Not too long ago, moms were in uproar when writer Meghann Foye, author of “Meternity” published a book about a burnt-out magazine editor, Liz Buckley, who decided to fake her own pregnancy in order to get paid time off—um, otherwise known as a maternity leave—to figure her life out. And moms all over were piiiisssseeed. As you know, maternity leave is no walk in the park: that cute new baby of yours is attached to your hip 24/7 whether you like it or not. But Meghann, er Liz, had witnessed friends and coworkers returning to the workforce post-baby with a different vibe and pep in their step—taking no more BS along the way. They were changed—with a new identity came new priorities. Some friends even quit their jobs, choosing instead to follow some passion that hadn’t been unlocked until the day they gave birth.
The character in Meghann’s book wanted the same sense of clarity that had come from taking a break and shifting gears. Liz didn’t have a baby to tend to around the clock, but women who returned to the workforce post-kids seemed to do so with more purpose, something Liz felt like she needed. Because as every working mom has learned, if we’re going to leave our kids to go to work, we should do it for the right reasons. I am sure Meghann truly meant no harm in believing that all women deserve a break. (C'mon ladies, we can agree with that.) Call it a sabbatical or whatever you’d like, but sometimes we get put on a path, whether it be in our love lives or careers and the wheels keep on turning faster than ever and, before we know it, ten years have gone by and we’re not sure how we got to the next destination. Not only was Meghann on to something when she crafted the plot of her book (and took her own sabbatical to write a novel and travel the world), the four women I interviewed were knee-deep in their careers when having kids caused them to take a deeper look at their lives and where they were going. Read on for some amazing job transformations and passion projects that turned into successful careers, happy futures, and even happier mamas.
Ana Bianchi: Branding Consultant turned Clothing Designer
As long as Ana Bianchi, 46, of Walnut Creek, California, can remember, she always wanted to be an artist. She loved drawing, painting, and coloring and excelled in art class as a young kid. (One time when she was sick and missed an art assignment she received a C on a report card, but her classmates complained, explaining to the teacher that Ana should never be allowed to get any grade other than an A in art. She was that good.) Though, while growing up in Mexico, her mother swayed her into something that would “give a proper salary.” The closest thing to art that Ana could choose in college was graphic design, and then she continued her studies at a university in Florence to receive a degree in fine arts. Ana naturally landed a job with a branding firm, working with companies like Air Canada and American Airlines, and on regular projects with restaurants, bakers, chefs, even helping a tequila brand get off the ground. “With my two degrees, I felt like I was living a double life—graphic designer, illustrator, branding consultant by day and artist by night and on weekends,” Ana says. Ana spent most of her free time making oil paintings and sculptures, showing her artwork in galleries and occasionally selling to collectors.
Drowning in the duplicity of her life, after 20 years Ana knew it was time to go off on her own. Mostly wanting to be released from the demands of working for other people and their passion projects, it was now or never for her. “Approaching my 40th birthday, I knew I was in need of a change, and I wanted to finally do something more meaningful with my talent and the experiences I had accumulated over the years,” she says.
“Approaching my 40th birthday, I knew I was in need of a change, and I wanted to finally do something more meaningful with my talent and the experiences I had accumulated over the years."
“When my daughter was born, I started making things for her room and curating her clothes for fun little photo shoots, and of course reading endless amounts of books to her,” recalls Ana. Completely immersed in motherhood and all the fun that comes with raising a little girl, Ana’s creative side was sparked. “Spending time with my daughter allowed me to see the world through her eyes, getting me closer to her discovery of new things and reconnecting me with my childhood point of view, imagination, and fantasy.”
Papergirl Collection was born four years later, a clothing company in which Ana designs prints for children’s outfits, mainly dresses and tunics, inspired by the curiosity and imagination of her daughter. Collections include drawings of the sea, the circus, animals, and a garden floral theme. “Without any actual fashion experience, there was a learning curve on how to design patterns and then pick the right fabrics,” she says. So while the business side of the process overwhelmed Ana when she was starting out, everything about the artistic side happened naturally. “I pick a theme that my daughter is interested in, write an overview of the story I want to tell through my designs, then I make the illustration for the dress, whether through drawing, watercolor, or collaging.”
