Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Choosing Healthy Skin Care Products for Our Black Children

A few weeks ago, I shared with you our favorite hair products and also our favorite hair-themed children's picture books.  And now, let's talk about skin care.  

First, choosing skin care products is just as important as choosing good hair-care products, but for different reasons.  

1:  What you put on the skin, the skin "drinks."

The skin absorbs what you put on it.  Those products are then internal.  The child's body essentially "drinks" what is put on the skin.    

If the ingredients label contains words you cannot pronounce or have no clue what they mean, how in the world can they be healthy to put on your child's skin?  

2:  The beauty industry is highly unregulated.  

Unlike required food ingredient labels and disclosures (though some companies have managed to skirt around and manipulate in their favor), the beauty industry doesn't face the same requirements.  However, companies that do choose healthy ingredients will let you know:  loud and proud.  You might see labels that state their products contain no parabens, for example.  Products that are unhealthy can get in big trouble, such as Johnson and Johnson in 2016, thankfully, but you cannot rely on the beauty product industry to tell you what's healthy and what's not.  You need to know for yourself by understanding the toxicity of certain ingredients.   

3:  The beauty industry can capitalize on uneducated consumers.

In addition to not being required to tell you how dangerous certain ingredients are, unhealthy products are very beautifully packaged to lure consumers.  Think bottles that have plants, flowers, and water droplets on the labels (looks natural, right?), pretty fonts, colors that have us envisioning health (think "earth" colors like shades of brown, blue, and green).  And, of course, there are celebrity endorsements.   Price is also a big deal for consumers.  Why buy a bottle of $6.99 lotion when there's a $3.99 version?   

4:  History.  

Certain products have been the go-to for different communities and generations over the years.  When I was a child, Baby Magic was all the rage for parents.  Then Dreft came along, a "baby" laundry detergent.  (Both of which are not products we use and are not healthy.)  Some families swear by Vaseline (toxic), which again was all the rage when I was a child.  Now the Dreft and Baby Magic both smell divine, in my opinion, but if you read the above link talking about dirty beauty product ingredients, you learn that "fragrance" can be a cover word for smells-good-but-is-a-carcinogen.  (And as a recent breast cancer survivor, you'd better bet I'm going to do my very best to make sure cancer isn't something my children face in their lifetimes.) But nostalgia and tradition shouldn't determine the products parents choose to put on their children. 

5:  Future.

Your child will use lotion for his or her entire life.  Ashy isn't cute.  Dry skin is irritating.  Skin is our largest organ and should be treated with care!   Therefore, because a child will use product for a long time and in great quantity, choosing good products is very, very important.  

So now that you know the importance of choosing healthy products, here's how we determine what skin care products to use on our kids:

1:  Ingredients.

If the products contain "dirty" beauty ingredients, we aren't buying them.  Period.  

2:  Price.

We have four kids.  We cannot spend $30 on a bottle of lotion, no matter how "clean" it is.  But I also refuse to buy cheap products, because cheap products typically means cheap (AKA: dirty) ingredients.  

3: Black-owned and Black-created.

I prefer to support companies headed by people of color for a few reasons. First, they know products as they've used them their whole lives.  Second, I believe in using my dollars to support those who look like my kids.  

4:  Smells good, but not overpowering.

I have a lot of scent sensitivities, and I have four kids.  I cannot have each kid smelling like something different!  I want light scents that smell nice.  Subtle.  

5:  Convenience.  

I'm not going to drive all over the state trying to find products for my kids.  If I can't buy it locally or have it shipped to me, I'm not buying it.  Again, I have four kids.  How often do I really load them up in the minivan to go product shopping?  (Hint: never.)  

So what products do we use?  

Over the years, we've tried many different products.  (Isn't that the life of a multiracial family?)  During the past 1.5 years, I've been committed to one company:  Sweet On You Beauty Bakery.  

First, I love the scent options:  especially the cotton candy, toasted marshmallow, and birthday cake.  The scents are light.  

Second, I appreciate the disclosure in ingredients.  No dirty ingredients.  Nothing that causes me to pause and wonder if I'm rubbing poison into my children's skin.  

Third, the owner is a Black woman who is also a mother.  She understand the struggles parents face in choosing skin care products for their children, and she's solved the problem for us!  

