Emma Saloranta Winiecki of The Mom Pod on Global Motherhood
You look amazing in your Elif Dress!
I absolutely love the Elif dress. It’s flattering, stylish, I feel beautiful in it - and most importantly, it makes breastfeeding easy anytime, anywhere. So many nursing clothes just don’t look that good when you wear them, even though they may be functional for breastfeeding purposes. As a mother who works full-time but also continues to nurse, I really love having something I can put on in the morning, and when I pick up my son from daycare after work, I can nurse him immediately without having to worry about a wardrobe change.
I heard about Mitera from another working mama friend, who you’ll also know very well - Annabella Daily! I saw her in the Katie dress in one of her pictures on Instagram, and thought it looked very stylish and chic - so I went on your website, and just fell in love with the whole collection!
You are the co-founder and co-host of The Mom Pod. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
My colleague Julia Wiklander and I both became mothers in late 2014 just a couple months apart, and since being pregnant we had this idea of a podcast focusing on all aspects of pregnancy and motherhood, with a global angle. We wanted to explore the different ways women experience pregnancy, birth and motherhood in different parts of the world - but also highlight the similarities between us, the things that unite us across countries, cultures, borders and religions. It’s so easy to get stuck on the things we disagree on, but we really wanted to create a judgement-free space for mothers, fathers and other caregivers to come and share their stories, their fears, their happy moments, without the fear of being criticized.
The Mom Pod is a podcast produced by Girls’ Globe, which is a global network of individuals and organizations promoting the rights, health and empowerment of women and girls. We launched the podcast in January of this year, and since then have produced 11 episodes and a Mother’s Day Special. Our episodes have touched upon a variety of topics related to pregnancy, birth and motherhood around the world, such as the impact of the Zika virus on pregnancy, breastfeeding around the world, the state of maternal health globally, the Finnish maternity package which is also referred to as the “Baby Box”, role of midwives in maternal health and safe birth and maternal health in Tanzania. Our episodes have been listened to nearly 1,800 times from over 30 countries around the world!
What is your background? Will you share with us your journey of arriving at where you are today?
I’m originally from Finland, where I spent most of my life until the age of 25. When I was 22, I was studying social work in a Bachelor’s Program, and went to Kenya for an internship. I met a guy from the U.S., and we got into a thing that was supposed to be just a light no-strings-attached romance while I was there. Well, that was almost ten years ago, and we’re now married with a kid. So much for ‘no strings attached’!
We moved to New York in 2009, where I enrolled in a Master of International Affairs program, after which I’ve spent most of my career focusing on gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights around the world working, for example, for UNICEF in their Gender Section. During a year when my husband and I were living in India I came across Girls’ Globe online, really liked how they were raising awareness about issues relevant to girls’ and women’s rights and well-being, and I joined the network as a blogger. Along the years I took on a larger role, and eventually became the organization’s Communications Director. Since January, I’ve also been co-producing and co-hosting The Mom Pod with Julia.
The last two years have been full of big changes for me and my family. Our son Lucas was born in the Fall of 2014 in Brooklyn, where we had been living for many years. When Lucas was about a year, our whole family moved to Tanzania to a city called Arusha because of a great job opportunity my husband was offered there. We lived there for a year and really enjoyed it - Tanzania is a gorgeous country, and a very family- and child-friendly society. It was also great for my work with Girls’ Globe and The Mom Pod, which I can carry out anywhere in the world. In August this year, for the first time since 2009, we moved back to Finland, and now reside in Helsinki. I have also taken on a new position at a global organization called Plan International, in the Finnish National Office, as the Global ICT4D Coordinator. ICT4D means ‘Information and Communication Technologies for Development’, so I get to spend my days focusing on really innovative, interesting and exciting projects that utilize some form of technology to protect and realize child rights, especially girls’ rights, around the world. I also continue my work with The Mom Pod, and have remained involved with Girls’ Globe as well.
What inspires you creatively? What are your other passions outside of motherhood?
