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­­­­­­­­­­­­In Honor of Mother

Celebrating inspiring moms among us

Any mom will tell you that no mother is perfect. But in her most luminous moments, mom has been your first love and teacher, your stalwart champion and protector and a source of pure love. In motherhood, nobody’s life goes untouched.

 

This chapter is devoted to the women who birthed us or whose nurturing created a rebirth within us.

 

We feature Sheryl Soukup, career businesswoman and lover of life, who turns turbulence into triumph for her own children and for the nonprofit community.

 

Guest contributor Mara Kazantzaki offers perspective on moms who make it a point to equalize their loves of family, career and identity.

 

We present a few Southwest Florida “momtrepreneurs:” women who practice career autonomy as they raise and inspire their children.

 

May being National Pet Month, we asked moms of four-legged babies to “wag” about their tender “tails” of togetherness.

 

In light of ongoing international strife, we offer this quote by E. M. Forster and wish you a joyous and peaceful Mother’s Day: “I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.”

 

CHAPTER 83

 
 
 

FEATURE

Finding Your Calling

Talking with entrepreneur Sheryl Soukup about the power of a mother’s love

by Kathy Grey

Sheryl Soukup’s blossoming Boston career in microbiology was interrupted when she gave birth to her first child, Eva. This was no 12-week maternity leave. This interruption would change the trajectory of every aspect of her life.

Eva was born with cerebral palsy and a number of serious medical complications. Soukup was told innumerable times that the baby wouldn’t live.

“We used to call it ‘the scary talk.’ Every time we went to the hospital — and she was constantly being hospitalized — they’d say, ‘You know, her prognosis is very poor. … She may not make it through this, but if she does, you need to prepare yourselves.’

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­­­­­­­­­­­­Sheryl Soukup

“We’ve had ‘the scary talk’ I don’t know how many times,” Soukup says, “and she’s almost 25 now, thank God.”

The Soukups have two other children, Kaitlyn and Clifford. It was hard to raise three small children without family nearby, and it was hard to maneuver a wheelchair in Boston’s ice and snow, especially because Eva has a thyroid condition that prevents body temperature regulation.

At the urging of family who could lend a hand with the children, the Soukup family moved to Southwest Florida for Eva’s health.

Soukup found a calling and a talent for the nonprofit sector and, for 10 years, held CEO and executive director positions for Southwest Florida nonprofits. In 2012, she launched Soukup Strategic Solutions, focused on helping nonprofit organizations plan for growth with strategic and market planning, grant writing and fundraising.

Today, she’s a single mom, running Soukup Strategic Solutions, which now employs eight people full-time and retains seven consultants. She shares her home with Eva, who requires round-the-clock nursing care. Her two other grown children share an apartment nearby.

“Kaitlyn and Clifford are very close with Eva and their dad and me,” Soukup says.

That family bond would become a literal lifesaver.

All for One

Eva had a cardiac arrest in 2021 and almost died several times. When she was released from the hospital, she required even greater care and support. But there were nursing shortages as a result of COVID-19.

“We didn’t have the professional support we needed,” Soukup says, “so we all had to come together as a family to keep Eva out of care facilities. Eva is very expressive, and she was very happy with that.”

Balancing Act

“I run two companies: There’s my company and ‘Eva, Inc.’” Soukup laughs, but adds, “I have to work. The system is not set up for a working woman trying to take care of a child with a lot of medical needs. All the services need to be coordinated during the daytime when I’m supposed to be working.”

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Sheryl and Eva Soukup

She manages by getting up early and working late, sometimes starting at 5:30 a.m. and working till 8 p.m.

“Without nursing care, Eva can’t live at home. She can’t survive without medical care. (But) I can’t stay awake 24 hours, and she needs 24 hours on a ventilator. I can’t work without nursing care. I can’t sleep without it, and she can’t live without it.”

Soukup ticks off the health care needs: catheter, colostomy, seizure monitoring, ventilator, tracheostomy tube, gastronomy tube, wheelchair, ceiling lift, hospital bed and staff gaining Eva’s trust so she doesn’t panic and become ill.