As a proud resident of Manhattan and now California, Ana likes to keep production in the United States and prints all her fabrics stateside using infant-safe inks with an eco-green process. Every dress collection tells between 9 to 12 stories, which are printed in small books that come with each product sold. “Being from Mexico, my collections are vibrant and full of color, but as a traveler I try to include different places and cultures I’ve come to love—all my designs are truly an extension of the years I’ve spent getting to where I am today,” she says.
Working from home over the past few years as she started her business has allowed Ana more time and flexibility to be closer to her daughter, which explains all the inspiration and creativity she’s found to put into her work. (Her daughter even illustrated one of the books included with a dress!) “I love that she gets to see what mommy’s work actually is, and the many hats I have to wear to get it all done. We regularly talk about how to become your own boss, so hopefully all the sweat and tears that go into creating your own business will rub off on her one day too.” It certainly seems like this is one #girlboss we have to look out for. For now, PaperGirl Collection dresses are sold at Bergdorf Goodman, and as a finalist in the Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Competition, which supports the empowerment of women entrepreneurs, we can agree that Ana has certainly won.
Vanessa Hill: From Healthcare Sales to Kids' Yoga Instruction
Vanessa Hill, 38, of East Northport, Long Island, was accustomed to switching things up. As a child, she dreamed of being a US senator, in high school she decided to pursue journalism, but then in college she eventually majored in history while figuring out what industry to pursue. Before graduating she took the LSAT with the intent to attend law school, but as soon as she put down her pen on test day she knew it was a career she could never actually see herself happy in.
Ultimately trying to go with her gut, as she’d been told to do over and over again, she went into pharmaceutical sales after graduation. The career was appealing because she loved being able to work with different types of people every day and the idea of spending time outside of a four-walled cubicle was enticing. Vanessa thrived in the social side of her day-to-day duties, and as an avid exerciser she was intrigued by the healthcare industry, so it felt like a perfect fit for her lifestyle. “For a first job after college, the perks of a sales rep are amazing—a company car, a salary with performance bonuses," she says. "It felt too good to be true, but I loved it and did well.” After Vanessa got married and had two daughters, she felt her priorities changing and knew she couldn’t keep up with the competitive lifestyle of a sales rep, and that she didn’t want to. She wanted to find her zen.
“Growing up, I never would have considered a yoga teacher as a serious career choice,” says Vanessa. “I had very specific career goals, all with a certain level of ‘success’ attached to them, and yoga didn’t really have any credibility that fit into that equation I had in my head.” As a way to get fit for her wedding, Vanessa had picked up yoga. Though she was always an avid runner, yoga became her workout choice over the years. “I fell in love during my first savasana. I felt an intense desire to meditate and was completely relaxed for once in my life—I knew then it was exactly what my overworked Type-A brain needed.”
Feeling the pressures of raising two young daughters and a career she was unhappy in, with a little push from her husband she decided to enroll in a yoga teacher-training program. “The unhappiness I was feeling from my career would sometimes overflow into other aspects of my life—I wasn’t taking care of myself and I needed to put myself first so I could be a better mother and caretaker for my family,” she says.
"The unhappiness I was feeling from my career would sometimes overflow into other aspects of my life—I wasn’t taking care of myself and I needed to put myself first so I could be a better mother and caretaker for my family."
“Leaving my kids for weekends at a time and scheduling in extra yoga classes and homework wasn’t easy; I had a ton of mom guilt over it. But yoga training was a new outlet of learning that I hadn’t experienced in a while,” she says. She began teaching one class a week at her daughter’s daycare center and felt a new kind of rush from helping others create change, even if it was only one tree pose or downward dog at a time. “I think I always felt this desire to be part of helping the greater good and fostering change within a community, I just didn’t know the right outlet to do so. I thought I needed to be an ‘important person’ like a lawyer or a senator to experience change,” Vanessa says.
