Mindful Mama

laurenbellon.JPGWelcome to the 3rd installment of Boston Mamas Rock! – where we’re giving a voice to fabulous local mamas, whether they be entrepreneurs, avid volunteers, stay at home moms, moms who have closet talents (e.g., community theatre, juggling, what have you…), authors, media professionals, politicians, professors, etc. Read on for today’s interview with Lauren Bellon, professional fundraiser turned yoga teacher, postpartum doula, and founder of Namaste Baby. Then go ahead and nominate yourself or a friend!

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Lauren Bellon, Founder, Namaste Baby

Christine: Tell us a little bit about yourself Lauren. I know that you're a first time mom turned yoga teacher and used to work at Simmons College. Let's start with the Simmons piece – what did you do for work there? Did you feel passionate about, or vaguely enjoy, the work? And I have to ask – was your work environment supportive of your life as a new working mom?

Lauren: For the past five years, I worked in higher education advancement (fundraising) - most recently at Simmons College, and before that at my alma mater, Tufts University. At Tufts I had worked as a major gifts officer, traveling the country to build relationships with alums and then ultimately seeking gifts of $100,000 or more. I actually moved to Simmons because the travel requirements of my role at Tufts just didn't feel like they would work for me once I became a mom. The role I took on at Simmons was in donor relations - essentially working with faculty and administrators to say thank you and demonstrate the impact of gifts donors have already made. During my pregnancy, it felt like my dream job. I can't say enough good things about the people I was working with and especially about my manager and the relationship we developed. My husband and I had everything worked out - he was going to be a full-time dad, and I was going to keep building my career. But after my ten-week maternity leave was up and I returned to work, everything just felt different. I had never factored in what a burden my nearly hour long commute from Arlington to Boston would be and didn't realize that Kai would go to sleep for the night around 6:30 every night, leaving me very little waking time with him. I never imagined it would take more than a month for Kai to decide to accept bottles from my husband - that was an excruciating experience for all three of us. And I never knew how heartbroken I would feel being away from him full-time. What began as ambivalence about the return to work quickly turned into an all out internal rebellion. I just knew that I couldn't keep doing what I as doing.

Christine: Now you're an Itsy Bitsy Yoga teacher. Were you always a yoga enthusiast? How challenging was the certification process? Did you work on certification while still at Simmons?

Lauren: I'm actually just finishing up my certification process. I recently completed my community classes and expect to receive my certification shortly. I've practiced Ashtanga yoga for the past eight years at 02 Yoga in Somerville. But that's not how I came into contact with Itsy Bitsy Yoga®. Actually, when my husband and I realized that neither of us wanted to give up the time with Kai that full-time work required, we sort of threw up our hands and decided to let the universe guide us to a path that might work. We asked nearly everyone we knew for ideas, thinking that perhaps in a year or two of time, we could piece together some sort of business that would enable us to collaboratively earn the equivalent of at least one income while sharing our parenting and being home as much as possible. We were immediately flooded with really thoughtful and in some cases off-the-wall ideas from our friends and family. My friend Marissa actually suggested teaching IBY. She and her 2 1/2 year old daughter Tess have loved going to these classes, and she said their teacher at Together in Motion in Arlington was moving away. Marissa said she thought I would be a great teacher, that I had the right energy for it. I initially reacted with skepticism, thinking, "I'm not a yoga teacher...it takes forever to get trained as a yoga teacher!" For the heck of it, I went online, though, to Helen Garabedian's website (she's the creator of the program), and discovered that there was a training the very next weekend in Marlboro, MA. So it was Thursday night and the training began on Saturday. I looked at Bob and said, "You're going to think I'm crazy, but I think I should do this." Turned out that I didn't need to be trained as an adult yoga instructor to learn to teach these classes for babies and toddlers.

And I'm so glad I did!! I was blown away and inspired by the program. Helen has incredible depth of experience and training in infant development as well as in yoga, and with Itsy Bitsy Yoga® she created this incredible developmentally nutritious gift to parents and babies. It really helps parents meet their children where they are and appreciate them in so many ways. The babies and toddlers have a blast, and the classes really reinforce this amazing sense of their own bodies that still comes naturally at that age.

Seriously, I'm choking up just thinking about it. I was not a physically active kid, and for me, fitness and exercise were learned activities in adulthood. Yoga was sort of my gateway - it was the first practice that gave me permission to accept myself and appreciate my body and all it could do....it gave me the courage to take up running and face the emotions I had built up over time. I eventually finished the Boston Marathon, but when I started running with my husband (who has been a runner for most of his life), I couldn't finish a mile, and I would often have to run through a great deal of crying and upset and feelings of inadequacy. It sounds melodramatic, and well, it was. But that's the kind of baggage a lot of people carry about their bodies and movement from their childhoods. It's why I feel so blessed that I get to share Itsy Bitsy Yoga® with parents and their little ones...

Christine: Was it scary to make the leap from full-time salary to contract work? Or did you have one of those animal instinct moments and just run for the hills, like I did when I left academia?

Lauren: Oh good lord, yes, it's still scary. Because both of us are doing this. I'm teaching 12-15 hours a week of IBY, and also beginning to take on some postpartum doula work (at the suggestion of my own wonderful birth doula). My husband is starting an admissions consulting practice, working with high school students and their families to support them as they apply to colleges. That was another idea that came from one of our friends. The transition is definitely scary. We're not independently wealthy and we have a time frame of about a year to really make this work and develop our businesses enough to make up for neither of us working full-time.

