Julie Schumacher is the founder of Well Turned Words, copywriting and editing studio. She’s also the co-founder of Forth Chicago which seeks to celebrate and connect creative, entrepreneurial women in Chicago.
Tell us about your family!
We have one daughter, Loie Jane, who is 3. She’s a copper top and is very into ’80s music and feta cheese.
As a first time mom, I thought that I was going to knock it out of the park. I wasn’t super nervous and felt that, if our daughter was born healthy, I was going to be one of those “at ease” awesome moms.
I didn’t. I wasn’t. I got knocked on my ass. I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, and worried incessantly those first few weeks. I’m wired anxious and assumed I’d rally…because I always rally. At about 8 weeks postpartum, I was hospitalized with postpartum depression. It was just the worst. My mom moved in from Philadelphia, we brought in an incredible post partum doula, my husband protected and provided like a beast, and we got me in to see an incredible therapist in conjunction with a smart medication plan through a psychiatrist.
It is so, so, so humbling to have gone through that. I’ve never failed at something so spectacularly before, or so publicly. Now, I’m not saying I failed at motherhood. My kid’s great and we’re super bonded and all that and I think I’m a pretty great mom. But in the moment and the months after there was a significant amount of self-confidence and identity rebuilding that had to happen. I had to relearn to love myself, accept way more help than I’d ever been willing to take in a lifetime, and was forced to figure out what it would take to claw my way to happiness. And on top of that, I had this wee little beastie I wanted to love and get to know and take care of and felt like it was happening with a hand tied behind my back (and blindfolded and while balancing on a very small, wiggly beam). We fought back hard and I was very quickly back on my feet (which is not to discount any woman whose fight is longer. Go mama, go!).
That’s a pretty big shadow, though, to walk out of. Even now I have to explain that PPD doesn’t mean I ever tried to harm myself, or our daughter, and I am not convinced everyone believes me. Sounds awful, right? It’s one of the reasons I’m vocal and open about my experience. More women need help and more people need to know how to help them.
The collaterals, though, are remarkably all positive. I saw how strong my marriage was. I saw how rad my mom and husband are. Seriously. My mom was indefatigable and my husband’s shoulders carried way more than I assumed a human could. They never doubted me those many nights I loudly announced I would never get better.
Our new neighbors in Oak Park stepped up and carried us through. Friends sat with me while I wept on the porch and one friend was charged with dragging me to movies so I’d leave the house…those are some damn fine friends. It was through therapy and talking with my husband and closest of friends (a mom entrepreneur champion Jill Salzman of the Founding Moms) that I took the years of research and teaching of writing and launched Well Turned Words. I was given time and permission and support to do something I always kind of thought I could do but would likely have never done…because who actually gets paid to write? Now, our world makes so much sense on this path. Our family is happy and strong. It was a slog. No doubt. But hot damn, I’m happy and our family is thriving.
I sometimes wonder if a single part of my body, mind, worldview, approach to life, or future goals have not been touched by parenthood. On a very basic scale, having a kid is a nice swift kick to the shins of whatever routines you enjoyed pre-kids. On a larger scale, I think more about modeling for her an expansive life. If I let fear, regret, guilt dictate how I move through the world, she’ll see that. If I don’t do something because I’m just too tired or if I don’t handle a relationship with care, she’ll see that. If I lead with a strong partnership, good friendships, grace, confidence, humor, sass, joy, and a dash of “well, I guess we’ll see what happens!” she’ll see that. I want her to know she can have many acts, be many women, and do many things in a single lifetime. So I have to live that first. When I need parenting advice, first and foremost, I talk to my husband.
We share what we see, strategize, offer gentle suggestions on something that worked for one of us. He’s the person I chose to parent with so his opinion or ideas matter more than anyone else’s to me. Then, I have a phenomenal community of women. I highly recommend surrounding yourself with women better than you. My mom and sister are awesome and talented mothers (and great overall) as are some close friends who I’ve known since college and met as a mom. I also have plenty of dad friends I think are just phenomenal parents. I don’t just talk to other people with girl parts. A good parent is a good parent.
I have an online community as well. I have the SpitfireMom Society, which I started with a design partner in Denver and appreciate the conversations there about business and family life. I adore Ask Moxie and the community she’s built. I also have a top secret group of women from a birth board now connected on Facebook. We all have kids the same age and were bonded over those first months. We’re all over the country and about as different as can be but it’s a safe, warm space to say out loud the stuff that goes through my head. We call ourselves the Mamascenti. It’s silly and awesome.
