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Mater Mea: Celebrating + inspiring black mothers

What was work-life balance like for mid-career black women or entrepreneurs? Those stories weren’t being told.

Mater Mea: Celebrating + inspiring black mothers

Mater mea was launched in 2012 by founder and editor-in-chief Anthonia Akitunde as a place to inspire black women at the intersection of career + family. We talked to Anthonia for our Motherly at Work series about what inspired her to start the project, going full time on it, and what she's learned about women and work in the years since launch.


We'd love to hear—how did mater mea start? What motivated you?

I started mater mea in 2012, at the height of the “Can women have it all?" and Lean In think pieces.

As a professional woman just starting to think about what it looked like to get married and have a family, I was really interested in these conversations, but I noticed that they were focused on women who didn't look like me—from a racial, cultural, and/or professional perspective.

What was work-life balance really like for mid-career black women or entrepreneurs? Those stories weren't really being told.

Also, I found that most interviews weren't asking the hard “how" questions.

Like, “Ok, you're fabulous and you have this amazing career and kids and husband… But how did you really get here?"

I wanted a road map, and what I was getting was the final picture.

I knew that there were other women of color who were grappling with the same “having it all" questions and concerns; I wanted to talk to them while also showcasing black women in spaces in which media at large says they don't exist—in loving homes with their children and/or partners.

The site's purpose was a bit selfish at first—some of our first moms were women I'd had girl crushes on for years—but I knew I wasn't the only black woman who wanted to see other black women's stories presented in this realistic and personal way.

What's the most exciting development to come out of working on the site for the last three years?

I would say the fact that I'm still doing it after three years!

I've had a lot of professional and personal setbacks over that time period, but I've remained committed to keeping the site going and sharing this perspective.

More specifically, I've had the opportunity to connect with really amazing women who have such powerful and affecting stories that you don't see anywhere else.

You just decided to go full time at Mater Mea. What prompted that decision—and how does it impact your life?

It was a mix of a few things. I felt like I wasn't giving myself or the site a fair shot by working on it during small windows of free time before and after my day job.

I was also inspired by so many women and creators who were taking the leap and seeing the rewards that come when you put yourself and your brand out there full-time.

I won't say I've 100% figured it out—I'm still freelancing and trying to determine how to turn mater mea from a passion project into a media company—but I will say that even though I definitely miss the security of bimonthly paychecks and benefits, going full-time was the right decision for me.

You write that Mater Mea's mission is to provide a more accurate portrayal of the lives of black women in their personal and professional lives. What need did you find there, and how does Mater Mea answer that call?

This is changing, but black women were typically seen in very, no pun intended, black-and-white terms in mainstream media.

There's the sassy or angry sidekick, the welfare mom, or Michelle Obama—and really, there's only one Michelle Obama.

That, of course, isn't the case: The black experience isn't monolithic, and there is a wide array of black women's experiences that we aren't seeing in the media.

On mater mea, there are black women from all walks of life—straight, lesbian, married, single, divorced, boho, corporate suite, etc.—discussing universal experiences in an open and frank way.

While black working mothers are usually pathologized in mainstream media, they're celebrated on our site.

For black women who are aspiring moms like me or who are on their second kid, it's nice to see yourself reflected back to you in a positive and affirming way.

Can you give us a little glimpse into a day-in-the-life?

At 6:30 am. . .

It's a toss up. I've either lost the snooze button battle and I'm back in bed, or I'm up and fussing around my apartment.

At 7:45 am. . .

By now, I'm definitely up and working toward inbox zero. I use my inbox as my to-do list; using the Mailbox app, I push out all emails that can be handled the next day or a week later to focus on what has to be done today.

At 10:00 am. . .

If it's a hair-wash day, I've just finished twisting my hair while watching something embarrassing on TV to pass the time. I'll fix myself breakfast—smoothies with coconut milk have become my thing as of late—and make my first of many cups of tea. For some reason, tea is my Pavlovian signal that it's time to work. I'll start writing for one of my clients or editing any of the pieces I have in from mater mea's team of amazing contributing writers. My boyfriend and I share a long desk in our office, so sometimes we'll swivel around in our chairs to talk through a pitch or work-related concern—he's also a writer—or say something ridiculous to each other.

At 1:00 pm. . .

