Things We Don’t Talk About
with Renee Warren
My guest today is Renee Warren. Renee is a determined realist, a CrossFit athlete and she has been an entrepreneur since she was 17 years old and she opened and operated a restaurant for three years. She is a true serial entrepreneur. Having founded a communications company in 2008 she went on to co-found another agency in 2010 which she subsequently sold to her business partner before launching her previous agency Onboardly. She’s a certified Reiki practitioner, possibly the most organized and planned woman I have ever met, and she is on a mission to help over 1 million entrepreneur families gain more freedom in their lives through her programs at the Family Academy. There are some really great strategies she provides that we have implemented in our own family, including a weekly family meeting and it has made so much difference in how our weeks unfold.
Through all of this, Renee became a mother – twice – in 11 months. She made an international move with her husband, built a house and found herself caught up in feelings she did not expect by the depletion of new motherhood and what she came to understand was an undiagnosed postpartum mood disorder. What follows is a very candid conversation about her feelings around her first birth, realizing she was pregnant again very soon postpartum, and the moment she realized she needed to take steps to heal mentally, physically, and achieve better balance as a mother of young children with a driven personality.
What stood out to me were the parallels between our stories and how I underestimated my own need to heal and recover after my first baby was born and how much of those feelings I brought with me into my second pregnancy and birth while also building a business. It is as much a cautionary tale of learning to check in with your body and how you’re feeling both physically and mentally, how important it is to take time to recover after giving birth and how life events – planned and unplanned – compound to play a role in our mental wellbeing as much as it is a beacon to women who may be feeling the same way to realize you are not alone. A word of caution that there is sensitive subject matter and discussion around potential miscarriage that some may find triggering.
Renee began by telling her story.
Renee: Yeah, I remember when we found out we were pregnant with my first, his name is Max. We were actually living in San Francisco and we did our first two trimesters of prenatal care out in California and then we came back to Moncton and we’re surrounded by friends and family and an incredible community so we haven’t left.
April: Yeah. Did you wrap everything up in your lives or you just came back planning to have the baby?
Renee: Well, yes and no. We had built a house that we thought it was just going to be a seasonal home. And we were going to go back to California and we ended up staying because Max was not quite four months old when we found out that I was pregnant with Noah. So two boys, 11 months apart. We’re like, ‘We’re just going to like hunker down here for a bit’ and Moncton’s been great.
April: So you must’ve been feeling pretty good after the birth of your first baby.
Renee: Physically, yes.
April: Because I can tell you from my experience at four months, I was not interested in even thinking about the possibility or the things that lead to getting pregnant with a second baby.
Renee: I would like to say that it was through osmosis or immaculate conception. However, there were other plans. I know I was physically okay. Mentally is a whole other story. But having had them so close together when Noah was born, my second, I had still all of the hormones running through my body, right? Relaxin – you name it. So my body was just primed and ready to go to deliver this baby. And I joke how Noah just walked out of me and I could’ve rode my bike home that day. So the advantage of having them so close was that. But also the disadvantage was my body was still kind of recuperating from being pregnant. So there was one point – I can’t remember how far along I was, but we had just finished telling people that I was pregnant again. And it was like just at the phase where you can’t do up your normal pants. And I was at a grungy Tim Horton’s on Main Street in Moncton and it was like 8:30 in the morning. I was grabbing my decaf coffee and I’m standing there paying and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m peeing my pants and I can’t stop. It’s not stopping and there’s nothing I can do.’ And I was like, this is the type of place where you have to ask for the key to get into the bathroom. So I’m sitting there waiting. I say, ‘Hey, can I have the key for the bathroom?’ And she’s like, ‘You’re going to have to wait.’ So I’m sitting there waiting, waiting five, 10 minutes. Finally, the guy comes out with this gigantic silver soupspoon attached to this little key. I go into this disgusting bathroom. And as I sit down to go pee, I look at my pants and it’s just saturated in blood. And I’m actually surprised no one saw this to begin with. And I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m miscarrying this baby.’