“ … I have to feel Eva’s life is safe in the nurses’ hands and they can handle it if there was a cardiac arrest, if she stops breathing, if the trach tube gets clogged, if she has a seizure …”

The nurse must know what to do and act quickly. Otherwise, Soukup can’t leave the house or get a good night’s sleep and be fresh in the morning to concentrate on the needs of her business and clients.

Faith and Life’s Purpose

“I have a really strong faith,” Soukup says. “I honestly feel that my purpose in life is to do the work I do and to be Eva’s mother. … I was made to be a mother. And I was made to be a mother of Eva.”

The flexibility of having owned her business for 10 years allows her to juggle Eva’s needs and work responsibilities.

“She is a happy person constantly surrounded by love. I draw from that, too. Being with her is amazing. It’s like being on the beach in the sun with a cool breeze on your face. It fills you up. It gives you goodness in your life,” Soukup says.

“My natural background and interests are in science. I was a microbiologist before this, and I always had an interest in (medical matters). When Eva was in the NICU, I went to the hospital library and took out a textbook on neonatal neurology.

“I have those skills. I had the aptitude. God made me like this. I was able to read a neurology textbook that contributed to my being able to help Eva. But I had to have time for working to have the finances to be able to provide for my family,” she says.

“I love my job. Working with nonprofits is so meaningful. I was on a path to become a scientist and then I had Eva. And that changed everything for me,” Soukup says. “I’m so happy it did.”

EMPOWERED LIVING

Establishing a New Working Mom Paradigm 

Motherhood needn’t strip career women of identity

by Mara Kazantzaki

From the moment a girl is born into the world, her life is seemingly already laid out. She’s told how beautiful her hair is, how well she cares for her dolls and how polite and proper she behaves. And, like her mom, she is prepped to become a mother herself one day.

 

Following the second wave of the feminist movement in the 1980s, now she can do that and also work a job — “have it all” as society would say.

So, she studies hard, works harder and builds a career. And at some point, her biological clock, a psychosocial-driven timeframe, ticks. Her career is put on hold to get the family started.

 

The problem is there is no such thing as “having it all.” After fighting hard for women to have opportunities equal to men, we tried to fit into a mold meant for people who were only relying on themselves.

 

Women got to compete with men as equals, but the playing fields aren’t the same, leaving women who were prepped for caring and bringing up children to strive to excel in two jobs: career and family.

 

Unless a woman starts her family before forging a career path and greater sense of identity, it can be tough to pick up where she left off after having children, to try to find herself again. And some wind up starting over.

 

Women who have careers and stopped to start a family can struggle with their new identities and the guilt of not embodying motherhood the way society expects. Of course, we love our children. But the joys of motherhood can be confusing when stepping into a new role, compounded by sleepless nights and bodily and hormonal changes.

 

Still, there is hope. With compassionate support (pre- and post-birth and beyond), including the role of a partner (if there is one), women today can embody their new identity and also redefine it. They take the positive elements of the challenges in motherhood and grow in ways that hadn’t seemed possible.

I am the perfect example of someone who had to stop her career in its tracks, switching gears to bring up my two little boys. At the time, I was working 12-14 hours a day: not very compatible with motherhood.

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Mara Kazantzaki is an international lifestyle consultant for moms around the world, mentoring women to redesign their roles in parenthood to achieve greater balance in their personal and professional lives. Learn about her work by visiting Beyond Motherhood.

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I remember clearly the day I was psychologically and emotionally ready to go back to work. My first boy was 8 months old. He was a chubby, happy baby in the sling and I was missing the work I’d been so passionate about. The grief from the loss of my professional identity lasted a few years and brought me close to divorce when I decided our family needed a big change.

 

We packed up and moved to Thailand. There, I discovered yoga, meditation and a whole new outlook on life. Slowly, I became whole again. I took my studying of breathwork and yoga to the highest level. It was in this faraway land that I was awakened to a new passion and sense of purpose. I wanted to help other mothers find this sense of peace, reconnect to their soul and experience this break from the overwhelming everyday routine.

 

By creating an escape into the extraordinary, we break away from old patterns and make space to breathe and grow.