Fourth, the products are affordable.  Again, remember, cheap prices=cheap ingredients.  But expensive isn't always quality.  These products are perfectly priced, and a little product goes a long way!   

Fifth, we all use them.  Yes, even this white woman.  I keep the cotton candy bodywash in my shower.  It's aromatherapy for me after a long day of mothering!  

In addition to nourishing body lotions and washes, Leslie also offers candles (um, yes!), bath crumbles, conditioner, lip balm, and much more.  

Find Sweet On You on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Get 25% off your purchase with code DESSERTS20 at checkout.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Affording Adoption: Fundraising, Saving, and Deciding

It's a common concern among hopeful parents.  

You can afford to raise a child.  But you can't afford that whopping homestudy fee, the wait fee, the placement fee (gulp), the post-placement fees, and the legal fees.   (That's A LOT of fees).   And sometimes birth parent expenses.   Travel costs. 

So what do you do?  

I know some will tell you, "Just adopt from foster care.  It's free!"  But I want you to know that foster care adoption isn't for everyone, that it's OK to have a desire to adopt an infant domestically, and that you shouldn't adopt from foster care solely because it's free.  You need to go into foster care adoption understanding what you are doing and knowing a whole lot about trauma and attachment, among other things.

Alright, so you want to adopt domestically, but you can't afford all those fees.   What do you do?  

1:  You choose an affordable agency.

There ARE agencies that do not have $30,000+ fees.  There are.  I would know, as we used small, ethical, affordable agencies for all four adoptions.   This might mean you spend a lot of time choosing an agency.  This might mean waiting longer for a child (as big agencies tend to have more outreach, like advertising and PR tactics, and more connections).  

But listen.  The most important thing isn't a fast placement.  It's an ethical placement (that doesn't put you in the poor house). 

How do you find an ethical adoption agency?  I spend a great deal of words discussing that here.  Because it's so, so very important.  Remember:  every choice you make today has a forever impact and must be explained to the child you adopt in the future.    

2:  You don't make irresponsible decisions.

There are some financial decisions that may give you money NOW but could hurt you in the long run.  Very carefully consider how wise it is to take out a second mortgage, borrow money from a relative, or borrow from your retirement fund.  If you aren't financially savvy, talk to a trusted relative or friend about your options and concerns.  Making irresponsible decisions will negatively impact your finances for the long-haul.  

3:  You cut back. 

Before you ask others to help you afford to adopt, you do everything in your power to save on your own.  You cut out the extras:  cable TV, daily mornings stops for coffee and pastries, memberships (ahem, gym) that you do not use or use enough, frequent eating out/ordering in.  You figure out what is truly essential.  You take the money you were spending on these things and save, save, save.  (Plus, you'll be more fit!)

4:  You clean out your stuff and sell items. 

Think of the things you have that you don't need and can make you money!  A vintage collection of something, bigger items that you no longer use or need.  Think of this as a win-win:  you get more space in your home for all the baby stuff and you make money in order to afford adoption!  

5:  You take a second job.  

Sell a product on Etsy, get a second job on the weekends or evenings, offer a service (something you're good at).  Beware of pyramid schemes that are almost always a ton of work for very little pay off.  If you do opt to join a direct sales company, be sure it has a great reputation and doesn't require a lot of up-front investment from you.  (Remember you're trying to save money, not spend.)  

6:  You fundraise.  

I discuss this in my new book (ways NOT to be tacky when fundraising and how to handle criticism).  Fundraising can be effective.  To help you:  there are Facebook groups and there's this book by a mom-by-adoption. There are some great ideas out there:  selling t-shirts, puzzle fundraisers, auctions, dinners, yard sales.  There are endless possibilities!  The best thing you can do is talk to others who have done these successfully (try the adoption fundraising FB groups) and mirror what they did.  

My #1 fundraising rule, which I talk about in my new book, is this:  DO NOT BE TACKY.   (You're welcome.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

My Dear Transracially Adopted Child: A Love Letter From Your Mom

Dear Child,

I write this to you because you are my sunshine, the spark in my eye, the flutter of my heart.  You are incredible.  And I'm so grateful that your birth parents chose me to be your mom.  What a tremendous honor and responsibility.  

