Jessica Claire Haney
Spreading the Word about Healthy Living


I've always wanted to be busy. Having grown up with a mother who suffered from depression and had few pursuits or passions, I have stuffed my life full with them.

My senior year in high school, I was everywhere. After play practice, I stayed at school until 9 p.m. in my role as editor of the yearbook. On Thursdays, I served as vice-president of the Environmental Club, if I wasn't somewhere else. Tuesdays, as president of the American Field Service group, I engaged the exchange students in discussion before heading to another meeting

Involved in so many aspects of the school, I could often be found walking at a speedy clip down the hallway to take photos or conduct an interview. This hyper-involved pattern continued in college, where I participated in many clubs and activities, and in graduate school, where I completed two separate two-year master's degree programs in three years and held leadership positions among both the English and women's studies graduate students.

When I landed in my first high school teaching job, my multitasking self was no match for the position's many demands. Still, after a rough first year, I volunteered for many different committees, earning "Golden Apple" teaching awards my second and third years teaching for going above and beyond the call of duty. But eventually, this tendency to over-do caught up with me, and my health suffered.


After months of alternative therapies and the use of mainstream drugs to calm my hyperactive thyroid, heal my gut, and to regain my fertility, I came to believe I might never get pregnant as long as I remained a teacher. The job was a challenge from a physical perspective: getting up early, having little control over free time or access to fresh air, having short and often-interrupted lunches - a particular challenge for someone with a history of digestive problems.

The emotional aspect of the job was also draining. I constantly felt like there would never be enough I could do to help my students, who came from diverse backgrounds with a variety of hardships and whose skills were years behind grade level. It seemed clear that the intensity of the job contributed to my stress level, which contributed to my health problems. I had come to recognize my limits, and I felt my students and I both deserved more attention.

Although I would have preferred to quit teaching to pursue a freelance writing career and to continue my efforts toward restoring my health, such a leap seemed irresponsible when I earned a good salary with health insurance. As it happened, I conceived just days after the school year ended, which gave me a quiet summer to begin a pregnancy and a timeline: come February, I would be done teaching and ready to start mothering.

At first, I reveled in being at home full-time with my son. But my tendency to get overcommitted quickly took over. I joined too many playgroups and took too many classes in an effort to find a supportive community and, simply, to keep myself busy so that I would not get depressed.

When my son was four months old, I started a writing group with other mom writers in the hopes of eventually developing this talent into a freelance career. But with little free time, it was a challenge to learn about starting a business with essentially no platform or experience. So I began blogging, tutoring, and doing some pro-bono and low-cost editing work whenever it came my way. I knew a lot and had much to share, but I didn't have the time or a path to create a profession.

After two years, I felt the call more strongly toward community leadership. I'd benefited from attending meetings of La Leche League and Attachment Parenting International, but the focus of these groups seemed too narrow for my interests and knowledge, which included nutrition and alternative health therapies. Then I learned about Holistic Moms Network (HMN), a national non-profit organization with over 120 chapters (see Appendix).

Professional issue

After visiting an HMN chapter a few towns away, I decided that I wanted to start a local chapter of this group to help other moms who were looking for support in their natural parenting choices. The other chapter was started by two friends who'd met in birthing class, and I could find no one who wanted to be my co-leader. The national organization recommended at least two, if not more, leaders, but I was allowed to start the group alone with the understanding that someone would step forward before long.

No one did. Friends and people I met online offered to help with the initial launch of the group. One volunteer started as membership coordinator in the first few months. But no one wanted to be a second brain -- to share the burden, responsibility and joy of leading this group. It felt like I was stuck in a cycle I'd seen before, as leader or editor or committee chair: I'd been good at doing things by myself but always felt lonely. The one time a good teacher friend and I co-chaired a committee, I'd come to understand how much more rewarding it can be to work in partnership, not to mention how much more effective! It was this collaboration I craved for HMN.

The group took off with skyrocketing membership, a fact that both pleased me and made me upset for the lack of help. I started grumbling that I would not plan beyond the end of the year without help and that the chapter might have to fold if no one stepped forward to co-lead. This might have turned off some members, but some of my more committed members rushed to offer targeted support. After seeking out advice from my mentor, I started a series of "business meetings" that helped get more members involved at various levels. I loved that the group was started to feel like a collaborative effort. But I still wanted a co-leader and was frustrated with the repeated response I felt I had to respect: "I just don't want to take on too much. Sorry I can't be your co-leader."

Not only did I feel alone at the top, but I also had to acknowledge that my volunteer efforts were coming at the expense of my career and personal fulfillment as a writer. Although I trusted that my role as a leader in a holistic health realm was a great credit to have to my name, especially if I wanted to publish on related topics, that didn't matter if I wasn't marketing myself as a writer or editor or if I wasn't able to find the time to write or revise work to submit to publications. The feedback I got from the publications I did manage (see Appendix) was rewarding, and I wanted to pursue this work further.

And yet, I was paying for childcare in order to volunteer. In the fall of 2009, after months of feeling like the stress of my leadership role was becoming detrimental to both my financial health and my physical and emotional health, I successfully planned with some volunteers for upcoming monthly meetings topics. I vowed not to look beyond June 2010 if things didn't change on the leadership front. Having a long-term plan for the group allowed me to breathe a little, and I decided it was finally time to consider trying to have a second child.

Personal issue

When I got pregnant, I knew I would need backup; the chapter could not run without at least one more leader. I approached two of my most involved members to ask if they would be willing to share the leadership of the chapter as a trio. To my delight, they agreed.

As they began the application process, I realized that what I wanted – shared responsibility – was not going to be easy to achieve. Just as it's a tough challenge when one at-home parent transitions to a weekend at home with the other partner around, so, too, would it be a challenge for me to know how to pull back and yet retain the ownership of the group that felt so rewarding to me.

Although I wanted and needed a team atmosphere, both at home and with Holistic Moms, I felt unsure about how to share responsibility without either pushing too much off on the other person/people or resenting them for not having the same make-it-happen fire I'd relied on for so long. The prospect of becoming a new mom again and only one-third of a leadership team was both thrilling and daunting. How could I do it?