Today I have a special interview with my friend and colleague Chaunie Brusie, of the blog Tiny Blue Lines. I first started chatting with Chaunie back in 2012, when she was a young mom of two little girls and a full-time nurse, with big ambitions of being a writer. Since then, I've watched her expand her family (she's now pregnant with #4) and her career, taking the leap to follow her dream of being a writer.
And she did it!
Her new book, Tiny Blue Lines, is a guide for young moms who can't find a pregnancy book that really speaks to their situation — especially if the pregnancy was unplanned, and/or before marriage, and/or while you're still in school. Read on for more, plus a chance to win a copy of the book:
Who did you write this book for?
I wrote this book for myself, six years ago. I remember walking into Barnes and Nobles after I took my pregnancy test and specifically looking for a book that I felt would address me — an otherwise successful, motivated, smart and educated woman who was in the middle of an unplanned pregnancy. I didn’t want to hear a lecture, or preaching about how much I needed God in my life. I wanted real stories from women like me — I was a senior in college and I had big ambitions for my life — that would help me become the sort of mother and professional that I had always dreamed of being. Basically, I wanted reassurance that it would be okay, and that motherhood didn’t mean a life banished to knitting baby booties and baking in my kitchen forever.
Spoiler alert: That book didn’t exist. Most books on unplanned pregnancy are completely over-the-top religious or designed for “troubled” teen mothers. There’s not a whole lot for women in their early twenties, which is ironic, because when you look at the number, we’re the ones with the majority of unplanned pregnancies.
What’s one thing you hope readers take away from your book?
That an unplanned pregnancy at a young age is NOT a dead end, and in many ways, women like me, who had a baby in their early twenties, have genuinely found both professional and personal success and happiness. In many ways, having a baby “young” helped us have both our careers and our families, which is something that doesn’t get recognized a lot in the discussion about having it all. Maybe we’ve stumbled on the secret that women have been looking for all along!
What do you see as the biggest challenge to student parents today?
Although there are many practical challenges to being a student parent, like the cost of daycare, limited on-campus child care options, campus housing that often excludes families, student insurance that isn’t comprehensive for maternity coverage, or even flexible class options for when you’re off, oh, say, giving birth, I think one of the biggest challenges is simply feeling accepted. When you are that 21-year-old pregnant girl on a typical college campus, it can feel very isolating and you start to wonder if you really do belong there. For whatever reason, we have this stereotype of children as not fitting into our “professional” world and we perpetuate the idea that college is about “finding yourself” and self-discovery. But the reality is that kids can be a normal part of life, and there are more ways to discover your passion and pursue an education than partying every weekend.
[ALSO READ: A Comprehensive Guide for College Moms]
What changes would you like to see made at colleges across the country?
There are some incredible strides being made across college campuses in the country and I’m so glad to see them. Grand Valley State University, for example, has a great student parent support group and some schools like Georgetown, have set aside housing and special forums to address the needs of pregnant and parenting students. I think a lot of schools and administrators are afraid of the cost of implementing resources on campus, but they really don’t have to cost a lot. It starts with an attitude of acceptance — believing that pregnant and parenting students have a right to be on campus just as much as any other student — and then starting with some low-cost solutions, like more online classes, volunteer babysitting groups, or a simple website that lists where students can get additional help. At the very least, every campus health center needs to be equipped with the knowledge to help a student facing an unplanned pregnancy. Most schools have free pregnancy testing, but definitely don’t always know how to deal when that test is positive!
Also, if any student or graduate is interested in more step-by-step ways to bring more changes to campus that can help student parents, my book has a detailed guide of how I did it — and how you can make it happen too.
Beyond being a student parent, your book addresses the unique pain and struggle of having an unplanned pregnancy. I know you had a lot of religion-related guilt associated with being an unwed pregnant college student, but beyond religion, there’s a universal panic that often sets in when our bodies and lives are overtaken by two tiny blue lines. For all of the women who are still shaking from the aftershocks of a positive pregnancy test, what would you tell them?
Give yourself time. Oh my goodness, give yourself time. You don’t need all the answers today and I guarantee you that you won’t be able to answer all those great big motherhood questions early on anyways — Will I be a good mom? How on earth will I do this? Is this really the way things are supposed to be? — I’ve had them all, and to be perfectly honest, I’m still having them now, pregnant with my fourth baby at the age of 28!
There is so much about an unplanned pregnancy that throws your whole life into a complete upheaval and the hardest part is trying to reconcile this image of who you were before you were pregnant with this person you soon won’t even recognize in the mirror!
Try to focus on staying true to the type of woman that YOU want to be and I promise, the rest will fall into place.