Some things have been weighing on my heart, things I must tell you.  I hope they offer you reassurance, honesty, and most of all, love.  And not just today but through all of your days.  

You've already heard, many times, strangers convey that you are are "so lucky" to be adopted.  But let me be very clear.  We, your parents, are the lucky ones.  We are not your saviors or superheroes.  We are your parents, and we are so grateful for you.  But you, dear child?  You aren't indebted to us for adopting you.  You don't have to wear the "lucky" label.  

You have the right to feel as you do about adoption.  No one has the right to tell you that your thoughts and feelings about adoption, at any given time, are invalid or incorrect.  The only time I will "correct" you is if you state an inaccuracy surrounding your adoption.  If I know something to be a fact, I will share that with you.   

You don't have to choose between us, your parents, and your biological family.  I hope we've made that abundantly clear from day one.  You are forever part of them and forever part of us.  And we know we were "second."  You have a "first," and we, as your parents, honor that.  We won't make you ever choose between "them" and "us."  There is room for everyone.  Remember, love multiples, and true love should never divide.  

You were "fearfully and wonderfully made" by an Almighty God to do great things:  this is the truth and who you are.  We fully believe this as people of faith.  I know it may feel unfair that you weren't parented by your biological family.  But this isn't because there was something wrong with YOU.  This is a lie, an untruth, and it fosters shame, anger, confusion.  The reality is no matter which baby came to them at that point in their lives, they felt they weren't able to parent at that time.  Those reasons were deeply personal, and you absolutely can feel however you want about those reasons. 

You have every right to ask questions, and you deserve truthful, transparent answersWhether you ask us, your biological family, the adoption social worker or lawyer, or someone else, you should get a complete picture of your adoption.  Remember what I've always taught you?  Secrets aren't OK (only "surprises"---like a birthday gift you buy someone) and are usually created to conceal, which only breeds distrust and more problems.  

Ali Cummins Photography
Your story is your business.  Which is why I work hard to protect your privacy, both online and in public spaces.  Your adoption story is sacred, and it's not available for public consumption.  Because the public?  They are fleeting.  They are "here today, gone tomorrow."  They haven't earned the right to something we hold holy.  If and when you choose to share your story, we will support you.  

The world is sometimes confused by us:  Black and white.  But their confusion is not our problem to "solve." Racism in this country is vast and deep, and I am sad that it seemingly is stagnant, if not regressing, as I write this to you.  But I want you to know that we love and celebrate you as a person of color:  your history, your culture, your appearance.  And we pray that the investments we've made in hair stylists, and mentors, and friends, and professionals, and art, and music, and books, and toys, and affirmations has impacted you positively and has shown you that you are absolutely incredible.  

I am so humbled to be the one you call "mom."  And I love you.  All of you.  Forever and ever and ever.  I love the parts of you that are happy and whole and pretty, but those aren't the only parts I love.  I love the entire you.  Which means when you process adoption and race, as you will your entire life, I will be here to empathize, to listen, to learn, and to do what I was chosen to do:  love.  

Forever yours, 


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Our Multiracial Family's Favorite Children's Hair Picture Books

Last week, I shared with our our family's favorite five hair products that we cannot live without.  This week, I want to share with you our absolute favorite children's hair picture books. 

Obviously, representation matters, but when it comes to hair, I think it's important to buy a few books to have in your home the emphasize the beauty, the versatility, and the magic of Black hair. 

***Click on the book image to learn more about the book such as ideal reader age, description, and price***

Here are our favorites: 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

5 Hair Products This Multiracial Family Can't Live Without, and How We Choose What We Buy

Hair.  It's a BIG topic in the transracial adoption community.  And for good reason.

Trying to find the perfect hair products is overwhelming and expensive.  Not to mention, confusing! And for a family likes ours where we have four kids (and four different hair types, lengths, and style preferences), it can get pretty complicated!   

However, we have a good routine in place for each child, including the products we use.  And if you follow me on Insta, I post new hairstyles often!  

First, here are our rules for choosing hair products:

1: Affordable.  I'm not spending $20+ per bottle of hair product.  No way.  Not with four heads of hair.  Not happening.    

2:  Healthy.   No dirty beauty ingredients allowed.  We try to live a life as toxic-free as possible, and this includes hair products!

