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Podcast Ep. 45: Fighting for Working Moms with Erin Erenberg, Founder of Totum Women

In this episode

What a joy it was to kick off our theme this month around Working Moms Mental Wellness with Erin Erenberg. Erin is CEO and founder of Totum Women, a moms’ advocate, a founding mother at the Chamber of Mothers, IP attorney, serial entrepreneur and mom of three. With Totum Women Erin helps moms in the workplace through products, community, events, and research backed resources.

And with Chamber of Mothers, Erin is a leader in the fight for federal paid leave and policies that support mothers. Erin and her family live in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, not too far from us here in Savannah, Georgia. We talked about the real struggles working moms face, the lack of support at work and at all levels of government, how the world isn't ready to hear the real challenges working moms face, but how Erin is speaking out anyway and a whole lot more.

If you care about working moms wellness, then you're going to love this episode.

Listen here

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About our guest

Erin Erenberg is CEO and founder of Totum Women, a moms’ advocate, a founding mother at the Chamber of Mothers, IP attorney, serial entrepreneur and mom of three.

Show notes

  • Totum Women, a community for resources, support, and conversation for modern motherhood
  • Chamber of Mothers, a collective movement to focus America's priorities on mothers’ rights.
  • Here's a helpful summary, by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, of current policy on paid leave in the U.S.: "The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires eligible employers to provide certain workers unpaid family leave; however, unlike nearly all other industrialized nations, the U.S. does not have national standards on paid family or sick leave, despite strong public support."
  • "Don't be an ally, be an accomplice." - Rene Graham
  • Maslow's hierarchy of needs
  • Fair Play, by Eve Rodsky

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford

We wanted to start off by hearing a little bit about your story. And so the first place that I wanted to start, we can we can circle back, of course, is when did you realize that you wanted to go into law or become a serial entrepreneur?

Erin Erenberg

I love that. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. These are all my favorite topics, and I love being with both of you. Two new friends. So, yeah, you know, it's it's funny the way my career, the trajectory is kind of interesting to me when I look at it. But, you know, growing up, my dad's a lawyer, my dad's best friend's a lawyer. We always vacation with them. Like, the idea of the law was always around me. I remember one vacation we were all in the minivan, and my dad and his best friend were listening to, like, bar prep on the way, you know, a ten hour drive. So the law was.

JW

And the kids didn't revolt, you know, turn this off.

EE

But that's a whole other thing, I guess. Think about parenting these days and we're so connected and dialed into our kids needs. My parents, like, didn't care. It's like you get one sip of orange juice an hour because we don't want you to pee and you're going to listen to bar prep and be quiet.

Audra DiPadova

I got my parents gave me Dramamine. I mean, we were out for 14 hours.

EE

I love it. So, yeah, the law was always there. And then I don't know if you all did this in high school, even we had to take this test called the ASVAB. It was like the Armed Services, Vocational Aptitude Battery. No clue. I remember that acronym but it was just basically like, you shall be a lawyer. And it's funny because I kind of rejected that.

I had this feeling of, you know, my dad's a lawyer, my mom's a teacher, and it's this big, wide world. Why would I pick the two? Any either of the two professions that I've been sort of steeped in my whole life, and I grew up traveling a lot with my mom, which is a whole other really cool story.

But I just saw the world as a really big place. But I did I got it in my mind that I wanted to go to Duke, like, really young. I just got really excited about that school and had a fantastic experience there. And again, was the theme of, you know, I did Comparative Area Studies, which is like international relations meets anthropology and humanitarianism and activism, and I loved it.

I had such a great experience there. And so I did see this notion of, you know, I am essentially an advocate. Everything that I do, the whole way I live, there's this sense of advocacy and yearning for justice and wanting to take everything I know and have experienced and help make people's lives better and even small ways and so I did feel like, oh, maybe I will end up going to law school despite being told that by too many people and wanting to rebel against it.

And but I actually my first job was in tech. I went and I worked at Trilogy Software, which was hiring a bunch. I graduated in 2000. I lived in Austin. I loved it that I worked and after that, a law firm ended up going to law school. I even knew in law school, you know, I, I want to go into a big firm because you know, that's where I'll make money right off the bat to help pay off these, you know, loans that I have.

But I don't want to stay in a law firm and as soon as I got into a big firm, I was doing intellectual property law, and I loved intellectual property, but I did not I was sort of allergic to the container of a law firm just billing hours. And this idea that the more time you spend on a client's matter, the more money you're going to make.

That seems so that's a conflict of interest, right? Like if you come to me with a problem, I want to help you as efficiently as possible, especially if you're filling my time. That didn't sit right with me. And I had partners be like, you know, get your head around this. Like, we want hours.

But I wanted to get them the answer as soon as possible and free them of the problem they've come to me with. And so I learned there at a law firm, I was at a big law firm for honestly, while I was there, nine months and I was only 26 years old and I wrote up my letter of resignation and took it to my partner.

And I just said, I, this is not for me. And I, without a net I left that law firm and this really nice salary and really great support system. And I just started taking on music law clients at the time I was living in Nashville, it started out in North Carolina then I was in Nashville. So I was taking on clients in a really entrepreneurial way.

You know, I had one client that I worked with about 40-50 hours a week there called SESAC, they’re a performing rights organization that acquires the catalogs of songwriters and publishers and then licenses them out to music users. And that through that, I learned a couple of things. Number one, I love autonomy, so I like that I am working for myself, and I might be working with this one client all the time, but at the end of the day, I'm giving them I'm an independent contractor.

I love that independence and I really liked working with creative people. And so just skipping ahead, I ended up in Los Angeles, my boss actually at SESAC said there's this really cool charitable foundation of the Academy of Country Music, of all things, and they're in Los Angeles and they really need to they need somebody to come into the foundation and help them make it exciting.

They need partnerships with talent and they just need to kind of create a brand. So I moved to L.A., I ran that foundation. It was my favorite job I've ever had. And again, I learned some things about myself. I learned that I really love putting together partnerships. I really love getting creative and thinking about how I can pull people together around a common interest and get them all excited about doing good.

And we had these amazing programs. We put together a music camp for people with a specific intellectual challenge called Williams Syndrome. And we did that in conjunction with Vanderbilt. And so I love that job. However, I then got carried away by Tech again, and started. I was the one of the very first employees at Indiegogo, the crowdfunding company, and help them build.

So there I was and I was always doing law, so as the executive director of a nonprofit, I was still working on contracts and deals and of course compliance for the nonprofit. And then when I worked at Indiegogo, it was only five of us at the time, and they said, We just need partnerships. Like you come in here and build partnerships and then also paper the deal.

So basically there was always this theme of I want to be helpful, I want to build something, I want the autonomy to be creative and to to to think differently about what the problem is and how we tackle it and to help people. I want there to be some positive social outcome from what I'm doing. So all of that was going on.

And then I had our first baby in 2012 and I think like a lot of women, I was absolutely shocked by the lack of support for me as a woman when I became a mother. Yeah, I mean there was so much attention and support on me as a pregnant woman and, you know, with my partner too, and we lived in L.A at the time and there was also a lot of attention even on how you give birth, right?

I mean it's oh yeah. Unmedicated or medicated or C-section or this or this and that. Everybody pick a lane. And so I was super informed about that. I felt very supported. And then had the baby and things were happening to my body, to my mind, to my relationships, to my ambition, my, my career drive. It was not what I expected.

And I would like to just speak on that for a second because I know we're talking about working motherhood. I, you know, now we're on a platform that reaches you know, around 60,000 women a week, mothers, modern mothers. And no two women have the same experience of motherhood. But the theme is we are all discombobulated by it. Right. And so I have talked to mothers who are extremely career driven, and they have their baby and they really want to take a pause and they want to lean all the way out.

And in 2012 Lean In was the big book. It was in the zeitgeist and and you know what I've learned senses Lean In was not written for me. Lean In is not written for a mother who's in her thirties it's written for a young woman who's about to choose her partner. But I felt and I know a lot of mothers still feel to this day that the big idea there was do not lean out, lean all the way into your ambition, lean all the way into your career, or you are doing a disservice to all the work that feminism has done for you to this point.

That's how I took it. That's how a lot of women took it.

AD

There's some weight to that. Heavy.

EE

Really heavy. And so I really surprised myself because I wasn't the kind of little girl that played with dolls. I didn't babysit growing up. I didn't have this timeline around, like when I turn 30, I need to have it. Not at all. I was surprised with how quickly I became pregnant, had our first baby, and was shocked at how much I love being a mother.

I really it opened up this softer, more patient, more present side of me that I hadn't encountered in a very long time because I was so used to just being so driven and working so hard for whatever I wanted. And suddenly by slowing down and being present and being soft and patient, I was being the very best mother I possibly could for my baby.

And not only did I love that for him, and I love seeing the result of that for George, our first baby, but I enjoyed myself. I liked myself more. I felt really happy. But unlike, you know, a mother that faces postpartum depression and goes through something a little different, I also couldn't square that with everything I knew of myself.

And frankly, I don't think my husband really could wrap his head around what I was saying. Like when I would say I actually don't want to go back to work. I really want to take a beat and be with the baby who's just sort of like, OK, like, I think he thought some time would pass and I would just like, that would go away. And so I did go back to work at three months postpartum, and I was really not ready and I had a really hard time. And so anyway, that is when the seed was really planted for me that I wanted I knew I was not alone. And this experience of discombobulation and lack of support because once I started talking about it to other mothers, they would open up.

And that's what I think is so interesting is that we tend to keep these things hidden and we can be complicit and not showing or talking about the experience that we're having, which in turn not only hurts ourselves but hurts other women because they're afraid to show up in what they're really feeling. And so I just decided to sort of go first, you know, if it was baby group and we were all sitting in the circle and everybody saying like, oh, it's actually fine.

I would it's like, I'm not fine. I really don't want to go back to work. And I cry about it every day and I don't know what that means. And then it unlocked this whole conversation so. So, yeah, that, that is where the seed was planted for me. I didn't know that it was going to be called Totem, and I didn't start it right away, but I knew that sort of this thread of advocacy and wanting to take an experience that I had and look around and see if that was a redundant experience that I could help somebody else have an improved experience from what I had.

I wanted to do something about that. And so eventually in 2017 I started Totem.

AD

It's beautiful and like the I love love love hearing about this unfolding for you and the courage you you had to speak to your experience and to share your experience. I remember being there to with both of our kids going back at three months super super super struggling with it and and having to and you know not having a choice just having to do it and slipping into relativism you know and and pushing my experience down because I was like well at least I had three months as if that's like. You know, at least, I mean, at least I didn't have to go back at three weeks, two weeks, whatever it might be that like I have friends in the service industry and, you know, other other industries, at least the state of California, you know, through through disability and whatever. You know, I was provided with three paid months. Oh, my God.

You know, you know, I am so lucky. I am so fortunate. Who am I? You know that narrative? Who am I? Who are your privilege? Who are you to complain? Right and that, I think, for so many of us keeps us from, in addition to often going back to a workplace where you come in feeling like I don't fit in here, I don't belong and I'm not welcomed here because I'm a you know, I feel like I might be a problem.

So I have to, like, pretend that not only is everything normal, quote unquote, but I'm better than I was before. You know, I can do more.

It's you know, it's you're like bleeding, you know, profusely, you know, at that point because you're not breastfeeding. If you if you're able to do that, you're not breastfeeding the same way and all that stuff. I mean, it's just catastrophic.

EE

It really is. And it's, you know, I read recently that the postpartum hormone dump is the biggest and most sudden chemical adjustment than any human being goes through at any point in their lives. Full stop. Yeah. And the fact that we don't support that I mean, it's not even it deserves support. I think when people hear the word deserve, it's sort of like go get a massage, you deserve it or like, go get a massage because you're worth it.

It's required. We as a society aren't meeting our requirements for families and and of course they're suffering. And, you know, one of the things I was hearing you saying is sort of that idea of comparative suffering or the suffering Olympics. And yet, you know, it's funny, I have a dear friend, you know, you and I have bonded about we have a son with a medical complexity, a lifelong medical complexity that requires ongoing attention from my husband and me.

And any caregiver. And I have a really good friend who's in a similar situation with twins. And, you know, she has said to me, this whole thing about this suffering Olympics, it's like suffering is suffering. Suffering is a human emotion that requires acknowledgment and validation. But also just don't be a jerk. Like if you're talking to somebody and you know that they have a child who's in and out of the hospital every week and you're frustrated because you didn't get to yoga on time this morning, maybe that person is in your audience.

Like, that's not the person to vent to. It doesn't mean that you're like, you know, the fact that you feel so frustrated about not getting the yoga on time doesn't deserve you doing a check in with yourself, because that might be about a whole slew of other things happening. It might be that you're not sleeping, you're drained, you're depleted, you have no time for yourself.

And so as human beings, this whole comparative suffering thing to me is fascinating. And where I've really landed on it is when we are suffering, suffering is suffering. And we all deserve to check in with ourselves and say, Wow, I'm experiencing suffering. What do I why? What is this about and how can I express it and get some support at the same time?

I think it's important to be aware of the needs of others. And as we call people into our circle and as we're communicate sitting with other people just have sensitivity to one another. But it's, you know, I, I feel sorry and sad and I wish I could have hugged that person that you were going back to work because everything you were going through deserves acknowledgment.

And of course, if you're talking to somebody who's working on the floor at Amazon and, you know, we got stories at Totem about we saw stories around four weeks paid leave. I know we're going to go there around paid leave. Mothers in our community were furious when the paid leave policy that almost passed this year was cut from 12 weeks to four weeks.

It's now zero weeks, but we are ticked off at four. And we were getting stories from women saying, I work in a fulfillment center. I was bleeding down my legs, standing all day. Milk is dripping through my blouse and that's awful. It's also awful that I worked at a tech company and I was the first parent and I couldn't think of a word I always joke.

I couldn't think of the word hat when I went back to work, was talking to my CEO, literally can't think of the word the hat. That's how sleep deprived I was. There was nowhere to pump. I would pump in public bathrooms. I was super embarrassed, you know, I had a colleague who made misogynistic, sexist remarks all day, every day.

And it's all hard. But I think being able to say I'm suffering, I need to talk about this and I need to talk about it in a psychologically safe space where I can feel seen and heard and not judge is important for all of us.

AD

You absolutely nailed it. I mean, I think this is like such a beautiful conversation because what I'm hearing in this, too, is that in these conversations, we're so often pulled into that kind of scarcity mindset of are we talking about 12 weeks or four? Well, this experience versus that experience, it's like, no, we're talking about like building a society where where mothers are held and cared for and supported and not about these these weeks.

We're talking about like, like one day, like, can it be a year? Can it be whatever it is is needed? You know, like I want to see a society where we are able to do some sort of like reverse retirement.

I'll commit to whatever five more years in Social Security. Give me my five now, you know what I mean? That I so identify with you in the space of not realizing and Justin knows as well, like, we met in college and we're like, kids? I don't know. We didn't think, we're going to, you know, like, we're doing our thing.

We have these great ideas school, all of that, becoming a mother. I was just like, you know, this. I was not like I wouldn't even like I've never asked anyone to hold their baby. Like, I did not, you know, I didn't think I was maternal. Right. And then you have that baby. And I was like, oh, my God, I want to stay home.

I want to I don't want to not work. And I, I, but I want to stay home. And I was like, like, yeah, you're in grad school. Like, we couldn't do it. But but what I think really, really gets me from this conversation to I'm thinking, you know, Brené Brown, I'm thinking of inner critic narratives. I'm thinking about what is imbued in us as women, ways that we tell ourselves down and tear each other down.

And that voice that was like, you don't deserve that. Who do you think you are? And that gets into the comparative suffering that gets into, you know, something I have also been really passionate about that I think ties fully into this. And that's grief. And we grieve so much. You know, we are alike from from the very, very first moments, you know, of this journey, not to mention our whole lives before becoming mothers, but motherhood is a journey through grief.

Of many, many layers and many, many kinds. Right. And and the fact that we have to suit up, you know, and try to hold every single thing together to come into these workplaces that desperately need us. Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm. Without being held, without being seen, cared for, supported all of that. Like, it's just that's wrong. And it and that's what I hear, that you are stepping up to make major, major, major change.

EE

And it's incredible. Well, thank you. I can't I talked to an old college friend the other day. She's somebody that I've totally separate work for. I still have an IP practice that's based in Savannah, actually. And we were just talking about IP work, and she was like, yes, I have an IP project for you. It's separate from your personal crusade. And I was like, I love that. I love that totem and chamber of mothers are my personal crusade. I'm going to step into that yes.

And I love that you use the word grief. It's so true. Like a friend had said to me and I know she got it from a book, but grief is love with nowhere to go. And when you think of that in relation to new motherhood, you know, you're thinking about your grieving, your freedom, your grieving, the relationship that you had with your spouse.

That changed overnight because you suddenly are like dual household managers and caregiving manager with zero experience, either one of you. And that that idea of teamwork suddenly has so much strain and stress on it. You're grieving your body. I mean, my goodness. And I'm not talking about how you look. I'm talking you know, I tell people all the time and you can edit this out of this TMI, but there's nothing to me that says we don't support new moms like this.

I had had this unmedicated labor. I was felt like such a warrior. It was everything I wanted it to be. George proud from my belly up to my breast himself and nursed. It was so idyllic. However, or I, you know, as lying in bed in the hospital after I delivered him and my doctor couldn't even make rounds. She said, I can't be there year, you’re going to have to call me.

It's not really her fault. It's a that's a whole other thing, the medical profession and how overtaxed they are. So she called me and I said, you know, I there's something going on in my pelvis that really hurts it. It's not anything. It's not like the whole ring of fire. And it's not it's not anything I've heard people describe.

There's something going on because I feel like I can't get up. And she said, “It's OK. You won't be able to run in the next coming weeks. You can do some yoga. I was like, well, OK. That’s nonresponsive. And so I felt like, talk about the whole Brené Brown thing. Like, you know, if you don't express shame, it just it grows and grows. And so I had sort of I expressed a need, and instead of being received, I was completely dismissed. And this expectation that, like, you know what that said to me? Oh, I should be able to run soon.

Like, I can't get up. Something's wrong with me. I did it wrong. So I did it wrong, all that work. And I did it wrong. And so I was at home. I still really couldn't get up off my some I would like sideline nurse my baby and I was desperate to do something like to get up and cook a meal or whatever.

OK, so I said to my mom, thankfully, my mom was at the house. My mom sort of functioned as a postpartum dula, which I felt so grateful for. She was there at the house for like a month postpartum. And I said, Mom, I really need you to go down and look at my vagina. And she was like, be happy, too.

So she went down. And she said, Well, she's so sweet. She said, It's beautiful, but there is a massive bruise on your perineum, like, massive, really intense bruise and you have not gone to the bathroom since you left the hospital. So I think you're constipated and you have this massive bruise and and my husband who's a veterinarian, was there and he said, if you were a cat, I would just go to CVS and get you an enema.

And I was like, get thee to CVS. Well, he gets back and I'm telling you, 3 minutes later, I was the was so I was so happy and I was having the postpartum experience that I should. So lame that, like, you know, we treat animals better than we treat humans. And I you know, I was just so lucky and blessed to have my mom because sadly, we don't have villages and aloparenting anymore.

And, you know, I actually I didn't have my mom and my second and third births, and I really felt lonely and I really suffered. And it's you know, all of these things happen and they're really not supported. And I will say, you know, I launched I had this experience in 2012. I launched them in 2017. And since then there have been a lot more motherhood platforms and even better motherhood products.

And there's that company Bodily who is really edgy about postpartum support and they're products Frida Baby you know came out so. But I will say you know you look at the free to baby ad that simply shows a postpartum mother peeing in the middle of the night. They don't even show, it's nothing graphic and it was banned from the Oscars. They couldn't even get that seen and I think that was 2019 so there's a lot of women working on behalf of other mothers but our society is not ready and it breaks my heart to hear about: we are allegedly so pro-life, but not once the baby's born.

No, not at all. There's support for child care. There's not support for moms, there's not support for dads. And, you know, there's a study in Sweden where they looked at the postpartum experience of both partners and when dads were given paid leave, the mother's incidence of using anti depressives or anti-anxiety medications was decreased by 25%.

So you know we there is a way to value a family real family values require giving support to a new mother, to a new parent no matter you know you're in a hetero cis gender or not relationship, parents, partners deserve support. Birthing people require support. And our society will not have family values. We won't be able to hang together until we make a massive, monumental shift. And that's totally my personal crusade.

AD

Yeah, totally. And you're I mean, you're talking about like I mean, we could go deep into this probably the economic impact, the fact that, you know, I just saw a stat recently, I think in The New York Times showing that I think for the second year in a row, the year the U.S. Census population increase is like nominal.

And we know the effect of the long term effects that that will have on our economy. You know, like so we we've come from this perspective of like, oh, you know, you're lucky you'll be considered for a job or you're lucky to be at a place that might accommodate you. And and what I hear coming up is a challenge around all of those narratives and that way of doing things right.

We're saying, no, no, no. Yeah, we are the future we're the current, present, now, and the future and the future of this country depends on policies that will be family supportive.

EE

And it could be 2.5 times more expensive to hire someone new when you lose talent. And if you look at companies like BuzzFeed that provide a proper leave, I think they give something between four and six months leave. They saw a 97% increase in retention. So it's the economic impact. If you look at the numbers, it's better for business, it's better for families.

It's better for babies to provide paid leave. We're talking about paid leave now, but I see paid leave along this whole spectrum of support. And we talked about Chamber of Mothers. I just give you a quick, so I launched Totem in 2017. We launched initially as a platform for the brand new mother. So from zero days postpartum to that to 365 days, that first very tender year I saw that sore spot and I had created a lactation cookie of all things with my husband's uncle that helped me get my milk supply back.

I did go back to work. And I started selling that. I started giving it to people first off, like colleagues, friends, neighbors, anybody having babies. And they were saying, OK, not only are these amazing, my husband's uncle had worked at Mrs. Fields. That's why I helped me with the recipe. They're these delicious cookies, but they really, really worked.

I mean, you could go from pumping an ounce out to filling both bottles on both sides.


AD

I needed it. I needed that, Erin. I needed it so badly.


EE

They are so good. I know. I wish we had been connected, but they really were amazing. And I think what I got excited about, I'm not a baker. I was super intimidated by CPG and all of that. But what I loved is I had a problem. I found a solution that I could scale that was addictive to me.

Right. And so when I launched Totem, our first product was Lactation Cookie. We then sold it as a mix, but I would do events and community and just I really had this philosophy of I'll go first. I'll be the first one to tell this super embarrassing story about my mom looking at my vagina and my husband telling me to get an enema.

Because guess what? There's going to be somebody out there who has a embarrassing story. It's wrapped up in shame that they told themselves this whole story, that they didn't do motherhood well. And I want to free them of that. I want to open up the conversation. And so we did a lot of events, community products offer the postpartum woman. And then when the pandemic happened, as I've shared with you, we had a personal we consider a personal trauma.

Our oldest, George, who really set this whole thing in motion. We have three kids now. We have George who's nine, Arabella who's seven. I two losses between the two of them, by the way, and then Beau, who's four. And George was diagnosed with type one diabetes the day after Mother's Day. 2020. So our family really just went through so much shock, so much trauma, so much fear at a time that we were all globally fearful.

And so that happened, and I really had to evaluate what I was doing with Totem because again, CPG as a business that requires a lot of capital. And I was bootstrapping and I so I had to look at am I going to take on an investor and all of those expectations or am I going to shift this model to something that I can control and I can lean in and lean out of as I need and want to.

And so at the same time, I was also noticing and being a part of so many interviews around what was happening to working mothers and how to point 5 million to 3 million mothers were really elbowed out of the workforce because even if both partners were at home working it was most times the mother who defaulted in daycare and just kind of cried uncle, like, I can't do well, I can't be a Zoom teacher and a laundress and, you know, and really like have these KPIs.

Yeah, yeah. And so, you know, mothers are really suffering and the L.A. Times reach out to me to talk about to talk about maternal mental health and what it was like to be a mother in the pandemic. And so I'm thinking, hold on a second here. This is a talk about a collective trauma for mothers. And my experience is I really have empathy around all the touch points because like you, Audra, I was that working professional that wasn't thinking about being a mother.

