Beyond Baby Steps: Helping others helped me feel like myself again

by Shawna Gamache

Like a lot of moms, I found that surviving pregnancy and early motherhood meant that I put my own needs off as long as I could. And then I just couldn’t anymore.

14711659_10211076208240312_2630859429890022578_o-2At a certain point, after eight years immersed in raising three young daughters, I could no longer ignore the reality that I was not my best self.  I was exhausted, yes, but also more than that, I was depleted.  I had lost myself completely to motherhood, and I was more than a little sad about it.

Throughout the years, I’d made token offerings to the self-care gods, usually in the form of a massage or a walk around Greenlake, but I longed for so much more. What I really missed from my pre-baby life was not pampering or even solitary time, though of course I needed those too. What I really longed for was feeling like I mattered outside of motherhood.

So, what did I do to reclaim my energy and passion?

For me, it started with writing a book and ended with raising a hammer.

I wrote 50,000 words in one incredible month last year and found my voice again. I’d silenced that little voice for so long, thinking I was helping my family by ignoring my own needs. But taking time time to write made me realize that we all needed me to be me, that everyone would be OK—actually better—if I did.

Now my voice was back, and I was listening to her. That voice told me there was still something missing: the world outside my door.

The first step out of the abyss of early motherhood was making meaningful time for myself. The second step was doing meaningful work for others.

After the book, came the Hammer…

Specifically, that work was fundraising and building 96 square-foot houses for the homeless.

Like a lot of Seattleites, I felt powerless in the face of the rapidly-growing population of people living without homes in our community. I had seen too many single moms sleeping in grocery store parking lots. I wasn’t sure what to do, but like a lot of us, I longed to do something that might actually help.

A column in the Seattle Times making the case for tiny transitional housing units for the homeless caught my eye one winter morning, and before I even realized what I was doing, I found myself on the phone figuring out what I could do to help raise money and recruit volunteers for the effort already underway.

I was surprised at how easy it was to get involved. After contacting the Low-Income Housing Institute, the organization in charge of the house building-effort, I set a personal goal to raise enough money to build at least three of the $2,200 houses. I also wanted to recruit as many volunteers as I could to join the many house-building work parties LIHI planned through the spring. I had less than a month. So I got cracking.


At the Hale’s fundraiser with high school classmates I hadn’t seen in over a decade

I wrote to everyone I knew asking for help. A close friend and I created a Facebook group to help organize our efforts. We cobbled together a small fundraiser at Hale’s Ales and we were honored to have Seattle’s youth poet laureate, Angel Gardner, read poems about her own experiences as a homeless child in Seattle.

I felt self-conscious about my lack of knowledge and expertise but I plowed on anyway. I was amazed at the response, from old high school friends driving in to attend the fundraiser to a former boss who brought a half-dozen friends to the first building party and worked tirelessly for 10 hours.


Want to help build tiny houses for the homeless? Work is underway at the Interbay encampment and volunteers are needed. To find out more contact Christina Estimé at or Brad Gerber at

As winter turned to spring, my weekends were spent at two encampments building tiny houses alongside hundreds of friends, relatives, neighbors and strangers. The generosity of friends and family was staggering. Our group cobbled together the money for more than four of those houses, and built dozens more.

My mom and my mother-in-law cared for my children and my dad and husband helped us build, and my two older daughters came out to help us paint and install tile flooring.


At a LIHI building party at the Georgetown encampment with fellow organizer Eva Elliott

I stood watching friends and neighbors, families from my daughters’ school, old co-workers and even my favorite old boss, childhood friends and my cousins all together in one place, hammers raised, arms covered in paint (OK, it was usually me covered in paint. Or caulk. Turns out I’m pretty terrible with a hammer). I even got to meet some of the people who would be moving into the very small, simple houses and I will never forget how grateful they were to have a space – even one this small – they could call their own. One man worked beside us painting his walls.

It was solid joy to feel like I could contribute to something meaningful in my community beyond the work of raising three brave, creative and kind daughters.

I spent eight years completely immersed in raising my girls. I’m proud of that work, and of the choices I made. But I am a better mom now that I’ve figured out how to make space for me— and more importantly, for a world that is so much bigger than myself.

This piece is the second in a series called “Beyond Baby Steps.” The series will explore my journey out of the early survival years of parenting. See the first in the series – How mama got her voice back

About the Author

IMG_2981Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter who occasionally catalogs her personal chaos at Critical Playdate. She is mama to Quinn, 8, Ruby, 6, and Nora, 3. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, reading and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.

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