What are the biggest misconceptions you (and maybe others) had about your future when you first got pregnant?
I had this crazy idea that because I had an unplanned pregnancy at a young age, that I was supposed to struggle because of it. I set myself up to work a job I didn’t want to, rationalized that my marriage would probably be worse off, and resigned myself to the fact my dreams would be on hold for a while. Deep down, I think I actually wanted to punish myself, as awful as that may be, as if I could somehow “make up” for my bad start to motherhood by sacrificing in the early years.
It took me some time, but I finally realized that it doesn’t work that way — there’s no hard and fast rule about what it takes to become a parent, there is no motherhood police telling you the right way to become a mother. And honestly, there is no such thing as one path. Any parenting website is testament to that — there are biological children and adopted children, breastfed and bottle-fed, swaddled and not swaddled — and we all need to find our way. It was such a relief when I finally understood that I didn’t have to lead an extra hard life just because I had become a mom. It really is possible that motherhood can be what you make of it.
When you first contacted me, you were a nurse who wanted to be a writer. And now, three years later, you’ve built an impressive reputation as a freelance writer — with full-time writing gigs on big Web sites, articles in national magazines, and a published book. YOU DID IT. How does it feel looking back on that beginning time? What advice do you wish someone gave you back then?
Oh my gosh, Michelle, that was all your doing! No, but really, you encouraged me in the early years, and that means the world to any new writer, just having someone believe in them. So thank you! Looking back, I am still in awe that this is my life and that I am lucky enough to make a living from writing. It’s hard in many ways, of course, and it took me a long time to get to this point, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Recognizing what I wanted and steadily pursuing it were the keys for me — I’m a big believer in setting small and large monthly/yearly goals and working at them. And also, treating what I wanted to do as a real job — as a mom with young children at home, I struggled with justifying taking time away from them or affording a sitter when I wasn’t making the money back, but eventually I learned to consider it an investment in my business, like any business start-up, and stop feeling so much guilt for pursuing what I loved.
Honestly, I surrounded myself with amazing mentors — you, Meagan Francis of The Happiest Home, Tara of The Young Mommy Life — and I saw very early on that it is possible to make a living from writing and that I did have something valuable to bring to the table. That was the best early advice I could have ever received — knowing that self-employment is very financially doable and learning to recognize your own unique contributions to the game.
What obstacles have you faced in your pursuit to be a full-time writer? How were you able to overcome them?
The biggest obstacles for me were: 1) childcare, 2) self-confidence, and 3) knowing where to pitch. When I first started trying to become a writer, my second daughter was only 9 months old and it took me almost four years to get to the point I’m at now — and in that time, I worked as a nurse and also had another baby! It was so hard to have all those little people at home and juggling my “real” job with writing. I fought tooth and nail for my writing time, and even had to learn to take a loss in profit to hire a sitter every now and then as my business investment.
I also lacked confidence in the writing world — I saw Babble.com greats like you and didn’t think I belonged at all. In fact, I had a page on my website labeled “Wanna-Be Writer” and my writing teacher (Meagan Francis) pointed out how bad that looked — who would want to hire a “wanna-be?” She was so right and when I changed my thinking, I was able to nab the jobs I really wanted.
As far as breaking into the business, that was a hard transition. It’s a strange mix of following writers you admire, trying to network with them and get tips and “ins” without seeming like an annoying stalker (#awkward). I tried to focus on being authentic in reaching out to writers I admired, following sites I genuinely enjoyed reading, and building up my niche — the expertise I could base my own articles on. For instance, I’m a nurse, so I used a lot of that medical background to my advantage.
[ALSO READ: 6 Books for New Young Moms]
Any advice to the Early Mama readers who want to be writers and bloggers, but feel like their daily responsibilities are keeping them from pursuing their passion?
In the very very beginning, I printed out a weekly to-do list and focused on doing ONE thing every day that would bring me a step closer to my goal. Whether it was printing business cards, or hiring a website designer, or making a list of article ideas, crossing one task off of my list every day helped me feel productive, even on those days I might only have literally five minutes to pursue my dream. Keep at it and it will happen!
Win Chaunie's book, Tiny Blue Lines!
Chaunie is giving one Early Mama a free copy of her book, Tiny Blue Lines: Reclaiming Your Life, Preparing for Your Baby, and Moving Forward with Faith in an Unplanned Pregnancy.
Hit one of the "share" buttons below, on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest. Then leave a comment on this post, sharing your initial reaction to when you saw your own "tiny blue lines" pop up on a pregnancy test.
I'll pick a winner next Friday and announce on all of our social media channels.