Finding Your Spark: Blogging, Motherhood, And Feeling Whole

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

I decided to start the "Finding Your Spark" series to shine a light on different types of people who are following various paths – their OWN paths, whatever those may be. The whole idea is that there's no single way to live life and a person doesn't have to be "famous" to inspire others. These individuals have found what inspires them, motivates them, makes them happy. And they've run with it.

Find other posts in this series here.

I met Melissa in college and could tell immediately that she's a sweet, kindhearted, loving person. We had a couple of classes together here and there, and eventually ended up working together on our university's newspaper, where I learned that she was also very hardworking and supportive.

Since graduating college in the spring of 2015, a lot has happened in her life. She married her boyfriend of nine years, had a daughter, started her own parenting blog called Halfway 2 Whole, started working full-time, and is now pregnant with her second child.

I knew I wanted to interview Melissa because not only is she a young mom – and KILLIN' it – but she's also balancing her job and her own blog, so I was excited to hear more about her journey. (And considering I unknowingly emailed her just a few weeks before her wedding and she still agreed to the interview, I think we can agree that she is a saint.)

During our chat, we talked about depression, anxiety, feeling whole, blogging, motherhood, jumping back into the working world, and how the sun will always rise the next morning.

*     *     *

What is the meaning behind your blog's name, "Halfway 2 Whole"?

I first began my blog with the intention to dedicate myself to achieving goals, and through writing, I'd hold myself accountable. I've always been extremely goal-oriented, and part of me believed that by accomplishing them (whether they be fitness-, mental-, or writing-related), I would gain a new sense of self-worth, leading to my personal sense of "wholeness."  Hence, at the launch of my blog, I was only "halfway" to "whole."

Prior to graduation and finding out I was pregnant, I had been suffering the worst depression of my life and battling anxiety. Because of that, I did not believe I was really capable of doing anything important.

The depression began my junior year of college and continued for the remainder of my time there. I dropped classes, jeopardized my GPA, lied to people I loved, quit the only job I truly was passionate about...  I was in a bad place. 

I did not feel whole. I felt far from it.

And it had nothing to do with any of the people I love, because according to all of them, no one had a single clue what I had been going through. It was simply the effect of stress, poor family health and a lot of loss surrounding me that I believed caused my depression.

I'm sorry to hear that. Has running your blog and/or being a mother helped you toward your sense of "wholeness," as you put it? 

It's funny... and a little difficult to answer.

Being a mom comes with good days, bad days, excellent days and WTF-this-is-totally-not-what-I-expected days. So, in a nutshell, being Alaina's mother (and Marco's wife) has completely filled me with wholeness. I have purpose now. Someone relies on my existence. The fact that my body gave her life, provided her food and nutrition, and sustained her life – THAT'S wholeness. I may have a funny way of perceiving it, but following depression, having this sense of being needed has, yes, entirely contributed to my self confidence and security.

In the same sense, however, being a mom means focusing a little too much on the bad days and less on the good days, and probably only because we want so badly to succeed at it. It's easy to become overwhelmed, and parenting helps you discover your greatest weaknesses. It tests you on every level, and every day, you're left reflecting on what you could have done better. As a result, every day you're given a new chance, and you learn a little (or well, a lot) along the way.

I can't say the same for my blog because I don't feel nearly as attached to it, but I do have a good feeling that someday it will also contribute to my happiness. (Notice I've replaced "wholeness" for "happiness.")

I have everything I need in life, and I'm done with destination happiness. I can finally admit, I am already whole.

What made you want to start your blog?

I've always known in my heart I wanted to manage a parenting blog, but I wasn't yet a mother, and at the time had no plans of conceiving any time soon.

Then, in April 2015, just weeks after the blog's creation, life sent us a huge surprise – we were going to be parents! I knew I had to redirect my purpose to helping new moms like myself with the scary, unpredictable journey of parenthood.

What made you so sure that running a parenting blog was something you wanted to do, even before you were a parent?

If you asked me what I wanted to be at 3 years old or 13 years old or 16 or 21, my answer would be the same every single time: "I want to be a mother."

Marco and I have been together since 14 years old, and we agreed on wanting children from the start. I compare the feeling to falling in love. You just know when the person you're with is the right person, right? Well I just knew I was ready to be a parent.

It was the only thought during my depression that pushed me toward a sense of hope. Normally, I wouldn't suggest having a child as a way to solve any problem, but I'm fortunate enough to say that for me, Alaina was my solution.

What were a few of your initial goals with your blog? Have they changed?

My goals haven't changed, but I have modified them from long-term to short-term, which I think was a really smart thing to do. 

For instance, my number 1 goal was to make a business out of my blog. Still a goal? Absolutely, but I've narrowed it down to something more attainable. Instead, I've decided to first focus on the components of what makes a business successful (e.g. staying true to mission, vision, voice, engagement, cohesiveness, etc.) I've found that taking small steps in the right direction is more effective than trying to leap all at once.