I was that driven professional. Who knows what it's like to have investors over your shoulders looking for. I can't tell you how many times I heard hockey stick growth month over month I know that pressure. It's real. And then I know what it's like to be a new mother. I know what it's like to return. And by the way, I'm an attorney who understands the limits of discrimination and what accommodations need to be.

And so it just seemed to me that I was missing the plot, being in CPG when I could be doing more at this intersection of ambition and motherhood. And so I really pivoted what I was doing with Totem. I sold off all the remaining cookies and I started focusing on how can I support working parents? And I just found that there is such a need.

I will say that I don't think companies are quite there yet in realizing the investments they need to make. I get booked for a lot of workshops, which I find I'm glad that there's some investment in workshops, but what I'm seeing is a lot of, you know, employee resource groups, ERGs are staffed by working parents and it's unpaid labor.

So they're saying to you, OK, Audra, you say it's a hard time for working mothers. Why don't you do something about that? Why don't you pull together a resource group? By the way, we have no budget, but go get some speakers and don't pay them for their labor either. And so there's this theme.

So I'm seeing this this confluence of on one side and more unpaid labor, mostly of women and and also men, but parents. And I've seen this also in the DEI space. And then I'm also seeing so unpaid labor and performance. So yes, let's do a workshop by the way, we can barely pay you for this. We're not paying the the people here to set it up either. And we're going to have this and check the box.

And a lot of moms are going to come on and say, thank you so much. I feel so seen. They're going to be in tears. I walk away from that thing and I think what's happening for them? Like there's not an ongoing investment in their mental health. You know, what we really would like to offer is ongoing community. Like we can help put the community together. I can do office hours where I can come on a zoom or in real life to the group of working parents and give them a psychologically safe space to talk about what's going on and then follow up with them.

Because I've been steeped in this world for so long with whether they need a parenting coach or they need, you know, a postpartum psychiatrist or a therapist or they need even pelvic floor support or they need to they need some expertise around dividing up labor at home because many times it's not that there's this like awful mean old dad at home. Our society is not set up to equip dads either. And so equipping families with the tools of like, OK, let's make transparent what is going on in your most important organization, which is your home, which we don't treat like an important organization are. Let's look at that. Let's divide up the labor more equitably. By the way, it might not need to be 50/50. It's just even equity at home, all these things,


AD

Learning how to communicate around it. We don't we don't come into these relationships with any orientation around how to communicate about this stuff.


EE

No, we don't.


AD

You just go into default mode. Mode, you know, through all of it.


EE

Yeah. You're flying blind and then you and you argue and it builds up and it's fights and it's no good for anybody. And so there's all this there are so many tools with which I'm familiar are so many experts so, so much that I can offer to working parents. When companies say, we want to really do something about this and we want to have real metrics around the retention.

And by the way, it's not just retention, it is how engaged and inspired are these working parents I can't tell you how many people are staying in their jobs, even though 64% of parents plan to leave their job in 2022, many who are staying are saying I'm in need of. Here are the things I hear: I'm in need of deep rest. I'm completely uninspired. I don't feel loyal to this company anymore. I'm furious with them my creativity is gone because they're depleted and they have felt an utter lack of trust. It's, you know, we need to even the return to work thing, some people feel that return to work is, is a return to micromanagement. It's a return to we can't trust you to do your job.

We're going to make the assumption that if we don't see you, you're not getting it done. And so I'm really interested in and in companies that want to make an actual change and aren't just performing and are really putting skin in the game, because if they're not investing in this, there's they're not going to see a change and so that has been sort of the corporate work.

But then Chamber of Mothers is an advocacy organization that I put together with a bunch of other motherhood community leaders in the late fall of 2021.


AD

And Chamber of Mothers is focused on paid family leave.


EE

So we came together around paid family leave. So that night that. So just for anybody listening that doesn't have a little background on what happened with paid family leave this year, the US is the only quote unquote industrialized nation without paid family leave. We are one of only six countries in the entire world without federal paid leave for families.

And several administrations have tried to pass some sort of federal paid leave. Most recently, President Biden had the family rescue plan which then got parallel-pathed with the infrastructure bill build back better. So advocates of the family rescue plan, which included pay leave, a very, very inclusive paid leave, that's caregiving for the elderly, caregiving for yourself if you're sick, caregiving if you're a victim of domestic violence, being able to get paid leave for that.

It was a beautiful, thoughtful bill that got parallel-path with Build Back Better, the infrastructure bill. The notion being I mean, there are really grasping at straws but it was your family is infrastructure, OK? But the average person that's not obsessed with this the way we are are like bridges, OK, infrastructure OK, sure. So there was really this disconnect between public policy and private lives.

And I decided in 2021 to understand more about what was going on. I started working with an organization called Paid Leave US because I had a former colleague who was there that hooked me into it and just becoming aware of what was going on. So then fast forward to November. We're getting really excited because paid leave might finally pass federal paid leave.

And so a lot of us who have these motherhood platforms are friends. We're in this infrastructure that is mostly collaborative, although it can be competitive too, which is a big waste of time. And so we're watching what's happening. It might be 12 weeks as we discussed, we need way more than 12 weeks, but that's what most states we have nine states that provide some kind of federal paid leave.

They offer 12 weeks, most of them. So at least it's a start, right? So that's where we are one night and we know that it was for people in a room decided to in order to try to pass this bill. Let's just cut paid leave from 12 weeks to four weeks. So moms who were aware of everything and they knew sort of the public sorry, the private implications of these public measures were furious and you know, there is a friend of mine, Alexis Brad Cutler, who runs a really edgy, amazing platform called Not Safe for Mom Group.

And it's a place for moms to just show up any way they want. They can say what they want, scream it out. She was the original like Primal Scream person, and she started lifting up these stories of what was it like for you at four weeks and I said, you know, we were diming, texting on phone calls like this is ridiculous.

We were enraged. And one of my another mom who runs a platform called the mom attorney, she her name's Daphne Delvaux. She said, you know, we're not going to get anything done until we come together like the Chamber of Commerce. Like that's the biggest lobbying body in the country. And they actually make things happen. And so we decided what if we were to rebrand the mother and pull her spending power, which is over 2.4 trillion dollars, her voting power and really instead of, you know, companies and I'm not going to name names now, but there are a lot of companies that in advertisements have you believe that a mother is just like sweet little lady, that's all dowdy. And she's totally lost herself. She's buried under a laundry. And like, we're for moms. Moms are very powerful many times, like highly educated, very motivated, powerful women who can make a lot of things happen.

But what's happening right now is there are a lot of these platforms, including myself, we're throwing pebbles at these massive problems because we're not coming together. And we can't do this in ego. It can't just be about who's next person that puts out the book and gets to stand on the thing. We need to come together and really pool our resources, our talent, our money and our voting power.

And so that was when we came up with this idea, let's be the Chamber of Mothers. And I said, let's have let's go to social media and do a roadblock campaign with the hashtag build back bleeding, because at four weeks we're still bleeding most I mean, you're lucky for not bleeding postpartum for weeks. So we did this we it was Alexis who got this amazing image that we own and we did a social media roadblock.

And it was we want Bill back bleeding and after that, you know, coming down the pike, we also did another campaign that was moms brought you into this world and we could vote you out. And so the way this was working was we had a Slack channel where the lobby groups were telling us exactly in real time what was happening in Washington.

But many of them censor themselves. And we decided to be the uncensored, edgy voice of the every mother. And what we were hearing from the advocacy groups was that we had gotten to the mainstream and consumer mom in a way that they had not done in over five years of advocacy work. And so yeah. Yeah. And I think they're afraid, you know, because they're having to and I'm not dogging they're doing amazing work, but they're seeing on the ground just how tricky and all the red tape.

And we actually we want to follow their lead in the sense that we know when it needs to be delicate, but we have the advantage of not being a lobby group so that we can say this is you say. And these issues are on both sides of the lines. I mean, we have totally all across the spectrum. So we in 48 hours we got 8000 followers on Instagram and our other notion was to really enlist mothers as advocates. Mothers are fired up and it's like, what do I do? You know, I have all these other things going up.

This is another thing for me to do. And so we just gave them an opportunity to give us their name, contact information, a little bit about their background and how they want to step into advocacy, how they want to help and can be big or small. I mean, I can't read this list without crying. It's everybody from, you know, full time moms, teachers, doctors, lawyers, bestselling authors, journalist, just really talking about the pain of their experience.

And what they want to do going forward. And so those of us who put this together just on one night that we were all ticked off, really looked at the outcome and by the way, we also got other celebrity interest. Megan Markle's team sent her new kids book to everybody on the Founding Mothers. That is the founding mothers.

And so we decided to move forward with it. And I'm excited to say that just last week, we became a fiscal sponsor project of the PPF which means that we can now take on charitable donations. We are really excited. We've been really trying to step through, like, how do we pull this together and move as quickly as we can and got really great advice on that and we have an event coming up May 4th for maternal mental health. And we've gotten a lot of amazing brand sponsors. So it's really been, you know, I will be honest, a lot of my work with Totem felt Sisyphean.

I mean, I was just really just pushing the boulder up and I felt like I really wasn't making traction. I feel one of the difficulties is that sadly, I'm finding that modern mothers really don't invest in in our care. You know, we will invest in something that's more surface level, like a your jeans that make our butts look great or a workout or anything for the kids. But when it comes to real inner care, I wasn't seeing the investment. And so a lot of difficulty with that. On the other hand, Chamber of Mothers has just been catching, and I think a lot of it has for me personally, it has to do with: I feel really values-aligned in advocacy.

I feel like this is everything thing that I've learned how to do, the sense of social justice and speaking up for people who, for whatever reason, aren't ready to speak and providing a place for people to to speak who are ready, just giving them giving them a way to express what they're feeling and going through. It's all really caught on.

And I also have loved working with the other women. You know, as you all know, like solo entrepreneurship can be really lonely and isolating. It's been so much fun to work with these women who are just creative and excited and brilliant and masterful. So it's it's I think we are creating something that will sustain and make change. And it's not just paid leave.

Yeah. We are advocating for paid leave, improve maternal mental health and improved access to affordable child care. Those are our big initiatives in the next few months.

AD

It's beautiful. And what I'm hearing here is that spectrum that you were talking about with all of the projects that you're working on because you have you're really diving deep into this broad advocacy work to make major change for all of us. At the same time, you're able to strategically work on changing this corporate structure strategically as they're ready starting to make that change internally from within. And that's a lot. And this is all well, being a mom of four yourself and yes, incredible wow.


EE

You're the same way.


AD

Yeah, we do it right. We and and I'm personally so grateful for it. I, I really appreciate tying in this conversation about the various I don't know the undulation of, of traumas and challenges from the very, very first. I think birth trauma is something that we've talked about here on our podcast with guest collective a lot. And you and I as mothers know really well how this continues for us as we make our way into raising children.

We find we have kids with very complex medical needs. And so I'm personally grateful for your work. When Max is diagnosed. I was really, really fortunate to be given a year of time with him to be home. But it was from my colleagues because H.R. called, I think four days into it. We were in the hospital and they said, you don't have time.

You have to come, come back. We're in the ICU where the ICU stop. And they said, you have to come back to work. And our health insurance was through me that it was a really, really really difficult time. And I had used all of my sick and vacation time to be home with the kids over the summer and give myself like a Friday a week to be with them.

That's how I had to like buy my time to be with my young kids. And so they're like, you're out of time. You could do unpaid leave and we'll hold your job for you right now. Right. That's available to you. But otherwise you need to come back to work because you don't get to keep you. Well, you could do Cobra, but you have to pay for your cobra if you go, you know?

Right. And I'm just like, I'm in the ICU. My son has a life threatening brain tumor and you know, he's intubated and you're telling me I have to come back to work? It was just like, what? What's happening here? What kind of society do we live in?


EE

I'm sorry to use this word, but that feels abusive to me.


AD

Right? Yeah, right. Yeah. So my colleagues got together and they put together, and this is in higher education, which, you know, is like unheard of. They put together a catastrophic leave policy within two days or something like that, and they gathered enough sick and vacation time from my colleagues, from the groundskeepers to the college president to give me a year paid year at home with Max, which was so good.

That love is an incredible privilege. But in my journey then working with thousands of child cancer parents, what you're back. What? Yeah, yeah, we're back. And so what happened in this case is that that she was a teacher and she had to go to work. She held the health insurance, she had to go to work, and her principal let her mom sub, who was a teacher, a retired teacher, like, let you know all this under the table.

Things happen. But most of the moms that I know were thrown into almost irreparable debt, poverty, job loss from that. So when I hear of the catastrophic aspects of all of this start when we have kids and continue through the parenting journey through the entire parenting journey. So we desperately need this change and the change that you're implementing strategically in workplaces, you know, from within, but then policy wise, from without, like we need both of these things.


EE

I couldn't agree more. And the other thing I'm hearing, too, in your experience that's a through line is just this self-advocacy, you know, and look, I mean, you were in no position to be like, how am I going to fight for my rights? But your colleagues together and they said, hold on a second, no way. And they stepped into they became advocates.

They became activists. I mean, that's truly what this is requiring right now. And it's unfortunate, but we can't stay in this place of sort of collective victimhood. Right. We can't say, This is really sucking for us. And I was worrying about that a lot with all of the ink that was coming out around how horrible things were for mothers in the pandemic. I was so worried that it was going to turn into something akin to, unfortunately, what happened with Time's Up and MeToo where it becomes sort of like we're over it, like everybody's tired of hearing about it, don't bring it up anymore.

And I think the way we don't go there is we think about self activation, what can we do about it and how we can. And this is like with Chamber of Mothers, where we're saying every single mother can be an advocate and that doesn't need it doesn't mean you have to quit your day job. It's it's little things.

You know, I recently just did a little video for our Totem audience saying it just occurred to me I never was given paid leave. Like that was the fact I had to have a discussion every single time with the you know, whoever it was I was working for. And it wasn’t… It can sometimes and this is where I think empathy is so important.

It can be something that is just not in that person's radar. You know, when I was at a tech company and there were other parents their head of H.R. who had been one of the initial co-founders she wasn't conversant with all of this. And so it took me saying, yeah, she didn't know. It took me saying, this is what I need.

But then the second third time around, I knew better what I needed and how to express that. And I'm not saying that that means we should always internalize the work, but I think we can activate and we can realize that, you know, there's a certain kind of double suffering when you feel that you can't do anything about the situation that you're in and that we can also have each other's backs.

You know, my babysitter reached out to me. She's 20 years old and she was watching Chamber of Mother launch, and this is one thing I love about the sort of younger generation, they're so curious and they're such inherent activists, and they're there watching what's going on with sort of older generations. And I, I, I don't know. There's a lot of hope that I feel that.

And she reached out and she said, it occurs to me that all of the women who have launch chamber mothers are done having children. You're just doing this for us. And I hadn't, I hadn't realized that it was just that we feel this is so wrong and we want to do something about it. And we've come to it sort of like your colleagues.

I mean, their skin in the game was this. It was just so wrong. And they they needed to do something about it. And so that's that real. You know, I've heard people say, like, don't be an add an ally, be an accomplice. I think this is how we be accomplices for one another. And you know, I'll send that for the show notes.

But, you know, I think this is how we really step into the game and put some skin in it. And change what's not working.


AD

Justin has questions


JW

I mean, I've loved just being a fly on the wall. I really never know how these conversations are going to turn out. Like sometimes I'm the fly on the wall. I’m just like going through my list of questions, like nope we talked about that. Yeah, done.

So one of the things I was really impressed by me is, is Erin, it seems like what has really resonated for you and what's really clicking for you as I think about wellness right and I yeah, mental health, mental wellness, but overall wellness, we can think of something like Maslow's hierarchy and everybody knows this. And on the bottom are these like really fundamental needs.

And what I'm getting is that we as a society have failed in providing for these really fundamental needs. And so what you're see what you said earlier about moms just aren't invest in their inner wellness like I just this is really tough and that really resonates for us. I mean, that that's one of the big motivations for us going into the Yes collective.

But it's like as a society we have not provided we have not supported moms at this really fundamental level. And it makes sense that that going up this hierarchy into these higher levels of wellness that moms aren't investing because they're not being supported at right out of really fundamental level.


AD

We can't get out of like fight or flight. Yeah.


EE

That's such a real and compassionate way of looking at it. That's so true.


JW

So I'm I'm curious for you because we are bumping up against time here. I'm curious for you what are you really working on or interested in, motivated by in your own inner wellness journey, like where, where, where are you out for in your own personal growth, in your own inner wellness? What is really alive for you? What is really exciting for you right now?


EE

What is really alive and exciting for me is also my biggest challenge. And it's it's around practicing what I preach, which is not feeling guilt and shame. When I do something that's just for me, you know, really when I give myself permission to be unavailable or step away from child care for something because I want to do it and it might not be paid.

You know, it was before I started Totem work and children were a little bit more binary because I we had a full time nanny and I had a full time job and I had different iterations of that. Sometimes it would be part time, but we had child care. And then I was working and I made a really nice salary.

And it wasn't not painful, it was just more binary now that I run my own platforms and even my legal work, you know, I'm set up like a partner there. So it's, you know, I'm going to make as much as I put in kind of thing. It's I find that I am coming up against a lot of what I preach, which is, listen, we are mothers.

We are also still just women and creative beings and lovers and people who like to play and people who like to dance and people who like to read. And, you know, I get sad when my kids are asked like, what does your mom like to do? And they're like, read her Kindle and work, you know? And I'm like, Yeah, I guess so. But like.

Like, dance to hip hop and rap yeah. So many different friends. I used to travel and like, this is the sort of essence is this glow that we have all inside, I think has been so dampened especially by what we've gone through in the pandemic. But I think coming out of that, I am really excited and scared and challenged by this idea that who I was for the first 34 years of my life before I became a mother is still important today.

And I know that I believe that for other women, and I want to offer myself the same compassion to really step into that.


JW

And that's beautiful. Do you have any strategies that you use to give yourself that compassion, to give yourself that space? Is there anything that has that has worked for you?


EE

Yeah, I have learned that, particularly in terms of how I communicate. It's really basic, but instead of waiting until I'm furious and then throwing out this like randomly assigned task at my husband. I have to really come from a place of it's, you know, vulnerability. I have to say, I have really been having a hard time. I have been drained by how much housework and caregiving and everything that's been going on with type one diabetes. I'm completely drained. I don't recognize myself anymore. And I we need to talk about how I can do something about that.

And it doesn't mean it all has to be on you. I'm not saying like you, my husband just is a veterinarian. I mentioned before he just started his own business, and so he truly has to lean into that. He has to be available. But there are strategies. It doesn't mean that he has to now be the one that steps away from everything at 2:30 to be with the kids.

We need help. We really we have struggled to find somebody that is a consistent person in our lives that can be either a mother's helper or parents help or nanny. It's a different culture. Here than it was in L.A., for better or for worse. And there's not the you know, we've had trouble finding child care. And so what that requires in a very practical way is us finding somebody that can come into our home regularly, who we love and who loves us and our kids, who can just provide us with some ease and some space. We really need that right now.


AD

That sounds big to me. That's the fundamental stuff. To just be able to just so clearly speak that and share that, you know, especially as a mom and a an entrepreneur, like we get so used to doing it all ourselves at our own expense. And there is something of like letting in like that. I need help that feels like really brave to me. Yeah. You know, like, I think that that is something that where all of the things that, that all of the strengths that we have that have gotten us to where we are today are not always working in our favor in moving forward as mothers. You know, like it's not always the same thing.


EE

I think Justin really nailed it when he talked about when you don't have that lowest level of need. Matt, I think what happens is because as a society, we are told as mothers, if we're not doing it, you can do it all. You can have it all. If we're not doing it all, we think we're failing when in fact we were never meant to do it alone.

We were never meant to do it without support. No, we can't even physically, mentally, emotionally, we can't. Relationally, we can't. And so we've bought into this narrative. And so you heap on top of depletion shame and guilt. And I'm not good enough and I should should should you do that for a number of years. It's really hard to all of a sudden rip the Band-Aid and say, you know what, I need help.

I can't do this because you feel like we just I've been trying to prove to everybody that I'm good enough and I can do it. And so there's a self reckoning there that it's really hard to square.


AD

It's hard to learn all of that. And I'm hearing like really, really powerful cycle breaking from that. And I think that that ties into the workplace as well. So I'm hearing this is at home, but then at work, the cycle breaking is in the same speaking up. And and finding the allies, the accomplices and the ways to get together as parents and to say we can't do it this way like this cannot persist and parents for other parents parents who are done parenting.

You know this is a little bit of an aside, but I was in a culture at an organization I worked at where a lot of the older women were like, well. I did it.


EE

Yes, that's a big problem. It's a big problem.


AD

So let's break those cycles. Like that is like it is and I think vulnerability that that you spoke to is the is the first key to that. I know when I went back to work after Max was diagnosed, totally different for me. Then after going back, I went back started the nonprofit still worked full time and did the nonprofit.

So we know what that's like. But I went back with a totally different point of view at that point. And it was like my life had so radically changed that I wasn't going to do it the way I'd done it before. And I was not buying into the into any of it. So I went back with like I think I was introduced Brene Brown around in like 2010 or something, but I went back with her on my shoulder, right?

And just embattled. I was like, I'm not fighting any of these battles. I am here openly, authentically, vulnerably who I am with, what I can bring. And if you don't want it, of course I had the privilege. I think to say this, but if you don't want it, then I won't be here. And it but it was a totally, totally different perspective that was really emboldened, I think by in many ways all of those women who showed up for me.

So I, I love that being here with you and, and having this beautiful reminder that we can do this together.


EE

And I just want to say to you, I think there is an analogy between what you went through and with what working parents went through and the pandemic, because I am just seeing this trend of people will not go back to the before time. They will not go back.

To a structure or an organization that says, I don't want to see your humanity, like keep your kit you your three minute. We are sort of demanding to show up in our full humanity now in the workplace. And I see that a lot of leaders aren't ready for that. And at the same time, a lot of leaders are still struggling themselves.

And so this is where, you know, even with Totem work, like we offer support to people in the C-suite to say, hey, you're building the bridge that everybody has to walk across while you went through this, too. Nobody was in a bubble from what we just we all experienced. And within the collective trauma, there were individual traumas that went on in almost every household.

And so we are all showing up differently. And I think as we do this to your point, this idea of learning about what vulnerable communication is and having empathy for that person, you know, and not vilifying the person sort of across the table and realizing that they're coming from the same place to we all are right now and we all need to show up in our full humanity.


AD

Our full humanity into the future. I love this. I am leaving this with some hope.


JW

And and so we have three final questions that we ask every guest. And so the first one is, Erin, if you could put a Post-it note on every mom's refrigerator tomorrow morning, what would that Post-it note say?


EE

We’re in this together.


AD

Yeah, we’re in this together. And then the second question is, is there a quote that has really moved you or changed the way that you think or feel lately?


EE

Yes, it's from Eve Rodsky, who's the author of Fair Play, and she's become a friend and she I won't say it perfectly, but she says that time is not money. Time is diamonds, and every one deserves permission to be unavailable.


JW

Hmm. Everyone deserves permission to be unavailable and time is diamonds. And so the final question is, well, it is inspired because, you know, in the parenting grind, we can be exhausted and overwhelmed at how kids are just demanding. But we like to just take a step back and say or just remind ourselves what is so amazing about kids. And so, Erin, what do you love about kids?


EE

I love looking into their eyes and seeing the wonder and forgetting myself and that's that's the funny thing is we talk so much about having the space to lean into ourselves. And for me, it's only when I don't feel depleted that I'm able to be present and connected. And that is my favorite thing about parenting is when I'm truly present with my kids and I'm looking in their eyes and I'm seeing what they need and what they're experiencing and deeply listening to them.

That is the true magic of motherhood. And that's just my very favorite thing, just really slowing down and stopping and looking into their eyes no matter what they're doing.


AD

It's beautiful. And the way that you bring up that, we need all of that support and order because when we're depleted, we are not present. And we get triggered.


EE

We make it all about ourselves. That's that’s the funny thing here is we are most selfish when we are self depleted. We are able to give of ourselves and be present to others when we're full. Truly.

