Motherhood, Hope, and Home Baking

September 12, 2022

Austin, TX-based Erin Lawler is like so many of us: a mama to her 6-year-old daughter and a professional striving to find balance following the upending of the pandemic. She is also a home baker, turning to baking as an activity she and her daughter could do together during the long and uncertain days of quarantine. Through baking, Erin has discovered a movement new to us at Matrescence: using food and baking as a way to highlight, support, and even raise funds for some of the most pressing social justice issues our society is facing. 

When Erin learned about The Depressed Cake Shop, the combination of Erin's passion with causes important to her was serendipitous, and becoming more involved was a no-brainer. The Depressed Cake Shop concept was launched in England as a way to jumpstart conversations on mental health; in Austin, the extension of the concept was being used to raise awareness of postpartum depression, which Erin faced following the birth of her daughter. Erin shared with us her journey into matrescence, her perspective on "having it all" in both motherhood and career, and how she found hope in home baking. 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself, and the current season you are in as mother, home baker, and more-than-full-time-working-professional. How did you find yourself here?

Erin Lawler: I’ve said yes to a lot of opportunities and believed I could have it all and do it all if I just worked hard enough. I “leaned in” in my 20s and early 30s, getting a Master’s degree abroad and earning my law degree, then working hard in a demanding career. Now I’m in my late 30s and I’m feeling compelled to “lean out” a little bit.

My daughter is 6 years old and at a time in her life when she believes her mama is the most wonderful person in the world. Given her choice, she would spend every second of her day with me. I know this period won’t last forever (the tween and teen years are coming), so I’m trying to be more intentional about spending meaningful time with her now while she still wants me!  

I recently approached my employer about shifting from full-time to part-time to better accommodate my family. A smart employer recognizes that keeping valuable staff will mean making adjustments around different seasons of life. Fortunately, my employer is smart, so we were able to reach agreement.

The term “matrescence” refers to the motherhood journey and the process of becoming a mother. Take us back several years to your pregnancy journey. What did you learn about yourself during pregnancy? How did pregnancy differ in reality from your expectations?

EL: My pregnancy felt like a crisis, not at all like a happy period of expectation and nesting. I had a complicated, high-risk pregnancy that involved a couple of scary emergency trips to the hospital with pre-term contractions and a period of bed rest that was anything but restful. Through it all, I worked, because I was afraid of using up all of my leave time (I had paid sick and vacation time that I had accrued, but no maternity leave or FMLA) before the baby had even arrived. 

A phrase that ran through my mind often was: “it’s amazing what you can do when you have no other choice.” That period demonstrated to me that strength in motherhood can look very different than strength in other contexts.

I “leaned in” in my 20s and early 30s, getting a Master’s degree abroad and earning my law degree, then working hard in a demanding career. Now I’m in my late 30s and I’m feeling compelled to “lean out” a little bit.

  

Tell us about the fourth trimester and how you acclimated to being a mama. How did you change? How did your family dynamics change? We know from the KXAN story that you – like so many others – were affected by PPD. How did you get through it?

EL: My fourth trimester was also spent in a state of crisis! My daughter had feeding challenges that made it so she couldn’t nurse or take a bottle. I pumped and my husband and I fed our little girl though a tiny catheter. She cried non-stop and so did I. No one in our family slept at all.

I wrote about my experience for Scary Mommy

 

How are you using your baking to raise awareness of PPD? Or, awareness of other causes you care about?

EL: To me, baking is all about connection, so it is an ideal vehicle to bring people together to raise awareness or promote positive causes. There is an emerging trend of “food activism,” which draws attention to social and environmental impacts of how our food is created and delivered to the consumer. A branch of food activism that particularly intrigues me is using food to highlight social justice issues; bakers are a big part of that, even little home bakers like me. Bakers Against Racism is just one example of an online community that raises funds through baking to support the most pressing social justice issues of our day.

While scrolling Instagram one day, I came across the slogan: “Where there is cake, there is hope, and there is always cake.” I felt like someone had reached through the computer screen and directly touched my heart; the phrase was such a beautiful marriage of ideas I love. As it turns out, I had stumbled across The Depressed Cake Shop, a community of bakers and mental health activists who promote the science-backed idea that the simple act of baking and sharing your bakes improves one’s sense of well-being. I immediately got involved with the Depressed Cake Shop, taking part in their annual event in my hometown of Austin, and was recently invited to join the Board.

 

Did you set out to be an Instagrammer? How did your page start to take off?

EL: I started my Instagram page in May 2020, when we were all in early stages of COVID-19-related lockdowns. My daughter’s school was closed and my husband and I were working from home. Isolated days full of unstructured time with my daughter brought me right back to my fourth trimester; I was emotionally triggered and knew I needed a change.

I settled on baking as a productive activity my daughter and I could engage in together, that broke up our day. While the world was in chaos, baking made sense: it had a beginning, middle, and end. Even if you make a mistake while baking, you can usually eat the results.

My first posts to Instagram were of simple bakes sitting on my counter, snapped with my iPhone -nothing fancy at all. I think I usually got about two likes, one each from my mom and sister. I still wouldn’t say my page has “taken off,” but I have seen more engagement since I shifted from thinking of Instagram as a kind of static, scrapbook of my bakes and instead as an interactive place to connect with like-minded people. I have enjoyed doing online “collabs” where bakers each bake according to a theme and, of course, using baking to raise funds and promote awareness of important causes.

 

Eventually I realized: every family is as unique as the individuals that make it up. Advice that works for one person may not work for the next – and for very good reason.

 

Some of our most read content is focused on working moms and how they manage everything. How do you juggle it all? How do you manage working, mothering, home baking, and everything else that life throws at us?

EL: I often encounter advice for working moms and think, “That would never work for me.” I used to let that make me feel resentful. Equally as frustrating is the generic advice of: “Find what works for you,” because, as a tired mama, it feels like being handed one more puzzle to solve.

Eventually I realized: every family is as unique as the individuals that make it up. Advice that works for one person may not work for the next – and for very good reason.

One philosophy that comforts me is the idea that you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once. Because my family is focused on two significant careers and a young child, other parts of “having it all” are dormant right now, such as travel, girls’ nights, and even having a pet.

Finally, I long for the day this question is asked of working dads as often as it is of working moms!

 

And now some fun stuff! Tell us:

Favorite cake flavor? 

There are so many wonderful cake flavors and combinations of flavors out there. If I’m ordering from a restaurant or bakery, I like to try something I’ve never had before. If I’m making the cake for myself, then I want the fudgiest chocolate cake I can make.  

Coffee or tea? 

Coffee.

You have one completely uninterrupted afternoon – no partner, no child, no work. What do you do?

I would read a good book under a blanket while drinking hot cocoa, then take a nap.

 

Make it official! Follow Erin on Instagram, and visit the Depressed Cake Shop website to learn more about its mission. 





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