And to backtrack a little bit after Max was born, my first, I was suffering from postpartum depression and I didn’t know it. So if anyone listening has experienced that too, you know, to go through that and then find out you’re pregnant again, it’s the last thing you want. And I couldn’t talk about this story for the longest time because I had friends who were challenged at conceiving kids, couldn’t have babies and all of these things, like I couldn’t talk about that. Like, I couldn’t even to this day, it’s difficult to have this conversation. And to me it’s like, it’s kind of not fair that they can sit on my couch and cry about, you know, not being able to conceive and I can’t cry about being over able to conceive. And being so depressed that for the first few months I was like, ‘I don’t, I don’t want to be pregnant again. This is the worst thing in the world.’ So there I am sitting in this grungy, Tim Horton’s covered in blood thinking, ‘Hallelujah. The Lord answered my call.’ Oh, now all of a sudden I was worried about my own health because it was a lot of blood. And so I called up my business partner at the time and she comes running in, like the office was across the street and she’s crying and she’s shaking and she’s like, ‘Oh my God. What do we do?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, but I feel fine. Like I physically feel fine, so I don’t know what do we do?’ So we go to the hospital, we’re there eight hours. And he came in and he goes, ‘Everything’s fine. The baby’s still okay.’ Like telling me this is all, this is the news that I wanted to hear. And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘No, no’, like, but again, can’t say this out loud. And I was like, ‘Oh, okay. Okay, great. So, so what’s next?’ And, and then he’s like, ‘Well, do you want to know what happened?’ And I was like, ‘I just like, can’t believe that the baby survived and all of this. But sure what happened?’ And apparently I just had a large hematoma. And it’s kind of normal and that, it’s like the battle of the womb versus the blood clot. And it got to the point where something was going to give either the blood clot or the baby and the baby won. So, okay, this little creature is giving itself a fighting chance I guess. So I’ll go through with this. And it was from that moment, you know, it took a couple of days to be okay with it, but I was like, ‘All right, we’re having this baby.’ And then I was in – I loved, I loved being pregnant with Noah – afterward.
April: Do you think that your reaction, the reaction you had, do you think you were maybe detached, like emotionally detached because of the depression?
Renee: From being pregnant again? I don’t know. Possibly also didn’t even know it was physically possible. I mean, the boys are 11 months and so I was like, ‘Wow, this is like, we’ve defied the odds for sure.’ But yeah, because all I think about was, ‘I don’t want to go through this again.’
So when Max was born, my sweet, sweet, sweet first baby boy and the nurse puts him on my chest and I remember just like staring at the ceiling, just like, I don’t know what I was doing, like praying or something that this kid was fine, normal and everything. And I was like, ‘I don’t know how I’m supposed to react to this right now?’ Because I see all these videos and I watched the movies and these women are beside themselves crying and like overflowing with joy. And I’m like, I didn’t have that emotion right after he was born. So I slowly looked down at him and I can see him and I’m like, ‘Okay, he’s got all of his fingers, his toes, everything’s there.’ And I’m like, ‘Wow, he’s got huge hands.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t even know how I’m supposed to be reacting right now.’ But all the nurses are staring at me. The doctors staring at me. Dan’s sitting in a chair next to be crying, whipping off his shirt, ready to cuddle the baby. And I’m like, ‘Ugh.’ And that was, that was the moment that I was depressed and I didn’t know, I thought I was just sleep deprived and like over anxious and excited. But, so we were there for a few days because he had jaundice. So no, we were there for three or four days and then we went home.
There was one little complication with Max. My water broke at 10:00 PM and he wasn’t delivered till 10:08 PM. So because of the 24 hour thing, they had to keep him in the NICU for the first night just to make sure he wasn’t infected. And again, like the moment they put them on my chest, I was like, ‘Okay, I know this is not the right feeling, but I’m just tired.’ And that night when they wheel me to my room, they’re like, ‘Max has to stay in the NICU.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s fine.’ And then they’re like, ‘Did you want me to come and get you for the first feeding?’ And I was like, ‘No, just let me sleep, feed him whatever you need to.’ Dan’s like, ‘Okay that wasn’t part of the birth plan but, but if that’s what you’re feeling now…’ Like, that’s 24 hours of active labour. Freaking exhausted. So I’m like, ‘No.’ And they’re like, ‘Okay, are you sure?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, I’m sure let me sleep.’ So I’m like, ‘Come back at, like, 7:00 AM!’ And then I got to go and see him. But I just, I couldn’t understand these emotions. I couldn’t talk about it for the longest time because everyone else was talking about how incredible everything was and they’re so connected to their child and life is beautiful. And I’m like, ‘Oh, I didn’t have that. Something’s wrong with me.’