Podcast Ep. 45: Fighting for Working Moms with Erin Erenberg, Founder of Totum Women

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Podcast Ep. 45: Fighting for Working Moms with Erin Erenberg, Founder of Totum Women

Erin Erenberg, CEO and founder of Totum Women, a founding mother at the Chamber of Mothers, IP attorney, serial entrepreneur and mom of three, joins us to talk about supporting working moms in the face of enormous challenges

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In this episode

What a joy it was to kick off our theme this month around Working Moms Mental Wellness with Erin Erenberg. Erin is CEO and founder of Totum Women, a moms’ advocate, a founding mother at the Chamber of Mothers, IP attorney, serial entrepreneur and mom of three. With Totum Women Erin helps moms in the workplace through products, community, events, and research backed resources.

And with Chamber of Mothers, Erin is a leader in the fight for federal paid leave and policies that support mothers. Erin and her family live in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, not too far from us here in Savannah, Georgia. We talked about the real struggles working moms face, the lack of support at work and at all levels of government, how the world isn't ready to hear the real challenges working moms face, but how Erin is speaking out anyway and a whole lot more.

If you care about working moms wellness, then you're going to love this episode.

Listen here

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About our guest

Erin Erenberg is CEO and founder of Totum Women, a moms’ advocate, a founding mother at the Chamber of Mothers, IP attorney, serial entrepreneur and mom of three.

Show notes

  • Totum Women, a community for resources, support, and conversation for modern motherhood
  • Chamber of Mothers, a collective movement to focus America's priorities on mothers’ rights.
  • Here's a helpful summary, by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, of current policy on paid leave in the U.S.: "The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires eligible employers to provide certain workers unpaid family leave; however, unlike nearly all other industrialized nations, the U.S. does not have national standards on paid family or sick leave, despite strong public support."
  • "Don't be an ally, be an accomplice." - Rene Graham
  • Maslow's hierarchy of needs
  • Fair Play, by Eve Rodsky

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford

We wanted to start off by hearing a little bit about your story. And so the first place that I wanted to start, we can we can circle back, of course, is when did you realize that you wanted to go into law or become a serial entrepreneur?

Erin Erenberg

I love that. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. These are all my favorite topics, and I love being with both of you. Two new friends. So, yeah, you know, it's it's funny the way my career, the trajectory is kind of interesting to me when I look at it. But, you know, growing up, my dad's a lawyer, my dad's best friend's a lawyer. We always vacation with them. Like, the idea of the law was always around me. I remember one vacation we were all in the minivan, and my dad and his best friend were listening to, like, bar prep on the way, you know, a ten hour drive. So the law was.

JW

And the kids didn't revolt, you know, turn this off.

EE

But that's a whole other thing, I guess. Think about parenting these days and we're so connected and dialed into our kids needs. My parents, like, didn't care. It's like you get one sip of orange juice an hour because we don't want you to pee and you're going to listen to bar prep and be quiet.

Audra DiPadova

I got my parents gave me Dramamine. I mean, we were out for 14 hours.

EE

I love it. So, yeah, the law was always there. And then I don't know if you all did this in high school, even we had to take this test called the ASVAB. It was like the Armed Services, Vocational Aptitude Battery. No clue. I remember that acronym but it was just basically like, you shall be a lawyer. And it's funny because I kind of rejected that.

I had this feeling of, you know, my dad's a lawyer, my mom's a teacher, and it's this big, wide world. Why would I pick the two? Any either of the two professions that I've been sort of steeped in my whole life, and I grew up traveling a lot with my mom, which is a whole other really cool story.

But I just saw the world as a really big place. But I did I got it in my mind that I wanted to go to Duke, like, really young. I just got really excited about that school and had a fantastic experience there. And again, was the theme of, you know, I did Comparative Area Studies, which is like international relations meets anthropology and humanitarianism and activism, and I loved it.

I had such a great experience there. And so I did see this notion of, you know, I am essentially an advocate. Everything that I do, the whole way I live, there's this sense of advocacy and yearning for justice and wanting to take everything I know and have experienced and help make people's lives better and even small ways and so I did feel like, oh, maybe I will end up going to law school despite being told that by too many people and wanting to rebel against it.

And but I actually my first job was in tech. I went and I worked at Trilogy Software, which was hiring a bunch. I graduated in 2000. I lived in Austin. I loved it that I worked and after that, a law firm ended up going to law school. I even knew in law school, you know, I, I want to go into a big firm because you know, that's where I'll make money right off the bat to help pay off these, you know, loans that I have.

But I don't want to stay in a law firm and as soon as I got into a big firm, I was doing intellectual property law, and I loved intellectual property, but I did not I was sort of allergic to the container of a law firm just billing hours. And this idea that the more time you spend on a client's matter, the more money you're going to make.

That seems so that's a conflict of interest, right? Like if you come to me with a problem, I want to help you as efficiently as possible, especially if you're filling my time. That didn't sit right with me. And I had partners be like, you know, get your head around this. Like, we want hours.

But I wanted to get them the answer as soon as possible and free them of the problem they've come to me with. And so I learned there at a law firm, I was at a big law firm for honestly, while I was there, nine months and I was only 26 years old and I wrote up my letter of resignation and took it to my partner.

And I just said, I, this is not for me. And I, without a net I left that law firm and this really nice salary and really great support system. And I just started taking on music law clients at the time I was living in Nashville, it started out in North Carolina then I was in Nashville. So I was taking on clients in a really entrepreneurial way.

You know, I had one client that I worked with about 40-50 hours a week there called SESAC, they’re a performing rights organization that acquires the catalogs of songwriters and publishers and then licenses them out to music users. And that through that, I learned a couple of things. Number one, I love autonomy, so I like that I am working for myself, and I might be working with this one client all the time, but at the end of the day, I'm giving them I'm an independent contractor.

I love that independence and I really liked working with creative people. And so just skipping ahead, I ended up in Los Angeles, my boss actually at SESAC said there's this really cool charitable foundation of the Academy of Country Music, of all things, and they're in Los Angeles and they really need to they need somebody to come into the foundation and help them make it exciting.

They need partnerships with talent and they just need to kind of create a brand. So I moved to L.A., I ran that foundation. It was my favorite job I've ever had. And again, I learned some things about myself. I learned that I really love putting together partnerships. I really love getting creative and thinking about how I can pull people together around a common interest and get them all excited about doing good.

And we had these amazing programs. We put together a music camp for people with a specific intellectual challenge called Williams Syndrome. And we did that in conjunction with Vanderbilt. And so I love that job. However, I then got carried away by Tech again, and started. I was the one of the very first employees at Indiegogo, the crowdfunding company, and help them build.

So there I was and I was always doing law, so as the executive director of a nonprofit, I was still working on contracts and deals and of course compliance for the nonprofit. And then when I worked at Indiegogo, it was only five of us at the time, and they said, We just need partnerships. Like you come in here and build partnerships and then also paper the deal.

So basically there was always this theme of I want to be helpful, I want to build something, I want the autonomy to be creative and to to to think differently about what the problem is and how we tackle it and to help people. I want there to be some positive social outcome from what I'm doing. So all of that was going on.

And then I had our first baby in 2012 and I think like a lot of women, I was absolutely shocked by the lack of support for me as a woman when I became a mother. Yeah, I mean there was so much attention and support on me as a pregnant woman and, you know, with my partner too, and we lived in L.A at the time and there was also a lot of attention even on how you give birth, right?

I mean it's oh yeah. Unmedicated or medicated or C-section or this or this and that. Everybody pick a lane. And so I was super informed about that. I felt very supported. And then had the baby and things were happening to my body, to my mind, to my relationships, to my ambition, my, my career drive. It was not what I expected.

And I would like to just speak on that for a second because I know we're talking about working motherhood. I, you know, now we're on a platform that reaches you know, around 60,000 women a week, mothers, modern mothers. And no two women have the same experience of motherhood. But the theme is we are all discombobulated by it. Right. And so I have talked to mothers who are extremely career driven, and they have their baby and they really want to take a pause and they want to lean all the way out.

And in 2012 Lean In was the big book. It was in the zeitgeist and and you know what I've learned senses Lean In was not written for me. Lean In is not written for a mother who's in her thirties it's written for a young woman who's about to choose her partner. But I felt and I know a lot of mothers still feel to this day that the big idea there was do not lean out, lean all the way into your ambition, lean all the way into your career, or you are doing a disservice to all the work that feminism has done for you to this point.

That's how I took it. That's how a lot of women took it.

AD

There's some weight to that. Heavy.

EE

Really heavy. And so I really surprised myself because I wasn't the kind of little girl that played with dolls. I didn't babysit growing up. I didn't have this timeline around, like when I turn 30, I need to have it. Not at all. I was surprised with how quickly I became pregnant, had our first baby, and was shocked at how much I love being a mother.

I really it opened up this softer, more patient, more present side of me that I hadn't encountered in a very long time because I was so used to just being so driven and working so hard for whatever I wanted. And suddenly by slowing down and being present and being soft and patient, I was being the very best mother I possibly could for my baby.

And not only did I love that for him, and I love seeing the result of that for George, our first baby, but I enjoyed myself. I liked myself more. I felt really happy. But unlike, you know, a mother that faces postpartum depression and goes through something a little different, I also couldn't square that with everything I knew of myself.

And frankly, I don't think my husband really could wrap his head around what I was saying. Like when I would say I actually don't want to go back to work. I really want to take a beat and be with the baby who's just sort of like, OK, like, I think he thought some time would pass and I would just like, that would go away. And so I did go back to work at three months postpartum, and I was really not ready and I had a really hard time. And so anyway, that is when the seed was really planted for me that I wanted I knew I was not alone. And this experience of discombobulation and lack of support because once I started talking about it to other mothers, they would open up.

And that's what I think is so interesting is that we tend to keep these things hidden and we can be complicit and not showing or talking about the experience that we're having, which in turn not only hurts ourselves but hurts other women because they're afraid to show up in what they're really feeling. And so I just decided to sort of go first, you know, if it was baby group and we were all sitting in the circle and everybody saying like, oh, it's actually fine.

I would it's like, I'm not fine. I really don't want to go back to work. And I cry about it every day and I don't know what that means. And then it unlocked this whole conversation so. So, yeah, that, that is where the seed was planted for me. I didn't know that it was going to be called Totem, and I didn't start it right away, but I knew that sort of this thread of advocacy and wanting to take an experience that I had and look around and see if that was a redundant experience that I could help somebody else have an improved experience from what I had.

I wanted to do something about that. And so eventually in 2017 I started Totem.

AD

It's beautiful and like the I love love love hearing about this unfolding for you and the courage you you had to speak to your experience and to share your experience. I remember being there to with both of our kids going back at three months super super super struggling with it and and having to and you know not having a choice just having to do it and slipping into relativism you know and and pushing my experience down because I was like well at least I had three months as if that's like. You know, at least, I mean, at least I didn't have to go back at three weeks, two weeks, whatever it might be that like I have friends in the service industry and, you know, other other industries, at least the state of California, you know, through through disability and whatever. You know, I was provided with three paid months. Oh, my God.

You know, you know, I am so lucky. I am so fortunate. Who am I? You know that narrative? Who am I? Who are your privilege? Who are you to complain? Right and that, I think, for so many of us keeps us from, in addition to often going back to a workplace where you come in feeling like I don't fit in here, I don't belong and I'm not welcomed here because I'm a you know, I feel like I might be a problem.

So I have to, like, pretend that not only is everything normal, quote unquote, but I'm better than I was before. You know, I can do more.

It's you know, it's you're like bleeding, you know, profusely, you know, at that point because you're not breastfeeding. If you if you're able to do that, you're not breastfeeding the same way and all that stuff. I mean, it's just catastrophic.

EE

It really is. And it's, you know, I read recently that the postpartum hormone dump is the biggest and most sudden chemical adjustment than any human being goes through at any point in their lives. Full stop. Yeah. And the fact that we don't support that I mean, it's not even it deserves support. I think when people hear the word deserve, it's sort of like go get a massage, you deserve it or like, go get a massage because you're worth it.

It's required. We as a society aren't meeting our requirements for families and and of course they're suffering. And, you know, one of the things I was hearing you saying is sort of that idea of comparative suffering or the suffering Olympics. And yet, you know, it's funny, I have a dear friend, you know, you and I have bonded about we have a son with a medical complexity, a lifelong medical complexity that requires ongoing attention from my husband and me.

And any caregiver. And I have a really good friend who's in a similar situation with twins. And, you know, she has said to me, this whole thing about this suffering Olympics, it's like suffering is suffering. Suffering is a human emotion that requires acknowledgment and validation. But also just don't be a jerk. Like if you're talking to somebody and you know that they have a child who's in and out of the hospital every week and you're frustrated because you didn't get to yoga on time this morning, maybe that person is in your audience.

Like, that's not the person to vent to. It doesn't mean that you're like, you know, the fact that you feel so frustrated about not getting the yoga on time doesn't deserve you doing a check in with yourself, because that might be about a whole slew of other things happening. It might be that you're not sleeping, you're drained, you're depleted, you have no time for yourself.

And so as human beings, this whole comparative suffering thing to me is fascinating. And where I've really landed on it is when we are suffering, suffering is suffering. And we all deserve to check in with ourselves and say, Wow, I'm experiencing suffering. What do I why? What is this about and how can I express it and get some support at the same time?

I think it's important to be aware of the needs of others. And as we call people into our circle and as we're communicate sitting with other people just have sensitivity to one another. But it's, you know, I, I feel sorry and sad and I wish I could have hugged that person that you were going back to work because everything you were going through deserves acknowledgment.

And of course, if you're talking to somebody who's working on the floor at Amazon and, you know, we got stories at Totem about we saw stories around four weeks paid leave. I know we're going to go there around paid leave. Mothers in our community were furious when the paid leave policy that almost passed this year was cut from 12 weeks to four weeks.

It's now zero weeks, but we are ticked off at four. And we were getting stories from women saying, I work in a fulfillment center. I was bleeding down my legs, standing all day. Milk is dripping through my blouse and that's awful. It's also awful that I worked at a tech company and I was the first parent and I couldn't think of a word I always joke.

I couldn't think of the word hat when I went back to work, was talking to my CEO, literally can't think of the word the hat. That's how sleep deprived I was. There was nowhere to pump. I would pump in public bathrooms. I was super embarrassed, you know, I had a colleague who made misogynistic, sexist remarks all day, every day.

And it's all hard. But I think being able to say I'm suffering, I need to talk about this and I need to talk about it in a psychologically safe space where I can feel seen and heard and not judge is important for all of us.

AD

You absolutely nailed it. I mean, I think this is like such a beautiful conversation because what I'm hearing in this, too, is that in these conversations, we're so often pulled into that kind of scarcity mindset of are we talking about 12 weeks or four? Well, this experience versus that experience, it's like, no, we're talking about like building a society where where mothers are held and cared for and supported and not about these these weeks.

We're talking about like, like one day, like, can it be a year? Can it be whatever it is is needed? You know, like I want to see a society where we are able to do some sort of like reverse retirement.

I'll commit to whatever five more years in Social Security. Give me my five now, you know what I mean? That I so identify with you in the space of not realizing and Justin knows as well, like, we met in college and we're like, kids? I don't know. We didn't think, we're going to, you know, like, we're doing our thing.

We have these great ideas school, all of that, becoming a mother. I was just like, you know, this. I was not like I wouldn't even like I've never asked anyone to hold their baby. Like, I did not, you know, I didn't think I was maternal. Right. And then you have that baby. And I was like, oh, my God, I want to stay home.

I want to I don't want to not work. And I, I, but I want to stay home. And I was like, like, yeah, you're in grad school. Like, we couldn't do it. But but what I think really, really gets me from this conversation to I'm thinking, you know, Brené Brown, I'm thinking of inner critic narratives. I'm thinking about what is imbued in us as women, ways that we tell ourselves down and tear each other down.

And that voice that was like, you don't deserve that. Who do you think you are? And that gets into the comparative suffering that gets into, you know, something I have also been really passionate about that I think ties fully into this. And that's grief. And we grieve so much. You know, we are alike from from the very, very first moments, you know, of this journey, not to mention our whole lives before becoming mothers, but motherhood is a journey through grief.

Of many, many layers and many, many kinds. Right. And and the fact that we have to suit up, you know, and try to hold every single thing together to come into these workplaces that desperately need us. Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm. Without being held, without being seen, cared for, supported all of that. Like, it's just that's wrong. And it and that's what I hear, that you are stepping up to make major, major, major change.

EE

And it's incredible. Well, thank you. I can't I talked to an old college friend the other day. She's somebody that I've totally separate work for. I still have an IP practice that's based in Savannah, actually. And we were just talking about IP work, and she was like, yes, I have an IP project for you. It's separate from your personal crusade. And I was like, I love that. I love that totem and chamber of mothers are my personal crusade. I'm going to step into that yes.

And I love that you use the word grief. It's so true. Like a friend had said to me and I know she got it from a book, but grief is love with nowhere to go. And when you think of that in relation to new motherhood, you know, you're thinking about your grieving, your freedom, your grieving, the relationship that you had with your spouse.

That changed overnight because you suddenly are like dual household managers and caregiving manager with zero experience, either one of you. And that that idea of teamwork suddenly has so much strain and stress on it. You're grieving your body. I mean, my goodness. And I'm not talking about how you look. I'm talking you know, I tell people all the time and you can edit this out of this TMI, but there's nothing to me that says we don't support new moms like this.

I had had this unmedicated labor. I was felt like such a warrior. It was everything I wanted it to be. George proud from my belly up to my breast himself and nursed. It was so idyllic. However, or I, you know, as lying in bed in the hospital after I delivered him and my doctor couldn't even make rounds. She said, I can't be there year, you’re going to have to call me.

It's not really her fault. It's a that's a whole other thing, the medical profession and how overtaxed they are. So she called me and I said, you know, I there's something going on in my pelvis that really hurts it. It's not anything. It's not like the whole ring of fire. And it's not it's not anything I've heard people describe.

There's something going on because I feel like I can't get up. And she said, “It's OK. You won't be able to run in the next coming weeks. You can do some yoga. I was like, well, OK. That’s nonresponsive. And so I felt like, talk about the whole Brené Brown thing. Like, you know, if you don't express shame, it just it grows and grows. And so I had sort of I expressed a need, and instead of being received, I was completely dismissed. And this expectation that, like, you know what that said to me? Oh, I should be able to run soon.

Like, I can't get up. Something's wrong with me. I did it wrong. So I did it wrong, all that work. And I did it wrong. And so I was at home. I still really couldn't get up off my some I would like sideline nurse my baby and I was desperate to do something like to get up and cook a meal or whatever.

OK, so I said to my mom, thankfully, my mom was at the house. My mom sort of functioned as a postpartum dula, which I felt so grateful for. She was there at the house for like a month postpartum. And I said, Mom, I really need you to go down and look at my vagina. And she was like, be happy, too.

So she went down. And she said, Well, she's so sweet. She said, It's beautiful, but there is a massive bruise on your perineum, like, massive, really intense bruise and you have not gone to the bathroom since you left the hospital. So I think you're constipated and you have this massive bruise and and my husband who's a veterinarian, was there and he said, if you were a cat, I would just go to CVS and get you an enema.

And I was like, get thee to CVS. Well, he gets back and I'm telling you, 3 minutes later, I was the was so I was so happy and I was having the postpartum experience that I should. So lame that, like, you know, we treat animals better than we treat humans. And I you know, I was just so lucky and blessed to have my mom because sadly, we don't have villages and aloparenting anymore.

And, you know, I actually I didn't have my mom and my second and third births, and I really felt lonely and I really suffered. And it's you know, all of these things happen and they're really not supported. And I will say, you know, I launched I had this experience in 2012. I launched them in 2017. And since then there have been a lot more motherhood platforms and even better motherhood products.

And there's that company Bodily who is really edgy about postpartum support and they're products Frida Baby you know came out so. But I will say you know you look at the free to baby ad that simply shows a postpartum mother peeing in the middle of the night. They don't even show, it's nothing graphic and it was banned from the Oscars. They couldn't even get that seen and I think that was 2019 so there's a lot of women working on behalf of other mothers but our society is not ready and it breaks my heart to hear about: we are allegedly so pro-life, but not once the baby's born.

No, not at all. There's support for child care. There's not support for moms, there's not support for dads. And, you know, there's a study in Sweden where they looked at the postpartum experience of both partners and when dads were given paid leave, the mother's incidence of using anti depressives or anti-anxiety medications was decreased by 25%.

So you know we there is a way to value a family real family values require giving support to a new mother, to a new parent no matter you know you're in a hetero cis gender or not relationship, parents, partners deserve support. Birthing people require support. And our society will not have family values. We won't be able to hang together until we make a massive, monumental shift. And that's totally my personal crusade.

AD

Yeah, totally. And you're I mean, you're talking about like I mean, we could go deep into this probably the economic impact, the fact that, you know, I just saw a stat recently, I think in The New York Times showing that I think for the second year in a row, the year the U.S. Census population increase is like nominal.

And we know the effect of the long term effects that that will have on our economy. You know, like so we we've come from this perspective of like, oh, you know, you're lucky you'll be considered for a job or you're lucky to be at a place that might accommodate you. And and what I hear coming up is a challenge around all of those narratives and that way of doing things right.

We're saying, no, no, no. Yeah, we are the future we're the current, present, now, and the future and the future of this country depends on policies that will be family supportive.

EE

And it could be 2.5 times more expensive to hire someone new when you lose talent. And if you look at companies like BuzzFeed that provide a proper leave, I think they give something between four and six months leave. They saw a 97% increase in retention. So it's the economic impact. If you look at the numbers, it's better for business, it's better for families.

It's better for babies to provide paid leave. We're talking about paid leave now, but I see paid leave along this whole spectrum of support. And we talked about Chamber of Mothers. I just give you a quick, so I launched Totem in 2017. We launched initially as a platform for the brand new mother. So from zero days postpartum to that to 365 days, that first very tender year I saw that sore spot and I had created a lactation cookie of all things with my husband's uncle that helped me get my milk supply back.

I did go back to work. And I started selling that. I started giving it to people first off, like colleagues, friends, neighbors, anybody having babies. And they were saying, OK, not only are these amazing, my husband's uncle had worked at Mrs. Fields. That's why I helped me with the recipe. They're these delicious cookies, but they really, really worked.

I mean, you could go from pumping an ounce out to filling both bottles on both sides.


AD

I needed it. I needed that, Erin. I needed it so badly.


EE

They are so good. I know. I wish we had been connected, but they really were amazing. And I think what I got excited about, I'm not a baker. I was super intimidated by CPG and all of that. But what I loved is I had a problem. I found a solution that I could scale that was addictive to me.

Right. And so when I launched Totem, our first product was Lactation Cookie. We then sold it as a mix, but I would do events and community and just I really had this philosophy of I'll go first. I'll be the first one to tell this super embarrassing story about my mom looking at my vagina and my husband telling me to get an enema.

Because guess what? There's going to be somebody out there who has a embarrassing story. It's wrapped up in shame that they told themselves this whole story, that they didn't do motherhood well. And I want to free them of that. I want to open up the conversation. And so we did a lot of events, community products offer the postpartum woman. And then when the pandemic happened, as I've shared with you, we had a personal we consider a personal trauma.

Our oldest, George, who really set this whole thing in motion. We have three kids now. We have George who's nine, Arabella who's seven. I two losses between the two of them, by the way, and then Beau, who's four. And George was diagnosed with type one diabetes the day after Mother's Day. 2020. So our family really just went through so much shock, so much trauma, so much fear at a time that we were all globally fearful.

And so that happened, and I really had to evaluate what I was doing with Totem because again, CPG as a business that requires a lot of capital. And I was bootstrapping and I so I had to look at am I going to take on an investor and all of those expectations or am I going to shift this model to something that I can control and I can lean in and lean out of as I need and want to.

And so at the same time, I was also noticing and being a part of so many interviews around what was happening to working mothers and how to point 5 million to 3 million mothers were really elbowed out of the workforce because even if both partners were at home working it was most times the mother who defaulted in daycare and just kind of cried uncle, like, I can't do well, I can't be a Zoom teacher and a laundress and, you know, and really like have these KPIs.