My favorite thing about being a parent is the forced intentionality. I have to be more purposeful and thoughtful about what I say and do, both around her but also in general. The selflessness is hard but great creativity emerges through constriction, I think. There’s also the heart-explodingly-huge amount of love I get to experience when she says “Mama?” and then asks me something weird. For my marriage, I love having a whole new way to fall in love with my husband. I knew he was great. Watching him as a father? Wow. Watching Lo, my favorite thing is her acquisition of language. It’s like watching civilization evolve. That sounds ridiculous. But it’s really incredible to witness and hear how our intonations and expressions regenerate in her. She says “awesome” a lot. Not surprising.
Are there routines that you’ve set up in your family to help things run more smoothly?
Yup. M/W/F I get up with Loie and get her ready for school. T/Th my husband gets up with her and I sleep in. I say once a month I am going to start getting up to work out. I will let you know if that ever happens. We tend to each sleep in one weekend day, which is superb. We encourage each other to spend time out at night with friends. I’m home with her on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We do a play date or go to the library or play outside in the mornings. Sometimes we just hang around the house in our PJs all morning. We host a toddler music class here on Thursday afternoons. One of us takes her to school, the other picks her up. Whoever is putting her down for bed, the other person is prepping a late dinner or tidying up. We try to keep the house in good shape because we both work from home and my husband is a neatnik. We’re pretty rigid about her sleep. A well-rested kid makes the whole world sunnier and protecting her sleep 85% of the time means we can be flexible the other times. We have a weird kid who sleeps in so we get her up at 7 so she’ll take a nap. And we wake her up from her nap 90% of the time so she’ll fall asleep at night. Please don’t throw things at us. I know most moms would kill to have a 7am wakeup. We all seem to thrive on routine. We talk about whether she’s a creature of habit (she yawns at 1:15 if we’re late putting her down for a nap) because it’s in her DNA or in the air of the home.
What do you know now that you wish you knew back then? (as a first time mom)
That you’ll find a way. That any thing your kid is doing that feels unsolvable, untenable, or totally bizarre will likely be replaced by something that feels equally permanent, annoying, or odd. And you’ll be so busy worrying about the new thing that you will forget to realize that the previous worry has resolved itself. That cyclicality of parenthood is both comic and infuriating to me now. That no one gives you a reward or medal if you refuse to ask for help or refuse help that is offered. Even now, after being knocked on my rump, I still want to do it all myself. That’s lame. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. And if someone offers to hold the baby so you can pee in peace or take a nap? JUST SAY YES.
When it comes to fun, I always crave travel. My husband and I like to cook together, I love baking. The fun of chopping and stirring and seasoning as a couple was a huge piece of our courtship. As counterintuitive as it sounds, the meticulousness of baking is very calming for me. Give me some flour to sift and something to level and I’m in heaven.
I like to talk. A lot. So talking with my friends and husband about things inconsequential and grand. Plan and scheme for the next phases and iterations of our life. If I’m not talking, I’m reading. I’m in an excellent book club of smarter-than-me women who actually read the books. Our neighborhood is ripe with families so we do things locally, the Farmer’s Market, the park. Because we like the parents of the kids our kid knows even toddler birthday parties at jumpy places can be fun. Forth Chicago, a creative salon I run with two other Smart Moms, is so much fun but not super unwind-y. It does connect me to other women who like to talk about all sorts of things. And I get to try out new parts of my brain through the beauty of our events and revisit the parts of my brain that love facilitating conversations.
With my daughter, I love reading. I will read the same damn story over and over and over. And there is nothing a 3 year old likes to do more than read the same story over and over and over. When it comes to values, we talk about wanting our daughter to move confidently and with empathy and awareness through the world. To have a chance to try many things she might like and to fail miserably at some and experience success in others and to realize there’s value in each. To cultivate community and to be civically minded. To be an excellent friend. To be able to speak her mind and to listen with equal measure. To have a strong moral compass rooted in global and progressive values. I want her to have a social sport she can play with friends into adulthood (that is one of those “because I don’t” things). I want her to be a good communicator, always put her shopping cart away, and to vote (because I do).
Photo by Kelly Allison