A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

Balancing it all - how one tech innovator works it as an inventor AND a mother

With three teenagers at home - Max, 18, Miles, 16, and Jill, 14, you’d think balancing home life with a start-up would be elusive. But for Amy Baxter, paediatrician turned tech innovator and entrepreneur, it’s all part of the fun.


Amy’s company, MMJ Labs, developed their inaugural product, Buzzy®, in 2006 in an effort to reduce or eliminate injection pain and “needle-phobia”. As a physician herself, she saw first-hand the mental and physical suffering that accompanied injections, especially for children.

She set out to create a reusable product that could provide pain relief, drug-free. in time, and with the help of research and development funding, she launched Buzzy®, a palm-sized device that uses both vibration and cold to combat pain. When the device is placed “between the brain and the pain”, the competing sensations confuse the brain, effectively inhibiting or totally eliminating pain.

Now, Buzzy® is in over 5,000 hospitals, has sold over 75,000 units, and has been used by over a quarter million individuals.

It’s truly a success story, and one that is deeply rooted in the urge Amy has to reduce the suffering of her patients, and indeed the world.

I had honor of sitting down with Amy via Skype recently. I was struck by her wit, thoughtful responses and razor-sharp intelligence. Amy took me through the journey that led her from doctor to CEO, and how finding balance has not always been easy.

When you started “Buzzy”, what dream did you have for how your life would eventually look?

Honestly I though getting Buzzy® into hospitals would take three years tops, and that I would do medicine part time and then eventually go back to it full-time. When I started, I didn’t intend for it to be the family business, and eventually my only job.

I created a prototype of the device to help my children not have pain during their shots. I was a an emergency doctor and I started to get very anxious while working in the emergency department because I couldn’t use the device on the kids screaming in the emergency room; it wasn’t FDA cleared at the time. It was just a little prototype made of cellphones and electrical tape. That anxiety of having a solution but not being able to give it to my patients is what propelled me into the business.

What would you say your company’s core belief is?

Part of why people have stayed with me, is that we to our core, ethically, feel like it’s not right for people to have to pay for a disposable item when they have a chronic health problem.

I invented Buzzy® for vaccines, so people can get fully vaccinated without the pain that causes needle-phobia. With that said, we found that the people who are our biggest fans are families with kids who have diabetes, with growth hormone, women who are trying to get pregnant. Making a device that is disposable for that is really feeding off the vulnerable. So ethically, that matters to all of us.

On Shark Tank they wanted me to make it disposable. That was a big part of why I turned them down. They wanted me to sell it only to hospitals. That would be undercutting and stopping taking care of those who have been our core.

We are a passion and a purpose, as well as a company.

At what point did you feel like you “made it” and what did your life look like then?

There was a moment where I saw the trajectory of Buzzy® working and being acknowledged in hospitals and homes, and spreading everywhere. I saw that vision at one point, standing in my kitchen and thought, “this is really going to work.” but it didn’t feel like a success until I went on Shark Tank, and felt like everything was going to be great from here on out. After that, we had the worst year of our history!

The moment where I saw the path to success, and then the feeling I had watching my kids get into the limo to watch the screening of Shark Tank, in some ways both of those moments were mythical. So there wasn’t a specific moment where I felt “We’ve made it,” or “We’ve arrived.” I feel that way now, though. I feel like we’ve arrived fully.

When things started to get really busy for Buzzy initially, what did that look like in terms of balancing work and home life?

I have sifted my family into this business at every step of the process from testing the first prototype on them in our living room, to having them help me take apart cell phones so we can figure out what causes vibration, to having them pack up Buzzys® and work at trade shows early on.

The experience that the kids have had, seeing that you can create a device with your own hands and then expand into an actual business, that has been the best part of the balance.

We were in my basement up until two years ago, so I was always available to have an emergency consultation, I could check in with them and see what their emotions were after school. Nine times out of ten they would be fine, but that tenth time, when somebody had a bad day and we have to deal with it right now, that was an important part of the work/life balance - being available.

I still work really close to home. So if I need to pick somebody up from school or drop off something they forgot it’s easy to do. But I think overall, part of the balance was about incorporating them into the work itself whenever possible, then continuing to be in close proximity to be able to respond to their needs as soon as they arose.

The other things is, anytime I have a business travel opportunity, I’ll take one kid with me. I’ve brought them to New York, London, Mexico, all these exotic places.