Yeah, yeah. And so, you know, mothers are really suffering and the L.A. Times reach out to me to talk about to talk about maternal mental health and what it was like to be a mother in the pandemic. And so I'm thinking, hold on a second here. This is a talk about a collective trauma for mothers. And my experience is I really have empathy around all the touch points because like you, Audra, I was that working professional that wasn't thinking about being a mother.

I was that driven professional. Who knows what it's like to have investors over your shoulders looking for. I can't tell you how many times I heard hockey stick growth month over month I know that pressure. It's real. And then I know what it's like to be a new mother. I know what it's like to return. And by the way, I'm an attorney who understands the limits of discrimination and what accommodations need to be.

And so it just seemed to me that I was missing the plot, being in CPG when I could be doing more at this intersection of ambition and motherhood. And so I really pivoted what I was doing with Totem. I sold off all the remaining cookies and I started focusing on how can I support working parents? And I just found that there is such a need.

I will say that I don't think companies are quite there yet in realizing the investments they need to make. I get booked for a lot of workshops, which I find I'm glad that there's some investment in workshops, but what I'm seeing is a lot of, you know, employee resource groups, ERGs are staffed by working parents and it's unpaid labor.

So they're saying to you, OK, Audra, you say it's a hard time for working mothers. Why don't you do something about that? Why don't you pull together a resource group? By the way, we have no budget, but go get some speakers and don't pay them for their labor either. And so there's this theme.

So I'm seeing this this confluence of on one side and more unpaid labor, mostly of women and and also men, but parents. And I've seen this also in the DEI space. And then I'm also seeing so unpaid labor and performance. So yes, let's do a workshop by the way, we can barely pay you for this. We're not paying the the people here to set it up either. And we're going to have this and check the box.

And a lot of moms are going to come on and say, thank you so much. I feel so seen. They're going to be in tears. I walk away from that thing and I think what's happening for them? Like there's not an ongoing investment in their mental health. You know, what we really would like to offer is ongoing community. Like we can help put the community together. I can do office hours where I can come on a zoom or in real life to the group of working parents and give them a psychologically safe space to talk about what's going on and then follow up with them.

Because I've been steeped in this world for so long with whether they need a parenting coach or they need, you know, a postpartum psychiatrist or a therapist or they need even pelvic floor support or they need to they need some expertise around dividing up labor at home because many times it's not that there's this like awful mean old dad at home. Our society is not set up to equip dads either. And so equipping families with the tools of like, OK, let's make transparent what is going on in your most important organization, which is your home, which we don't treat like an important organization are. Let's look at that. Let's divide up the labor more equitably. By the way, it might not need to be 50/50. It's just even equity at home, all these things,


AD

Learning how to communicate around it. We don't we don't come into these relationships with any orientation around how to communicate about this stuff.


EE

No, we don't.


AD

You just go into default mode. Mode, you know, through all of it.


EE

Yeah. You're flying blind and then you and you argue and it builds up and it's fights and it's no good for anybody. And so there's all this there are so many tools with which I'm familiar are so many experts so, so much that I can offer to working parents. When companies say, we want to really do something about this and we want to have real metrics around the retention.

And by the way, it's not just retention, it is how engaged and inspired are these working parents I can't tell you how many people are staying in their jobs, even though 64% of parents plan to leave their job in 2022, many who are staying are saying I'm in need of. Here are the things I hear: I'm in need of deep rest. I'm completely uninspired. I don't feel loyal to this company anymore. I'm furious with them my creativity is gone because they're depleted and they have felt an utter lack of trust. It's, you know, we need to even the return to work thing, some people feel that return to work is, is a return to micromanagement. It's a return to we can't trust you to do your job.

We're going to make the assumption that if we don't see you, you're not getting it done. And so I'm really interested in and in companies that want to make an actual change and aren't just performing and are really putting skin in the game, because if they're not investing in this, there's they're not going to see a change and so that has been sort of the corporate work.

But then Chamber of Mothers is an advocacy organization that I put together with a bunch of other motherhood community leaders in the late fall of 2021.


AD

And Chamber of Mothers is focused on paid family leave.


EE

So we came together around paid family leave. So that night that. So just for anybody listening that doesn't have a little background on what happened with paid family leave this year, the US is the only quote unquote industrialized nation without paid family leave. We are one of only six countries in the entire world without federal paid leave for families.

And several administrations have tried to pass some sort of federal paid leave. Most recently, President Biden had the family rescue plan which then got parallel-pathed with the infrastructure bill build back better. So advocates of the family rescue plan, which included pay leave, a very, very inclusive paid leave, that's caregiving for the elderly, caregiving for yourself if you're sick, caregiving if you're a victim of domestic violence, being able to get paid leave for that.

It was a beautiful, thoughtful bill that got parallel-path with Build Back Better, the infrastructure bill. The notion being I mean, there are really grasping at straws but it was your family is infrastructure, OK? But the average person that's not obsessed with this the way we are are like bridges, OK, infrastructure OK, sure. So there was really this disconnect between public policy and private lives.

And I decided in 2021 to understand more about what was going on. I started working with an organization called Paid Leave US because I had a former colleague who was there that hooked me into it and just becoming aware of what was going on. So then fast forward to November. We're getting really excited because paid leave might finally pass federal paid leave.

And so a lot of us who have these motherhood platforms are friends. We're in this infrastructure that is mostly collaborative, although it can be competitive too, which is a big waste of time. And so we're watching what's happening. It might be 12 weeks as we discussed, we need way more than 12 weeks, but that's what most states we have nine states that provide some kind of federal paid leave.

They offer 12 weeks, most of them. So at least it's a start, right? So that's where we are one night and we know that it was for people in a room decided to in order to try to pass this bill. Let's just cut paid leave from 12 weeks to four weeks. So moms who were aware of everything and they knew sort of the public sorry, the private implications of these public measures were furious and you know, there is a friend of mine, Alexis Brad Cutler, who runs a really edgy, amazing platform called Not Safe for Mom Group.

And it's a place for moms to just show up any way they want. They can say what they want, scream it out. She was the original like Primal Scream person, and she started lifting up these stories of what was it like for you at four weeks and I said, you know, we were diming, texting on phone calls like this is ridiculous.

We were enraged. And one of my another mom who runs a platform called the mom attorney, she her name's Daphne Delvaux. She said, you know, we're not going to get anything done until we come together like the Chamber of Commerce. Like that's the biggest lobbying body in the country. And they actually make things happen. And so we decided what if we were to rebrand the mother and pull her spending power, which is over 2.4 trillion dollars, her voting power and really instead of, you know, companies and I'm not going to name names now, but there are a lot of companies that in advertisements have you believe that a mother is just like sweet little lady, that's all dowdy. And she's totally lost herself. She's buried under a laundry. And like, we're for moms. Moms are very powerful many times, like highly educated, very motivated, powerful women who can make a lot of things happen.

But what's happening right now is there are a lot of these platforms, including myself, we're throwing pebbles at these massive problems because we're not coming together. And we can't do this in ego. It can't just be about who's next person that puts out the book and gets to stand on the thing. We need to come together and really pool our resources, our talent, our money and our voting power.

And so that was when we came up with this idea, let's be the Chamber of Mothers. And I said, let's have let's go to social media and do a roadblock campaign with the hashtag build back bleeding, because at four weeks we're still bleeding most I mean, you're lucky for not bleeding postpartum for weeks. So we did this we it was Alexis who got this amazing image that we own and we did a social media roadblock.

And it was we want Bill back bleeding and after that, you know, coming down the pike, we also did another campaign that was moms brought you into this world and we could vote you out. And so the way this was working was we had a Slack channel where the lobby groups were telling us exactly in real time what was happening in Washington.

But many of them censor themselves. And we decided to be the uncensored, edgy voice of the every mother. And what we were hearing from the advocacy groups was that we had gotten to the mainstream and consumer mom in a way that they had not done in over five years of advocacy work. And so yeah. Yeah. And I think they're afraid, you know, because they're having to and I'm not dogging they're doing amazing work, but they're seeing on the ground just how tricky and all the red tape.

And we actually we want to follow their lead in the sense that we know when it needs to be delicate, but we have the advantage of not being a lobby group so that we can say this is you say. And these issues are on both sides of the lines. I mean, we have totally all across the spectrum. So we in 48 hours we got 8000 followers on Instagram and our other notion was to really enlist mothers as advocates. Mothers are fired up and it's like, what do I do? You know, I have all these other things going up.

This is another thing for me to do. And so we just gave them an opportunity to give us their name, contact information, a little bit about their background and how they want to step into advocacy, how they want to help and can be big or small. I mean, I can't read this list without crying. It's everybody from, you know, full time moms, teachers, doctors, lawyers, bestselling authors, journalist, just really talking about the pain of their experience.

And what they want to do going forward. And so those of us who put this together just on one night that we were all ticked off, really looked at the outcome and by the way, we also got other celebrity interest. Megan Markle's team sent her new kids book to everybody on the Founding Mothers. That is the founding mothers.

And so we decided to move forward with it. And I'm excited to say that just last week, we became a fiscal sponsor project of the PPF which means that we can now take on charitable donations. We are really excited. We've been really trying to step through, like, how do we pull this together and move as quickly as we can and got really great advice on that and we have an event coming up May 4th for maternal mental health. And we've gotten a lot of amazing brand sponsors. So it's really been, you know, I will be honest, a lot of my work with Totem felt Sisyphean.

I mean, I was just really just pushing the boulder up and I felt like I really wasn't making traction. I feel one of the difficulties is that sadly, I'm finding that modern mothers really don't invest in in our care. You know, we will invest in something that's more surface level, like a your jeans that make our butts look great or a workout or anything for the kids. But when it comes to real inner care, I wasn't seeing the investment. And so a lot of difficulty with that. On the other hand, Chamber of Mothers has just been catching, and I think a lot of it has for me personally, it has to do with: I feel really values-aligned in advocacy.

I feel like this is everything thing that I've learned how to do, the sense of social justice and speaking up for people who, for whatever reason, aren't ready to speak and providing a place for people to to speak who are ready, just giving them giving them a way to express what they're feeling and going through. It's all really caught on.

And I also have loved working with the other women. You know, as you all know, like solo entrepreneurship can be really lonely and isolating. It's been so much fun to work with these women who are just creative and excited and brilliant and masterful. So it's it's I think we are creating something that will sustain and make change. And it's not just paid leave.

Yeah. We are advocating for paid leave, improve maternal mental health and improved access to affordable child care. Those are our big initiatives in the next few months.

AD

It's beautiful. And what I'm hearing here is that spectrum that you were talking about with all of the projects that you're working on because you have you're really diving deep into this broad advocacy work to make major change for all of us. At the same time, you're able to strategically work on changing this corporate structure strategically as they're ready starting to make that change internally from within. And that's a lot. And this is all well, being a mom of four yourself and yes, incredible wow.


EE

You're the same way.


AD

Yeah, we do it right. We and and I'm personally so grateful for it. I, I really appreciate tying in this conversation about the various I don't know the undulation of, of traumas and challenges from the very, very first. I think birth trauma is something that we've talked about here on our podcast with guest collective a lot. And you and I as mothers know really well how this continues for us as we make our way into raising children.

We find we have kids with very complex medical needs. And so I'm personally grateful for your work. When Max is diagnosed. I was really, really fortunate to be given a year of time with him to be home. But it was from my colleagues because H.R. called, I think four days into it. We were in the hospital and they said, you don't have time.

You have to come, come back. We're in the ICU where the ICU stop. And they said, you have to come back to work. And our health insurance was through me that it was a really, really really difficult time. And I had used all of my sick and vacation time to be home with the kids over the summer and give myself like a Friday a week to be with them.

That's how I had to like buy my time to be with my young kids. And so they're like, you're out of time. You could do unpaid leave and we'll hold your job for you right now. Right. That's available to you. But otherwise you need to come back to work because you don't get to keep you. Well, you could do Cobra, but you have to pay for your cobra if you go, you know?

Right. And I'm just like, I'm in the ICU. My son has a life threatening brain tumor and you know, he's intubated and you're telling me I have to come back to work? It was just like, what? What's happening here? What kind of society do we live in?


EE

I'm sorry to use this word, but that feels abusive to me.


AD

Right? Yeah, right. Yeah. So my colleagues got together and they put together, and this is in higher education, which, you know, is like unheard of. They put together a catastrophic leave policy within two days or something like that, and they gathered enough sick and vacation time from my colleagues, from the groundskeepers to the college president to give me a year paid year at home with Max, which was so good.

That love is an incredible privilege. But in my journey then working with thousands of child cancer parents, what you're back. What? Yeah, yeah, we're back. And so what happened in this case is that that she was a teacher and she had to go to work. She held the health insurance, she had to go to work, and her principal let her mom sub, who was a teacher, a retired teacher, like, let you know all this under the table.

Things happen. But most of the moms that I know were thrown into almost irreparable debt, poverty, job loss from that. So when I hear of the catastrophic aspects of all of this start when we have kids and continue through the parenting journey through the entire parenting journey. So we desperately need this change and the change that you're implementing strategically in workplaces, you know, from within, but then policy wise, from without, like we need both of these things.


EE

I couldn't agree more. And the other thing I'm hearing, too, in your experience that's a through line is just this self-advocacy, you know, and look, I mean, you were in no position to be like, how am I going to fight for my rights? But your colleagues together and they said, hold on a second, no way. And they stepped into they became advocates.

They became activists. I mean, that's truly what this is requiring right now. And it's unfortunate, but we can't stay in this place of sort of collective victimhood. Right. We can't say, This is really sucking for us. And I was worrying about that a lot with all of the ink that was coming out around how horrible things were for mothers in the pandemic. I was so worried that it was going to turn into something akin to, unfortunately, what happened with Time's Up and MeToo where it becomes sort of like we're over it, like everybody's tired of hearing about it, don't bring it up anymore.

And I think the way we don't go there is we think about self activation, what can we do about it and how we can. And this is like with Chamber of Mothers, where we're saying every single mother can be an advocate and that doesn't need it doesn't mean you have to quit your day job. It's it's little things.

You know, I recently just did a little video for our Totem audience saying it just occurred to me I never was given paid leave. Like that was the fact I had to have a discussion every single time with the you know, whoever it was I was working for. And it wasn’t… It can sometimes and this is where I think empathy is so important.

It can be something that is just not in that person's radar. You know, when I was at a tech company and there were other parents their head of H.R. who had been one of the initial co-founders she wasn't conversant with all of this. And so it took me saying, yeah, she didn't know. It took me saying, this is what I need.

But then the second third time around, I knew better what I needed and how to express that. And I'm not saying that that means we should always internalize the work, but I think we can activate and we can realize that, you know, there's a certain kind of double suffering when you feel that you can't do anything about the situation that you're in and that we can also have each other's backs.

You know, my babysitter reached out to me. She's 20 years old and she was watching Chamber of Mother launch, and this is one thing I love about the sort of younger generation, they're so curious and they're such inherent activists, and they're there watching what's going on with sort of older generations. And I, I, I don't know. There's a lot of hope that I feel that.

And she reached out and she said, it occurs to me that all of the women who have launch chamber mothers are done having children. You're just doing this for us. And I hadn't, I hadn't realized that it was just that we feel this is so wrong and we want to do something about it. And we've come to it sort of like your colleagues.

I mean, their skin in the game was this. It was just so wrong. And they they needed to do something about it. And so that's that real. You know, I've heard people say, like, don't be an add an ally, be an accomplice. I think this is how we be accomplices for one another. And you know, I'll send that for the show notes.

But, you know, I think this is how we really step into the game and put some skin in it. And change what's not working.


AD

Justin has questions


JW

I mean, I've loved just being a fly on the wall. I really never know how these conversations are going to turn out. Like sometimes I'm the fly on the wall. I’m just like going through my list of questions, like nope we talked about that. Yeah, done.

So one of the things I was really impressed by me is, is Erin, it seems like what has really resonated for you and what's really clicking for you as I think about wellness right and I yeah, mental health, mental wellness, but overall wellness, we can think of something like Maslow's hierarchy and everybody knows this. And on the bottom are these like really fundamental needs.

And what I'm getting is that we as a society have failed in providing for these really fundamental needs. And so what you're see what you said earlier about moms just aren't invest in their inner wellness like I just this is really tough and that really resonates for us. I mean, that that's one of the big motivations for us going into the Yes collective.

But it's like as a society we have not provided we have not supported moms at this really fundamental level. And it makes sense that that going up this hierarchy into these higher levels of wellness that moms aren't investing because they're not being supported at right out of really fundamental level.


AD

We can't get out of like fight or flight. Yeah.


EE

That's such a real and compassionate way of looking at it. That's so true.


JW

So I'm I'm curious for you because we are bumping up against time here. I'm curious for you what are you really working on or interested in, motivated by in your own inner wellness journey, like where, where, where are you out for in your own personal growth, in your own inner wellness? What is really alive for you? What is really exciting for you right now?


EE

What is really alive and exciting for me is also my biggest challenge. And it's it's around practicing what I preach, which is not feeling guilt and shame. When I do something that's just for me, you know, really when I give myself permission to be unavailable or step away from child care for something because I want to do it and it might not be paid.

You know, it was before I started Totem work and children were a little bit more binary because I we had a full time nanny and I had a full time job and I had different iterations of that. Sometimes it would be part time, but we had child care. And then I was working and I made a really nice salary.

And it wasn't not painful, it was just more binary now that I run my own platforms and even my legal work, you know, I'm set up like a partner there. So it's, you know, I'm going to make as much as I put in kind of thing. It's I find that I am coming up against a lot of what I preach, which is, listen, we are mothers.

We are also still just women and creative beings and lovers and people who like to play and people who like to dance and people who like to read. And, you know, I get sad when my kids are asked like, what does your mom like to do? And they're like, read her Kindle and work, you know? And I'm like, Yeah, I guess so. But like.

Like, dance to hip hop and rap yeah. So many different friends. I used to travel and like, this is the sort of essence is this glow that we have all inside, I think has been so dampened especially by what we've gone through in the pandemic. But I think coming out of that, I am really excited and scared and challenged by this idea that who I was for the first 34 years of my life before I became a mother is still important today.

And I know that I believe that for other women, and I want to offer myself the same compassion to really step into that.


JW

And that's beautiful. Do you have any strategies that you use to give yourself that compassion, to give yourself that space? Is there anything that has that has worked for you?


EE

Yeah, I have learned that, particularly in terms of how I communicate. It's really basic, but instead of waiting until I'm furious and then throwing out this like randomly assigned task at my husband. I have to really come from a place of it's, you know, vulnerability. I have to say, I have really been having a hard time. I have been drained by how much housework and caregiving and everything that's been going on with type one diabetes. I'm completely drained. I don't recognize myself anymore. And I we need to talk about how I can do something about that.

And it doesn't mean it all has to be on you. I'm not saying like you, my husband just is a veterinarian. I mentioned before he just started his own business, and so he truly has to lean into that. He has to be available. But there are strategies. It doesn't mean that he has to now be the one that steps away from everything at 2:30 to be with the kids.

We need help. We really we have struggled to find somebody that is a consistent person in our lives that can be either a mother's helper or parents help or nanny. It's a different culture. Here than it was in L.A., for better or for worse. And there's not the you know, we've had trouble finding child care. And so what that requires in a very practical way is us finding somebody that can come into our home regularly, who we love and who loves us and our kids, who can just provide us with some ease and some space. We really need that right now.


AD

That sounds big to me. That's the fundamental stuff. To just be able to just so clearly speak that and share that, you know, especially as a mom and a an entrepreneur, like we get so used to doing it all ourselves at our own expense. And there is something of like letting in like that. I need help that feels like really brave to me. Yeah. You know, like, I think that that is something that where all of the things that, that all of the strengths that we have that have gotten us to where we are today are not always working in our favor in moving forward as mothers. You know, like it's not always the same thing.


EE

I think Justin really nailed it when he talked about when you don't have that lowest level of need. Matt, I think what happens is because as a society, we are told as mothers, if we're not doing it, you can do it all. You can have it all. If we're not doing it all, we think we're failing when in fact we were never meant to do it alone.

We were never meant to do it without support. No, we can't even physically, mentally, emotionally, we can't. Relationally, we can't. And so we've bought into this narrative. And so you heap on top of depletion shame and guilt. And I'm not good enough and I should should should you do that for a number of years. It's really hard to all of a sudden rip the Band-Aid and say, you know what, I need help.

I can't do this because you feel like we just I've been trying to prove to everybody that I'm good enough and I can do it. And so there's a self reckoning there that it's really hard to square.


AD

It's hard to learn all of that. And I'm hearing like really, really powerful cycle breaking from that. And I think that that ties into the workplace as well. So I'm hearing this is at home, but then at work, the cycle breaking is in the same speaking up. And and finding the allies, the accomplices and the ways to get together as parents and to say we can't do it this way like this cannot persist and parents for other parents parents who are done parenting.

You know this is a little bit of an aside, but I was in a culture at an organization I worked at where a lot of the older women were like, well. I did it.


EE

Yes, that's a big problem. It's a big problem.


AD

So let's break those cycles. Like that is like it is and I think vulnerability that that you spoke to is the is the first key to that. I know when I went back to work after Max was diagnosed, totally different for me. Then after going back, I went back started the nonprofit still worked full time and did the nonprofit.

So we know what that's like. But I went back with a totally different point of view at that point. And it was like my life had so radically changed that I wasn't going to do it the way I'd done it before. And I was not buying into the into any of it. So I went back with like I think I was introduced Brene Brown around in like 2010 or something, but I went back with her on my shoulder, right?

And just embattled. I was like, I'm not fighting any of these battles. I am here openly, authentically, vulnerably who I am with, what I can bring. And if you don't want it, of course I had the privilege. I think to say this, but if you don't want it, then I won't be here. And it but it was a totally, totally different perspective that was really emboldened, I think by in many ways all of those women who showed up for me.

So I, I love that being here with you and, and having this beautiful reminder that we can do this together.


EE

And I just want to say to you, I think there is an analogy between what you went through and with what working parents went through and the pandemic, because I am just seeing this trend of people will not go back to the before time. They will not go back.

To a structure or an organization that says, I don't want to see your humanity, like keep your kit you your three minute. We are sort of demanding to show up in our full humanity now in the workplace. And I see that a lot of leaders aren't ready for that. And at the same time, a lot of leaders are still struggling themselves.

And so this is where, you know, even with Totem work, like we offer support to people in the C-suite to say, hey, you're building the bridge that everybody has to walk across while you went through this, too. Nobody was in a bubble from what we just we all experienced. And within the collective trauma, there were individual traumas that went on in almost every household.

And so we are all showing up differently. And I think as we do this to your point, this idea of learning about what vulnerable communication is and having empathy for that person, you know, and not vilifying the person sort of across the table and realizing that they're coming from the same place to we all are right now and we all need to show up in our full humanity.


AD

Our full humanity into the future. I love this. I am leaving this with some hope.


JW

And and so we have three final questions that we ask every guest. And so the first one is, Erin, if you could put a Post-it note on every mom's refrigerator tomorrow morning, what would that Post-it note say?


EE

We’re in this together.


AD

Yeah, we’re in this together. And then the second question is, is there a quote that has really moved you or changed the way that you think or feel lately?


EE

Yes, it's from Eve Rodsky, who's the author of Fair Play, and she's become a friend and she I won't say it perfectly, but she says that time is not money. Time is diamonds, and every one deserves permission to be unavailable.


JW

Hmm. Everyone deserves permission to be unavailable and time is diamonds. And so the final question is, well, it is inspired because, you know, in the parenting grind, we can be exhausted and overwhelmed at how kids are just demanding. But we like to just take a step back and say or just remind ourselves what is so amazing about kids. And so, Erin, what do you love about kids?


EE

I love looking into their eyes and seeing the wonder and forgetting myself and that's that's the funny thing is we talk so much about having the space to lean into ourselves. And for me, it's only when I don't feel depleted that I'm able to be present and connected. And that is my favorite thing about parenting is when I'm truly present with my kids and I'm looking in their eyes and I'm seeing what they need and what they're experiencing and deeply listening to them.

That is the true magic of motherhood. And that's just my very favorite thing, just really slowing down and stopping and looking into their eyes no matter what they're doing.