 

A term coined in the 1970s by Dana Raphael, Ph.D., defines the transition into motherhood as “matrescence.” Similar to adolescence, when hormone changes turn children upside down, women who become mothers go through matrescence,

 

With the appropriate support from other women, friends, family and partners, we can build the “village” that it takes to raise a child.

 

The emotional and physical demands of being a mother are not to be taken lightly. It’s a beautiful, wild ride that we accept, enjoy and welcome. Just make sure you have your support system. Through greater appreciation of matrescence and parental equality by all, women can have a smoother transition into motherhood and experience decreased maternal burnout, something that can take a big change to shake off.

ANOTHER KIND OF MOTHERING

Fur Babies and Other Four-Legged Loved Ones

Moms of animals extol their pets’ profound impacts

We asked our readers to send photos of their pets and explain how they are special to their human moms. Here’s what they told us.

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BUSINESS

What drives the ‘Mompreneur?’

These women happily juggle homelife and business

by Kathy Grey

What motivates a “mompreneur” — in short, a working mom who owns her own business? Who would take the next step in her career, on her own, as she forays into motherhood?

These ladies would.

èBella asked readers to nominate such plate-spinning wonders of womanhood. These women are just a sample of the great women nominated.

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Stacey Brown

As a clinical psychotherapist and specialist in trauma, Stacey Brown is a self-professed chronic overachiever. Her practice, Stacey Brown & Associates, Counseling and Wellness Services, takes a holistic approach toward a spiritual process of insight, focusing on strengths and new coping skills.

In 1999, Brown realized her dream of opening a private practice, coinciding with the early days of motherhood. She’d sit at the computer working on insurance authorizations as she bounced her eldest with her foot. She was dedicated to breastfeeding her three daughters, which forced her to slow down, be present and focus, to the ultimate benefit of her clients.

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Lissa Schuessler

When Henley, the 4½-year-old daughter of family friends, passed away from neuroblastoma, Lissa Schuessler knew she had to help. The Naples resident launched the 724 line of resort wear that combines her engineering and quality assurance background with her penchant for meticulous design. The fashion proceeds benefited the family, the 724 line of clothing took off and a portion of fashion sales proceeds continue to go toward pediatric cancer research.

Schuessler’s daughters, Tatum, 14, and Brooke, 11, are active girls, so their mom’s schedule is coordinated around them. If she’s planning a trunk show or another special event, she strives to have her work finished by 2:30 p.m. when school lets out because, as she says, “My girls come first.”

Her husband travels a lot for work, so she’s basically single parenting when he’s away. She doesn’t mind, though, because her girls are “easy and amazing,” she says.

“I gave up being CEO of a software company to raise my girls. I knew I wasn’t going to do 100% as a mother and 100% as a CEO.”

Still, as a successful entrepreneur, Schuessler wants to let her girls see the business side of her without having to report to an office every single day.

With 724, she makes her own schedule. She has trunk shows two or three times a month at several Naples boutiques and is representing Annie Handbags that the shops carry, too.

And, if a trunk show doesn’t work with the family schedule, she doesn’t do it.

She takes care of herself: eats healthy, runs and goes to the gym three times a week. That, in addition to starting her fashion business after the girls were born, is something she wants her girls to see: their mother’s success.

She started a nonprofit to help kids who couldn’t afford counseling, which landed her on the cover of Working Mother magazine.

In 2018, she expanded her practice to include the needs of mind, body and spirit. And as her practice grew, so did her three daughters.

In between, though, it was “a village situation,” she says. The growing family moved from its two-bedroom, one-bath cottage to a larger home built in the 1920s.

“I don’t know how we did that. I was nursing (the youngest) Lillian. We had a dog. We did a lot of the (renovation) work ourselves.”

She and her husband each owned their own businesses.

Her expertise in developmental psychology made her a sounding board for parents and guardians.

“At this point, my girls (now ages 18, 19 and 22) are sick of hearing from me,” she jokes, but only slightly. “All three had disabilities,” she says, from ADHD to anxiety to dyslexia. “Being an advocate for them has been central. That’s how I’ve applied my skills. What I realize is that whatever I’m dealing with, that’s where my practice is taking me.”