What challenges do you face as an entrepreneur trying to find that balance?

I don’t think that I have it figured out yet, and I don’t actually think it’s something that you can figure out. I’m one of those people that say, “You can have everything, but you can’t have it all at the same time.”

The illusion of balance is not the reality. 

There are times when I’ve missed critically important life events because I’ve been out of town. There are times where I have been torn inside because I have to do a phone call or I have so much to get done and my children are irritating me.

You can talk about the balance and the way it looks from the outside. But we should all give ourselves permission to realize that the balance comes in retrospect. But at the time it will often feel profoundly unbalanced.

So long as you pay attention to the quality of the time you spend with your kids, and try to keep an eye out for opportunities to incorporate them when possible, I think those are the best tips.

Do you have a “village” around you, a support system?

Unquestionably. I live in a very tight community. My husband, who is a child psychiatrist, works three quarter time. So he really wrangles the kids while I do the business.

The other things is that there is a really great community of women in business. I have made my business with an all-woman team because we all appreciate the need for emergency cupcake runs, and the flexibility and transparency are the best parts of the job. So we are a whole company built on this culture of “family first”, making sure our children grow up healthy and whole. We give up opportunity cost for that, but we have more balance.

Why is finding that balance important to you?

Jackie Kennedy said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

Being able to give my kids the best philosophical approach to how and why they need to serve others, how and why they need to do something that will give back to humanity, has always been important to me.

My paradigm for what matters has been, “What can you do in life that will elevate others, and decrease suffering?”

To be able to give my kids not just the burden of needing to do something huge but to show them that when you find a passion that fits your knowledge or your interests, you’re going to be doing good. You just need to stick with it.

From a family standpoint, the medium is the message. Living by example, here is what I think is important, and I love you no matter what, and you don’t need to feel the obligation to be doing something like I’m doing but you do need to have some discipline and be able to work hard.

How important is confidence in running a company?

Communicating efficiently takes confidence, but passion is also important. Sometimes someone will be passionate about something but lack confidence, and really believing in something will GIVE them the confidence that they perhaps don’t have in other parts of their life.

I am suspicious of people who have a lot of confidence with no substance, but if you have passion, you will have confidence.

How does being a mother affect how you run your business?

One of the big things is that I will not tolerate working with jerks. When you’re a mom you try to teach your kids not to tolerate bullies, and to protect people around you if someone else is being bullied. So in the business world I am positive that I am much less tolerant of people with aggressive or belittling sales and business techniques.

I also think that moms are so much better at helping each other and seeing what needs to be done, that it makes for a great startup team when you hire all moms. We all have our own assigned jobs, but we are willing to jump in and help each other when we need to.

Do you have any one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring lady bosses?

There are actually three pieces of advice I have.

First, everything you say “Yes” to is something you say “No” to.

Women have a hard time saying, “No” But start framing saying, “Yes” as thinking about what you have to give up to commit to that. It might be time with your children, it might be the ability to have a half an hour to wind down and get your sanity back. If you say, “Yes” to something you are saying “No” to something else. That will empower you to say, “No” to things when you realize you don’t want to make that trade off.

Second, lift each other up.

It is very difficult in business because women in my generation and a little older would often want to be the only woman in the room. They didn’t feel constrained by being a woman in business because they were playing like a man.

We need to play like women.

Join Motherly

We need to understand where each other are, we need to pitch in and support each other, and we need to have a sensitivity to what’s going on around us with other women, to support everybody in the village.

...and number three?

Just because you’re the best person for the job doesn’t obligate you to do the job.

Volunteerism is another form of saying “Yes”. And when we do something because we think we’ll do it best, it’s like with your kids and having them clean up their room. Sometimes, even if someone isn’t doing it the “best”, it’s about the long strategy.

In business you’ll be tempted to micromanage because you can do it better. Just because you can do it the best doesn’t obligate you to do it.

What does “Motherly” mean to you?

I think being motherly is being loving and strong enough not to do things for your children that they can do themselves.

There are studies that look at different aspects of parenting, being warm vs being cool, being authoritative vs being wimpy. And the best parents are authoritative. They are very warm, but very firm. So to me being motherly is smiling around a corner looking at your child getting frustrated trying to fix something, and waiting until the child fixes it themselves and feeling proud with them when it’s done.

