Happy Monday, mamas! I'm so excited to introduce this week's #MamaNextDoor Jessica (Zyla) Owusu-Afriyie. Jessica is a mom to two girls, a wife and the founder of Suite Creative Studio where she offers fashion design, development and production services and helping designers to bring their ideas to the market. Jessica and I met in Chicago when I was trying to launch MLM Brand a few years ago and looking for fashion consulting advice. She's the women behind our technical designs and patterns. Although we have worked together for a few years now, most of our conversions have been focused around the brand and new designs. Needless to say, I was very excited when Jessica agreed to be featured on the blog and give us a glimpse into her motherhood journey. I hope you'll love reading her honest, thoughtful insights on becoming a mother, achieving major career goals, and publishing a coloring book Leadership Looks Like Me — all while raising her daughters.
Tell me a bit about yourself before you became a mother, and how did you change after becoming a mother?
Honestly, I did not grow up dreaming of becoming a mother. I was passionate about my career and paving my way to what I thought would signify success. Work life balance did not exist for me. My workday often continued into the next morning hours in order to meet deadlines or out of necessity from working on a team that should have been double in size.
I liked to play as hard as I worked. Travel was (and still is) so important to me. Exploring new countries and regions of the world is what really invigorates me. I traveled a ton for work and for pleasure. Spontaneous happy hour with friends were my norm. I worked out consistently to feel strong both physically and mentally.
Things changed a couple years after my husband, and I got married. All of a sudden, I felt like I really wanted to have kids. Thankfully, my husband was on board. At the time, we were training for the New York City marathon. I got pregnant with my first daughter a couple weeks after completing that race.
Like many things I throw myself into, I had no idea how becoming a parent would change my life. I am, after all, the same person now as I was then. However, there are both subtle and extreme changes that have happened that have moved me forward as a woman. I think many people fear that they will not be able to continue their childfree lifestyle in parenthood. For me, as a mother, I no longer wanted to. I felt an immediate priority shift after becoming a mom.
Since becoming a mother, I have achieved some of my most major career goals. I became a business owner after becoming a mom. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time. Suddenly, it made the most sense to pursue. I was fortunate enough to have the support of my husband to take the risk in building my own company, Suite Creative Studio. Now, while I work a ton, I feel so good about the work I do. It has allowed me to build fashion brands that I feel great about!
I also published a book this past year. For many years, I dreamed of publishing a book about diversity, inclusion and empowerment for young girls. However, I fell short of a clear picture of the best point of view and execution. This past summer, inspiration struck. I illustrated an empowering coloring book, in partnership with my good friend and fellow fashion designer, called Leadership Looks Like Me – Kamala Harris Edition.
We pulled it together in just over a month in order to launch it ahead of the Presidential Debates. These days, I’m usually in bed very early. Working on this book had me so inspired and invigorated that I happily went back to my computer after long workdays and tiring bedtime routines to map out the concept and sketch each graphic until we had a final product that we were proud of.
What does your absolute dream version of motherhood look like?
My dream version of motherhood is me showing up every moment with the patience required to deal with small children and big emotions, the energy to play until the sun goes down, the creativity to keep things interesting, and the planning skills to be able to execute family photos in time for holiday card sending. This version would include raising strong, confident, smart, independent women that go on to truly leave the world better than how they found it.
So far, I am making my way towards this version in real life with the inevitable failures here and there.
What societal or cultural messages about motherhood frustrate you and how would you like to see them changed?
There are so many. Let me start with these.
- You should be able to “do it all”. I firmly believe I can do it all. However, I can’t do it all at the same time (one reason I love daycare). At times, motherhood has forced me to put other things on the back burner for the time being. That is ok. Our lives are made up of so many seasons. We are made to feel like we should be able to do everything at every moment and it is just not realistic. I wish that we celebrated the slowdowns in life more so we could approach them with the compassion and appreciation they deserve.
- “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” I mean, seriously, who came up with this? I have yet to meet anyone that was able to achieve this phenomenon.
What do you do well? What really works for you? Do you have a secret? Your mom superpower?
My husband and I have a friendly competition of who brings the most fun to the family. I feel that I win that category hands down! *Wink, wink.
I have learned that when I am at my best, I am the best for my kids and my husband. Making time to take care of myself is not always easy. I am currently on a pretty bad streak of it, actually. However, it is something I constantly strive to do for the collective benefit of my family.
My superpower though is my excellent nacho-making skills. They are practically famous. *Hint: every chip must have the right proportion of each ingredient.
How do you take care of yourself? How do you deal with mom guilt?
When I can, I take a bath for as long as I want with music, low lights and some sort of face mask. I work out as regularly as I can. Owning a business, having two kids, a husband and a pandemic has made that pretty infrequent this year, but I am focusing on getting back into the groove.
Mom guilt is not a concept I subscribe to. This term is really overused, in my opinion. We are all on our own path. We were all raised in different situations, whether due to culture, era, financial circumstances, or parental personalities. I do not believe there is one right way to be a great parent.
I mean, as a mom, what should I feel guilty for? I show up every day the best I can. Somedays that is better than others. I work hard and I work a lot. Because of that I have less time during the week with my kids than if I stayed home with them. I do not feel even a little bit guilty about that. My children are seeing me continue my life even in motherhood. They see me running a business, building other people’s businesses, and creating the life that I want to live. On top of that, I shower them with love and affection. I believe us women need to give ourselves the space to have needs (and breaking points) even in motherhood.
That said, I have had guilt about being a mom. Both my sisters wanted nothing more than to have children since they were young. Both struggled with infertility for many years. Somehow, I was the opposite. I never had to try to get pregnant. My oldest sister is 23 years older than me. She was finally able to have her miracle baby who is now an adult. Telling my other sister that I was pregnant with my first daughter was bittersweet. She was in the thick of her own fertility struggle at the time. I felt that my pregnancy hurt her in a way, which was really hard to stomach. I left a prenatal appointment when I was about 7 months along only to hear that her latest round of IVF failed. On my way home, I remember breaking down on the corner in downtown Chicago. The weight of it all rushed over me. That moment challenged me in a way I could not anticipate.
When I got pregnant with my second daughter, my sister had found out she had a successful transfer about a week prior. Honestly, ours was not planned. When I found out I was pregnant again, my heart sank. I could not fathom coming home with another baby if my sister did not come home with hers. It took me a long time to come to terms with the situation and all of the possibilities. In the end, it was the coolest experience to be pregnant together. We could not have planned it if we tried. Our daughters were born 10 days apart. It was amazing.
To all of the moms who do anything it takes to become a parent; I salute you. You are the strongest beings on the planet, and you are not alone.
What’s a topic related to motherhood, or life after becoming a mother, that you wish we talked about more?
Parenthood is an emotional rollercoaster. I do not think there is anything that can prepare a new mother for what she will go through emotionally postpartum and beyond. Postpartum mental health check-ups should be as routine as prenatal visits. I am not talking about the questionnaire in the pediatrician’s office that you have to fill out. I believe moms should have regular appointments with a therapist or mental health professional in postpartum.
Even if a woman cannot be diagnosed with postpartum depression, they are likely struggling with the changes that happen to mind and body. As a culture, we are not accustomed to talking about that. There is so much focus on the mother when she is carrying a baby. Then, almost instantly, she is mostly forgotten about once the baby is born. She is expected to handle the hormonal adjustments, the grueling physical recovery, the taxing nature of breastfeeding, and the exhaustion that comes with sleep deprivation without any professional aid. The disparity of care is astonishing.