Becoming a mother influences my work every single day. The topics I work with - gender equality, human rights and child rights - are topics I feel strongly about, and having a child of my own has only strengthened my commitment to these issues. I’m lucky to get to work with some really talented, passionate and inspirational people in my daily work, particularly through Girls’ Globe. The young girls and women, as well as the grassroots organizations I’ve been privileged to work with, are the real changemakers and drivers of development and social justice who are building a better future for all of us. Women and girls around the world are creating change with very limited resources, working and living in societies that have tried to push them down and silence them their entire lives, telling them their lives matter less - but they refuse to be silenced, and they refuse to be pushed aside, disregarded, discriminated. I cannot imagine anything more inspiring than that.
Motherhood is a big part of who I am, and influences everything I do - but it is not my entire identity. I love my work, I love my career, and I firmly believe I can be a good, loving, committed and present mother - while also holding on to the other side of my life, the side outside of being a mother. Yes, I’ve had to make compromises, I’ve had to let things go, I’ve had to make adjustments and settle for less and sometimes even deal with disappointments - but I believe things find their own path and pace, when you open up for new possibilities and allow yourself to look outside your comfort zone, let yourself do things a bit differently. Never try to fit into someone else’s mold of what a good working mother looks like - make your own, one that is perfect for you and your own family.
You gave birth to your gorgeous son two years ago. Tell us a little bit about your pregnancy and postpartum and breastfeeding experience as a working mom.
I went through my pregnancy in New York, where I also gave birth to my son. I am originally from Finland, and while I’ve never had a baby in Finland, I know the Finnish maternity health care system very well - and let’s say the U.S. system is a far cry from what we have in the Nordic countries.. My pregnancy was luckily very easy, and I mostly really enjoyed being pregnant with little or no discomfort until the very end of my pregnancy, but what was perhaps the most stressful part for me was trying to deal with the healthcare and health insurance systems in the U.S. that are primarily driven by profit making - not the mother’s or baby’s health. I found it very hard to trust such a system, and really worried about the cost of pregnancy and birth (even though we had good insurance). In my opinion, the state of maternal health and health care in general in the U.S. is a travesty and a cause for national shame, considering how wealthy the country is - and I really hope this is an issue the next government will pay a lot of attention on. Pregnancy and birth should not be unaffordable to anyone, and maternal and newborn care should be free or low cost and high quality - this is just simple basics of creating a healthy, thriving society.
..Anyways, end rant! My pregnancy was very relaxed and easy-going, and so was my birth, which was quite fast for a first birth. Lucas was born three weeks early, the day I was full 37 weeks pregnant and a day after his father’s birthday! He was born via vaginal non-medicated birth, much according to my birth plan, in St. Luke’s Roosevelt (now Mount Sinai Roosevelt) after less than 12 hours of labor and mere 30 minutes of pushing! He was healthy, thriving and had a head full of black hair - and the moment his skin touched mine changed my life more than anything else ever has or ever could, and same for my husband.
Postpartum experience was fine too, but mainly because my birth was so easy - I have to say, this is another area where the U.S. needs to really do better. Mothers need more support and more time to heal - and the place to start is proper PAID maternity leave, mandated by law. Mothers should be allowed to take time to heal from birth, which is quite a MAJOR event and exercise, and mothers and fathers both should be given proper time to bond with their baby at home.
My breastfeeding experience has also been mostly really great - I had a wonderful doula, Nicole Ganzekaufer, who supported and helped me with breastfeeding and really made it easy for us. Lucas was a champ from the first second, and latched on like a pro - and hasn’t let go since! I’ve breastfed him for over two years, in five countries and three continents - and we’re not in a rush to stop yet. Tanzania was perhaps the most breastfeeding friendly country I’ve been to, it’s such a normal thing there and everyone supports it. People really approach it as something very mundane, normal and positive, and no one bats an eye when a mom is breastfeeding a baby in public. They always found it odd there, when I would sometimes ask people whether they would ever be bothered by it. Breastfeeding rates are much higher in many developing countries than in the West - and my native country, Finland, for example, has an extremely low rate for exclusive breastfeeding for six months. I have definitely gotten my share of looks and a couple of negative comments too, but I try to not let them get to me. I do my best to always be discreet and not bother others, but especially when my baby was younger, if he needed to feed, I’d fed him - despite where we were. Now that he is older and understands more, he can often wait and we generally nurse at home, but I do still also nurse him in public when needed.