3:  Scent-worthy.  I'm super scent-sensitive, so I'm picky about products.  If it doesn't smell amazing (and not overwhelming), I'm not buying it, no matter how good of a product it is.  

4:  Accessibility.  I'd better be able to order it from Amazon, or I'm not buying it.  Because when you need product, you NEED product.  (Now, I do try to stay ahead-of-the-game by buying product from my local Black beauty store.  But with four kids, I sometimes forget to get product before a hair styling session.)  

5:  Black-created.  I prefer the products come from a Black-owned, Black-created company.  (Though I have purchased products we've enjoyed from other companies as you'll see below.)  

So here are our top five favorite products:

1:  Camille Rose Naturals.

This is the brand I use on my oldest two girls.  Every single product smells amazing, is affordable, and works!  There are instructions on every bottle stating how to use the product (free hair tips?  yes, please!)  Here are just a few of the products we use: the cleansing rinse, kids' brown butter hair balm, and the kids' sweet pudding buttercream. I haven't met a Camille Rose product I don't like!  

2:  Curls.

This is the brand I use for my son.  The creme brulee leave-in smells like dessert (duh) and is my absolute favorite!   The blueberry bliss is also delish, but I prefer to use it in my son's hair in the summer, as it just smells summery.  There's also a blueberry bliss gel option.   We "finish" his hair using a coiling sponge:  it gives the curls definition and looks simply adorable!  

3:  Honey Baby Naturals.

So I was having a hard time finding products for my baby girl (1.5 years old) that would keep her finger coils moisturized.  I much prefer finger coils to afro puffs!   They are a protective style for shorter hair, easy to re-do, and so cute.   After I tried one Honey Baby product, I just KEPT ordering more products from them!  We currently use the shampoo, conditioner, detangler, and leave-in moisturizer.  AND, to top it all off, they make a body lotion in a matching scent!   I love when ALL products have the same scent, otherwise the mixture of scents is just overpowering, even nauseating.   

4:  Satin pillowcases and crib sheets.

Yes, this is a hair product.  We use satin pillowcases over the backs of car and booster seats to protect hair, as well as on our kids' bed pillows.  There are many colors to choose from to match their preferences and room decor.  We own over ten of these!   

The satin crib sheet is a hair-saver for my toddler.  Now, satin crib sheets can be really expensive, which is why we only own one.  But this one is the most affordable I've seen.  Fair warning:  it snags easily on things like velcro (think bibs) and zippers, so if you wash it, wash it by itself or with other soft bedding or clothing.  There's a pink and blue option, too. I'm asked about the crib sheet ALL the time.   

5:  Trader Joe's Tea Tree.

Cradle cap and dry scalp struggles are real, especially with infants!  I swear by Trader Joe's Tee Tree shampoo and conditioner for dry scalp situations.  (I DO NOT recommend it for day-to-day or week-to-week use otherwise.)   To remove cradle cap, slather the child's scalp with coconut oil and leave on for twenty minutes.  Then brush with a baby brush.  Then wash the hair with the tea tree shampoo, followed by the tea tree conditioner.  Then apply your favorite leave-in moisturizer.  Three treatments, and my baby's cradle cap was gone!   We then transferred the shampoo and conditioner (which is really affordable, by the way; and the bottles are large) to our guest bathroom shower for any guests to use who forgot to bring their own product.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

5 Simple Guidelines for a Successful Open Adoption

Let me start by saying, there is nothing "simple" about open adoption.  I've said time and time (and time and time) again that open adoptions take A LOT of work.  Like any adoption, open adoptions are complex and bittersweet.  

But there are ways you can work to make your open adoption more likely to be successful.   

After twelve years in the adoption community and almost a decade of parenting adoptees (as well as almost a decade of open adoptions), here's my best advice:

1:  Make short-term, organic promises.  

I've seen it way too many times:  agencies encouraging hopeful/new adoptive parents to promise the world to the expectant/birth parents.   And it's not OK.   

The thing is, none of us can project the future.  So to commit to certain things (visits, phone calls, e-mails, etc.) from the child's placement to when the child is eighteen is unrealistic.  It's sets the relationship up to fail.   

