bit tentative. I’m really having to figure out what the new norm is going to look like for me.
Now I suppose that could change. I’m a bit tentative. I’m really having to figure out what the new norm is going to look like for me, because I’m hesitant to book anything honestly, professionally speaking, because if I got pregnant I’d just have to cancel again. So I’m kind of in this state of limbo.
I have been mentally exploring the idea—I don’t know—it still feels a bit cheesy to me—but the idea of e-books and creating support for women during pregnancy and postpartum physically and, kind of, mentally and emotionally as well. So creating an e-book that would encompass all that you would need and/or want to know that would support you throughout your journey.
MEGAN: Well I support that. I think you should do it. [Laughs] Because, I think, so—I’ve watched you on Instagram throughout, you know, completely before motherhood, as you went through pregnancy with Adler, having Adler, and then through this second pregnancy, and it’s been so interesting from an outsider’s perspective to see the transition in—not just your practice—but the way that you approach it. And it’s been so impressive to me to watch how your—like, how almost your way of moving, and your ease with your body has shifted, and if there was a way for you to communicate to women how to help make that shift, that would be—just so powerful I think.
Within yoga, I find—one of the reasons I slowly I feel myself backing away from what modern yoga is, is that I find it to be quite privileged and judgemental.
MACKENZIE: Yeah, I really—like, I love yoga and I always will, but there’s something so special to me about the club of motherhood.
I mean I think there’s lots of ways you can be a mom—I believe—and it doesn’t mean you have to have gone through pregnancy and, like, genetically be connected to a human to be a mother. And I just want to support—I just want to support other moms. And, you know, I’ve had—I think—well statistically they’re not that unique experiences, but having had a premature birth as well as now a miscarriage gives me a bit of a unique insight into different aspects of the motherhood club. And within yoga, I find—one of the reasons I slowly I feel myself backing away from what modern yoga is, is that I find it to be quite privileged and judgemental. And I have a really hard time with that specifically when it comes to pregnancy and delivering..