Around the Way Mom (ATWM) is pleased to present its first Mom Feature! Remember ATWM has a renewed focus on self-care for moms (emotional/mental, financial, physical, social, spiritual) and how we strive for balance in all of these areas. This quarter’s feature is about a millennial mom who blazed her own trail in academia and in her business all while tapping into her own self-care.
I don’t know how many moms out there who have worked while being in school and they were raising a family, but I did (sorta!) and it’s hard! I was 5 months pregnant and I had 2 classes to finish taking for my second master’s degree. Not only was I exhausted from maintaining a grueling work schedule during the day, but I was going to class in the evening and one of those was online. Midway through, when the cuteness of pregnancy wore off and I could care less about anything school related, I decided that I would do just enough to earn a passing grade; and that was good for me. “C’s earn degrees” right?! So I trudged along, but I made one fatal flaw with submitting my final for the online class and…you guessed it- I failed the class. A few months later Tre was born and I decided to retake the final class so I could earn my degree and so that my mother could stop introducing me as, “This is my youngest daughter, Krystal. She’s one class away from her second master’s degree!” I’m proud to say that the following fall I retook the online class and I have the degree to prove it.
From that experience I decided I was DONE with school and I would look on as the hubs earned his master’s and while he is currently working on his Ph.D. I told myself there was no way I was going to go back from more reading and writing…nope, no way! Then about a year ago I met a young lady who made me wonder how she balanced her career, her household as a wife and mother to an energetic toddler all while obtaining her Ph.D. Ok- I was more than fascinated, I was intrigued, so I sat down to learn more about her, her experience in becoming Dr. Akoumany and the work she is passionate about. Writing her dissertation entitled: “Reimagining Resilience: Exploring Black Early Adolescent Girls’ Experiences, Desires and Needs While Growing Up In Baltimore City,” she learned about a group of girls’ lives from her former school and their perception of their experiences over the course of 3 years. Meet Dr. Stephanie Akoumany.
Who is Stephanie?
Born and raised in Southwest Baltimore City, Stephanie was raised in a “community, [that] although it had its issues, was still full of love and full of care,” and it was that love that shaped the young girl who attended Franklin Square Elementary School and later The Bryn Mawr School. Her home and her family provided her with a “cocoon of love and safety” that shielded her from negative conditions around her. If you know anything about Baltimore, you know that while the city is rich in its history, it is also an interesting study in the striking differences between neighborhoods. Even with the economic divide she noticed while attending Bryn Mawr for middle and high school, she “felt loved and felt respected,” and as a woman she felt like she was “being given a world class education. They made it very clear that, no matter what your background, that you can do anything you put your mind to.” It was that mission and drive, coupled with her foundation in elementary school and in her family, that fueled her desire for success and passion for helping students, educators, administrators and parents in public, charter and private schools create fun, mindful, well, inclusive and equitable communities.
So fast forward to adulthood- When it was time for Stephanie to complete her second comprehensive examination paper, dissertation proposal, and proposal defense, she did it while being pregnant with her daughter, Zoe. Zoe was a constant reminder of her why. Through transparent moments online, Stephanie shared that the ability to rediscover her inner peace, strength, creativity came through motherhood.
What is Bloom?
Bloom (http://justbloom.io), is a company that curates leadership (professional development and self-actualization), wellness (social emotional learning, fitness, healthy eating), and community building programs (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) for individuals, families, schools, nonprofits, and businesses.
Dr. Akoumany notes that “no matter if it is a business, a non-profit, a public charter, an independent school, [or] a family, I want to give these institutions that I see as the bedrocks of our society, strategies, real strategies to live their best lives.”
Stephanie’s goal is to build a sense of community in business, schools and in neighborhoods through targeted workshops with staff and students. The tailor-made strategies are designed to help people succeed in each of the pillars Bloom is founded on- Education, Play, and Wellness, Food and Fitness as Medicine and Self-Care and Mindfulness.