April: I think it’s a normal range. It’s within the normal range. I had a similar experience when my second was born that I distinctly remember the day that I fell in love with him and he was probably five months old. Because mine, mine are not as close together as yours. Mine are 21 months. But I had a very traumatic first birth and then a very trying pregnancy with the second and then he was not the kind of baby that could be put down. He was very fussy. I learned many months later he had food allergies and he was reacting to things in my milk. But it took a really long time to get there. So he was a really cranky baby. And I also like, you’re so depleted after that first pregnancy and then the second one comes and then you’ve got two babies to look after. And I remember feeling a lot of guilt around that. Like, ‘How come? How come I don’t feel the things that they said that I’m going to feel and that I felt the first time?’ So I can only imagine how scary that would be for you with your first baby. Like, ‘this is not what they promised me.’ Because, I mean, they don’t give you the book.
Renee: No, they don’t give you the book at the hospital. It’s like, ‘Where’s the manual?’ But I remember when we got home that day, my parents were making their homemade spaghetti and meatballs and it, and it’s like the best food. And we put Max down close to, like it’s a summer day, so close to the sliding door and we’re kind of going in and out of the back. And he was fussing and I remember every single little noise that came out of his mouth, my anxiety went from my heart to my chest. And I was like, I’d get like panic attacks. They were just a little squeak and he’d be sleeping. I mean, most people would be like, ‘That’s so cute.’ And I’m like, [sharp inhale] and that persisted for three months! And so anytime people were like, ‘Can I hold him? I, I would say, ‘Yeah, take him. Don’t come back.’ They’d go, ‘Ha ha, that’s funny.’ I’m like, ‘No, I actually mean it.’ And now I can’t imagine – I could not imagine my life without those two little nuggets. Oh my gosh. So when Noah was born, the moment they put them on my chest, it was a totally different ball game. I was connected. It was like, like people asked to hold him. I’m like, ‘No, no, he’s mine.’ So different. And I remember it was, it was so like, I was so not wanting to let him go that after we got rolled into, like, the recovery room, we’re waiting for our room. My friend came to give me a coffee and I was holding him and I was drinking my coffee and like drops of coffee were like dripping onto his head and I was laughing and my friend was like, ‘So it’s a different story at this time?’ I said, ‘Absolutely it is.’ But yeah, it’s just – and the recovery for Noah was quick too.
April: I’ve often found that, or at least for my own, from my own experience, my biggest periods of personal growth have coincided with giving birth. Which again makes it really, really tough because you put all of these, you put all of these expectations on yourself. Like, ‘Okay, I’ve got this idea. I want to build this business, I need to do it now.’ But you’ve also got a human being who needs you twenty-four seven so it, yeah, I can definitely empathize and understand what that is like as I have lived it. And I also, you know, I have felt everything that you are, that you are describing.
Renee: Well now I’m realizing a lot of it’s normalized. There’s more women that are speaking out about it and I realized that a good friend is somebody who can be going through problems of not being able to conceive but then sit there and have space for me and understanding my journey too. So I’ve lost people. I’ve lost friends because I didn’t breastfeed long enough and all of a sudden it wasn’t, it didn’t fit their standards to have me within their circle. ‘She didn’t breastfeed until the kid was 19 years old.’ I’m sorry.
April: We don’t have, we need to shut that down. Women need to lift each other up. We don’t need that.