It's also a tool unethical adoption agencies use to lure moms into placing their children for adoption.  After all, she will get to see her child, know how her child is doing, and perhaps be a big part of the child's life, maybe even the child's day-to-day life.   The mom may then believe that she is somehow co-parenting the child and the adoption won't be "that bad" of a decision.  Instead, it'll be a win-win.   

Making short-term, organic promises allows the relationship to develop naturally and at a healthy pace vs. rushing, making unhealthy decisions, and projecting the future.  

What is short-term?  Well, I'd say six months at a time, or a year if you know each other well.  But definitely NOT birth to age eighteen!  

Which leads me to point #2...

2:  Do what you child wants and needs. 

When your child is old enough to have a say-so in the openness, which I firmly believe he or she should, his or her input on the openness should absolutely matter.   

Because the open adoption should be centered around the adoptee:  the innocent party who was left to the will of adults.   

Even when a child isn't old enough to verbalize how he/she feels about openness, parents can observe their child's behaviors and reactions before, during, and after visits.   

There are certain things my kids don't have a choice in right now.  They have to go to school.  They have to brush their teeth.  They have to attend church with us.   There are some situations in which they simply don't have a choice.   But in the openness with their birth families?  They absolutely have options.  

3:  Be flexible.  

Things change.  People change.  This is HARD for someone like me who is type A (aka:  controlling).   I think being open to change is incredibly important.  The people who placed the child, and the people (you) who received the child aren't going to forever remain the same.  We might move.  Divorce.   Change careers.  Add more children.   This is called life, ya'll.  Real life.   

Therefore, we have to be open to changes.   We can't have rules so rigid that people can't be human.  

However, I do draw the line at broken promises.   This is absolutely detrimental to the child.  Some flexibility?  Of course.  But breaking a child's heart by not showing up (especially multiple times) is unacceptable.  

4:  Communicate (don't guess).  

We all do it.  We guess what another person's motivation is.  Their thoughts.  Their feelings.  And assuming simply harms relationships.   

Instead, we need to ask questions, be open to responses, be honest and empathetic and grace-filled.  

If an issue arises (let's say you're frustrated that your child's birth mom posted pictures of your child online when you're family guideline is not to do so), instead of stewing about it, being passive-aggressive, or assume she's out to make you angry, ask.  

Difficult conversations are only more difficult if you choose to avoid an issue for a long period of time.  

The explanation could be very simple and completely opposite of what you supposed.   

Likewise, invite conversations.  Ask your child's birth family if there's anything they want to talk to you about.  Touch base and see how things are going.  Then re-calibrate and move forward.  

5:  Stay in your lane.  

There are certain things that are nachobusiness.  Yes, you read that correctly.   

You are not in charge of the birth parents or their choices.  You are not their judge or jury.  Likewise, they are not yours.    

Only if something they are doing or saying is harmful to your child, should you revert to #4 and speak up.  

(I love the "stay in your lane" phrase so much that I dedicate an entire chapter to it in my new book.)

For more open adoption information, please visit my friend Lori's blog and check out her book.  

What has made your open adoption successful or unsuccessful?  What would you tell those new to open adoption or those considering whether or not to have an open adoption? 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Celebrating National Poetry Month with Morgan Harper Nichols

I'm a *bit* excited about National Poetry Month.  After all, I authored a book with my daughters that's written in poems (along with some gorgeous illustrations from Sharee Miller).

And when I first read Morgan's poetry, I fell head-over-heels.   (And by the way, so did my baby, as you probably saw on IG.  She keeps sneaking off with Morgan's book!  I don't know if it's the golden cover or what, but my baby is obsessed!)

Encouraging.  Mind-opening.  Heart-talking.   

Every word she writes inspires me.  Seriously, friends.  I'm underlining every single word of every single poem she writes.  

Which is why I knew I had to interview her.  Because those of us in the adoption community are often vulnerable, scared, and broken.  We are waiting.  We are mourning.  We are hoping.  

And we NEED what Morgan can offer us.  Our hearts beg for hope.   And Morgan?  She does.  not.  hold.  back.  from giving.   

Rachel:  Morgan, tell me about yourself!  