For Stephanie, she has fond memories of her school experience and she wants the same for other kids, so it is no surprise that the first pillar of Bloom is Education, Play and Wellness. “I want education to be fun and to involve play.” Her goal is to help educators tap into ways to deliver content that highlights the fun of learning and the fun students can have while they learn. The second pillar of Bloom taps into a principal she first learned herself of Food and Fitness as Medicine. She talked about living a life that “used to be slow, sluggish and tired,” and she made a decision to make real changes in her life by exercising in a way she loved- starting with running. When she tapped into those things it made her a better scholar, a better wife, a better mother and a better woman. “The other part of the puzzle was getting my mind right and getting drama out of my life…and really focusing on what self-care looked like for me.” This is the final area that created the last pillar of Self Care and Mindfulness.
How do you balance it all?
On any given day you can see the world through Stephanie’s eyes (via social media) as she shares the mission of Bloom and helps students, teachers, schools and businesses how to incorporate the pillars to improve their outcomes. You can also see what she and her toddler daughter, Zoe, are up to. They can be on the move visiting a local museum or going on a hike, or Zoe can be seen trying to keep up with her mom’s energy-packed workouts.
Following her daughter’s birth almost three years ago, she went through an emotional transition that many moms experience. One day she got out her journal and created her “Suck At list!” The list contained 10 things she felt deficient in ranging from not being able to walk comfortably or exercise, to not not feeling like ‘herself’ and having serious ‘mommy brain.’ In the end she realized she was only person putting pressure on herself to be more than what she was at that very moment which was a first time mom who was figuring out the ‘new’ her. So what did she do? Stephanie looked at the list one last time and shredded it! From there, she created a plan to get moving and, with baby in tow, she started walking. Eventually walking lead to running, and that led to more mindful integrated practices that have shaped her life in a powerful way.
What message do you want moms to know?
After a few years on the journey of motherhood, we all have a piece of advice to share with another mom. Stephanie’s advice is not to judge yourself or others. “The moment you start judging yourself, cortisol comes for you and stops the part of your brain that allows you to be creative.” She talked to me about the impact of shame and stigma and how detrimental it is to our livelihood as women and mothers. One of the way she combats the negative thoughts is by exercise. Running for her feels like freedom and it changed her mentality. Self-discipline plus self-love has also been key. She tells parents she works with to think about the advice they would give to their kids, and then use it for themselves.
Dr. Akoumay and her family
Biggest lessons learned as a professional, woman, wife and mother?
When I asked about the biggest lessons she’s learned as a working woman, wife and mother, it was without hesitation that Stephanie said, “…I’ve learned to stand up for what I believe in.” Doing her part to research ideas so that her own professional development is strengthened is important for her and it provides a foundation for her to confidently stand up for what she believes in. After 3 years and 85+ hours worth of research time, she knows something about the impact of research! As a woman she emphatically told me she that “you can do anything.” She agreed that working towards being truly fearless isn’t something that comes overnight. She acknowledges that it takes time to grow into a woman who works through life without fear and that is why she likes the name Bloom because it indicates that growth takes time. Her advice: “Confront the fear, then map out a plan.” As a wife, Stephanie has learned that it is important to connect with her husband through effective communication and to have fun- I can agree! As a mom, she has learned to “set standards, but let go of expectations that don’t serve you.” This idea speaks directly to what other people think and it says what you think, as your child’s mother, IS enough.
I am a firm believer that each interaction with someone has the opportunity to teach you something new about the world, you and your place in the world. Getting to know Stephanie taught me two big lessons. First- If you truly have a desire to do something, you will do it. Once her mindset was changed about her eating and lifestyle choices, she made lasting changes that ended with her eliminating medications and getting in the best shape possible. Second- The abundance vs. scarcity mindset can and should be challenged. When you approach life with a scarcity mindset, you see the glass as half empty believing there is a shortage of resources to go around. On the other hand, Stephanie lives her life with the abundance mindset believing if she does well, then we all do well. In a time when women can be reluctant to share resources, it was refreshing to have her share information with me.
I look forward to continuing to watch Dr. Akoumany bloom into the woman and mother she was destined to become. To connect with Dr. Akoumany and partner with Bloom, click here.
P.S.- I have the pleasure to know several Dr. Around the Way Moms who have either obtained their Ph.D before or during motherhood and they use their skills to make the world around them a better place. So, shout out to Dr. Tammy Henderson (Professor, UMBC) and the new Dr. Monique Dawkins (CEO, Better Equipped Solutions)!!!