I want to lead a movement that dares mamas to do motherhood differently. That inspires them to prioritize themselves. And that invites them to make motherhood work on their own terms.
But I never want my voice to be the only one you hear from. That’s because I believe each one of us needs to seek inspiration, advice, ideas and support from many mothers who’ve traveled the path before us – or who are also in the thick of early motherhood right now.
So in this new monthly interview series, Thoughts on Motherhood, I’m growing our community by sharing conversations with mothers you need to meet. These women are finding a balance that works for them. They recognize how important it is to practice great self-care so they can better manage the many demands of motherhood. They are living proof that you can dare to do motherhood differently and go after your dreams NOW instead of waiting for the “right time” to come.
And they want to share their wisdom, their wins and, yes, even their mistakes with you so you can learn from them.
Today I have the honor of sharing a deep and insightful conversation with women’s leadership coach Sarah Kaler. Sarah has always known two things: she wanted to make an impact in the world and she was going to be a mom. Then in her mid-20s, while she was climbing the corporate ladder, she faced a significant health crisis that put both goals in jeopardy. Over the next few years, she fought to get control of her health so she could start trying to have a baby; when her doctors finally gave her the green light, she got pregnant with her son Jackson.
We’ll pick up her story there as Sarah shares how she overcame her challenges as a new mother so she could make the kind of impact she desired professionally and be a present mom at home.
When you first became a mother, what challenges did you face and how did you manage them?
Well I had some of the biggest challenges of my life after my son Jackson was born. I got through my pregnancy and had a really healthy pregnancy. Everyone around me celebrated that. And yet, five weeks after Jackson was born, I had six grand mal seizures in one week. It was a really, really awful week as anyone could imagine. And that was it for me – it was a deal breaker of a week that showed me that my life and my lifestyle had to start changing.
Part of what happened was that the two things I’d always known – that I wanted to be a present mother and that I wanted to make an impact on the world – just flashed before my eyes. As I was being carried on a stretcher out of my house and past my sister holding my 5-week-old baby, I was waking up from being unconscious. And in that moment, I had this passing thought about how unavailable I was for everything in my life including the most important things.
That was rock bottom for me in a lot of ways. Spending those nights in the hospital being tested and scanned and being away from my baby was beyond difficult. That week made me realize a lot about what I was unavailable for but also what the road ahead was going to look like.
In that moment, what did you realize needed to change?
After my husband brought me home from the hospital, my mom moved in to help. That felt like the whole thing had gotten a little crazy because I’ve always done it all. I’ve been the high performer and I haven’t asked for help or support. If I failed, I’d dust myself off and get back to it.
But in that moment I couldn’t control the situation. My body was reacting and needing something from me that I could not intellectualize my way out of. And my family and baby needed something from me that I couldn’t just perform my way through in the way that I previously had. I actually had to start showing up in a new way and I had to start accepting support.
I was at my rock bottom having to surrender to something that felt like a form of failure. I believed in my heart that I should be able to do this and be there for my husband and my baby and, in a few more weeks, my job. But really I was a total mess.
This is so important for moms to hear because so many of us struggle to receive help and support. How did you learn to do it?
I had to surrender to receiving help and support – not just from my parents – but also from my husband and a multitude of people who could help me move forward and get the information and the day-to-day support I needed to take care of myself and my family.
I’ve also had to work at it. In that moment, it was so uncomfortable for me because I thought I should be capable because of the pressure I put on myself to deliver and have it all together and get it all done. And to be honest, any time in my life that I’ve put my mind to something, I’ve been able to do it – even if it’s been hard as hell or there have been obstacles. This was something that I couldn’t do and that felt so uncomfortable to me that I felt out of control. I had to sit in that feeling of total and complete discomfort and vulnerability. I had no choice but to surrender because my only other option was to put my life on the line and for me, it wasn’t an option.
What would you say to a mother who isn’t facing such a black and white situation? What’s the benefit of surrendering to receiving help and support?
It’s everything. I mean, what’s the cost to you and your family of not receiving support? That’s my question. You could look at it on so many different levels. Think about what’s important to you and what you value. It might be your relationships, your family, your physical space, your finances, your health or your spirituality – it could be anything. If you aren’t getting support, I guarantee that you are settling in some area or pretending to be ok with the state of some area in your life that otherwise could be thriving.
Did you face other challenges as a new mom?
Yes, going back to work. Because I had those two drives, I knew I would never be a stay-at-home mom. Did that mean I had a certain desire and also commitment level to what being a mom looks like? Absolutely. And that’s part of what made my early weeks of motherhood so difficult and painful and challenging.