How would you describe your parenting style? And what do you think influences your style?
I think my husband and I are both generally pretty relaxed.. In some ways, we’ve taken on kind of an attachment parenting style - for example, we’ve all slept in the same bed since the day we brought our son home from the hospital. But our main goal is to do things the way that feels normal to us, and fits our son and his personality the best - without driving ourselves crazy by trying to be too perfect. This pressure is often bigger for mothers than fathers, but my husband definitely has his share of the pressure of being a good parent and doing things the right way and trying to not screw up our kid in one way or another. My own parents’ way of bringing up me and my two younger sisters definitely also influences my parenting choices - we grew up very happy, healthy and thriving, and if I can bring even a small bit of that into my own parenting, I’ll call it a success!
What do you think are some of the biggest joys and challenges of modern motherhood?
I think the biggest joys are just the everyday things - getting to see your child grow up healthy, learn new skills, explore new things, be amazed by the most simple little details of life. When we lived in Tanzania, we would get so excited to take our son to see the animals there, like elephants and giraffes, and he would definitely get excited too - but he would get just as excited about seeing the goats and cows that walked on the road in front of our house, because to him cows and goats were just as amazing and special than giraffes and elephants. Sometimes I watch him when he is focused on a toy or a book, or when he is watching the traffic pass by as we walk on the street, and I see the moments of excitement on his face when he sees something exciting, like an ambulance pass by, or dogs running in the park, or an airplane in the sky. He is just so open, so unbiased, so receiving - not swayed by any bias, any prejudice. Nothing holds him back - and more than anything, I wish I could somehow help him stay like that, maintain that pureness and innocence. But I don’t think that is possible..
In terms of challenges, there are of course many. I think for working parents, the biggest ones are about the logistics of running the day-to-day. Getting everyone up early enough (or, trying to keep your baby asleep for just 15 minutes longer..), getting dressed, making a healthy breakfast, packing everyone’s bags and lunches and outdoor clothes and extra clothes, getting out the door, taking the kids to daycare, managing your own work, handling all the other responsibilities like paying the bills, scheduling healthcare checks, buying a present for the other kid whose birthday is coming up.. All that little stuff. It piles up, and it can get so overwhelming. On top of that, especially for mothers, there are the expectations of others - sometimes perceived, sometimes real - that can easily feel very overwhelming and unrealistic. When you combine all of that, it’s a lot to handle for anyone.
What most surprised you about your motherhood experience living in Finland? What are some of the things that people might know know about parenting and the state of working motherhood in Finland?
Finland, in comparison to many other countries, can be seen as a very family friendly society. We have a long history of very strong maternity and family benefits, starting from free universal healthcare to 3 months paid maternity leave, 6 months paid parental leave (which can be taken either by mother or father), separate earmarked paternity leave, possibility to stay home until your child is 3 years old with job security, very affordable and high quality daycare system, and free education. These benefits and structures make it much easier to combine parenthood with any other life situation, whether it be studying, work, staying at home. Anyone can become a parent, anyone can afford to become a parent, and anyone can offer their child the basic things a baby needs to grow up healthy. It makes for a basis for a society that has all the makings of a very equal society - and, in comparison to others, it is. But I don’t want to just get into this hype about Finland like it’s the most perfect place for families, because there is still a lot that needs improvement.. But, compared to many other places, it is a pretty amazing place to have a child. Oh and also, our government gives all pregnant mothers a Baby Box, which is a box filled with essential goods for the baby, like clothes, diapers, blankets, etc to make sure all babies get an equal start to life. It’s really pretty amazing.