Renee: And when I look now, it’s like my breastfeeding journey is like any other woman’s. Mine wasn’t that long because I had to go back to work when both boys were five weeks old, Max was five weeks old. I was back to work, pregnant again, had Noah, then I was back to work when he was five weeks old. So I couldn’t breastfeed and it was a struggle. And there’s – I don’t want to say I have regrets, but now when I look at a woman who’s, who’s breastfeeding, I just think you, I think – you go girl, because, like, hands down that was the toughest thing I have ever had to do. I always said I would rather give birth a thousand times than to have to breastfeed. The struggle was insane. And so I think it’s the most beautiful thing. Like absolutely the most beautiful thing is watching a woman feed her child. And it maybe there was some regret in it that I didn’t do that long enough.
April: Well, I think when you have children really close together, you don’t have time to reflect until, you know, now your children are older, now you have time to reflect and you have time to integrate it. And I know for me, because my, my birth with my first was quite traumatic every year on her birthday – I didn’t realize it – but I would be triggered and I couldn’t enjoy the day cause I would remember the experience and I would have to write about it. I would journal it every single year. Like it’s, it’s the anniversary even though every year she was getting a year older and I was excited and we were having birthdays. But I also had this other side of, like, mourning and processing and all of these things because it didn’t go the way I thought it was going to go with a premature birth and a NICU stay and all of these things that happened that I did not see coming. And I also didn’t give myself time to recover from them. Because it was like, ‘All right, got to get to it.’ You know? ‘I have this business idea, I’ve got to get moving, I’ve got, you know, we’ve got student loans to pay for’…and we put so much pressure to get it all done.
Renee: And to make it look like it’s so easy.
April: And when I started out Mompreneur culture was just was just becoming, coming into existence. And so, yeah, doing it all and having it all, which I realize now comes out of – because I actually watched on Netflix – The Toys That Made Us, I don’t know if you’ve seen this series, but there’s a whole series of, or a whole episode on Barbie. And they talk about the messaging that the dolls had from decade to decade and the 80s were all about having it all, doing it all, needing no one being independent.
Renee: Yeah. It was all about girl power.
April: And we all internalized this message of you don’t need to ask for help. We can do it. We got this, we’ve got this. We could have a career and three children. No problem.
Renee: Yeah. Oh, I know. It’s crazy. And I remember, so when Max was born, because we were in the hospital for so long, Dan was closing sales calls, like he was closing deals and sales calls – and me too. And then after Max was born, it was like Dan was around for a bit, but he had a Startup to run, like he’d just raised a round for his, his Startup. He was like, gone – on airplanes – gone. And I have family in Moncton, but everyone else is having babies at the same time. So there was nobody. Nobody. And then Noah came along and it was the same thing. And so I launched my agency when I was eight months pregnant with Max, and then we quickly grew to having 12 employees and customers from South Africa to San Diego. And then we had Noah. So there’s the whole like birthing, recovering mentally, physically, but then there’s also the whole business and people relying on you to be there – customers, your teams – because you have to sign their pay cheques. And then, you know, I remember having, not that long ago, it was probably like two years ago, a call with my friend Emily and I was just stressed out about all this stuff. And she goes, ‘Oh, you know, it sounds like you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout.’ And I was like, ‘no, burnout is for people who work 80 hours a week. I come home at 4:15 every day.’ But then I realized that work doesn’t end when you have two little kids. It goes on until they go to bed. So I would get up work, do the kid thing, bring them to daycare, come home, work, do the mom thing, you know? And it’s just like, and then when they go to bed it’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to work some more.’ And when I realized that I wasn’t physically or mentally healthy and I was like, ‘This stuff needs to end today!’ I’m there in those, in that time, there were a couple things that happened that I knew I was burning out. One was – I guess you could all it a push present, but I hate that, I hate that term. Dan had purchased me, like bought me a really nice car and gave it to me like a month before Max was, was due. And at that time he also bought himself a new car. And our driveway wasn’t set up really for two cars, but I was hosting a retreat for our team. There was like four or five of us at the time. We’re doing an offsite weekend retreat to just like plan the marketing and stuff for the business.