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Dr. Kiran Gill and Dr. Nadia Kazim

Dr. Kiran Gill

A Naples board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Kiran Gill is mother to three children, ages 11, 9 and 7, and founder of Aesthetics in Plastic Surgery by Kiran Gill, M.D., the only female-owned premier boutique plastic surgery practice in Naples.

When she arrived in Southwest Florida eight years ago, she says, “We had a gap in breast reconstruction.” With specific fellowship training in aesthetic surgery of the face, breast and body, she started filling that gap.

After embracing a variety of modalities, the passionate and energetic Dr. Gill looked to the future, envisioning a full-service practice that would meet all the needs of her patients and clients — and seeking solutions that would give her greater work/life balance.

In 2021, she partnered with Dr. Nadia Kazim, the area’s only female board-certified ophthalmologist with a specialty fellowship in oculoplastic surgery – and mother of two. Later that year, the practice welcomed its third female surgeon, Dr. Diana Carrau, to meet the demand for a range of services in an aesthetically pleasing and state-of-the-art environment where women can have all their aesthetic needs addressed.

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Teri Hansen

Teri Hansen founded Priority Marketing 30 years ago, shortly after the birth of her daughter, Anna.

It was a bold move in 1992. Family was her top priority, but she didn’t want to halt the career aspirations she’d built from heavy-hitting marketing and advertising positions here in Southwest Florida.

Born and raised in Fort Myers, Hansen worked from home, tending to her child’s every need and building Priority Marketing. When Anna was old enough for school, Hansen opened an office and hired a small staff to advance her vision.

Today, she serves as president and creative director of Priority Marketing, which employs 48 people — three-quarters of whom are women.

One of those female employees is her grown daughter, Anna, who had been a constant presence in the office and at community events from infancy to adulthood.

Hansen’s family continues to be her “priority.” And her entrepreneurial journey has led to thousands of business and nonprofit success stories, earning the company hundreds of awards throughout Southwest Florida and beyond.

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I just can’t tell you how special my boy, Kona, is to me and my family. My husband and I had our first fur baby for 13 years. Our daughter was 4 years old when he passed away.

I thought I may never be able to have another dog after the heartache we went through. Reluctantly, I agreed to another one after two years. That’s when we found Kona, a pure blessing to our family. 

Unlike my first fur baby, I was an experienced momma when we got Kona, so his upbringing has been a lot more thought out. I listened to audio books from Cesar Millan to make sure I was prepared when we brought him home. 

Over the past six months, I’ve gone through some health issues. It was a scary time that led to a lot of sleepless nights. The only thing that helped was when Kona would lay on my legs. He would instantly neutralize my body. He has been my angel. I am so happy to be coming out on the other side of my health rollercoaster, but I don't know how I could have done it without him. When I hold him, it’s like we become one. I know that sounds crazy, but he has my heart. ~ Marin Asher

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My husband and I have been blessed with every dog we have ever owned, but we have truly been super blessed with these two Havanese dogs.

We got Bogey, our first Havanese, after losing our wheaten terrier after 14 years.

Little did we know how comical and smart these little dogs can be. Bogey could jump up on our counters in our kitchen and he would get himself into the funniest predicaments. We knew how far the roll of toilet paper would go because he would take it and run throughout our home.  He was sweet and kind and would never do anything that would harm anyone.  

When Bogey was 11, he developed liver cancer and we had to say goodbye to him. We were crushed. 

Shortly after he passed, I said to my husband, “I need another dog, and I am going to name him Mulligan, because I need a ‘do-over.’ I can never replace Bogey and never want to, but we need a little something to take over our lives again and fill it with love they way only a dog can do.” We picked up Mulligan shortly after Thanksgiving that same year.

Mulligan has been a joy to have and has filled our home with so much love and tenderness. Our grandchildren FaceTime us and immediately ask where Mulligan is so they can see and talk to him. I have taught all our dogs many tricks, including sneezing on command and going to the bathroom in a litter box.