However, the Finnish society can also be quite hostile towards babies and small children. In many places there still seems to be this notion that the place for babies and small kids is at home - that you shouldn’t bring them to places like restaurants, shops, cafes etc. which I find ridiculous. How are we supposed to raise our children to be thoughtful, courteous and respectful members of societies - if we can’t bring them out to the society? I think this is changing in Finland, but slowly.. There are definitely places like this in the U.S. too, and probably many other places in the world too. However, generally my experiences as a mother have been predominantly positive!
How do you balance your passion, career, relationship and being a mom?
Most of the time I probably don’t. Meaning, most of them time it feels kind of like damage control! There are days when I feel like I am failing at all fronts: as a mother, a wife, a professional, a friend. And those days are really hard, and it can feel like everything is too overwhelming and too much to carry and handle. But I think it is important to talk about those days and those feelings, because we all have them, and we should normalize it. Instagram and Facebook show a polished view of our day to day lives, and don’t represent the reality for most of us, myself included. If I am in the corner having a meltdown, I rarely turn the camera to take a selfie… but those moments are just as real, more real, than the pretty smiley moments that do end up on social media. I think the most important thing to remember is that there is no one right way of doing any of it - there is no master file for motherhood. You need to make it look like YOU - find ways of being a mother that feel comfortable and natural, do things YOU want to do, not what you think others expect you to do. It isn’t always easy, but I think it’s the only way to at least somewhat make things work and balance it all out.. We have this motto that my husband and I have taken on as our family motto, from a Finnish children’s cartoon called The Moomins: We Always Manage. And that is my guiding thought: We always manage. And we do. And I think the most important word of that sentence is “We” - because alone, I could never do any of this. It takes a village.. So find that village. Build it. And then hold on to it.
What’s next for you in your career and what are your dreams for your son?
I firmly believe that a gender equal society, where all genders are treated equally and fairly, is a better society for everyone, including my son who as a white American-European male is part of the most privileged group you can imagine. This also comes with a big responsibility - so for my son, I hope to instill in him a sense of right and wrong that guides his decisions and his life, and an understanding and of his privilege and the responsibilities that follow. I want him to be happy - like any mother wants for their child - and I don’t care what he does. I really don’t. I don’t care who he loves. I don’t care what he wears, what music he listens to, what he wants to study - but I care about him being a good human being. A kind person. A just person. The world needs more of those.. And I really hope I can raise one of the good ones.
In terms of my career, I really want to continue focusing on women, girls and the most marginalized. I’m really excited for The Mom Pod and exploring pregnancy and motherhood around the world through the podcast, and I hope we get to bring out many more stories - so if you have one, and you want to share it, please get in touch! I am very excited about my new role at Plan International, and hope to be part of exploring new ways of using technology to enhance and improve the great work Plan is already doing in communities around the world. I’m in a good place, and excited for what lies ahead!
What do you think a brand like Mitera means to the modern mothers?
I think Mitera Collection offers working, breastfeeding mothers exactly what they need the most from their clothes: Stylish, elegant, high quality clothes that make breastfeeding easy, relaxed and uncomplicated! I absolutely love the Elif dress, and wear it all the time - and I am going to wear it even when I am not nursing or pregnant, because nothing about it says “nursing” or “maternity”, which is what I love! I have gotten so many compliments about it every time I wear it, and most importantly, it makes it easy for me to nurse my son wherever we are. I also love all the other content Mitera produces about motherhood and breastfeeding, and the events and activities you organize and carry out! When I’m in NYC next, I will absolutely do my best to join in - I think it is so important to create spaces where mothers can meet and share about their lives, their thoughts, their experiences, and learn from others who are dealing with those same things. I also think Mitera Collection’s founder Yoko’s background in public health and around the world shines through from what the Company stands for and does - it goes way beyond ‘just clothes’ and touches upon a mother’s and baby’s happiness and wellbeing on a much broader level. I think the community you have created around the Mitera Collection is quite amazing - and I am very happy to get to be a part of it.