Another goal I have is to make health a priority in my life. That one I don't think will ever change.  

Another big goal, and I'll end on this one, is to take my obsession for stationery and planners and create my own. To do this, I first needed a background in graphic design and so I opened an Etsy store called MissyRoDesigns selling home digital decor. A few months after that, I finally got my hands on Adobe InDesign, and I'm proud to say my first planner is currently in the design process and going well. I hope to eventually print it for my own personal use, and maybe even to sell.

How does your blog's progress compare to what you expected? Is the content what you thought it would be? How has the reception from your audience been?

I predicted fast growth and high response in a small period of time due to my personal connection with a full-time professional blogger making $300,000 annually. With his tips, advice and guidance, I expected to gain an engaged audience quickly and without much effort, if I'm being honest. However, the reality has been that most of my posts don't get read, and when they do, they receive little to no feedback.

I had one post that meant a lot to me – one in which I tried to be as translucent, raw and honest as I possibly could. It was called "Expecting Your First Baby?  This Article is for You." I shared it on my blog's Instagram account, and within an hour of posting, I was notified by WordPress that my stats were booming. Within 24 hours, it had been read by over 1,000 people, including one reality TV star, Dorinda Medley (a Real Housewife of New York), who also happened to like it on Instagram.

That type of response motivated me because I felt my content finally got the reach I wanted it to, and because it did more than entertain – it helped!

I went to bed that night feeling inspired and ready to really take off with my blog. Unfortunately, that never happened. Instead, I got a job, took on more responsibility in sales, and eventually realized it had been weeks since even logging onto my blog. 

What would you have done differently, if anything, in starting and developing your blog?

I would have focused less on the appearance of my site and more on producing strong content.

One way I would have done this would be by creating a Google Calendar of post ideas as well as a reasonable time schedule of when to produce, edit and eventually post my articles.

I also would have probably created more freebies to encourage new readers.

You recently started the transition from stay-at-home mom to making your way back into the working world. How's that going? What's been the most difficult part?

I was a stay-at-home mom for nine months. I felt defined by my role as a mother because I had no other role to jump in and out of. I was no longer a student or an employee, and that was extremely hard for me to deal with. Like I've said before, I like to feel accomplished and productive, but by staying home all day every day, I felt no such way. I became depressed, insecure, and distant.

Thankfully, I gained back a lot of my confidence the minute I left for my first day of work, and I've continued to find happiness in making my own money and being able to contribute to my family.

The only difficult part is trying to find flexibility in my job for the times I'm needed at home, which is pretty often. Being a mother to a baby means being on call for the most important job of your life 100 percent of the time, and whether or not leaving work seems justifiable to anyone else, it is. It always is when it comes to the health of your child.  

As someone who is balancing work, motherhood, and running her own blog, how the heck do you do it?

I don't do it nearly as comfortably as I'd like. There are days I wish I could fall asleep at my desk or nights I put my baby down 30 minutes before her bedtime just because I need some time alone. Sometimes I go to sleep without taking a shower, and sleep in too late the next morning to where a shower isn't possible anymore. I eat a lot of frozen pizzas. I barely fix my hair, and I rarely have it together. Trying to manage everything certainly does require balance, and I imagine I appear as balanced as the Leaning Tower of Pisa most days.

BUT I'm learning that's what will make me stronger. Sometimes the blog waits, and sometimes the dishes do. But what I always can count on is that the sun will rise the next morning and I'll still be a mommy to the most important person in my life. I guess it's her energy and the desire I have to make her proud that keeps me from throwing in the towel.

What goals do you have moving forward?

My goal moving forward is to kick myself in the butt and really treat my blog as another job... maybe even my career, since that's my ultimate goal.

I plan to create more content with a blend of parenting and pregnancy posts.  I hope that now experiencing this for a second time, I can add value to my content by showing readers they can trust me.

I also plan to approach my blog differently. Before, I only posted content that served for the reader, which is great, but I think I can do better. Perhaps posting personal stories and opinions will gain a larger reach.  

What is your biggest piece of advice for young or new moms?

The biggest piece of advice I can share for new moms is to take deep breaths, close your eyes, and remember where your biggest source of support is.

For me, and I bet for a lot of you, it will be your spouse. Try not to neglect him, try hard to accept and lend affection when you need it, and most importantly, try to understand that he is going through this with you. He, of all people, gets it. Use him as your backbone during challenging nights, and use him as your outlet to share all the precious moments, knowing someone will cherish them just as much as you. 

If you don't have a husband or wife or partner at your side, find a close family member or friend who supports you unconditionally. If you're doing this all alone, there are tons of mommy support groups you can find online or even locally at churches and hospitals.

But above it all, please remember this bit of advice:  You are the absolute best thing for your child.

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