Believe it or not, I was petrified of dogs, but I told my husband that I wanted to be the one to train them so that I would never be afraid of it, nor would I be afraid that it would hurt anyone else. It has been the best thing I have ever done. God truly gave me the very best gift and blessed me when I got my first dog, and I have continued to be so blessed ever since. ~Mary Jo Sulzmann

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Not all four-legged friends have fur. In our case, it’s our bearded dragon, Nigel. With my husband’s severe allergies, a dog or cat has never been an option, so we went with my sister-in-law’s suggestion for a bearded dragon as a pet for our younger son. I should have figured this reptile would soon enough become the family pet. 

Bearded dragons are an extremely social breed of reptile pet and enjoy spending time with their owners. In fact, the more you get them out of their terrarium tank home and handle them, the more comfortable they are with you.

Now 8 months old, Nigel enjoys climbing onto my shoulder and snuggling in. On occasion, he will ascend to the top of my head, where he will camp out upon his throne to view the world as I sit and work on the computer. In the evening, before we put him back in his tank, he will curl up on one of us to go to sleep. Nigel likes to roam the house (and one of us follows), but he knows the way back to his tank, where he will patiently wait until he is picked up and returned home. 

We are not alone in our bearded dragon fandom. There are literally hundreds of social pages for beardie owners, many of whom own more than one, which can be a challenge as they are solitary, territorial animals and must be housed alone.

However, they love their humans, and we love ours right back.~ Julie Clay

These are my furry babies, Bear (16), Chrome (11), Angel (16) and Turbo (14 – Angel’s baby). We are one big, happy family.

 

These kids of mine bring joy to my life. Each day starts with love and kisses. They each have their own personality. Bear, a border collie, comes to work with me, greets my customers and shows them kindness. Chrome (German shepherd) is the protector. Wherever we go, he pushes me to the side and walks first to make sure Mama (me) will be safe. The other two are mother and son and they play and enjoy being with me (except when I call out at night, “Time to go out last time for peeing!” Turbo looks at me and literally shakes his head no. It is so funny.

No matter what time of day … if you’re happy or sad … each one lets you know that you are loved in so many ways. ~ Darlene Shaw

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These are our babies. Alto (on the left) is an 8-year-old Malamute. Mishka (on the right) is a 4-year-old Husky. We rescued Alto in 2017 and Mishka in 2020.

They are the loves of our family. They enjoy the sun, people, car rides and nature hikes.

My fiancé recently lost his fur baby, Yoda, of 15 years. Our pups really have stepped up to fill the love in his heart. ~ Lisa Sampsell

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Meet Princess Diana Claire, our 5.4-lb. Zen child, and Teeny Weeny Tiny Terror Tina, our 3.9-lb. rebel.

They came into our lives when we were grieving the loss of our precious Kizzie. Thinking we would get one a few months later, and another a year after that, we realized we couldn’t break up these littermates who are definitely soulmates — not only to each other, but to Jay and me, as well.

They’re sweet, immensely portable, stubborn, very loving and funny. And we are besotted. ~ Patty Baker

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Coco has her own routine when we go for a walk. Usually, we turn right and continue walking unless I say, “Let’s go see Uncle Bob.” Then, she turns left.

The other evening, she insisted on going left. Coco pulled me to my neighbor’s side of the house. When we got to her driveway, I heard my neighbor, Nanette, calling for help. She was on the ground and not able to get up. We were able to get her up and waited for the ambulance. Nanette was released the next day, all patched up.

Nanette’s daughter came to my house to thank me and Coco, “the hero.”

Is it a coincidence? I don’t know. ~ Joann Russo

Coco came into my life five years ago. Prior to Coco, we had a loving Pomeranian for 14 years. After several illnesses, we had to put Missy (Pooh) to sleep on Dec. 8, 2017. My husband and I agreed, with tears in our eyes, to never get another dog.

Little did I know he was searching online for a Pomeranian pup, and so was I. After much discussion, we went to visit a Pomeranian breeder in Bradenton. When we picked her up a couple weeks later, I asked the breeder when she was born. She looked at the papers and said, “Dec. 8.” I burst into tears, feeling that somehow Missy was back in our home. She has been nothing but happiness to us.