I had to leave at 6:00 AM to go get stuff, get food, get coffee, check-in, get set up. And it was so early. I was so delusional – didn’t even know that I was pregnant at this time because I think I just, I was just pregnant with Noah. So you know, physical symptoms, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m just exhausted because I have a newborn.’ Max is finally sleeping through the night. I was backing out of the driveway looking forward and I just smashed right into his car. So his headlight ended up on a neighbour’s lawn. My car was pretty messed up and I’m like, ‘Wow’, like that…and that’s just one thing, like those, those things kept happening. They don’t – they don’t anymore…
April: No, I can relate to all of this. I had a similar experience – I had, I was picking my daughter up from daycare. I was probably six months pregnant with my second baby and I hit one of the, you know, the light posts in the parking lot. Backed right into it. Scraped the whole side of the car. And again, I remember, like, ‘I’m not fully present. I am not fully present.’
Renee: Another instance that, it was like the first couple of weeks that Noah was in daycare full time. No, I’m so thankful for my sister-in-law on that because she, it was her daycare so she was able to take the boys. So yeah, Max had just turned one. Noah was a couple of months old and I was dropping them off at daycare and getting back in the car to go to work and now go through, the drive through, and I get my usual like sugary buttery bagel and coffee and stuff I don’t, like, that stuff I don’t eat anymore. Yep. Lethargic, exhausted. Thinking about my day and I’m driving and I was like, ‘I forgot to do something.’ Anyway, pull into my parking spot at the office, go to reach for a bag in the back and I realize, ‘Oh, Noah’s still in the car.’
Like, this is the, these are the times when you hear about kids being stuck in vehicles. Because mama is so tired and I freak out. I was like, ‘Oh my God, how come daycare didn’t even say anything?’ Well, they didn’t know. They thought maybe he was sick. I didn’t mention a thing. They didn’t ask. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ So I go back and I drive him, I drop him off and they’re like, ‘Oh, you forgot a child?’ Like, ‘Yes.’ Oh my God, what am I doing to myself? This is crazy. And then it’s like those little things like, okay, need to start to create systems and processes because I’m not leaving my kid in the car again.
April: That…that would be extremely frightening. I would think that would be the moment where you’re like, ‘okay, something’s got to give.’
Renee: Yeah. And I started with nutrition. I started working out, drinking more water. I started with sleep habits. We, so now for the first two and a half, three months of, of Noah’s life, he didn’t sleep for more than like an hour to an hour and a half. He had reflux. And so you’d feed them and then it seemed like he would just spit up everything you’ve fed it and we needed to get sleep. And so we hired a night nanny and she came a couple nights a week. She’d show up at 9:00 PM and she’d leave 6:00 AM and we did that for a couple months and it saved our butts. Just knowing that those two nights a week I would get sleep and Dan would get sleep and Max would get sleep. So, yeah, I knew from that moment on things needed to change and they, it was a slow evolution. But today, you know, if I look back on like what I know now, there’s so many things I do differently.
April: Yes. Same, same, but at the same time I wouldn’t take it back because it has led me to this place. So I don’t know, when I think about it from my own perspective, I don’t know what kind of advice I could possibly offer to other women to prevent the burnout that I experienced from happening to them. Because if you feel like you are in a place where you just want to be driven, nothing is going to stop you. I had several people tell me, you know, ‘You’re doing too much, you’re taking on too much’, and I was like, ‘Don’t care. This is what I need to do right now.’ You could not have talked me out of it. So I don’t know if you, if you would say the same thing or if you, I don’t know. I can’t know to be honest with you.
Renee: There’s – I just don’t even remember those days. I remember those peak moments. But the day-to-day grind, I don’t, it’s a blur. In this time too, we were building a new house and we moved into a new house. So Noah was four days old when we showed up to a house that was four times bigger than the one that we were moving out of. And we had no furniture. I left our house, our old house, went into the hospital, had a baby, came out and then went into a new house.