AD

It's beautiful. And the way that you bring up that, we need all of that support and order because when we're depleted, we are not present. And we get triggered.


EE

We make it all about ourselves. That's that’s the funny thing here is we are most selfish when we are self depleted. We are able to give of ourselves and be present to others when we're full. Truly.

In this episode

What a joy it was to kick off our theme this month around Working Moms Mental Wellness with Erin Erenberg. Erin is CEO and founder of Totum Women, a moms’ advocate, a founding mother at the Chamber of Mothers, IP attorney, serial entrepreneur and mom of three. With Totum Women Erin helps moms in the workplace through products, community, events, and research backed resources.

And with Chamber of Mothers, Erin is a leader in the fight for federal paid leave and policies that support mothers. Erin and her family live in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, not too far from us here in Savannah, Georgia. We talked about the real struggles working moms face, the lack of support at work and at all levels of government, how the world isn't ready to hear the real challenges working moms face, but how Erin is speaking out anyway and a whole lot more.

If you care about working moms wellness, then you're going to love this episode.

Listen here

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or Overcast

About our guest

Erin Erenberg is CEO and founder of Totum Women, a moms’ advocate, a founding mother at the Chamber of Mothers, IP attorney, serial entrepreneur and mom of three.

Show notes

  • Totum Women, a community for resources, support, and conversation for modern motherhood
  • Chamber of Mothers, a collective movement to focus America's priorities on mothers’ rights.
  • Here's a helpful summary, by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, of current policy on paid leave in the U.S.: "The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires eligible employers to provide certain workers unpaid family leave; however, unlike nearly all other industrialized nations, the U.S. does not have national standards on paid family or sick leave, despite strong public support."
  • "Don't be an ally, be an accomplice." - Rene Graham
  • Maslow's hierarchy of needs
  • Fair Play, by Eve Rodsky

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford

We wanted to start off by hearing a little bit about your story. And so the first place that I wanted to start, we can we can circle back, of course, is when did you realize that you wanted to go into law or become a serial entrepreneur?

Erin Erenberg

I love that. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. These are all my favorite topics, and I love being with both of you. Two new friends. So, yeah, you know, it's it's funny the way my career, the trajectory is kind of interesting to me when I look at it. But, you know, growing up, my dad's a lawyer, my dad's best friend's a lawyer. We always vacation with them. Like, the idea of the law was always around me. I remember one vacation we were all in the minivan, and my dad and his best friend were listening to, like, bar prep on the way, you know, a ten hour drive. So the law was.

JW

And the kids didn't revolt, you know, turn this off.

EE

But that's a whole other thing, I guess. Think about parenting these days and we're so connected and dialed into our kids needs. My parents, like, didn't care. It's like you get one sip of orange juice an hour because we don't want you to pee and you're going to listen to bar prep and be quiet.

Audra DiPadova

I got my parents gave me Dramamine. I mean, we were out for 14 hours.

EE

I love it. So, yeah, the law was always there. And then I don't know if you all did this in high school, even we had to take this test called the ASVAB. It was like the Armed Services, Vocational Aptitude Battery. No clue. I remember that acronym but it was just basically like, you shall be a lawyer. And it's funny because I kind of rejected that.

I had this feeling of, you know, my dad's a lawyer, my mom's a teacher, and it's this big, wide world. Why would I pick the two? Any either of the two professions that I've been sort of steeped in my whole life, and I grew up traveling a lot with my mom, which is a whole other really cool story.

But I just saw the world as a really big place. But I did I got it in my mind that I wanted to go to Duke, like, really young. I just got really excited about that school and had a fantastic experience there. And again, was the theme of, you know, I did Comparative Area Studies, which is like international relations meets anthropology and humanitarianism and activism, and I loved it.

I had such a great experience there. And so I did see this notion of, you know, I am essentially an advocate. Everything that I do, the whole way I live, there's this sense of advocacy and yearning for justice and wanting to take everything I know and have experienced and help make people's lives better and even small ways and so I did feel like, oh, maybe I will end up going to law school despite being told that by too many people and wanting to rebel against it.

And but I actually my first job was in tech. I went and I worked at Trilogy Software, which was hiring a bunch. I graduated in 2000. I lived in Austin. I loved it that I worked and after that, a law firm ended up going to law school. I even knew in law school, you know, I, I want to go into a big firm because you know, that's where I'll make money right off the bat to help pay off these, you know, loans that I have.

But I don't want to stay in a law firm and as soon as I got into a big firm, I was doing intellectual property law, and I loved intellectual property, but I did not I was sort of allergic to the container of a law firm just billing hours. And this idea that the more time you spend on a client's matter, the more money you're going to make.

That seems so that's a conflict of interest, right? Like if you come to me with a problem, I want to help you as efficiently as possible, especially if you're filling my time. That didn't sit right with me. And I had partners be like, you know, get your head around this. Like, we want hours.

But I wanted to get them the answer as soon as possible and free them of the problem they've come to me with. And so I learned there at a law firm, I was at a big law firm for honestly, while I was there, nine months and I was only 26 years old and I wrote up my letter of resignation and took it to my partner.

And I just said, I, this is not for me. And I, without a net I left that law firm and this really nice salary and really great support system. And I just started taking on music law clients at the time I was living in Nashville, it started out in North Carolina then I was in Nashville. So I was taking on clients in a really entrepreneurial way.

You know, I had one client that I worked with about 40-50 hours a week there called SESAC, they’re a performing rights organization that acquires the catalogs of songwriters and publishers and then licenses them out to music users. And that through that, I learned a couple of things. Number one, I love autonomy, so I like that I am working for myself, and I might be working with this one client all the time, but at the end of the day, I'm giving them I'm an independent contractor.

I love that independence and I really liked working with creative people. And so just skipping ahead, I ended up in Los Angeles, my boss actually at SESAC said there's this really cool charitable foundation of the Academy of Country Music, of all things, and they're in Los Angeles and they really need to they need somebody to come into the foundation and help them make it exciting.

They need partnerships with talent and they just need to kind of create a brand. So I moved to L.A., I ran that foundation. It was my favorite job I've ever had. And again, I learned some things about myself. I learned that I really love putting together partnerships. I really love getting creative and thinking about how I can pull people together around a common interest and get them all excited about doing good.

And we had these amazing programs. We put together a music camp for people with a specific intellectual challenge called Williams Syndrome. And we did that in conjunction with Vanderbilt. And so I love that job. However, I then got carried away by Tech again, and started. I was the one of the very first employees at Indiegogo, the crowdfunding company, and help them build.

So there I was and I was always doing law, so as the executive director of a nonprofit, I was still working on contracts and deals and of course compliance for the nonprofit. And then when I worked at Indiegogo, it was only five of us at the time, and they said, We just need partnerships. Like you come in here and build partnerships and then also paper the deal.

So basically there was always this theme of I want to be helpful, I want to build something, I want the autonomy to be creative and to to to think differently about what the problem is and how we tackle it and to help people. I want there to be some positive social outcome from what I'm doing. So all of that was going on.

And then I had our first baby in 2012 and I think like a lot of women, I was absolutely shocked by the lack of support for me as a woman when I became a mother. Yeah, I mean there was so much attention and support on me as a pregnant woman and, you know, with my partner too, and we lived in L.A at the time and there was also a lot of attention even on how you give birth, right?

I mean it's oh yeah. Unmedicated or medicated or C-section or this or this and that. Everybody pick a lane. And so I was super informed about that. I felt very supported. And then had the baby and things were happening to my body, to my mind, to my relationships, to my ambition, my, my career drive. It was not what I expected.

And I would like to just speak on that for a second because I know we're talking about working motherhood. I, you know, now we're on a platform that reaches you know, around 60,000 women a week, mothers, modern mothers. And no two women have the same experience of motherhood. But the theme is we are all discombobulated by it. Right. And so I have talked to mothers who are extremely career driven, and they have their baby and they really want to take a pause and they want to lean all the way out.

And in 2012 Lean In was the big book. It was in the zeitgeist and and you know what I've learned senses Lean In was not written for me. Lean In is not written for a mother who's in her thirties it's written for a young woman who's about to choose her partner. But I felt and I know a lot of mothers still feel to this day that the big idea there was do not lean out, lean all the way into your ambition, lean all the way into your career, or you are doing a disservice to all the work that feminism has done for you to this point.

That's how I took it. That's how a lot of women took it.

AD

There's some weight to that. Heavy.

EE

Really heavy. And so I really surprised myself because I wasn't the kind of little girl that played with dolls. I didn't babysit growing up. I didn't have this timeline around, like when I turn 30, I need to have it. Not at all. I was surprised with how quickly I became pregnant, had our first baby, and was shocked at how much I love being a mother.

I really it opened up this softer, more patient, more present side of me that I hadn't encountered in a very long time because I was so used to just being so driven and working so hard for whatever I wanted. And suddenly by slowing down and being present and being soft and patient, I was being the very best mother I possibly could for my baby.

And not only did I love that for him, and I love seeing the result of that for George, our first baby, but I enjoyed myself. I liked myself more. I felt really happy. But unlike, you know, a mother that faces postpartum depression and goes through something a little different, I also couldn't square that with everything I knew of myself.

And frankly, I don't think my husband really could wrap his head around what I was saying. Like when I would say I actually don't want to go back to work. I really want to take a beat and be with the baby who's just sort of like, OK, like, I think he thought some time would pass and I would just like, that would go away. And so I did go back to work at three months postpartum, and I was really not ready and I had a really hard time. And so anyway, that is when the seed was really planted for me that I wanted I knew I was not alone. And this experience of discombobulation and lack of support because once I started talking about it to other mothers, they would open up.

And that's what I think is so interesting is that we tend to keep these things hidden and we can be complicit and not showing or talking about the experience that we're having, which in turn not only hurts ourselves but hurts other women because they're afraid to show up in what they're really feeling. And so I just decided to sort of go first, you know, if it was baby group and we were all sitting in the circle and everybody saying like, oh, it's actually fine.

I would it's like, I'm not fine. I really don't want to go back to work. And I cry about it every day and I don't know what that means. And then it unlocked this whole conversation so. So, yeah, that, that is where the seed was planted for me. I didn't know that it was going to be called Totem, and I didn't start it right away, but I knew that sort of this thread of advocacy and wanting to take an experience that I had and look around and see if that was a redundant experience that I could help somebody else have an improved experience from what I had.

I wanted to do something about that. And so eventually in 2017 I started Totem.

AD

It's beautiful and like the I love love love hearing about this unfolding for you and the courage you you had to speak to your experience and to share your experience. I remember being there to with both of our kids going back at three months super super super struggling with it and and having to and you know not having a choice just having to do it and slipping into relativism you know and and pushing my experience down because I was like well at least I had three months as if that's like. You know, at least, I mean, at least I didn't have to go back at three weeks, two weeks, whatever it might be that like I have friends in the service industry and, you know, other other industries, at least the state of California, you know, through through disability and whatever. You know, I was provided with three paid months. Oh, my God.

You know, you know, I am so lucky. I am so fortunate. Who am I? You know that narrative? Who am I? Who are your privilege? Who are you to complain? Right and that, I think, for so many of us keeps us from, in addition to often going back to a workplace where you come in feeling like I don't fit in here, I don't belong and I'm not welcomed here because I'm a you know, I feel like I might be a problem.

So I have to, like, pretend that not only is everything normal, quote unquote, but I'm better than I was before. You know, I can do more.

It's you know, it's you're like bleeding, you know, profusely, you know, at that point because you're not breastfeeding. If you if you're able to do that, you're not breastfeeding the same way and all that stuff. I mean, it's just catastrophic.

EE

It really is. And it's, you know, I read recently that the postpartum hormone dump is the biggest and most sudden chemical adjustment than any human being goes through at any point in their lives. Full stop. Yeah. And the fact that we don't support that I mean, it's not even it deserves support. I think when people hear the word deserve, it's sort of like go get a massage, you deserve it or like, go get a massage because you're worth it.

It's required. We as a society aren't meeting our requirements for families and and of course they're suffering. And, you know, one of the things I was hearing you saying is sort of that idea of comparative suffering or the suffering Olympics. And yet, you know, it's funny, I have a dear friend, you know, you and I have bonded about we have a son with a medical complexity, a lifelong medical complexity that requires ongoing attention from my husband and me.

And any caregiver. And I have a really good friend who's in a similar situation with twins. And, you know, she has said to me, this whole thing about this suffering Olympics, it's like suffering is suffering. Suffering is a human emotion that requires acknowledgment and validation. But also just don't be a jerk. Like if you're talking to somebody and you know that they have a child who's in and out of the hospital every week and you're frustrated because you didn't get to yoga on time this morning, maybe that person is in your audience.

Like, that's not the person to vent to. It doesn't mean that you're like, you know, the fact that you feel so frustrated about not getting the yoga on time doesn't deserve you doing a check in with yourself, because that might be about a whole slew of other things happening. It might be that you're not sleeping, you're drained, you're depleted, you have no time for yourself.

And so as human beings, this whole comparative suffering thing to me is fascinating. And where I've really landed on it is when we are suffering, suffering is suffering. And we all deserve to check in with ourselves and say, Wow, I'm experiencing suffering. What do I why? What is this about and how can I express it and get some support at the same time?

I think it's important to be aware of the needs of others. And as we call people into our circle and as we're communicate sitting with other people just have sensitivity to one another. But it's, you know, I, I feel sorry and sad and I wish I could have hugged that person that you were going back to work because everything you were going through deserves acknowledgment.

And of course, if you're talking to somebody who's working on the floor at Amazon and, you know, we got stories at Totem about we saw stories around four weeks paid leave. I know we're going to go there around paid leave. Mothers in our community were furious when the paid leave policy that almost passed this year was cut from 12 weeks to four weeks.

It's now zero weeks, but we are ticked off at four. And we were getting stories from women saying, I work in a fulfillment center. I was bleeding down my legs, standing all day. Milk is dripping through my blouse and that's awful. It's also awful that I worked at a tech company and I was the first parent and I couldn't think of a word I always joke.

I couldn't think of the word hat when I went back to work, was talking to my CEO, literally can't think of the word the hat. That's how sleep deprived I was. There was nowhere to pump. I would pump in public bathrooms. I was super embarrassed, you know, I had a colleague who made misogynistic, sexist remarks all day, every day.

And it's all hard. But I think being able to say I'm suffering, I need to talk about this and I need to talk about it in a psychologically safe space where I can feel seen and heard and not judge is important for all of us.

AD

You absolutely nailed it. I mean, I think this is like such a beautiful conversation because what I'm hearing in this, too, is that in these conversations, we're so often pulled into that kind of scarcity mindset of are we talking about 12 weeks or four? Well, this experience versus that experience, it's like, no, we're talking about like building a society where where mothers are held and cared for and supported and not about these these weeks.

We're talking about like, like one day, like, can it be a year? Can it be whatever it is is needed? You know, like I want to see a society where we are able to do some sort of like reverse retirement.

I'll commit to whatever five more years in Social Security. Give me my five now, you know what I mean? That I so identify with you in the space of not realizing and Justin knows as well, like, we met in college and we're like, kids? I don't know. We didn't think, we're going to, you know, like, we're doing our thing.

We have these great ideas school, all of that, becoming a mother. I was just like, you know, this. I was not like I wouldn't even like I've never asked anyone to hold their baby. Like, I did not, you know, I didn't think I was maternal. Right. And then you have that baby. And I was like, oh, my God, I want to stay home.

I want to I don't want to not work. And I, I, but I want to stay home. And I was like, like, yeah, you're in grad school. Like, we couldn't do it. But but what I think really, really gets me from this conversation to I'm thinking, you know, Brené Brown, I'm thinking of inner critic narratives. I'm thinking about what is imbued in us as women, ways that we tell ourselves down and tear each other down.

And that voice that was like, you don't deserve that. Who do you think you are? And that gets into the comparative suffering that gets into, you know, something I have also been really passionate about that I think ties fully into this. And that's grief. And we grieve so much. You know, we are alike from from the very, very first moments, you know, of this journey, not to mention our whole lives before becoming mothers, but motherhood is a journey through grief.

Of many, many layers and many, many kinds. Right. And and the fact that we have to suit up, you know, and try to hold every single thing together to come into these workplaces that desperately need us. Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm. Without being held, without being seen, cared for, supported all of that. Like, it's just that's wrong. And it and that's what I hear, that you are stepping up to make major, major, major change.

EE

And it's incredible. Well, thank you. I can't I talked to an old college friend the other day. She's somebody that I've totally separate work for. I still have an IP practice that's based in Savannah, actually. And we were just talking about IP work, and she was like, yes, I have an IP project for you. It's separate from your personal crusade. And I was like, I love that. I love that totem and chamber of mothers are my personal crusade. I'm going to step into that yes.

And I love that you use the word grief. It's so true. Like a friend had said to me and I know she got it from a book, but grief is love with nowhere to go. And when you think of that in relation to new motherhood, you know, you're thinking about your grieving, your freedom, your grieving, the relationship that you had with your spouse.

That changed overnight because you suddenly are like dual household managers and caregiving manager with zero experience, either one of you. And that that idea of teamwork suddenly has so much strain and stress on it. You're grieving your body. I mean, my goodness. And I'm not talking about how you look. I'm talking you know, I tell people all the time and you can edit this out of this TMI, but there's nothing to me that says we don't support new moms like this.

I had had this unmedicated labor. I was felt like such a warrior. It was everything I wanted it to be. George proud from my belly up to my breast himself and nursed. It was so idyllic. However, or I, you know, as lying in bed in the hospital after I delivered him and my doctor couldn't even make rounds. She said, I can't be there year, you’re going to have to call me.

It's not really her fault. It's a that's a whole other thing, the medical profession and how overtaxed they are. So she called me and I said, you know, I there's something going on in my pelvis that really hurts it. It's not anything. It's not like the whole ring of fire. And it's not it's not anything I've heard people describe.

There's something going on because I feel like I can't get up. And she said, “It's OK. You won't be able to run in the next coming weeks. You can do some yoga. I was like, well, OK. That’s nonresponsive. And so I felt like, talk about the whole Brené Brown thing. Like, you know, if you don't express shame, it just it grows and grows. And so I had sort of I expressed a need, and instead of being received, I was completely dismissed. And this expectation that, like, you know what that said to me? Oh, I should be able to run soon.

Like, I can't get up. Something's wrong with me. I did it wrong. So I did it wrong, all that work. And I did it wrong. And so I was at home. I still really couldn't get up off my some I would like sideline nurse my baby and I was desperate to do something like to get up and cook a meal or whatever.

OK, so I said to my mom, thankfully, my mom was at the house. My mom sort of functioned as a postpartum dula, which I felt so grateful for. She was there at the house for like a month postpartum. And I said, Mom, I really need you to go down and look at my vagina. And she was like, be happy, too.

So she went down. And she said, Well, she's so sweet. She said, It's beautiful, but there is a massive bruise on your perineum, like, massive, really intense bruise and you have not gone to the bathroom since you left the hospital. So I think you're constipated and you have this massive bruise and and my husband who's a veterinarian, was there and he said, if you were a cat, I would just go to CVS and get you an enema.

And I was like, get thee to CVS. Well, he gets back and I'm telling you, 3 minutes later, I was the was so I was so happy and I was having the postpartum experience that I should. So lame that, like, you know, we treat animals better than we treat humans. And I you know, I was just so lucky and blessed to have my mom because sadly, we don't have villages and aloparenting anymore.

And, you know, I actually I didn't have my mom and my second and third births, and I really felt lonely and I really suffered. And it's you know, all of these things happen and they're really not supported. And I will say, you know, I launched I had this experience in 2012. I launched them in 2017. And since then there have been a lot more motherhood platforms and even better motherhood products.

And there's that company Bodily who is really edgy about postpartum support and they're products Frida Baby you know came out so. But I will say you know you look at the free to baby ad that simply shows a postpartum mother peeing in the middle of the night. They don't even show, it's nothing graphic and it was banned from the Oscars. They couldn't even get that seen and I think that was 2019 so there's a lot of women working on behalf of other mothers but our society is not ready and it breaks my heart to hear about: we are allegedly so pro-life, but not once the baby's born.

No, not at all. There's support for child care. There's not support for moms, there's not support for dads. And, you know, there's a study in Sweden where they looked at the postpartum experience of both partners and when dads were given paid leave, the mother's incidence of using anti depressives or anti-anxiety medications was decreased by 25%.

So you know we there is a way to value a family real family values require giving support to a new mother, to a new parent no matter you know you're in a hetero cis gender or not relationship, parents, partners deserve support. Birthing people require support. And our society will not have family values. We won't be able to hang together until we make a massive, monumental shift. And that's totally my personal crusade.

AD

Yeah, totally. And you're I mean, you're talking about like I mean, we could go deep into this probably the economic impact, the fact that, you know, I just saw a stat recently, I think in The New York Times showing that I think for the second year in a row, the year the U.S. Census population increase is like nominal.

And we know the effect of the long term effects that that will have on our economy. You know, like so we we've come from this perspective of like, oh, you know, you're lucky you'll be considered for a job or you're lucky to be at a place that might accommodate you. And and what I hear coming up is a challenge around all of those narratives and that way of doing things right.

We're saying, no, no, no. Yeah, we are the future we're the current, present, now, and the future and the future of this country depends on policies that will be family supportive.

EE

And it could be 2.5 times more expensive to hire someone new when you lose talent. And if you look at companies like BuzzFeed that provide a proper leave, I think they give something between four and six months leave. They saw a 97% increase in retention. So it's the economic impact. If you look at the numbers, it's better for business, it's better for families.

It's better for babies to provide paid leave. We're talking about paid leave now, but I see paid leave along this whole spectrum of support. And we talked about Chamber of Mothers. I just give you a quick, so I launched Totem in 2017. We launched initially as a platform for the brand new mother. So from zero days postpartum to that to 365 days, that first very tender year I saw that sore spot and I had created a lactation cookie of all things with my husband's uncle that helped me get my milk supply back.

I did go back to work. And I started selling that. I started giving it to people first off, like colleagues, friends, neighbors, anybody having babies. And they were saying, OK, not only are these amazing, my husband's uncle had worked at Mrs. Fields. That's why I helped me with the recipe. They're these delicious cookies, but they really, really worked.

I mean, you could go from pumping an ounce out to filling both bottles on both sides.


AD

I needed it. I needed that, Erin. I needed it so badly.


EE

They are so good. I know. I wish we had been connected, but they really were amazing. And I think what I got excited about, I'm not a baker. I was super intimidated by CPG and all of that. But what I loved is I had a problem. I found a solution that I could scale that was addictive to me.

Right. And so when I launched Totem, our first product was Lactation Cookie. We then sold it as a mix, but I would do events and community and just I really had this philosophy of I'll go first. I'll be the first one to tell this super embarrassing story about my mom looking at my vagina and my husband telling me to get an enema.

Because guess what? There's going to be somebody out there who has a embarrassing story. It's wrapped up in shame that they told themselves this whole story, that they didn't do motherhood well. And I want to free them of that. I want to open up the conversation. And so we did a lot of events, community products offer the postpartum woman. And then when the pandemic happened, as I've shared with you, we had a personal we consider a personal trauma.

Our oldest, George, who really set this whole thing in motion. We have three kids now. We have George who's nine, Arabella who's seven. I two losses between the two of them, by the way, and then Beau, who's four. And George was diagnosed with type one diabetes the day after Mother's Day. 2020. So our family really just went through so much shock, so much trauma, so much fear at a time that we were all globally fearful.

And so that happened, and I really had to evaluate what I was doing with Totem because again, CPG as a business that requires a lot of capital. And I was bootstrapping and I so I had to look at am I going to take on an investor and all of those expectations or am I going to shift this model to something that I can control and I can lean in and lean out of as I need and want to.

And so at the same time, I was also noticing and being a part of so many interviews around what was happening to working mothers and how to point 5 million to 3 million mothers were really elbowed out of the workforce because even if both partners were at home working it was most times the mother who defaulted in daycare and just kind of cried uncle, like, I can't do well, I can't be a Zoom teacher and a laundress and, you know, and really like have these KPIs.

Yeah, yeah. And so, you know, mothers are really suffering and the L.A. Times reach out to me to talk about to talk about maternal mental health and what it was like to be a mother in the pandemic. And so I'm thinking, hold on a second here. This is a talk about a collective trauma for mothers. And my experience is I really have empathy around all the touch points because like you, Audra, I was that working professional that wasn't thinking about being a mother.