At this point, if I'm not on deadline or have a meeting, I'm feeling like taking a nap. A close friend got me a very thoughtful/always renewing gift subscription to Bon Appetit, so my cooking game is kind of ridiculous now, not to brag. If I'm being incredibly good, I'll exercise. There's a gym 20 minutes away that offers a non-intimidating version of Crossfit that I'm mildly obsessed with, or I'll do a kettlebell routine created for me by a trainer friend. But that's when I'm being incredibly good… more often than not, it's naptime.

At 3:00 pm. . .

I'm up and editing, writing, emailing with featured moms and contributing writers, and/or reading articles about managing an online business or long-form articles about race, politics, feminism, or random internet ephemera. I'm a huge fan of This.cm, which highlights the one thing incredibly smart people are reading that day.

At 5:00 pm. . .

Still working...

At 9:00 pm. . .

Just finishing up dinner, and watching something on Netflix. I'll sometimes get a second wind, and feel like doing more work or answering the emails I pushed back earlier that day. But I've recently started getting to bed by 10 or 11 pm.

What's the best piece of advice you've been given?

Writing-wise, it's read what you write out loud.

You're better able to catch mistakes or weird syntax that you wouldn't catch if you were just skimming. I'm really proud of the quality of writing and editing that's on mater mea, and a big part of that is due to that tip.

Life-wise, my mom always says that you shouldn't judge the time by someone else's watch, which basically means you shouldn't judge your path based on where someone else is in life. It's easier said than done, especially in the age of social media humblebragging, but I'm trying!

Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to that's helped to shape you as a woman?

It's funny—I appreciate my mom so much more now having created mater mea.

As an angsty teen, I took a lot of the sacrifices both she and my dad made for granted. Having spoken to 50+ woman about those same choices, I can now appreciate them within the context of what it's like to be a woman, a partner, and a mom.

I think I've been working toward a fictionalized self-made woman that was informed by the magazines and books I read as a teenager. But now that I've gotten older and I started chipping away at that old ideal, I'm finding more and more of my mom in whom I'd like to be. And I'm pretty happy about that.

If there's one thing you hope women experience when they visit Mater Mea, it's...

… that they're not alone.

Whatever you're experiencing on your professional and/or motherhood journey, I think there is a woman who has shared that experience on our site.

I recently reposted a story about performer Rhonda Ross' 10-year struggle to conceive, and a woman left such a powerful comment saying that this story is exactly what she needed to see, because she and her husband had been trying for nine years to have kids.

Whatever you're experiencing on your professional and/or motherhood journey, I think there is a woman who has shared that experience on our site.

Knowing that you're not alone when you're feeling your most isolated is an amazing feeling, and I hope readers feel that.
What gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you inspired and excited about life?

The possibility for an “and then some."

There's always the possibility for a little something more than what you're experiencing right now, whether that be an email that can bring a new opportunity, or a chance encounter that can change your course in a really great way.

I'm in an all right space right now, but I'm excited for an “and then some" to take me somewhere even better.

We'd love to hear—what would you tell other mamas who want to turn their passions into their professions?

It's possible. This is such an amazing time to be a woman with an idea and the will to execute it. Just do it—the barriers to entry and to reach people who want the exact thing you do are so low now thanks to the Internet!

To me, Motherly means. . .

Compassionate and caring.

A very important letter for new mamas

Listen, mom-guilt is a dirty liar. Yes, it's your job to fill your little human's needs, but you matter too. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Hang out with friends, take a drive blaring 90's hip hop or shower without interruptions—trust me, you'll be a better person (and mom) because of it.

Dear new mom,

You will shave again someday. Today is not that day.

Set expectations low, my friend, and set your partner's lower—at least where body hair and overall hygiene are concerned.

That conversation could go something like this: “From now on let's not consider shaving a “standard," but more like a gift that happens on birthdays and the first day of summer."

Voila, you are a gift-giving genius. You know what else is a gift? Shaving the inch and a half of skin that is between your skinny jeans and your boots. You're welcome world.

You will not be perfect at parenting.

Boom.

I have yet to meet a perfect mother, but when I do, she's going to be a tiger who is insanely good at making up songs. (Daniel Tiger's mom, we salute you.)

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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.

$79

Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.

$30

Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.

$32

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.

$37

The Snoo bassinet

Snoo

Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!

$1295

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.

$59.99

Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!

$46.99

Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.

$259.00

Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.

$27.95

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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