April: Our stories are so similar. It’s so funny. Our house was sold while I was in the hospital with the third baby. We moved at four weeks. So we, you know, we had a few more days but I had to leave the house with a four day old for showings. I remember thinking, ‘Why are we, why are we doing…’
Renee: So before we left our old house, my mom was in town, thank God. She’s an angel, she packed up our old house, everything. She packed everything. Because there was only so much I could do. I felt good like, but I couldn’t lift heavy things, like, and we had Max and businesses. Like I just look at it now and I think, wow. Like all those things that we would, we did, like travel. And I can’t say that I’d take anything back because you’re right, it being like a huge lesson learned. But there are some things I probably wouldn’t suggest people do – like move when you have a four day old.
April: And four weeks is no better but, but that’s how life goes sometimes. That’s just how it goes.
Renee: Yeah. I know it’s important too because, like, the business advice I give to first time female entrepreneurs is just be consistent. Consistency is key because you’re not going to get that overnight success. You’re not going to have like a million followers on Instagram or $1 million in the bank. It’s just keep at it. Pick away every single day. You’ve got to show up when you don’t want to be there.
April: How do you think you could get the message through to women that it’s okay to take care of themselves? Because I know that was my downfall. I didn’t think I deserved to be taken care of or to take care of myself. I had all of these other things that needed me more than I needed me – to my own detriment.
Renee: Well, you can only give from your overflow. And I know people have put your oxygen tank on – mask on – first. And that metaphor has to die because I don’t think that’s it for women. Because essentially you’re like, you don’t have to save yourself before you save somebody else. It’s just that you need you time. Find the thing that re-energizes you.
April: The overarching theme that I think is coming out of the conversations I’m having with women in this, you know, in this environment of doing this podcast, is that we’ve lost our ability to connect with our own selves to know what it is we actually need and what our values are.
Renee: And I work with entrepreneur families and so when I look at the hierarchy of needs of who needs to be served first, it goes the opposite of what most women would agree. And they’re like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no.’ But it really goes like this: take care of yourself first. Your relationship with your significant other first – er, second – and then your kids third. And they’re like, ‘No, that can’t be my kid needs me first.’ It’s like, if you aren’t good, nobody else is good. When they say mom is happy, everyone’s happy is so true.
April: It is so true. And it is so hard. It’s so hard to internalize that.
Renee: Yeah, yeah. So Ellen Galinsky, who is the head of Families and Work Institute, did a study of over a thousand families and she asked one question to the kids: if you are granted one wish of your parents, what would it be? And most people assumed, ‘Oh, I want more time with my parents or I want more toys.’ But the overall results were the kids said that they wanted mom to be less stressed and more relaxed. That was the biggest gift.
April: That hits where it hurts.
Renee: Yeah. And that’s, those are, stats, like, that’s real research. And I think about it as like, yeah, if you could take away all of your kids’ toys, yes, they’d be mad at you. But imagine you replaced that, the equivalent, with the time you have, or you just being more relaxed and more fun and more chill, like that’s learned.
April: What has been the number one thing that you’ve done for yourself to, to bring balance to you?
Renee: Oh God. The number one thing. It’s probably the toughest thing, but for me, I think the foundation for any happy, productive life is a good sleep habits. So what do I need to do to get a good night’s sleep? That’s when you work backwards. It’s proper hydration. It’s proper nutrition. It’s exercise, it’s community, it’s conversation. It’s like all of these things that build on top of each other to have a good night’s sleep. I think that’s where it starts.
April: I think that’s great advice. Thank you.
A huge thank you to Renee for joining me today and for being so candid with her story. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mood disorder, please don’t suffer in silence and reach out to a trusted and qualified healthcare provider. Links and show notes are available at podcast.anointment.ca. Please subscribe to Ripple Effect wherever you enjoy your media. You can find Ripple Effect on iTunes, GooglePlay, Stitcher, and Spotify. I’m your host, April MacKinnon. Join us again for future episodes. It’s been such a pleasure being with you today.
Sponsored by Anointment Natural Skin Care
This episode is brought to you by Anointment Natural Skin Care. Put your best face forward with award-winning natural skin care products made with intentionally chosen certified organic ingredients and herbal formulations for your whole family. Shop now at anointment.ca and save 15% with code RIPPLEEFFECT at check out.