I was that driven professional. Who knows what it's like to have investors over your shoulders looking for. I can't tell you how many times I heard hockey stick growth month over month I know that pressure. It's real. And then I know what it's like to be a new mother. I know what it's like to return. And by the way, I'm an attorney who understands the limits of discrimination and what accommodations need to be.

And so it just seemed to me that I was missing the plot, being in CPG when I could be doing more at this intersection of ambition and motherhood. And so I really pivoted what I was doing with Totem. I sold off all the remaining cookies and I started focusing on how can I support working parents? And I just found that there is such a need.

I will say that I don't think companies are quite there yet in realizing the investments they need to make. I get booked for a lot of workshops, which I find I'm glad that there's some investment in workshops, but what I'm seeing is a lot of, you know, employee resource groups, ERGs are staffed by working parents and it's unpaid labor.

So they're saying to you, OK, Audra, you say it's a hard time for working mothers. Why don't you do something about that? Why don't you pull together a resource group? By the way, we have no budget, but go get some speakers and don't pay them for their labor either. And so there's this theme.

So I'm seeing this this confluence of on one side and more unpaid labor, mostly of women and and also men, but parents. And I've seen this also in the DEI space. And then I'm also seeing so unpaid labor and performance. So yes, let's do a workshop by the way, we can barely pay you for this. We're not paying the the people here to set it up either. And we're going to have this and check the box.

And a lot of moms are going to come on and say, thank you so much. I feel so seen. They're going to be in tears. I walk away from that thing and I think what's happening for them? Like there's not an ongoing investment in their mental health. You know, what we really would like to offer is ongoing community. Like we can help put the community together. I can do office hours where I can come on a zoom or in real life to the group of working parents and give them a psychologically safe space to talk about what's going on and then follow up with them.

Because I've been steeped in this world for so long with whether they need a parenting coach or they need, you know, a postpartum psychiatrist or a therapist or they need even pelvic floor support or they need to they need some expertise around dividing up labor at home because many times it's not that there's this like awful mean old dad at home. Our society is not set up to equip dads either. And so equipping families with the tools of like, OK, let's make transparent what is going on in your most important organization, which is your home, which we don't treat like an important organization are. Let's look at that. Let's divide up the labor more equitably. By the way, it might not need to be 50/50. It's just even equity at home, all these things,


AD

Learning how to communicate around it. We don't we don't come into these relationships with any orientation around how to communicate about this stuff.


EE

No, we don't.


AD

You just go into default mode. Mode, you know, through all of it.


EE

Yeah. You're flying blind and then you and you argue and it builds up and it's fights and it's no good for anybody. And so there's all this there are so many tools with which I'm familiar are so many experts so, so much that I can offer to working parents. When companies say, we want to really do something about this and we want to have real metrics around the retention.

And by the way, it's not just retention, it is how engaged and inspired are these working parents I can't tell you how many people are staying in their jobs, even though 64% of parents plan to leave their job in 2022, many who are staying are saying I'm in need of. Here are the things I hear: I'm in need of deep rest. I'm completely uninspired. I don't feel loyal to this company anymore. I'm furious with them my creativity is gone because they're depleted and they have felt an utter lack of trust. It's, you know, we need to even the return to work thing, some people feel that return to work is, is a return to micromanagement. It's a return to we can't trust you to do your job.

We're going to make the assumption that if we don't see you, you're not getting it done. And so I'm really interested in and in companies that want to make an actual change and aren't just performing and are really putting skin in the game, because if they're not investing in this, there's they're not going to see a change and so that has been sort of the corporate work.

But then Chamber of Mothers is an advocacy organization that I put together with a bunch of other motherhood community leaders in the late fall of 2021.


AD

And Chamber of Mothers is focused on paid family leave.


EE

So we came together around paid family leave. So that night that. So just for anybody listening that doesn't have a little background on what happened with paid family leave this year, the US is the only quote unquote industrialized nation without paid family leave. We are one of only six countries in the entire world without federal paid leave for families.

And several administrations have tried to pass some sort of federal paid leave. Most recently, President Biden had the family rescue plan which then got parallel-pathed with the infrastructure bill build back better. So advocates of the family rescue plan, which included pay leave, a very, very inclusive paid leave, that's caregiving for the elderly, caregiving for yourself if you're sick, caregiving if you're a victim of domestic violence, being able to get paid leave for that.

It was a beautiful, thoughtful bill that got parallel-path with Build Back Better, the infrastructure bill. The notion being I mean, there are really grasping at straws but it was your family is infrastructure, OK? But the average person that's not obsessed with this the way we are are like bridges, OK, infrastructure OK, sure. So there was really this disconnect between public policy and private lives.

And I decided in 2021 to understand more about what was going on. I started working with an organization called Paid Leave US because I had a former colleague who was there that hooked me into it and just becoming aware of what was going on. So then fast forward to November. We're getting really excited because paid leave might finally pass federal paid leave.

And so a lot of us who have these motherhood platforms are friends. We're in this infrastructure that is mostly collaborative, although it can be competitive too, which is a big waste of time. And so we're watching what's happening. It might be 12 weeks as we discussed, we need way more than 12 weeks, but that's what most states we have nine states that provide some kind of federal paid leave.

They offer 12 weeks, most of them. So at least it's a start, right? So that's where we are one night and we know that it was for people in a room decided to in order to try to pass this bill. Let's just cut paid leave from 12 weeks to four weeks. So moms who were aware of everything and they knew sort of the public sorry, the private implications of these public measures were furious and you know, there is a friend of mine, Alexis Brad Cutler, who runs a really edgy, amazing platform called Not Safe for Mom Group.

And it's a place for moms to just show up any way they want. They can say what they want, scream it out. She was the original like Primal Scream person, and she started lifting up these stories of what was it like for you at four weeks and I said, you know, we were diming, texting on phone calls like this is ridiculous.

We were enraged. And one of my another mom who runs a platform called the mom attorney, she her name's Daphne Delvaux. She said, you know, we're not going to get anything done until we come together like the Chamber of Commerce. Like that's the biggest lobbying body in the country. And they actually make things happen. And so we decided what if we were to rebrand the mother and pull her spending power, which is over 2.4 trillion dollars, her voting power and really instead of, you know, companies and I'm not going to name names now, but there are a lot of companies that in advertisements have you believe that a mother is just like sweet little lady, that's all dowdy. And she's totally lost herself. She's buried under a laundry. And like, we're for moms. Moms are very powerful many times, like highly educated, very motivated, powerful women who can make a lot of things happen.

But what's happening right now is there are a lot of these platforms, including myself, we're throwing pebbles at these massive problems because we're not coming together. And we can't do this in ego. It can't just be about who's next person that puts out the book and gets to stand on the thing. We need to come together and really pool our resources, our talent, our money and our voting power.

And so that was when we came up with this idea, let's be the Chamber of Mothers. And I said, let's have let's go to social media and do a roadblock campaign with the hashtag build back bleeding, because at four weeks we're still bleeding most I mean, you're lucky for not bleeding postpartum for weeks. So we did this we it was Alexis who got this amazing image that we own and we did a social media roadblock.

And it was we want Bill back bleeding and after that, you know, coming down the pike, we also did another campaign that was moms brought you into this world and we could vote you out. And so the way this was working was we had a Slack channel where the lobby groups were telling us exactly in real time what was happening in Washington.

But many of them censor themselves. And we decided to be the uncensored, edgy voice of the every mother. And what we were hearing from the advocacy groups was that we had gotten to the mainstream and consumer mom in a way that they had not done in over five years of advocacy work. And so yeah. Yeah. And I think they're afraid, you know, because they're having to and I'm not dogging they're doing amazing work, but they're seeing on the ground just how tricky and all the red tape.

And we actually we want to follow their lead in the sense that we know when it needs to be delicate, but we have the advantage of not being a lobby group so that we can say this is you say. And these issues are on both sides of the lines. I mean, we have totally all across the spectrum. So we in 48 hours we got 8000 followers on Instagram and our other notion was to really enlist mothers as advocates. Mothers are fired up and it's like, what do I do? You know, I have all these other things going up.

This is another thing for me to do. And so we just gave them an opportunity to give us their name, contact information, a little bit about their background and how they want to step into advocacy, how they want to help and can be big or small. I mean, I can't read this list without crying. It's everybody from, you know, full time moms, teachers, doctors, lawyers, bestselling authors, journalist, just really talking about the pain of their experience.

And what they want to do going forward. And so those of us who put this together just on one night that we were all ticked off, really looked at the outcome and by the way, we also got other celebrity interest. Megan Markle's team sent her new kids book to everybody on the Founding Mothers. That is the founding mothers.

And so we decided to move forward with it. And I'm excited to say that just last week, we became a fiscal sponsor project of the PPF which means that we can now take on charitable donations. We are really excited. We've been really trying to step through, like, how do we pull this together and move as quickly as we can and got really great advice on that and we have an event coming up May 4th for maternal mental health. And we've gotten a lot of amazing brand sponsors. So it's really been, you know, I will be honest, a lot of my work with Totem felt Sisyphean.

I mean, I was just really just pushing the boulder up and I felt like I really wasn't making traction. I feel one of the difficulties is that sadly, I'm finding that modern mothers really don't invest in in our care. You know, we will invest in something that's more surface level, like a your jeans that make our butts look great or a workout or anything for the kids. But when it comes to real inner care, I wasn't seeing the investment. And so a lot of difficulty with that. On the other hand, Chamber of Mothers has just been catching, and I think a lot of it has for me personally, it has to do with: I feel really values-aligned in advocacy.

I feel like this is everything thing that I've learned how to do, the sense of social justice and speaking up for people who, for whatever reason, aren't ready to speak and providing a place for people to to speak who are ready, just giving them giving them a way to express what they're feeling and going through. It's all really caught on.

And I also have loved working with the other women. You know, as you all know, like solo entrepreneurship can be really lonely and isolating. It's been so much fun to work with these women who are just creative and excited and brilliant and masterful. So it's it's I think we are creating something that will sustain and make change. And it's not just paid leave.

Yeah. We are advocating for paid leave, improve maternal mental health and improved access to affordable child care. Those are our big initiatives in the next few months.

AD

It's beautiful. And what I'm hearing here is that spectrum that you were talking about with all of the projects that you're working on because you have you're really diving deep into this broad advocacy work to make major change for all of us. At the same time, you're able to strategically work on changing this corporate structure strategically as they're ready starting to make that change internally from within. And that's a lot. And this is all well, being a mom of four yourself and yes, incredible wow.


EE

You're the same way.


AD

Yeah, we do it right. We and and I'm personally so grateful for it. I, I really appreciate tying in this conversation about the various I don't know the undulation of, of traumas and challenges from the very, very first. I think birth trauma is something that we've talked about here on our podcast with guest collective a lot. And you and I as mothers know really well how this continues for us as we make our way into raising children.

We find we have kids with very complex medical needs. And so I'm personally grateful for your work. When Max is diagnosed. I was really, really fortunate to be given a year of time with him to be home. But it was from my colleagues because H.R. called, I think four days into it. We were in the hospital and they said, you don't have time.

You have to come, come back. We're in the ICU where the ICU stop. And they said, you have to come back to work. And our health insurance was through me that it was a really, really really difficult time. And I had used all of my sick and vacation time to be home with the kids over the summer and give myself like a Friday a week to be with them.

That's how I had to like buy my time to be with my young kids. And so they're like, you're out of time. You could do unpaid leave and we'll hold your job for you right now. Right. That's available to you. But otherwise you need to come back to work because you don't get to keep you. Well, you could do Cobra, but you have to pay for your cobra if you go, you know?

Right. And I'm just like, I'm in the ICU. My son has a life threatening brain tumor and you know, he's intubated and you're telling me I have to come back to work? It was just like, what? What's happening here? What kind of society do we live in?


EE

I'm sorry to use this word, but that feels abusive to me.


AD

Right? Yeah, right. Yeah. So my colleagues got together and they put together, and this is in higher education, which, you know, is like unheard of. They put together a catastrophic leave policy within two days or something like that, and they gathered enough sick and vacation time from my colleagues, from the groundskeepers to the college president to give me a year paid year at home with Max, which was so good.

That love is an incredible privilege. But in my journey then working with thousands of child cancer parents, what you're back. What? Yeah, yeah, we're back. And so what happened in this case is that that she was a teacher and she had to go to work. She held the health insurance, she had to go to work, and her principal let her mom sub, who was a teacher, a retired teacher, like, let you know all this under the table.

Things happen. But most of the moms that I know were thrown into almost irreparable debt, poverty, job loss from that. So when I hear of the catastrophic aspects of all of this start when we have kids and continue through the parenting journey through the entire parenting journey. So we desperately need this change and the change that you're implementing strategically in workplaces, you know, from within, but then policy wise, from without, like we need both of these things.


EE

I couldn't agree more. And the other thing I'm hearing, too, in your experience that's a through line is just this self-advocacy, you know, and look, I mean, you were in no position to be like, how am I going to fight for my rights? But your colleagues together and they said, hold on a second, no way. And they stepped into they became advocates.

They became activists. I mean, that's truly what this is requiring right now. And it's unfortunate, but we can't stay in this place of sort of collective victimhood. Right. We can't say, This is really sucking for us. And I was worrying about that a lot with all of the ink that was coming out around how horrible things were for mothers in the pandemic. I was so worried that it was going to turn into something akin to, unfortunately, what happened with Time's Up and MeToo where it becomes sort of like we're over it, like everybody's tired of hearing about it, don't bring it up anymore.

And I think the way we don't go there is we think about self activation, what can we do about it and how we can. And this is like with Chamber of Mothers, where we're saying every single mother can be an advocate and that doesn't need it doesn't mean you have to quit your day job. It's it's little things.

You know, I recently just did a little video for our Totem audience saying it just occurred to me I never was given paid leave. Like that was the fact I had to have a discussion every single time with the you know, whoever it was I was working for. And it wasn’t… It can sometimes and this is where I think empathy is so important.

It can be something that is just not in that person's radar. You know, when I was at a tech company and there were other parents their head of H.R. who had been one of the initial co-founders she wasn't conversant with all of this. And so it took me saying, yeah, she didn't know. It took me saying, this is what I need.

But then the second third time around, I knew better what I needed and how to express that. And I'm not saying that that means we should always internalize the work, but I think we can activate and we can realize that, you know, there's a certain kind of double suffering when you feel that you can't do anything about the situation that you're in and that we can also have each other's backs.

You know, my babysitter reached out to me. She's 20 years old and she was watching Chamber of Mother launch, and this is one thing I love about the sort of younger generation, they're so curious and they're such inherent activists, and they're there watching what's going on with sort of older generations. And I, I, I don't know. There's a lot of hope that I feel that.

And she reached out and she said, it occurs to me that all of the women who have launch chamber mothers are done having children. You're just doing this for us. And I hadn't, I hadn't realized that it was just that we feel this is so wrong and we want to do something about it. And we've come to it sort of like your colleagues.

I mean, their skin in the game was this. It was just so wrong. And they they needed to do something about it. And so that's that real. You know, I've heard people say, like, don't be an add an ally, be an accomplice. I think this is how we be accomplices for one another. And you know, I'll send that for the show notes.

But, you know, I think this is how we really step into the game and put some skin in it. And change what's not working.


AD

Justin has questions


JW

I mean, I've loved just being a fly on the wall. I really never know how these conversations are going to turn out. Like sometimes I'm the fly on the wall. I’m just like going through my list of questions, like nope we talked about that. Yeah, done.

So one of the things I was really impressed by me is, is Erin, it seems like what has really resonated for you and what's really clicking for you as I think about wellness right and I yeah, mental health, mental wellness, but overall wellness, we can think of something like Maslow's hierarchy and everybody knows this. And on the bottom are these like really fundamental needs.

And what I'm getting is that we as a society have failed in providing for these really fundamental needs. And so what you're see what you said earlier about moms just aren't invest in their inner wellness like I just this is really tough and that really resonates for us. I mean, that that's one of the big motivations for us going into the Yes collective.

But it's like as a society we have not provided we have not supported moms at this really fundamental level. And it makes sense that that going up this hierarchy into these higher levels of wellness that moms aren't investing because they're not being supported at right out of really fundamental level.


AD

We can't get out of like fight or flight. Yeah.


EE

That's such a real and compassionate way of looking at it. That's so true.


JW

So I'm I'm curious for you because we are bumping up against time here. I'm curious for you what are you really working on or interested in, motivated by in your own inner wellness journey, like where, where, where are you out for in your own personal growth, in your own inner wellness? What is really alive for you? What is really exciting for you right now?


EE

What is really alive and exciting for me is also my biggest challenge. And it's it's around practicing what I preach, which is not feeling guilt and shame. When I do something that's just for me, you know, really when I give myself permission to be unavailable or step away from child care for something because I want to do it and it might not be paid.

You know, it was before I started Totem work and children were a little bit more binary because I we had a full time nanny and I had a full time job and I had different iterations of that. Sometimes it would be part time, but we had child care. And then I was working and I made a really nice salary.

And it wasn't not painful, it was just more binary now that I run my own platforms and even my legal work, you know, I'm set up like a partner there. So it's, you know, I'm going to make as much as I put in kind of thing. It's I find that I am coming up against a lot of what I preach, which is, listen, we are mothers.

We are also still just women and creative beings and lovers and people who like to play and people who like to dance and people who like to read. And, you know, I get sad when my kids are asked like, what does your mom like to do? And they're like, read her Kindle and work, you know? And I'm like, Yeah, I guess so. But like.

Like, dance to hip hop and rap yeah. So many different friends. I used to travel and like, this is the sort of essence is this glow that we have all inside, I think has been so dampened especially by what we've gone through in the pandemic. But I think coming out of that, I am really excited and scared and challenged by this idea that who I was for the first 34 years of my life before I became a mother is still important today.

And I know that I believe that for other women, and I want to offer myself the same compassion to really step into that.


JW

And that's beautiful. Do you have any strategies that you use to give yourself that compassion, to give yourself that space? Is there anything that has that has worked for you?


EE

Yeah, I have learned that, particularly in terms of how I communicate. It's really basic, but instead of waiting until I'm furious and then throwing out this like randomly assigned task at my husband. I have to really come from a place of it's, you know, vulnerability. I have to say, I have really been having a hard time. I have been drained by how much housework and caregiving and everything that's been going on with type one diabetes. I'm completely drained. I don't recognize myself anymore. And I we need to talk about how I can do something about that.

And it doesn't mean it all has to be on you. I'm not saying like you, my husband just is a veterinarian. I mentioned before he just started his own business, and so he truly has to lean into that. He has to be available. But there are strategies. It doesn't mean that he has to now be the one that steps away from everything at 2:30 to be with the kids.

We need help. We really we have struggled to find somebody that is a consistent person in our lives that can be either a mother's helper or parents help or nanny. It's a different culture. Here than it was in L.A., for better or for worse. And there's not the you know, we've had trouble finding child care. And so what that requires in a very practical way is us finding somebody that can come into our home regularly, who we love and who loves us and our kids, who can just provide us with some ease and some space. We really need that right now.


AD

That sounds big to me. That's the fundamental stuff. To just be able to just so clearly speak that and share that, you know, especially as a mom and a an entrepreneur, like we get so used to doing it all ourselves at our own expense. And there is something of like letting in like that. I need help that feels like really brave to me. Yeah. You know, like, I think that that is something that where all of the things that, that all of the strengths that we have that have gotten us to where we are today are not always working in our favor in moving forward as mothers. You know, like it's not always the same thing.


EE

I think Justin really nailed it when he talked about when you don't have that lowest level of need. Matt, I think what happens is because as a society, we are told as mothers, if we're not doing it, you can do it all. You can have it all. If we're not doing it all, we think we're failing when in fact we were never meant to do it alone.

We were never meant to do it without support. No, we can't even physically, mentally, emotionally, we can't. Relationally, we can't. And so we've bought into this narrative. And so you heap on top of depletion shame and guilt. And I'm not good enough and I should should should you do that for a number of years. It's really hard to all of a sudden rip the Band-Aid and say, you know what, I need help.

I can't do this because you feel like we just I've been trying to prove to everybody that I'm good enough and I can do it. And so there's a self reckoning there that it's really hard to square.


AD

It's hard to learn all of that. And I'm hearing like really, really powerful cycle breaking from that. And I think that that ties into the workplace as well. So I'm hearing this is at home, but then at work, the cycle breaking is in the same speaking up. And and finding the allies, the accomplices and the ways to get together as parents and to say we can't do it this way like this cannot persist and parents for other parents parents who are done parenting.

You know this is a little bit of an aside, but I was in a culture at an organization I worked at where a lot of the older women were like, well. I did it.


EE

Yes, that's a big problem. It's a big problem.


AD

So let's break those cycles. Like that is like it is and I think vulnerability that that you spoke to is the is the first key to that. I know when I went back to work after Max was diagnosed, totally different for me. Then after going back, I went back started the nonprofit still worked full time and did the nonprofit.

So we know what that's like. But I went back with a totally different point of view at that point. And it was like my life had so radically changed that I wasn't going to do it the way I'd done it before. And I was not buying into the into any of it. So I went back with like I think I was introduced Brene Brown around in like 2010 or something, but I went back with her on my shoulder, right?

And just embattled. I was like, I'm not fighting any of these battles. I am here openly, authentically, vulnerably who I am with, what I can bring. And if you don't want it, of course I had the privilege. I think to say this, but if you don't want it, then I won't be here. And it but it was a totally, totally different perspective that was really emboldened, I think by in many ways all of those women who showed up for me.

So I, I love that being here with you and, and having this beautiful reminder that we can do this together.


EE

And I just want to say to you, I think there is an analogy between what you went through and with what working parents went through and the pandemic, because I am just seeing this trend of people will not go back to the before time. They will not go back.

To a structure or an organization that says, I don't want to see your humanity, like keep your kit you your three minute. We are sort of demanding to show up in our full humanity now in the workplace. And I see that a lot of leaders aren't ready for that. And at the same time, a lot of leaders are still struggling themselves.

And so this is where, you know, even with Totem work, like we offer support to people in the C-suite to say, hey, you're building the bridge that everybody has to walk across while you went through this, too. Nobody was in a bubble from what we just we all experienced. And within the collective trauma, there were individual traumas that went on in almost every household.

And so we are all showing up differently. And I think as we do this to your point, this idea of learning about what vulnerable communication is and having empathy for that person, you know, and not vilifying the person sort of across the table and realizing that they're coming from the same place to we all are right now and we all need to show up in our full humanity.


AD

Our full humanity into the future. I love this. I am leaving this with some hope.


JW

And and so we have three final questions that we ask every guest. And so the first one is, Erin, if you could put a Post-it note on every mom's refrigerator tomorrow morning, what would that Post-it note say?


EE

We’re in this together.


AD

Yeah, we’re in this together. And then the second question is, is there a quote that has really moved you or changed the way that you think or feel lately?


EE

Yes, it's from Eve Rodsky, who's the author of Fair Play, and she's become a friend and she I won't say it perfectly, but she says that time is not money. Time is diamonds, and every one deserves permission to be unavailable.


JW

Hmm. Everyone deserves permission to be unavailable and time is diamonds. And so the final question is, well, it is inspired because, you know, in the parenting grind, we can be exhausted and overwhelmed at how kids are just demanding. But we like to just take a step back and say or just remind ourselves what is so amazing about kids. And so, Erin, what do you love about kids?


EE

I love looking into their eyes and seeing the wonder and forgetting myself and that's that's the funny thing is we talk so much about having the space to lean into ourselves. And for me, it's only when I don't feel depleted that I'm able to be present and connected. And that is my favorite thing about parenting is when I'm truly present with my kids and I'm looking in their eyes and I'm seeing what they need and what they're experiencing and deeply listening to them.

That is the true magic of motherhood. And that's just my very favorite thing, just really slowing down and stopping and looking into their eyes no matter what they're doing.


AD

It's beautiful. And the way that you bring up that, we need all of that support and order because when we're depleted, we are not present. And we get triggered.