Fortunately for Vanessa, a blessing in disguise happened in the face of a layoff at work. She and her husband knew this was her opportunity to make a real change full-time. “Becoming a yoga teacher is similar to opening your own business, except I am the business!” she says. Starting from scratch in the fitness industry, Vanessa scooped up every job opportunity that came her way, including teaching yoga at a summer camp. “It was one of the greatest learning experiences getting to work with kids of all different ages and see the benefits that yoga added to their young lives,” she says. This was the huge stepping-stone she needed to continue on the path she realized she was meant for. “I wanted to share yoga with my daughters and that became the driving force behind me wanting to continue learning more about yoga for kids, plus I felt like it would help me become a more mindful parent,” laughs Vanessa.
While she’s not ready to open up her own studio, Vanessa started training with YogaKids. The rest, as they say, is history. “I fell in love. So many of my worlds collided when I found this program; it’s been the most rewarding experience,” she says. She thinks she works harder today than when she was part of corporate America, and even if there’s no so-called ladder to climb, she feels a sense of upward traction—in the right direction—that she didn’t feel before. “It drives me to keep researching, learning, and fostering new ideas to teach children the foundations of the yogic life—I know I’m helping children at the core, where it matters most.”
Financially, the sacrifice has been a huge trade-off for Vanessa, but since the daily schedule for a yoga teacher has gaps during parts of the day, she can be there for her family in ways she couldn’t before. “I never considered myself a PTA mom, but I’m able to be more present at my daughter’s school, which ties in nicely with the social skills I picked up during my years working in pharmaceutical sales.” While everything seems to have come full circle, Vanessa knows her latest journey has only begun. Namaste.
Barrett Oswald: From Real Estate Development to Interior Design Entrepreneur
Growing up on an island in Florida, Barrett Oswald, 35, of Larchmont, New York, spent all of her time outdoors with her two younger brothers. “We were always building tree houses and forts, using our imagination to craft play spaces using our surroundings,” Barrett says. “Now today I can see how this cultivated the person I would later become.” Naturally her father, an architect and real-estate developer, had a huge influence on Barrett’s creative upbringing, and through osmosis visiting remote locations and job sites, getting to see the development process unfold around her pointed Barrett in a similar direction with her own future. “I became fascinated with the conceptualization and creation of peoples’ homes. I loved watching all the pieces come together to deliver a beautiful space for someone to enjoy,” she says.
It’s no surprise that Barrett wanted to get a practical training in the family business, studying real estate development in graduate school. But like many women (and men), she enjoyed fashion and felt like she should pursue a career in New York City after college. “I decided to do a year at the Fashion Institute of Technology to hone my interest in the industry and was fortunate to score internships for Tuleh and Tod’s while studying,” she says. Things happened quickly from there and Barrett landed at job in the buyers program for Saks. After five years, Barrett wasn’t feeling completely settled and decided to head home to Florida to take a position in her dad’s company. “I wanted to take more control and ownership over projects and working in real estate provided me with those responsibilities. I had accomplished all I had wanted to in the fashion industry and I knew it was time to move on,” she says.
After getting married and moving to North Carolina for a brief stint for her husband’s job, Barrett ended up back in New York. This time with a husband and young son, Barrett was trying to figure out how to reinvent herself as a new mom. “When we purchased our first home and had to do a gut renovation, everything kind of clicked. I had complete ownership over both the design of the renovation as well as the interior and instead of feeling stressed and anxious like most people during the process, I was on cloud nine, I loved every second of it!”
"When we purchased our first home and had to do a gut renovation, everything kind of clicked."
Just like the Fixer Upper-style relationship we see on HGTV, Barrett remembers her parents having a great partnership. “Both my parents have a natural knack for design, and while my dad is conventionally trained as an architect, my mom has great taste and gives my dad pointers on how to style his projects,” she says. So when Barrett spearheaded her own home renovation, she finally understood the full process of turning a house into a home. “With the interior of my house, I picked up a lot of what I saw my mom doing all those years and just knew, like putting puzzle pieces together, what went where to make a room look just right.” When she moved into her house, Barrett experienced a sudden sadness. “I didn’t want the process to end and I was itching to start the whole thing again.”