I’m a writer, artist, and musician from Atlanta, Georgia, and I am now living in Los Angeles, California. As a child, I began writing poems, stories and teaching myself to play instruments, as a result of just being curious about them. I was on the quieter side as a child, never, ever dreamed of sharing anything I made being shared with others. As an introvert, I love to write and create because I simply enjoyed the act of sitting alone in my room, just making things. However, to make a long story short, the music I made was eventually heard through the walls by parents. When I was a teenager, they encouraged me to share what I was making in our local community just outside of Atlanta. I was a homeschooled preacher’s kid, and this was before young artists were using social media like they are today, so I never really had a community of other young people who were making music to share this experience with. So instead, I became accustomed to sharing the songs I was writing with people at the age of 14.

I often played in small coffee shops, smoothie shops, parks, restaurants, churches, and even flea market parking lots. I learned how to “read the room” and “know the audience” really quickly! Even though performing for others did not come easily or naturally to me, I’m so grateful I was encouraged to do it. It nurtured within me the importance of connecting with others through art in this in-the-moment way that has greatly impact the work I make today.

If I stayed in the comfort zone of my room writing songs, stories, and poetry, I do not think I would have been able to learn all that I have learned about writing and creating since then.

Years later, I still perform, but I have also began to focus more on writing, namely poetry and prose, and how to connect with others in this in-the-moment way that I learned in my early days of performing with just a voice and a guitar.

Rachel:  Your new book Storyteller: 100 Poem Letters was inspired by your song “Storyteller.”  What is the significance of the word storyteller- both as a book and song title?  Why did you write the book? 

I am so grateful for my childhood, namely because of my mother and father. They nurtured and encouraged me and my younger sister’s gifts, and I truly believe that is a huge part of who I am and why I am able to share and encourage others today. I thank God for them daily!

Outside of the home however, was a different story. Everywhere we went, my sister and I were total outsiders. My parents led a small church, so the budget was right and we didn’t have a lot of the same designer clothes or gadgets that are peers had. Our clothes and toys came from the thrift store, we didn’t have a lot of technology like TV cable or video games, and we were mostly interested in creating and reading books. We loved it, but other kids? Not so much. I am not exaggerating when I say that we were always the kids getting picked on.

Additionally, my sister was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome at a young age which led to relentless bullying from elementary through high school. I was the older sister who wanted to protect her from that, and as a result of being treated as outsiders, we found our way inside, spending most of our teen years learning to play instruments and write songs, and for me, writing poetry at home.

During my teen years, I knew I wanted to write as a career in some way, and even though my parents encouraged me, I was reminded by my peers of just how much I did not fit in.

I struggled to meet peers who had a story similar to mine, and I began to believe the lie that my story didn’t matter. So instead, I would write about other people’s stories because I didn’t believe that anything that had happened in my own story was anything someone outside my home would care about. This was the start of a decade-long creative journey of always writing with other people in mind, while secretly feeling that my story meant nothing.

In 2014, I started something on Facebook called “Storyteller Sunday.” It was a Sunday evening Facebook event where people could come and share their stories. I had a very small social media following at the time but the project quickly spiraled into something bigger than me. I was beginning to see names of people in the comments that I didn’t know, and I was deeply moved and encouraged by these stories.

After a few months of doing this every Sunday, I was walking into the kitchen one morning to make some coffee and out of nowhere, a song came to my mind—melody, lyrics, and all—called “Storyteller.”

The song was nearly entirely complete. That had never happened to me before and I truly believe it was a download from God Himself. I rushed upstairs, wrote it down, and a few months later, the song was being recorded and in 2015, it released to radio.

Now everyone in the world may not know this song and it may not have been a chart topper, but it changed my life forever. The stories that people began to share with me and how that song connected with them and had changed their lives was so incredibly humbling and eye opening.

One of the things that really stood out to me in this experience was that, “Storyteller” was the first song, and the only song to this day that came to be without someone’s story in mind. I began to realize...maybe, just maybe, this song was about my story too.

Of the many things the release of “Storyteller” taught me, it completely shook up the belief about myself that I didn’t have a story to tell. When this happened, it forced me to see that even though I thought my story wasn’t interesting, I could not have written that song without the mountains and the valleys that I had climbed in my life.