EE

We make it all about ourselves. That's that’s the funny thing here is we are most selfish when we are self depleted. We are able to give of ourselves and be present to others when we're full. Truly.

In this episode

What a joy it was to kick off our theme this month around Working Moms Mental Wellness with Erin Erenberg. Erin is CEO and founder of Totum Women, a moms’ advocate, a founding mother at the Chamber of Mothers, IP attorney, serial entrepreneur and mom of three. With Totum Women Erin helps moms in the workplace through products, community, events, and research backed resources.

And with Chamber of Mothers, Erin is a leader in the fight for federal paid leave and policies that support mothers. Erin and her family live in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, not too far from us here in Savannah, Georgia. We talked about the real struggles working moms face, the lack of support at work and at all levels of government, how the world isn't ready to hear the real challenges working moms face, but how Erin is speaking out anyway and a whole lot more.

If you care about working moms wellness, then you're going to love this episode.

Listen here

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or Overcast

About our guest

Erin Erenberg is CEO and founder of Totum Women, a moms’ advocate, a founding mother at the Chamber of Mothers, IP attorney, serial entrepreneur and mom of three.

Show notes

  • Totum Women, a community for resources, support, and conversation for modern motherhood
  • Chamber of Mothers, a collective movement to focus America's priorities on mothers’ rights.
  • Here's a helpful summary, by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, of current policy on paid leave in the U.S.: "The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires eligible employers to provide certain workers unpaid family leave; however, unlike nearly all other industrialized nations, the U.S. does not have national standards on paid family or sick leave, despite strong public support."
  • "Don't be an ally, be an accomplice." - Rene Graham
  • Maslow's hierarchy of needs
  • Fair Play, by Eve Rodsky

Transcript highlights

Justin Wilford

We wanted to start off by hearing a little bit about your story. And so the first place that I wanted to start, we can we can circle back, of course, is when did you realize that you wanted to go into law or become a serial entrepreneur?

Erin Erenberg

I love that. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. These are all my favorite topics, and I love being with both of you. Two new friends. So, yeah, you know, it's it's funny the way my career, the trajectory is kind of interesting to me when I look at it. But, you know, growing up, my dad's a lawyer, my dad's best friend's a lawyer. We always vacation with them. Like, the idea of the law was always around me. I remember one vacation we were all in the minivan, and my dad and his best friend were listening to, like, bar prep on the way, you know, a ten hour drive. So the law was.

JW

And the kids didn't revolt, you know, turn this off.

EE

But that's a whole other thing, I guess. Think about parenting these days and we're so connected and dialed into our kids needs. My parents, like, didn't care. It's like you get one sip of orange juice an hour because we don't want you to pee and you're going to listen to bar prep and be quiet.

Audra DiPadova

I got my parents gave me Dramamine. I mean, we were out for 14 hours.

EE

I love it. So, yeah, the law was always there. And then I don't know if you all did this in high school, even we had to take this test called the ASVAB. It was like the Armed Services, Vocational Aptitude Battery. No clue. I remember that acronym but it was just basically like, you shall be a lawyer. And it's funny because I kind of rejected that.

I had this feeling of, you know, my dad's a lawyer, my mom's a teacher, and it's this big, wide world. Why would I pick the two? Any either of the two professions that I've been sort of steeped in my whole life, and I grew up traveling a lot with my mom, which is a whole other really cool story.

But I just saw the world as a really big place. But I did I got it in my mind that I wanted to go to Duke, like, really young. I just got really excited about that school and had a fantastic experience there. And again, was the theme of, you know, I did Comparative Area Studies, which is like international relations meets anthropology and humanitarianism and activism, and I loved it.

I had such a great experience there. And so I did see this notion of, you know, I am essentially an advocate. Everything that I do, the whole way I live, there's this sense of advocacy and yearning for justice and wanting to take everything I know and have experienced and help make people's lives better and even small ways and so I did feel like, oh, maybe I will end up going to law school despite being told that by too many people and wanting to rebel against it.

And but I actually my first job was in tech. I went and I worked at Trilogy Software, which was hiring a bunch. I graduated in 2000. I lived in Austin. I loved it that I worked and after that, a law firm ended up going to law school. I even knew in law school, you know, I, I want to go into a big firm because you know, that's where I'll make money right off the bat to help pay off these, you know, loans that I have.

But I don't want to stay in a law firm and as soon as I got into a big firm, I was doing intellectual property law, and I loved intellectual property, but I did not I was sort of allergic to the container of a law firm just billing hours. And this idea that the more time you spend on a client's matter, the more money you're going to make.

That seems so that's a conflict of interest, right? Like if you come to me with a problem, I want to help you as efficiently as possible, especially if you're filling my time. That didn't sit right with me. And I had partners be like, you know, get your head around this. Like, we want hours.

But I wanted to get them the answer as soon as possible and free them of the problem they've come to me with. And so I learned there at a law firm, I was at a big law firm for honestly, while I was there, nine months and I was only 26 years old and I wrote up my letter of resignation and took it to my partner.

And I just said, I, this is not for me. And I, without a net I left that law firm and this really nice salary and really great support system. And I just started taking on music law clients at the time I was living in Nashville, it started out in North Carolina then I was in Nashville. So I was taking on clients in a really entrepreneurial way.

You know, I had one client that I worked with about 40-50 hours a week there called SESAC, they’re a performing rights organization that acquires the catalogs of songwriters and publishers and then licenses them out to music users. And that through that, I learned a couple of things. Number one, I love autonomy, so I like that I am working for myself, and I might be working with this one client all the time, but at the end of the day, I'm giving them I'm an independent contractor.

I love that independence and I really liked working with creative people. And so just skipping ahead, I ended up in Los Angeles, my boss actually at SESAC said there's this really cool charitable foundation of the Academy of Country Music, of all things, and they're in Los Angeles and they really need to they need somebody to come into the foundation and help them make it exciting.

They need partnerships with talent and they just need to kind of create a brand. So I moved to L.A., I ran that foundation. It was my favorite job I've ever had. And again, I learned some things about myself. I learned that I really love putting together partnerships. I really love getting creative and thinking about how I can pull people together around a common interest and get them all excited about doing good.

And we had these amazing programs. We put together a music camp for people with a specific intellectual challenge called Williams Syndrome. And we did that in conjunction with Vanderbilt. And so I love that job. However, I then got carried away by Tech again, and started. I was the one of the very first employees at Indiegogo, the crowdfunding company, and help them build.

So there I was and I was always doing law, so as the executive director of a nonprofit, I was still working on contracts and deals and of course compliance for the nonprofit. And then when I worked at Indiegogo, it was only five of us at the time, and they said, We just need partnerships. Like you come in here and build partnerships and then also paper the deal.

So basically there was always this theme of I want to be helpful, I want to build something, I want the autonomy to be creative and to to to think differently about what the problem is and how we tackle it and to help people. I want there to be some positive social outcome from what I'm doing. So all of that was going on.

And then I had our first baby in 2012 and I think like a lot of women, I was absolutely shocked by the lack of support for me as a woman when I became a mother. Yeah, I mean there was so much attention and support on me as a pregnant woman and, you know, with my partner too, and we lived in L.A at the time and there was also a lot of attention even on how you give birth, right?

I mean it's oh yeah. Unmedicated or medicated or C-section or this or this and that. Everybody pick a lane. And so I was super informed about that. I felt very supported. And then had the baby and things were happening to my body, to my mind, to my relationships, to my ambition, my, my career drive. It was not what I expected.

And I would like to just speak on that for a second because I know we're talking about working motherhood. I, you know, now we're on a platform that reaches you know, around 60,000 women a week, mothers, modern mothers. And no two women have the same experience of motherhood. But the theme is we are all discombobulated by it. Right. And so I have talked to mothers who are extremely career driven, and they have their baby and they really want to take a pause and they want to lean all the way out.

And in 2012 Lean In was the big book. It was in the zeitgeist and and you know what I've learned senses Lean In was not written for me. Lean In is not written for a mother who's in her thirties it's written for a young woman who's about to choose her partner. But I felt and I know a lot of mothers still feel to this day that the big idea there was do not lean out, lean all the way into your ambition, lean all the way into your career, or you are doing a disservice to all the work that feminism has done for you to this point.

That's how I took it. That's how a lot of women took it.

AD

There's some weight to that. Heavy.

EE

Really heavy. And so I really surprised myself because I wasn't the kind of little girl that played with dolls. I didn't babysit growing up. I didn't have this timeline around, like when I turn 30, I need to have it. Not at all. I was surprised with how quickly I became pregnant, had our first baby, and was shocked at how much I love being a mother.

I really it opened up this softer, more patient, more present side of me that I hadn't encountered in a very long time because I was so used to just being so driven and working so hard for whatever I wanted. And suddenly by slowing down and being present and being soft and patient, I was being the very best mother I possibly could for my baby.

And not only did I love that for him, and I love seeing the result of that for George, our first baby, but I enjoyed myself. I liked myself more. I felt really happy. But unlike, you know, a mother that faces postpartum depression and goes through something a little different, I also couldn't square that with everything I knew of myself.

And frankly, I don't think my husband really could wrap his head around what I was saying. Like when I would say I actually don't want to go back to work. I really want to take a beat and be with the baby who's just sort of like, OK, like, I think he thought some time would pass and I would just like, that would go away. And so I did go back to work at three months postpartum, and I was really not ready and I had a really hard time. And so anyway, that is when the seed was really planted for me that I wanted I knew I was not alone. And this experience of discombobulation and lack of support because once I started talking about it to other mothers, they would open up.

And that's what I think is so interesting is that we tend to keep these things hidden and we can be complicit and not showing or talking about the experience that we're having, which in turn not only hurts ourselves but hurts other women because they're afraid to show up in what they're really feeling. And so I just decided to sort of go first, you know, if it was baby group and we were all sitting in the circle and everybody saying like, oh, it's actually fine.

I would it's like, I'm not fine. I really don't want to go back to work. And I cry about it every day and I don't know what that means. And then it unlocked this whole conversation so. So, yeah, that, that is where the seed was planted for me. I didn't know that it was going to be called Totem, and I didn't start it right away, but I knew that sort of this thread of advocacy and wanting to take an experience that I had and look around and see if that was a redundant experience that I could help somebody else have an improved experience from what I had.

I wanted to do something about that. And so eventually in 2017 I started Totem.

AD

It's beautiful and like the I love love love hearing about this unfolding for you and the courage you you had to speak to your experience and to share your experience. I remember being there to with both of our kids going back at three months super super super struggling with it and and having to and you know not having a choice just having to do it and slipping into relativism you know and and pushing my experience down because I was like well at least I had three months as if that's like. You know, at least, I mean, at least I didn't have to go back at three weeks, two weeks, whatever it might be that like I have friends in the service industry and, you know, other other industries, at least the state of California, you know, through through disability and whatever. You know, I was provided with three paid months. Oh, my God.

You know, you know, I am so lucky. I am so fortunate. Who am I? You know that narrative? Who am I? Who are your privilege? Who are you to complain? Right and that, I think, for so many of us keeps us from, in addition to often going back to a workplace where you come in feeling like I don't fit in here, I don't belong and I'm not welcomed here because I'm a you know, I feel like I might be a problem.

So I have to, like, pretend that not only is everything normal, quote unquote, but I'm better than I was before. You know, I can do more.

It's you know, it's you're like bleeding, you know, profusely, you know, at that point because you're not breastfeeding. If you if you're able to do that, you're not breastfeeding the same way and all that stuff. I mean, it's just catastrophic.

EE

It really is. And it's, you know, I read recently that the postpartum hormone dump is the biggest and most sudden chemical adjustment than any human being goes through at any point in their lives. Full stop. Yeah. And the fact that we don't support that I mean, it's not even it deserves support. I think when people hear the word deserve, it's sort of like go get a massage, you deserve it or like, go get a massage because you're worth it.

It's required. We as a society aren't meeting our requirements for families and and of course they're suffering. And, you know, one of the things I was hearing you saying is sort of that idea of comparative suffering or the suffering Olympics. And yet, you know, it's funny, I have a dear friend, you know, you and I have bonded about we have a son with a medical complexity, a lifelong medical complexity that requires ongoing attention from my husband and me.

And any caregiver. And I have a really good friend who's in a similar situation with twins. And, you know, she has said to me, this whole thing about this suffering Olympics, it's like suffering is suffering. Suffering is a human emotion that requires acknowledgment and validation. But also just don't be a jerk. Like if you're talking to somebody and you know that they have a child who's in and out of the hospital every week and you're frustrated because you didn't get to yoga on time this morning, maybe that person is in your audience.

Like, that's not the person to vent to. It doesn't mean that you're like, you know, the fact that you feel so frustrated about not getting the yoga on time doesn't deserve you doing a check in with yourself, because that might be about a whole slew of other things happening. It might be that you're not sleeping, you're drained, you're depleted, you have no time for yourself.

And so as human beings, this whole comparative suffering thing to me is fascinating. And where I've really landed on it is when we are suffering, suffering is suffering. And we all deserve to check in with ourselves and say, Wow, I'm experiencing suffering. What do I why? What is this about and how can I express it and get some support at the same time?

I think it's important to be aware of the needs of others. And as we call people into our circle and as we're communicate sitting with other people just have sensitivity to one another. But it's, you know, I, I feel sorry and sad and I wish I could have hugged that person that you were going back to work because everything you were going through deserves acknowledgment.

And of course, if you're talking to somebody who's working on the floor at Amazon and, you know, we got stories at Totem about we saw stories around four weeks paid leave. I know we're going to go there around paid leave. Mothers in our community were furious when the paid leave policy that almost passed this year was cut from 12 weeks to four weeks.

It's now zero weeks, but we are ticked off at four. And we were getting stories from women saying, I work in a fulfillment center. I was bleeding down my legs, standing all day. Milk is dripping through my blouse and that's awful. It's also awful that I worked at a tech company and I was the first parent and I couldn't think of a word I always joke.

I couldn't think of the word hat when I went back to work, was talking to my CEO, literally can't think of the word the hat. That's how sleep deprived I was. There was nowhere to pump. I would pump in public bathrooms. I was super embarrassed, you know, I had a colleague who made misogynistic, sexist remarks all day, every day.

And it's all hard. But I think being able to say I'm suffering, I need to talk about this and I need to talk about it in a psychologically safe space where I can feel seen and heard and not judge is important for all of us.

AD

You absolutely nailed it. I mean, I think this is like such a beautiful conversation because what I'm hearing in this, too, is that in these conversations, we're so often pulled into that kind of scarcity mindset of are we talking about 12 weeks or four? Well, this experience versus that experience, it's like, no, we're talking about like building a society where where mothers are held and cared for and supported and not about these these weeks.

We're talking about like, like one day, like, can it be a year? Can it be whatever it is is needed? You know, like I want to see a society where we are able to do some sort of like reverse retirement.

I'll commit to whatever five more years in Social Security. Give me my five now, you know what I mean? That I so identify with you in the space of not realizing and Justin knows as well, like, we met in college and we're like, kids? I don't know. We didn't think, we're going to, you know, like, we're doing our thing.

We have these great ideas school, all of that, becoming a mother. I was just like, you know, this. I was not like I wouldn't even like I've never asked anyone to hold their baby. Like, I did not, you know, I didn't think I was maternal. Right. And then you have that baby. And I was like, oh, my God, I want to stay home.

I want to I don't want to not work. And I, I, but I want to stay home. And I was like, like, yeah, you're in grad school. Like, we couldn't do it. But but what I think really, really gets me from this conversation to I'm thinking, you know, Brené Brown, I'm thinking of inner critic narratives. I'm thinking about what is imbued in us as women, ways that we tell ourselves down and tear each other down.

And that voice that was like, you don't deserve that. Who do you think you are? And that gets into the comparative suffering that gets into, you know, something I have also been really passionate about that I think ties fully into this. And that's grief. And we grieve so much. You know, we are alike from from the very, very first moments, you know, of this journey, not to mention our whole lives before becoming mothers, but motherhood is a journey through grief.

Of many, many layers and many, many kinds. Right. And and the fact that we have to suit up, you know, and try to hold every single thing together to come into these workplaces that desperately need us. Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm. Without being held, without being seen, cared for, supported all of that. Like, it's just that's wrong. And it and that's what I hear, that you are stepping up to make major, major, major change.

EE

And it's incredible. Well, thank you. I can't I talked to an old college friend the other day. She's somebody that I've totally separate work for. I still have an IP practice that's based in Savannah, actually. And we were just talking about IP work, and she was like, yes, I have an IP project for you. It's separate from your personal crusade. And I was like, I love that. I love that totem and chamber of mothers are my personal crusade. I'm going to step into that yes.

And I love that you use the word grief. It's so true. Like a friend had said to me and I know she got it from a book, but grief is love with nowhere to go. And when you think of that in relation to new motherhood, you know, you're thinking about your grieving, your freedom, your grieving, the relationship that you had with your spouse.

That changed overnight because you suddenly are like dual household managers and caregiving manager with zero experience, either one of you. And that that idea of teamwork suddenly has so much strain and stress on it. You're grieving your body. I mean, my goodness. And I'm not talking about how you look. I'm talking you know, I tell people all the time and you can edit this out of this TMI, but there's nothing to me that says we don't support new moms like this.

I had had this unmedicated labor. I was felt like such a warrior. It was everything I wanted it to be. George proud from my belly up to my breast himself and nursed. It was so idyllic. However, or I, you know, as lying in bed in the hospital after I delivered him and my doctor couldn't even make rounds. She said, I can't be there year, you’re going to have to call me.

It's not really her fault. It's a that's a whole other thing, the medical profession and how overtaxed they are. So she called me and I said, you know, I there's something going on in my pelvis that really hurts it. It's not anything. It's not like the whole ring of fire. And it's not it's not anything I've heard people describe.

There's something going on because I feel like I can't get up. And she said, “It's OK. You won't be able to run in the next coming weeks. You can do some yoga. I was like, well, OK. That’s nonresponsive. And so I felt like, talk about the whole Brené Brown thing. Like, you know, if you don't express shame, it just it grows and grows. And so I had sort of I expressed a need, and instead of being received, I was completely dismissed. And this expectation that, like, you know what that said to me? Oh, I should be able to run soon.

Like, I can't get up. Something's wrong with me. I did it wrong. So I did it wrong, all that work. And I did it wrong. And so I was at home. I still really couldn't get up off my some I would like sideline nurse my baby and I was desperate to do something like to get up and cook a meal or whatever.

OK, so I said to my mom, thankfully, my mom was at the house. My mom sort of functioned as a postpartum dula, which I felt so grateful for. She was there at the house for like a month postpartum. And I said, Mom, I really need you to go down and look at my vagina. And she was like, be happy, too.

So she went down. And she said, Well, she's so sweet. She said, It's beautiful, but there is a massive bruise on your perineum, like, massive, really intense bruise and you have not gone to the bathroom since you left the hospital. So I think you're constipated and you have this massive bruise and and my husband who's a veterinarian, was there and he said, if you were a cat, I would just go to CVS and get you an enema.

And I was like, get thee to CVS. Well, he gets back and I'm telling you, 3 minutes later, I was the was so I was so happy and I was having the postpartum experience that I should. So lame that, like, you know, we treat animals better than we treat humans. And I you know, I was just so lucky and blessed to have my mom because sadly, we don't have villages and aloparenting anymore.

And, you know, I actually I didn't have my mom and my second and third births, and I really felt lonely and I really suffered. And it's you know, all of these things happen and they're really not supported. And I will say, you know, I launched I had this experience in 2012. I launched them in 2017. And since then there have been a lot more motherhood platforms and even better motherhood products.

And there's that company Bodily who is really edgy about postpartum support and they're products Frida Baby you know came out so. But I will say you know you look at the free to baby ad that simply shows a postpartum mother peeing in the middle of the night. They don't even show, it's nothing graphic and it was banned from the Oscars. They couldn't even get that seen and I think that was 2019 so there's a lot of women working on behalf of other mothers but our society is not ready and it breaks my heart to hear about: we are allegedly so pro-life, but not once the baby's born.

No, not at all. There's support for child care. There's not support for moms, there's not support for dads. And, you know, there's a study in Sweden where they looked at the postpartum experience of both partners and when dads were given paid leave, the mother's incidence of using anti depressives or anti-anxiety medications was decreased by 25%.

So you know we there is a way to value a family real family values require giving support to a new mother, to a new parent no matter you know you're in a hetero cis gender or not relationship, parents, partners deserve support. Birthing people require support. And our society will not have family values. We won't be able to hang together until we make a massive, monumental shift. And that's totally my personal crusade.

AD

Yeah, totally. And you're I mean, you're talking about like I mean, we could go deep into this probably the economic impact, the fact that, you know, I just saw a stat recently, I think in The New York Times showing that I think for the second year in a row, the year the U.S. Census population increase is like nominal.

And we know the effect of the long term effects that that will have on our economy. You know, like so we we've come from this perspective of like, oh, you know, you're lucky you'll be considered for a job or you're lucky to be at a place that might accommodate you. And and what I hear coming up is a challenge around all of those narratives and that way of doing things right.

We're saying, no, no, no. Yeah, we are the future we're the current, present, now, and the future and the future of this country depends on policies that will be family supportive.

EE

And it could be 2.5 times more expensive to hire someone new when you lose talent. And if you look at companies like BuzzFeed that provide a proper leave, I think they give something between four and six months leave. They saw a 97% increase in retention. So it's the economic impact. If you look at the numbers, it's better for business, it's better for families.

It's better for babies to provide paid leave. We're talking about paid leave now, but I see paid leave along this whole spectrum of support. And we talked about Chamber of Mothers. I just give you a quick, so I launched Totem in 2017. We launched initially as a platform for the brand new mother. So from zero days postpartum to that to 365 days, that first very tender year I saw that sore spot and I had created a lactation cookie of all things with my husband's uncle that helped me get my milk supply back.

I did go back to work. And I started selling that. I started giving it to people first off, like colleagues, friends, neighbors, anybody having babies. And they were saying, OK, not only are these amazing, my husband's uncle had worked at Mrs. Fields. That's why I helped me with the recipe. They're these delicious cookies, but they really, really worked.

I mean, you could go from pumping an ounce out to filling both bottles on both sides.


AD

I needed it. I needed that, Erin. I needed it so badly.


EE

They are so good. I know. I wish we had been connected, but they really were amazing. And I think what I got excited about, I'm not a baker. I was super intimidated by CPG and all of that. But what I loved is I had a problem. I found a solution that I could scale that was addictive to me.

Right. And so when I launched Totem, our first product was Lactation Cookie. We then sold it as a mix, but I would do events and community and just I really had this philosophy of I'll go first. I'll be the first one to tell this super embarrassing story about my mom looking at my vagina and my husband telling me to get an enema.

Because guess what? There's going to be somebody out there who has a embarrassing story. It's wrapped up in shame that they told themselves this whole story, that they didn't do motherhood well. And I want to free them of that. I want to open up the conversation. And so we did a lot of events, community products offer the postpartum woman. And then when the pandemic happened, as I've shared with you, we had a personal we consider a personal trauma.

Our oldest, George, who really set this whole thing in motion. We have three kids now. We have George who's nine, Arabella who's seven. I two losses between the two of them, by the way, and then Beau, who's four. And George was diagnosed with type one diabetes the day after Mother's Day. 2020. So our family really just went through so much shock, so much trauma, so much fear at a time that we were all globally fearful.

And so that happened, and I really had to evaluate what I was doing with Totem because again, CPG as a business that requires a lot of capital. And I was bootstrapping and I so I had to look at am I going to take on an investor and all of those expectations or am I going to shift this model to something that I can control and I can lean in and lean out of as I need and want to.

And so at the same time, I was also noticing and being a part of so many interviews around what was happening to working mothers and how to point 5 million to 3 million mothers were really elbowed out of the workforce because even if both partners were at home working it was most times the mother who defaulted in daycare and just kind of cried uncle, like, I can't do well, I can't be a Zoom teacher and a laundress and, you know, and really like have these KPIs.

Yeah, yeah. And so, you know, mothers are really suffering and the L.A. Times reach out to me to talk about to talk about maternal mental health and what it was like to be a mother in the pandemic. And so I'm thinking, hold on a second here. This is a talk about a collective trauma for mothers. And my experience is I really have empathy around all the touch points because like you, Audra, I was that working professional that wasn't thinking about being a mother.