Barrett Oswald Designs was born, and two years later, Barrett is busier than ever. With a business model similar to the likes of online interior design programs like Havenly or Laurel & Wolf, which offer room packages (essentially you’re paying one fee for a room layout and product suggestions), Barrett recognized the standard interior design process of charging hourly rates wasn’t going to be appealing for the young, busy clientele she was meeting with. “The ‘room in a box’ package is how we got our name on the map, but now most of our clients hire us for our reputation of being transparent, casual, and fun!” she says.
While the old-school hourly rates still exist—and Barrett’s returning customers opt for it after learning how efficient and easy it is to get things done with Barrett’s help—the business is thriving in a town, and a time, where home renovations are at an all-time high. Clients opt for her services for her ability to mix high and low end and for finding treasures in places like Home Goods, instead of pricier stores that can break the bank and make interior design intimidating. “I am busier in a different way than I ever was when I was home with my son, and there is a lot more juggling of schedules in order to accommodate everyone in the family, plus two kids,” she says. “I never thought I’d have my own interior design business and I still can’t quite grasp it when people ask what I do for a living—I fumble over the right words.” But Barrett knows one thing is for sure: She’s finally found a career that truly satisfies all parts of her personality and the journey getting there was the ideal mix for success.
Abby Hollar: From Pharmacist to Stationery Designer
When Abby Hollar, 30, of Redondo Beach, California, decided to become a pharmacist, it didn’t come as a surprise to her family. Her grandfather, mother, and brother were all pharmacists, so it was kind of like going into the family business. Abby felt like it was what she was meant to do. “While this wouldn’t fly in today’s world, I used to visit my grandfather at work all the time and loved watching him fill prescriptions and counsel patients; he was always helping others and I loved seeing him in that element,” Hollar says.
Becoming one herself was a no-brainer, “I knew I loved helping people, giving advice, and being a source of information for people in need, plus I was such a science nerd so it came easy.” It seemed like a perfect match for someone who wanted to become a mom, too—the part-time and per-diem job opportunities meant Abby could have a flexible work-life balance when she wanted to have kids.
But a lot had happened in the 20 years between visiting her grandfather at work and becoming a pharmacist herself. Abby felt like she was drowning in the pressures of the white coat, and didn’t feel connected to the career she had long ago looked up to. “I felt like I was living two different lives. I couldn’t be the spunky, silly, lively person I am—when I was at work I was serious, tired, getting yelled at, and stressed all the time.”
“I felt like I was living two different lives. [At the pharmacy,] I couldn’t be the spunky, silly, lively person I am."
Feeling uninspired, Abby turned to the things besides her husband and young daughter that made her happiest. “I was always drawing, painting, and making crafts growing up and when I was planning my wedding I made my own invitations since the ones I loved were way out of my budget,” she says. While working in the pharmacy, Abby was making invitations for family and friends on the side, and even had hers featured on the Martha Stewart Weddings blog. “I loved the process so much and once I was ready to leave the pharmacy I knew what I wanted to do with my time.” Consider The Lilies Paper Co. was Abby’s newest baby after her one-year-old and even though she would have to make 150 invitations a year in order to break even with the salary she took home in her former career, she knows expressing her creative side and doing something that makes her smile every day is worth more than the money in the bank.
“I think my goals are to make a living creating and inspiring others, however that looks—currently in the form of invitations and teaching watercolor classes—so while I wouldn't say that my career goals changed drastically, the route in which I would achieve them definitely has,” she notes. Consider The Lilies Paper Co. (or CTL) is still a new company and Abby is excited to see where it’ll go now that it has her full focus. But Abby finally feels free and ready to begin her career 2.0. “I’ve only just begun the stationary side of the business, but I love interior design, and I envision having a shop selling boutique home decor and furniture pieces, as well as my watercolor artwork,” she says. “Now I can allow myself to feel inspired to create and 'mom' at the same time, so what’s better than that?”