When I went back to work, I had to get really clear about the quality of Jackson’s early care and about defining when I would get time with him and how I would take care of myself while I was at work. At work, I got to go back to the Sarah I knew before I had my baby and come back to my strengths, my gifts and my talents. And yet, there was this whole new level and new component to my family that demanded I show up in a way I’d never experienced before.
That required a big adjustment so I actually changed roles in the company and we moved when Jackson was only 5 months old. People think it was crazy and on one level it was crazy. But what it allowed me to do was have a job in an office where I didn’t have to fly or commute. I knew I had to get out of airports and had to start creating boundaries because I was a working mother and was very active in my work. I knew I needed my mornings and weekends and evenings with my family and that I wanted my baby home with a nanny or my husband. And I wanted that nanny to be part of our family. I got very clear on that early.
What I love about your story is that you got really clear on what you wanted your life to look like before you made a single change.
I got crystal clear and then I made a bold move and I took a risk. I’m kind of like that. I don’t really do anything half-assed. So as soon as I found myself weeping at the gate of an airport while saying goodbye to my family, I decided that if it was this painful, I wasn’t going to do it again. It didn’t feel natural to me.
There is definitely a process when a woman goes back to work or her business that is very normal. And yet, for me, something was off and I could feel it. It wasn’t just my normal process or me healing from everything I’d gone through post-labor. It was also the fact that my current life still needed some massive change and I had to get in the driver seat to create it. There was no rescue ship coming. No one was going to create that life for me.
You mentioned how going back to work let you engage with the old Sarah. Is that the main way you connected with the woman you were before you had Jackson?
It was the main way but what I realized after having Jackson was that the “old Sarah” didn’t really exist anymore. The more accurate thing was to say that I was evolving and that was a big realization for me.
Parts of me wanted to impact the world and contribute and be with peers and likeminded women who were up to big things in my industry. But I could also see that my desires were evolving and that how I made my impact and what I focused on had to be worth it. In order for me to spend my whole day away from my family and be putting this much energy and effort into something, it had to be the right thing. It had to be the work I care about more than anything and what I’m creating in the world had to create a better place for the world and for Jackson.
Was that the point you started your coaching business, Soulpowered?
I had Jackson in 2011 and I had a part time coaching business as early as 2008. During Jackson’s first year, I stayed really focused [at work] but everything in my corporate career, whether I was conscious of it or not, was moving me toward the work I do now. I focused on developing myself as much as possible so that I could develop the people around me and develop the most dynamic programing for those people. So I took on multiple coaching certifications in the years after Jackson was born. I didn’t have in my mind that I was going to leave the company at a certain date but part of my vision for the future was owning my own company again.
You took on a lot while Jackson was still in diapers. How did you manage to commit to your health and self-care during that time?
The truth was that sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t. But I’d be at risk of crashing and burning if I didn’t consistently revisit and renew my commitment to myself or my family or my work. And my number one commitment is being healthy because I’ve got to show up for my growing boy and a lot of people in my world every day. Without the fuel to do so, I’m not present for any of it.
So it’s a practice. Self-care is not something you master and then you are done. It isn’t something you just check off and say ok I got it and I’m good for the rest of my life. You don’t master your nutrition or your health or your sleep or your personal development. You never really cross the finish line.
You decided to create the life you desired when Jackson was very young instead of waiting for the “right time” to come. What would you say to moms who are considering making a big leap or a big change but think they should wait?
Don’t wait. What are you really waiting for? There’s no perfect moment coming. The thing is whether it’s our kids or whether it is another external factor that’s creating extra stress or impacting our available time, there is always something. But that’s life. Life is never going to clear out six months of time to do whatever it is that you want to do. It just doesn’t work that way.
It’s like when we say we are going to start working out on Monday and then Monday comes and we decide next week would be better. It’s really about deciding what you want. I like to boil it down to two things: what do you want and why are you here? And if you answer those two questions honestly, there shouldn’t be much that you’d be waiting for.
Moms talk a lot about trying to find balance in their lives. Is that even possible? And have you found it in yours?
I think balance is different for everyone and I do believe it’s possible to have it in your life. I think it’s about something you said earlier about having total clarity. It’s about knowing what you want your life to look and feel like and knowing what your priorities and values and vision are for your family, your career and your health. It’s about knowing how and where you spend your time. It’s really important to have that clarity because without it you start to function in a default mode.
Saying that balance doesn’t exist is accepting that it doesn’t exist and I believe you can create anything you want. It’s about defining what that looks like for you and committing to creating it. It doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges or obstacles along the way. But it does mean you get to define what balance looks like for you or how it feels to you. No one else gets to make up that definition for you.
Thank you Sarah for sharing all your wisdom today. If moms want to learn more about you or your work, where can they find you?