I was that driven professional. Who knows what it's like to have investors over your shoulders looking for. I can't tell you how many times I heard hockey stick growth month over month I know that pressure. It's real. And then I know what it's like to be a new mother. I know what it's like to return. And by the way, I'm an attorney who understands the limits of discrimination and what accommodations need to be.

And so it just seemed to me that I was missing the plot, being in CPG when I could be doing more at this intersection of ambition and motherhood. And so I really pivoted what I was doing with Totem. I sold off all the remaining cookies and I started focusing on how can I support working parents? And I just found that there is such a need.

I will say that I don't think companies are quite there yet in realizing the investments they need to make. I get booked for a lot of workshops, which I find I'm glad that there's some investment in workshops, but what I'm seeing is a lot of, you know, employee resource groups, ERGs are staffed by working parents and it's unpaid labor.

So they're saying to you, OK, Audra, you say it's a hard time for working mothers. Why don't you do something about that? Why don't you pull together a resource group? By the way, we have no budget, but go get some speakers and don't pay them for their labor either. And so there's this theme.

So I'm seeing this this confluence of on one side and more unpaid labor, mostly of women and and also men, but parents. And I've seen this also in the DEI space. And then I'm also seeing so unpaid labor and performance. So yes, let's do a workshop by the way, we can barely pay you for this. We're not paying the the people here to set it up either. And we're going to have this and check the box.

And a lot of moms are going to come on and say, thank you so much. I feel so seen. They're going to be in tears. I walk away from that thing and I think what's happening for them? Like there's not an ongoing investment in their mental health. You know, what we really would like to offer is ongoing community. Like we can help put the community together. I can do office hours where I can come on a zoom or in real life to the group of working parents and give them a psychologically safe space to talk about what's going on and then follow up with them.

Because I've been steeped in this world for so long with whether they need a parenting coach or they need, you know, a postpartum psychiatrist or a therapist or they need even pelvic floor support or they need to they need some expertise around dividing up labor at home because many times it's not that there's this like awful mean old dad at home. Our society is not set up to equip dads either. And so equipping families with the tools of like, OK, let's make transparent what is going on in your most important organization, which is your home, which we don't treat like an important organization are. Let's look at that. Let's divide up the labor more equitably. By the way, it might not need to be 50/50. It's just even equity at home, all these things,


AD

Learning how to communicate around it. We don't we don't come into these relationships with any orientation around how to communicate about this stuff.


EE

No, we don't.


AD

You just go into default mode. Mode, you know, through all of it.


EE

Yeah. You're flying blind and then you and you argue and it builds up and it's fights and it's no good for anybody. And so there's all this there are so many tools with which I'm familiar are so many experts so, so much that I can offer to working parents. When companies say, we want to really do something about this and we want to have real metrics around the retention.

And by the way, it's not just retention, it is how engaged and inspired are these working parents I can't tell you how many people are staying in their jobs, even though 64% of parents plan to leave their job in 2022, many who are staying are saying I'm in need of. Here are the things I hear: I'm in need of deep rest. I'm completely uninspired. I don't feel loyal to this company anymore. I'm furious with them my creativity is gone because they're depleted and they have felt an utter lack of trust. It's, you know, we need to even the return to work thing, some people feel that return to work is, is a return to micromanagement. It's a return to we can't trust you to do your job.

We're going to make the assumption that if we don't see you, you're not getting it done. And so I'm really interested in and in companies that want to make an actual change and aren't just performing and are really putting skin in the game, because if they're not investing in this, there's they're not going to see a change and so that has been sort of the corporate work.

But then Chamber of Mothers is an advocacy organization that I put together with a bunch of other motherhood community leaders in the late fall of 2021.


AD

And Chamber of Mothers is focused on paid family leave.


EE

So we came together around paid family leave. So that night that. So just for anybody listening that doesn't have a little background on what happened with paid family leave this year, the US is the only quote unquote industrialized nation without paid family leave. We are one of only six countries in the entire world without federal paid leave for families.

And several administrations have tried to pass some sort of federal paid leave. Most recently, President Biden had the family rescue plan which then got parallel-pathed with the infrastructure bill build back better. So advocates of the family rescue plan, which included pay leave, a very, very inclusive paid leave, that's caregiving for the elderly, caregiving for yourself if you're sick, caregiving if you're a victim of domestic violence, being able to get paid leave for that.

It was a beautiful, thoughtful bill that got parallel-path with Build Back Better, the infrastructure bill. The notion being I mean, there are really grasping at straws but it was your family is infrastructure, OK? But the average person that's not obsessed with this the way we are are like bridges, OK, infrastructure OK, sure. So there was really this disconnect between public policy and private lives.

And I decided in 2021 to understand more about what was going on. I started working with an organization called Paid Leave US because I had a former colleague who was there that hooked me into it and just becoming aware of what was going on. So then fast forward to November. We're getting really excited because paid leave might finally pass federal paid leave.

And so a lot of us who have these motherhood platforms are friends. We're in this infrastructure that is mostly collaborative, although it can be competitive too, which is a big waste of time. And so we're watching what's happening. It might be 12 weeks as we discussed, we need way more than 12 weeks, but that's what most states we have nine states that provide some kind of federal paid leave.

They offer 12 weeks, most of them. So at least it's a start, right? So that's where we are one night and we know that it was for people in a room decided to in order to try to pass this bill. Let's just cut paid leave from 12 weeks to four weeks. So moms who were aware of everything and they knew sort of the public sorry, the private implications of these public measures were furious and you know, there is a friend of mine, Alexis Brad Cutler, who runs a really edgy, amazing platform called Not Safe for Mom Group.

And it's a place for moms to just show up any way they want. They can say what they want, scream it out. She was the original like Primal Scream person, and she started lifting up these stories of what was it like for you at four weeks and I said, you know, we were diming, texting on phone calls like this is ridiculous.

We were enraged. And one of my another mom who runs a platform called the mom attorney, she her name's Daphne Delvaux. She said, you know, we're not going to get anything done until we come together like the Chamber of Commerce. Like that's the biggest lobbying body in the country. And they actually make things happen. And so we decided what if we were to rebrand the mother and pull her spending power, which is over 2.4 trillion dollars, her voting power and really instead of, you know, companies and I'm not going to name names now, but there are a lot of companies that in advertisements have you believe that a mother is just like sweet little lady, that's all dowdy. And she's totally lost herself. She's buried under a laundry. And like, we're for moms. Moms are very powerful many times, like highly educated, very motivated, powerful women who can make a lot of things happen.

But what's happening right now is there are a lot of these platforms, including myself, we're throwing pebbles at these massive problems because we're not coming together. And we can't do this in ego. It can't just be about who's next person that puts out the book and gets to stand on the thing. We need to come together and really pool our resources, our talent, our money and our voting power.

And so that was when we came up with this idea, let's be the Chamber of Mothers. And I said, let's have let's go to social media and do a roadblock campaign with the hashtag build back bleeding, because at four weeks we're still bleeding most I mean, you're lucky for not bleeding postpartum for weeks. So we did this we it was Alexis who got this amazing image that we own and we did a social media roadblock.

And it was we want Bill back bleeding and after that, you know, coming down the pike, we also did another campaign that was moms brought you into this world and we could vote you out. And so the way this was working was we had a Slack channel where the lobby groups were telling us exactly in real time what was happening in Washington.

But many of them censor themselves. And we decided to be the uncensored, edgy voice of the every mother. And what we were hearing from the advocacy groups was that we had gotten to the mainstream and consumer mom in a way that they had not done in over five years of advocacy work. And so yeah. Yeah. And I think they're afraid, you know, because they're having to and I'm not dogging they're doing amazing work, but they're seeing on the ground just how tricky and all the red tape.

And we actually we want to follow their lead in the sense that we know when it needs to be delicate, but we have the advantage of not being a lobby group so that we can say this is you say. And these issues are on both sides of the lines. I mean, we have totally all across the spectrum. So we in 48 hours we got 8000 followers on Instagram and our other notion was to really enlist mothers as advocates. Mothers are fired up and it's like, what do I do? You know, I have all these other things going up.

This is another thing for me to do. And so we just gave them an opportunity to give us their name, contact information, a little bit about their background and how they want to step into advocacy, how they want to help and can be big or small. I mean, I can't read this list without crying. It's everybody from, you know, full time moms, teachers, doctors, lawyers, bestselling authors, journalist, just really talking about the pain of their experience.

And what they want to do going forward. And so those of us who put this together just on one night that we were all ticked off, really looked at the outcome and by the way, we also got other celebrity interest. Megan Markle's team sent her new kids book to everybody on the Founding Mothers. That is the founding mothers.

And so we decided to move forward with it. And I'm excited to say that just last week, we became a fiscal sponsor project of the PPF which means that we can now take on charitable donations. We are really excited. We've been really trying to step through, like, how do we pull this together and move as quickly as we can and got really great advice on that and we have an event coming up May 4th for maternal mental health. And we've gotten a lot of amazing brand sponsors. So it's really been, you know, I will be honest, a lot of my work with Totem felt Sisyphean.

I mean, I was just really just pushing the boulder up and I felt like I really wasn't making traction. I feel one of the difficulties is that sadly, I'm finding that modern mothers really don't invest in in our care. You know, we will invest in something that's more surface level, like a your jeans that make our butts look great or a workout or anything for the kids. But when it comes to real inner care, I wasn't seeing the investment. And so a lot of difficulty with that. On the other hand, Chamber of Mothers has just been catching, and I think a lot of it has for me personally, it has to do with: I feel really values-aligned in advocacy.

I feel like this is everything thing that I've learned how to do, the sense of social justice and speaking up for people who, for whatever reason, aren't ready to speak and providing a place for people to to speak who are ready, just giving them giving them a way to express what they're feeling and going through. It's all really caught on.

And I also have loved working with the other women. You know, as you all know, like solo entrepreneurship can be really lonely and isolating. It's been so much fun to work with these women who are just creative and excited and brilliant and masterful. So it's it's I think we are creating something that will sustain and make change. And it's not just paid leave.

Yeah. We are advocating for paid leave, improve maternal mental health and improved access to affordable child care. Those are our big initiatives in the next few months.

AD

It's beautiful. And what I'm hearing here is that spectrum that you were talking about with all of the projects that you're working on because you have you're really diving deep into this broad advocacy work to make major change for all of us. At the same time, you're able to strategically work on changing this corporate structure strategically as they're ready starting to make that change internally from within. And that's a lot. And this is all well, being a mom of four yourself and yes, incredible wow.


EE

You're the same way.


AD

Yeah, we do it right. We and and I'm personally so grateful for it. I, I really appreciate tying in this conversation about the various I don't know the undulation of, of traumas and challenges from the very, very first. I think birth trauma is something that we've talked about here on our podcast with guest collective a lot. And you and I as mothers know really well how this continues for us as we make our way into raising children.

We find we have kids with very complex medical needs. And so I'm personally grateful for your work. When Max is diagnosed. I was really, really fortunate to be given a year of time with him to be home. But it was from my colleagues because H.R. called, I think four days into it. We were in the hospital and they said, you don't have time.

You have to come, come back. We're in the ICU where the ICU stop. And they said, you have to come back to work. And our health insurance was through me that it was a really, really really difficult time. And I had used all of my sick and vacation time to be home with the kids over the summer and give myself like a Friday a week to be with them.

That's how I had to like buy my time to be with my young kids. And so they're like, you're out of time. You could do unpaid leave and we'll hold your job for you right now. Right. That's available to you. But otherwise you need to come back to work because you don't get to keep you. Well, you could do Cobra, but you have to pay for your cobra if you go, you know?

Right. And I'm just like, I'm in the ICU. My son has a life threatening brain tumor and you know, he's intubated and you're telling me I have to come back to work? It was just like, what? What's happening here? What kind of society do we live in?


EE

I'm sorry to use this word, but that feels abusive to me.


AD

Right? Yeah, right. Yeah. So my colleagues got together and they put together, and this is in higher education, which, you know, is like unheard of. They put together a catastrophic leave policy within two days or something like that, and they gathered enough sick and vacation time from my colleagues, from the groundskeepers to the college president to give me a year paid year at home with Max, which was so good.

That love is an incredible privilege. But in my journey then working with thousands of child cancer parents, what you're back. What? Yeah, yeah, we're back. And so what happened in this case is that that she was a teacher and she had to go to work. She held the health insurance, she had to go to work, and her principal let her mom sub, who was a teacher, a retired teacher, like, let you know all this under the table.

Things happen. But most of the moms that I know were thrown into almost irreparable debt, poverty, job loss from that. So when I hear of the catastrophic aspects of all of this start when we have kids and continue through the parenting journey through the entire parenting journey. So we desperately need this change and the change that you're implementing strategically in workplaces, you know, from within, but then policy wise, from without, like we need both of these things.


EE

I couldn't agree more. And the other thing I'm hearing, too, in your experience that's a through line is just this self-advocacy, you know, and look, I mean, you were in no position to be like, how am I going to fight for my rights? But your colleagues together and they said, hold on a second, no way. And they stepped into they became advocates.

They became activists. I mean, that's truly what this is requiring right now. And it's unfortunate, but we can't stay in this place of sort of collective victimhood. Right. We can't say, This is really sucking for us. And I was worrying about that a lot with all of the ink that was coming out around how horrible things were for mothers in the pandemic. I was so worried that it was going to turn into something akin to, unfortunately, what happened with Time's Up and MeToo where it becomes sort of like we're over it, like everybody's tired of hearing about it, don't bring it up anymore.

And I think the way we don't go there is we think about self activation, what can we do about it and how we can. And this is like with Chamber of Mothers, where we're saying every single mother can be an advocate and that doesn't need it doesn't mean you have to quit your day job. It's it's little things.

You know, I recently just did a little video for our Totem audience saying it just occurred to me I never was given paid leave. Like that was the fact I had to have a discussion every single time with the you know, whoever it was I was working for. And it wasn’t… It can sometimes and this is where I think empathy is so important.

It can be something that is just not in that person's radar. You know, when I was at a tech company and there were other parents their head of H.R. who had been one of the initial co-founders she wasn't conversant with all of this. And so it took me saying, yeah, she didn't know. It took me saying, this is what I need.

But then the second third time around, I knew better what I needed and how to express that. And I'm not saying that that means we should always internalize the work, but I think we can activate and we can realize that, you know, there's a certain kind of double suffering when you feel that you can't do anything about the situation that you're in and that we can also have each other's backs.

You know, my babysitter reached out to me. She's 20 years old and she was watching Chamber of Mother launch, and this is one thing I love about the sort of younger generation, they're so curious and they're such inherent activists, and they're there watching what's going on with sort of older generations. And I, I, I don't know. There's a lot of hope that I feel that.

And she reached out and she said, it occurs to me that all of the women who have launch chamber mothers are done having children. You're just doing this for us. And I hadn't, I hadn't realized that it was just that we feel this is so wrong and we want to do something about it. And we've come to it sort of like your colleagues.

I mean, their skin in the game was this. It was just so wrong. And they they needed to do something about it. And so that's that real. You know, I've heard people say, like, don't be an add an ally, be an accomplice. I think this is how we be accomplices for one another. And you know, I'll send that for the show notes.

But, you know, I think this is how we really step into the game and put some skin in it. And change what's not working.


AD

Justin has questions


JW

I mean, I've loved just being a fly on the wall. I really never know how these conversations are going to turn out. Like sometimes I'm the fly on the wall. I’m just like going through my list of questions, like nope we talked about that. Yeah, done.

So one of the things I was really impressed by me is, is Erin, it seems like what has really resonated for you and what's really clicking for you as I think about wellness right and I yeah, mental health, mental wellness, but overall wellness, we can think of something like Maslow's hierarchy and everybody knows this. And on the bottom are these like really fundamental needs.

And what I'm getting is that we as a society have failed in providing for these really fundamental needs. And so what you're see what you said earlier about moms just aren't invest in their inner wellness like I just this is really tough and that really resonates for us. I mean, that that's one of the big motivations for us going into the Yes collective.

But it's like as a society we have not provided we have not supported moms at this really fundamental level. And it makes sense that that going up this hierarchy into these higher levels of wellness that moms aren't investing because they're not being supported at right out of really fundamental level.


AD

We can't get out of like fight or flight. Yeah.


EE

That's such a real and compassionate way of looking at it. That's so true.


JW

So I'm I'm curious for you because we are bumping up against time here. I'm curious for you what are you really working on or interested in, motivated by in your own inner wellness journey, like where, where, where are you out for in your own personal growth, in your own inner wellness? What is really alive for you? What is really exciting for you right now?


EE

What is really alive and exciting for me is also my biggest challenge. And it's it's around practicing what I preach, which is not feeling guilt and shame. When I do something that's just for me, you know, really when I give myself permission to be unavailable or step away from child care for something because I want to do it and it might not be paid.

You know, it was before I started Totem work and children were a little bit more binary because I we had a full time nanny and I had a full time job and I had different iterations of that. Sometimes it would be part time, but we had child care. And then I was working and I made a really nice salary.

And it wasn't not painful, it was just more binary now that I run my own platforms and even my legal work, you know, I'm set up like a partner there. So it's, you know, I'm going to make as much as I put in kind of thing. It's I find that I am coming up against a lot of what I preach, which is, listen, we are mothers.

We are also still just women and creative beings and lovers and people who like to play and people who like to dance and people who like to read. And, you know, I get sad when my kids are asked like, what does your mom like to do? And they're like, read her Kindle and work, you know? And I'm like, Yeah, I guess so. But like.

Like, dance to hip hop and rap yeah. So many different friends. I used to travel and like, this is the sort of essence is this glow that we have all inside, I think has been so dampened especially by what we've gone through in the pandemic. But I think coming out of that, I am really excited and scared and challenged by this idea that who I was for the first 34 years of my life before I became a mother is still important today.

And I know that I believe that for other women, and I want to offer myself the same compassion to really step into that.


JW

And that's beautiful. Do you have any strategies that you use to give yourself that compassion, to give yourself that space? Is there anything that has that has worked for you?


EE

Yeah, I have learned that, particularly in terms of how I communicate. It's really basic, but instead of waiting until I'm furious and then throwing out this like randomly assigned task at my husband. I have to really come from a place of it's, you know, vulnerability. I have to say, I have really been having a hard time. I have been drained by how much housework and caregiving and everything that's been going on with type one diabetes. I'm completely drained. I don't recognize myself anymore. And I we need to talk about how I can do something about that.

And it doesn't mean it all has to be on you. I'm not saying like you, my husband just is a veterinarian. I mentioned before he just started his own business, and so he truly has to lean into that. He has to be available. But there are strategies. It doesn't mean that he has to now be the one that steps away from everything at 2:30 to be with the kids.

We need help. We really we have struggled to find somebody that is a consistent person in our lives that can be either a mother's helper or parents help or nanny. It's a different culture. Here than it was in L.A., for better or for worse. And there's not the you know, we've had trouble finding child care. And so what that requires in a very practical way is us finding somebody that can come into our home regularly, who we love and who loves us and our kids, who can just provide us with some ease and some space. We really need that right now.


AD

That sounds big to me. That's the fundamental stuff. To just be able to just so clearly speak that and share that, you know, especially as a mom and a an entrepreneur, like we get so used to doing it all ourselves at our own expense. And there is something of like letting in like that. I need help that feels like really brave to me. Yeah. You know, like, I think that that is something that where all of the things that, that all of the strengths that we have that have gotten us to where we are today are not always working in our favor in moving forward as mothers. You know, like it's not always the same thing.


EE

I think Justin really nailed it when he talked about when you don't have that lowest level of need. Matt, I think what happens is because as a society, we are told as mothers, if we're not doing it, you can do it all. You can have it all. If we're not doing it all, we think we're failing when in fact we were never meant to do it alone.

We were never meant to do it without support. No, we can't even physically, mentally, emotionally, we can't. Relationally, we can't. And so we've bought into this narrative. And so you heap on top of depletion shame and guilt. And I'm not good enough and I should should should you do that for a number of years. It's really hard to all of a sudden rip the Band-Aid and say, you know what, I need help.

I can't do this because you feel like we just I've been trying to prove to everybody that I'm good enough and I can do it. And so there's a self reckoning there that it's really hard to square.


AD

It's hard to learn all of that. And I'm hearing like really, really powerful cycle breaking from that. And I think that that ties into the workplace as well. So I'm hearing this is at home, but then at work, the cycle breaking is in the same speaking up. And and finding the allies, the accomplices and the ways to get together as parents and to say we can't do it this way like this cannot persist and parents for other parents parents who are done parenting.

You know this is a little bit of an aside, but I was in a culture at an organization I worked at where a lot of the older women were like, well. I did it.


EE

Yes, that's a big problem. It's a big problem.


AD

So let's break those cycles. Like that is like it is and I think vulnerability that that you spoke to is the is the first key to that. I know when I went back to work after Max was diagnosed, totally different for me. Then after going back, I went back started the nonprofit still worked full time and did the nonprofit.

So we know what that's like. But I went back with a totally different point of view at that point. And it was like my life had so radically changed that I wasn't going to do it the way I'd done it before. And I was not buying into the into any of it. So I went back with like I think I was introduced Brene Brown around in like 2010 or something, but I went back with her on my shoulder, right?

And just embattled. I was like, I'm not fighting any of these battles. I am here openly, authentically, vulnerably who I am with, what I can bring. And if you don't want it, of course I had the privilege. I think to say this, but if you don't want it, then I won't be here. And it but it was a totally, totally different perspective that was really emboldened, I think by in many ways all of those women who showed up for me.

So I, I love that being here with you and, and having this beautiful reminder that we can do this together.


EE

And I just want to say to you, I think there is an analogy between what you went through and with what working parents went through and the pandemic, because I am just seeing this trend of people will not go back to the before time. They will not go back.

To a structure or an organization that says, I don't want to see your humanity, like keep your kit you your three minute. We are sort of demanding to show up in our full humanity now in the workplace. And I see that a lot of leaders aren't ready for that. And at the same time, a lot of leaders are still struggling themselves.

And so this is where, you know, even with Totem work, like we offer support to people in the C-suite to say, hey, you're building the bridge that everybody has to walk across while you went through this, too. Nobody was in a bubble from what we just we all experienced. And within the collective trauma, there were individual traumas that went on in almost every household.

And so we are all showing up differently. And I think as we do this to your point, this idea of learning about what vulnerable communication is and having empathy for that person, you know, and not vilifying the person sort of across the table and realizing that they're coming from the same place to we all are right now and we all need to show up in our full humanity.


AD

Our full humanity into the future. I love this. I am leaving this with some hope.


JW

And and so we have three final questions that we ask every guest. And so the first one is, Erin, if you could put a Post-it note on every mom's refrigerator tomorrow morning, what would that Post-it note say?


EE

We’re in this together.


AD

Yeah, we’re in this together. And then the second question is, is there a quote that has really moved you or changed the way that you think or feel lately?


EE

Yes, it's from Eve Rodsky, who's the author of Fair Play, and she's become a friend and she I won't say it perfectly, but she says that time is not money. Time is diamonds, and every one deserves permission to be unavailable.


JW

Hmm. Everyone deserves permission to be unavailable and time is diamonds. And so the final question is, well, it is inspired because, you know, in the parenting grind, we can be exhausted and overwhelmed at how kids are just demanding. But we like to just take a step back and say or just remind ourselves what is so amazing about kids. And so, Erin, what do you love about kids?


EE

I love looking into their eyes and seeing the wonder and forgetting myself and that's that's the funny thing is we talk so much about having the space to lean into ourselves. And for me, it's only when I don't feel depleted that I'm able to be present and connected. And that is my favorite thing about parenting is when I'm truly present with my kids and I'm looking in their eyes and I'm seeing what they need and what they're experiencing and deeply listening to them.

That is the true magic of motherhood. And that's just my very favorite thing, just really slowing down and stopping and looking into their eyes no matter what they're doing.


AD

It's beautiful. And the way that you bring up that, we need all of that support and order because when we're depleted, we are not present. And we get triggered.


EE

We make it all about ourselves. That's that’s the funny thing here is we are most selfish when we are self depleted. We are able to give of ourselves and be present to others when we're full. Truly.

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