I began to gain the courage to finally allow myself to believe that my story mattered. And not because my story was more interesting or valuable than anyone else’s, but it was mine, and even through the trials, it was a blessing. A blessing worth telling. And as I began to hear the stories of others, I began to see that in sharing our stories, meaningful connections were being made between people who may have never believed they shared anything in common prior to that moment. Together, sharing our stories, we were all being reminded that we are not alone.

I titled the book Storyteller in hopes to encourage others with that message. My hope for these poems is that at least one person will see that no matter the mountains and valleys they have climbed, they have a story to tell. It does not matter your age, where you are from, the color of your skin, how many times you've been overlooked or undervalued, and it does not matter what you have or have not done, there is a way that you live, and a way that you tell your story that no one can else in this world can tell it. Telling your story also gives other people hope in telling their own. So tell the story of the mountains you’ve climbed. Your words come become a page in someone else’s survival guide. 

This is what I believe and why I wrote this book. Each poem was written with one person’s story in mind, and above the poems, I share who they were written for. I did this in hopes to encourage readers to see that even though our stories may all be different, we can still connect and have empathy for one another, which can cause a ripple effect for everyone to begin sharing and connecting around stories. 

Rachel:  So many women are struggling.  Struggling with addictions and losses and mental illness.  Struggling in marriages and in parenting.  Struggling at work and at home.  Real,difficult challenges.  In the case of my readers, infertility and adoption are major struggles.   How does Storyteller encourage women on their darkest days?  

Most of the poems that I write, including the ones in this book, are typically written in real time, via a social media message I am sending to someone. I typically start writing as a short, encouraging note, and once I get to the of that note, I typically have an idea for a poem.

Sometimes someone has messaged me the story of what they are currently struggling with, and sometimes I do not know their story at all.  But in both scenarios, I often say a variation the following, “ I am not really one to give a lot of advice, but I do love stories. And I love to think about how stories end. And even though I do not know how your story ends, I just want to encourage you with these words to continue to take deep breaths and to have great hope, for even here there is still more to your story.”

I think everything I write is some variation of this. Because the truth is, the painful valleys of infertility or losing a child is something I have not lived or experienced, but I do know that it is just too heavy a burden. And even though I have not experienced that, I can still say, “I see you. I hear you. There is grace for this.”

Sometimes when I receive a message from a woman who is struggling with something I cannot even comprehend, I literally get up from my desk and go take a walk. I know in that moment I cannot feel her pain, but sometimes, you just need to hold that space for someone. 

It’s like holding a door for someone. You may not be walking through the door with them, but you can hold the door. I like to think of the poem as the door because this is something you can do for a stranger. Even if you do not know someone in real life, their struggles are still real and in that moment, you can still think of them and pray for them in a very real way. I just hope the poems I write can be a reflection of that, because those struggles are very painful and very real.

Rachel:  You wear many hats, including now being a book author!   What has the writing and publishing experience meant to you and to your readers?   

Oh wow, it has been an experience! I am a self-published author who just knew that I had to get this book out there. It took about two years to actually put it all together, and I still dream of someday being able to work with a traditional publisher if that were to ever happen, but if not, I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience. I was also overwhelmed with the positive feedback and was pleasantly surprised when the book became a #1 Amazon Bestseller in my category (Inspirational Poetry) the day it debuted!

I try to respond to every post and every message on social media where someone has mentioned the book. It never gets old to me that there are people around the world holding my book in their hands. My mind often travels back to the imagery of sitting in my childhood bedroom at my little desk, carving out words in composition books before bedtime. I never would have dreamed where the words I wrote would go.

Rachel:  What’s next for you?   Will you write another book?  More music?   How will you keep uplifting women? 

Yes to all of the above! I have been collaborating with my sister Jamie Grace to turn many of the poems in this book into songs. I have also been mapping out a trip around the U.S. to do a few writing workshops, poetry readings, and acoustic shows. I’m so excited about it! I spend a good amount of time each day responding to messages and emails I receive so I am looking forward to bringing this online community that is being built into real life. I love social media, but there’s nothing like being able to connect with others and share stories face to face. Even as an introvert (and Myers Brigg INTJ and Enneagram 5) I’m looking forward to it! I can’t wait to see what lies up head.

Follow Morgan on Instagram (it's the best!), and listen to my podcast with her sister Jamie-Grace here (where I talk about adoption, breast cancer, type 1 diabetes, and my This Is Us infatuation).