But I would also classify it as you said - one of those animal instinct moments. Maybe more a series of those moments. As I said, we initially thought I'd continue to work at Simmons for a year or two more. I approached several facilities about teaching on Saturdays - none of them wanted Saturday classes, but it turned out that between classes I could teach during the week at Together in Motion, Isis Maternity, and Exhale Spa, I would have enough to make it feasible to leave my job immediately. It felt pretty surreal when I went to my first classes carrying a box containing beanie babies, stickers, and hula hoops and realized that I was "going to work." Although I have really enjoyed the work I've done in recent years, I think what I'm doing now - being a parent, teaching this program, supporting new parents as a postpartum doula, and hopefully soon through mindfulness groups for moms and dads - is much more my soul's work than anything I've done before.

Christine: What has been your favorite thing about working with moms and babies through yoga? And conversely, what's the most challenging thing?

Lauren: Hmmmm....I love so much about it. Seeing connections develop among new parents in the babies classes...hearing from moms that their toddlers talked about the class non-stop for the rest of the day or that they were doing yoga poses at home afterward. Reassuring parents of some of the younger toddlers that not only is it okay that their kids come in and out of the practice but that it's welcomed and expected. So often parents feel pressure to have their babes sit still to participate in an activity. That's anathema to this anathema to this program.

Most challenging...I teach three age groups: babies (3 weeks to pre-crawling), tots (crawling to 24 months), and tykes (21 months to 4 years old). The tots classes are by far the most challenging - but it's a fun challenge. There's a real range of developmental abilities in these classes, so I have to demonstrate to them all, and they're also a lot like little cavemen at that age. The tots definitely keep me on my toes!

Christine: You have a 6-month-old son – how does he respond to yoga classes? Do you bring him to classes with you as your demo partner?

Lauren: He loves it. Actually, he shared his first belly laugh with me while doing one of the poses! I use another of the poses to soothe him to sleep pretty frequently, several for calming him down if he's feeling fussy, others for bonding just because he gets so giggly and smiley when we do them. There are even a few poses for babies that help when they're struggling to pass gas or poop - they've been really helpful and relieving for him!

I don't use him as my demo partner in my babies classes, just because that would definitely take my focus away from the parents and babies attending, and it's important to me that I create the right kind of space for them and their practice. I have a life-like doll named Kaia who demos for me. My husband, however, often brings our son to my babies classes and Kai sometimes looks inquisitively at me, I think wondering what I'm doing with this other baby. They have a good time, though, and Bob (my husband) can give me really helpful feedback.

Christine: The mama who nominated you for feature said, "I admire Lauren's courage to try a whole new career while also learning the whole new role of motherhood." Do you have any tips to share on how you have juggled these two new roles?

Lauren: We're still just getting started on this new life we've created, so I might have more to say about this down the road. I have, however, already learned that I need to make really clear boundaries between the work I'm doing and my parenting, as does my husband. With all that I'm doing right now (I'm also still temporarily doing some consulting for Simmons), my very flexible schedule and work could easily morph into 40 hours a week of work. I think it's especially tempting to feel like everything has to get done immediately when you're self-employed. So Bob and I split our days half and half. Most days Kai gets quality time with each of us, and each of us also has a chance to work and to get a few things done around the house. I'm learning to realize that it's okay to table items on my to do list until another day, and am making the time I spend with Kai sacred.

I feel good, though, that the work I'm doing actually makes a direct contribution to my own parenting as well. I've learned so much about infant development and new parents through this work already, and I'll only keep learning more. A couple of years ago I realized I was losing the kind of ambition I had initially had after college - a drive for traditional career success. I decided then that I wanted my mission to be learning how to love the people in my life as well as I could. I think that's why it's felt so right to transition out of a successful career, even while people have told me that I could be a leader in that field.

Christine: What would be your key piece of advice for moms thinking of making a similar jump?

Lauren: Invest everyone in the kind of life you want to create for yourself. Be courageous and follow your heart and your gut.

Christine: Your nominator said you share the role of caretaking with your husband. Does he also work out of home? If so, do you have particularly effective strategies for how your split your responsibilities and keep from stepping all over one another?

Lauren: I mentioned that we split our days. We also build in some family time for all three of us, but the independent time is really important. The incredible gift we received from my return to work is that Bob and Kai have developed their own patterns and routines. Unlike some dads, Bob doesn't get overwhelmed if Kai is having a hard day, and he reads his cues as well as I do. While we share the same basic style and philosophy of parenting, we definitely do things differently. I, especially, have had to learn to back off and realize that my way of doing things is just that - my way. It's what works for me and Kai, and something else might work better for Bob with him.

Everything...parenting, work, household tasks...it's all an ongoing conversation and negotiation. Sometimes we do step on each other's toes - we do our best to be forgiving of ourselves and one another, and to learn from those experiences for the next time.

Christine: What has surprised you most in your role as a new mom?

Lauren: I knew I would love Kai, but it runs so much deeper than I ever could have imagined without experiencing it. Before Kai was born, I harbored a lot of fear about the sacrifices I thought I might have to make. I worried I would see less of the people I love and that I wouldn't be able to pursue the random dreams that occur to me every so often. Turns out that fear was totally unfounded. If anything, I feel so much more driven to do what I love - next year I'm going to do an adult yoga teacher training - because it seems imperative that I give my son the gift of a mom who loves everything about her life. I want him to grow up knowing that he can create a life that feels good to him.

Christine: And finally, what's your favorite thing about being a Boston mama?

Lauren: All the other Boston mamas! There are just so many young families here. We already had a strong sense of community among our friends, but that community just keeps getting wider now that we're also parents.

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Know a fabulous local mama? Nominate yourself or someone else to be featured!