You can see all of Amy’s work here, and order your very own Buzzy® to take the sting out of needles: https://buzzyhelps.com

Comments20x20 ExportCreated with Sketch.
Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

BUY


This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

You might also like:

So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.


The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

You might also like:

In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

You might also like:

Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

You might also like:

  1. Chrissy Teigen + mesh underwear is the postpartum real talk all moms need to hear 👏
  2. Behati Prinsloo shamed for 'pumping and dumping' during date with hubby Adam Levine
  3. Nicole Phelps pumping in an evening gown is the ultimate definition of a multi-tasking mama 👏

I was feeling off the other day. Something wasn't right, and I couldn't seem to put my finger on it or kick it for that matter. As the day progressed, it didn't get much better. It was a typical day for us, with the usual 2-year-old meltdowns and chaos that happens when you have two babies close in age.

Nothing was out of the norm, but I just wasn't feeling completely like myself. And right after getting my daughters to bed, when I was alone with my thoughts, the feelings intensified. Through the silence, I heard a soft and familiar voice criticizing my mothering, telling me "You don't do anything right." "You are failing your kids."

My anxiety was attacking me, knowing I am weakest on my own. But I knew what I needed to do. So I took out my phone and dialed, listening to the ringing on the other end.

Waiting for the person who always comforts me.

Who always makes everything better.

Who has the magic words when it comes to calming my soul.

"Hi." She answered the phone.

"Hi Mom," I said, as my voice cracked. I can mask my pain for everyone—but her.

"Everything is going to be okay," she reassured me from over the phone as I broke down to her. I hung up feeling so much better. Because—truly—there is nothing in this entire world like a mother's reassurance. I know that not everyone has this kind of relationship with her mother. That, I am indeed one of the lucky ones—but we can all hope to become this for our own children.

And you, mama, contract that magic right when you give birth.

This magic doesn't make you perfect and all-knowing. No, you don't have all the answers. No one has that. You just need to be you—your sweet baby's mama. That title comes with that last push or lift out of the womb. It could also come if your baby is handed over through adoption or surrogacy.

It doesn't matter the means, the magic comes the second your baby is placed into your arms. It comes with a force so strong it leaves a mark on your heart. It transforms you into a mother. You are enough just by being that person who opens her arms and accepts this baby as yours forever.

Your soft-skinned newborn is placed on your chest, shrieking, tears dripping down her cheeks and onto her pout. The little muscles in her chin trembling with such force, her face is on the verge of turning bright red. Then you cuddle her close and feed her. "Everything is going to be okay." She finds peace in the warmth of your body, her skin on your skin.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When your baby becomes a toddler, and he falls and gets his first scrape, screaming, because it's a new kind of painful sensation—an open wound. "Everything is going to be okay," you say to slow his tears and scoop him up into your arms. You clean that scratch out and apply Neosporin.

You put a Band-Aid on, sealed with a kiss, and wipe away his tears. You will always be there to pick him up when he falls—literally, now...and figuratively, in the future when he is grown.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When she goes to her first day of preschool, and you have to separate from each other. She cries as you hold your tears back, as you assure her, "Everything is going to be okay. Mommy always comes back." And of course, you do, and you hold onto those words yourself—repeating them to stay strong.

Because when you are together, everything is right again. You let her go because it's the right thing to do.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When he gets his heart broken for the first time, he will feel like the only person that truly knew him has abandoned him. He'll feel as if he will never find that again. He may not have the proper coping mechanisms yet to deal with that level of pain.

He comes to you in tears over losing the love of his life. You comfort him and assure him "Everything is going to be okay." Because you know this as fact because he is the love of your life. And, one day, if he has a child—he will feel the same way.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When life kicks her in the rear-end. When she is struggling to find her place in this wild world, feeling so alone. When she needs support. She doesn't ask you directly, but your mom intuition whispers to you, pulling on that mark on your heart, and so—you make the call.

"Everything is going to be okay," you say into the phone. The sky won't fall and Chicken Little will not witness the world ending because she can't figure it all out right this second. Finding her place in this world will take time, but it will happen. Right now, and for always, you are her safe place, her landing pad.

One day our babies may have babies of their own. When they are sad they will say, "Everything is going to be okay."

They will know that sometimes all our children need is reassurance from us—their safe place. Their soul-soother. Their heart.

You might also like:

Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.