Chicago movers-and-shakers share unconventional paths to parenthood

Stephanie Izard and Ernie

Stephanie Izard, 39

 

Chef and owner of Girl& The Goat, Little Goat Diner and Duck Duck Goat

 

Spouse: Gary Valentine, craft beer consultant

 

Child: Ernie, 4 months

 

Baby must-haves: Muslin blankets, Keekaroo Peanut Changer, WubbaNub pacifier

 

What was it like the first time you saw your son?

 

It was very surreal. I had a C-section, so I couldn’t feel the bottom half of my body. And suddenly there’s this baby. … And it’s scary! I didn’t read all the books; I didn’t know what I was doing. … When I was in the hospital, I was so scared, just holding him. And we were so nervous because we could not get the swaddle right. We were like, “Oh my gosh, we’re the worst parents!” We kept having to ask the nurse to swaddle him for us. Turns out, after we left the hospital, he was never swaddled again and he was totally fine. … You kind of get past your jitters and just start to feel more natural. … I just look at him and think, not to be cheesy, but of the miracle of life. It is a miracle. This little person grew inside my stomach. It’s unbelievable.

 

Has being a mom changed your approach to work?

 

It’s made me trust everybody more because I had to. I couldn’t be [at the restaurants] all the time. … I’ve learned I have all these amazing people on my team, and before, I would do more than I had to instead of letting them do what they’re here for. It’s kind of made all the team stronger, and it’s made me a little more trusting and dependent on the people around me, which I think is great. … There’s [no career accomplishment] that can compare to having Ernie. … There’s so many things about my work life that I love and am proud of, but it’s just a very different thing.

 

What’s been the most difficult thing about being a mom?

 

Just trying to figure out the whole sleeping and eating thing. … I’m sure every mom finds those to be pretty difficult. You kind of have to find what works for you. …In the beginning I was planning on breastfeeding, but my milk never came in naturally. And I had to get up in the middle of the night and tape this little thing to my boob so that he would think he was drinking off of me, but it was really formula. It was very stressful and upsetting, and I just felt like I was doing something wrong. … And as soon as I just accepted the fact that he was going to be raised on formula … that just felt so much better. … Do what’s right for you, because everybody’s going to have their opinions on what you should do with your baby.

 

As a chef, what food are you most looking forward to Ernie trying?

 

Everything! My husband is a super-picky eater, so I’m just excited to get Ernie to like everything from the start. [laughs] … I’m excited that it’s going to be fall when he starts eating, and I can get stuff from the farmers market and feed him. We had looked at making our own baby food to sell, but to use locally farmed ingredients, it just doesn’t make sense for prices and stuff. But I’m excited to feed him the locally farmed vegetables and such.

 

Any advice for taking babies to restaurants?

 

I was really nervous [the first time]. My friend came and we walked down the street to an Italian restaurant, and they were so nice. … A lot of people take the car seat out; I left him on the stroller so that if he did start crying, I could just book it out of there. I didn’t want to interrupt. When it’s nice outside, we always sit outside so that if he does get fussy, we can just kind of walk down the street a little bit. … I definitely would choose wisely on the restaurants, you know? Just stick to the casual, fun places.

 

Erin Ivory, 42

 

Traffic reporter for WGN Morning News

Credit: Thomas Kubik/TK Photography

 

Spouse: Demetrius Ivory, WGN meteorologist

 

Children: Joaquin, 11; Lucia, 8; Hadley and Harlow, 7 months

 

Baby must-haves: Twin Z Pillow, Baby Bjorn carriers, ExerSaucers

 

What was it like to use a surrogate?

 

Erin: I knew I could get pregnant, but I couldn’t carry again. The only way we could do this was through a surrogate, but I didn’t really know what that entailed. … At times, we felt like stalkers because we were constantly calling our surrogate, like, “How are you feeling? What are you eating? How many times have they kicked?” … It is a gift for the surrogate to do that, because even though they’re compensated, being pregnant is a lot, especially when you don’t get the reward at the end of having that baby in your arms. … It really wasn’t until she was on that operating table to do that emergency C-section that I realized all that she had really gone through and what she was giving up for us. And at that point, it’s like, what do you say? … Without her, we wouldn’t have these babies.

 

Demetrius: We had a great surrogate. She was really awesome, and we lucked out with the right person.

 

How did you respond when you found out you were having twins?

 

Erin: We were really praying and hoping for one [baby]. The doctor’s like, “There’s a heartbeat.” So, right then, we were like, “Oh my gosh, it worked! Finally, it worked.” And then she goes, “Annnnnd, there’s another heartbeat.” We were shocked that both took!

 

Demetrius: Everyone was crying, just seeing two little hearts beating like that.

 

Erin: I thought, oh my gosh, twins are going to be a lot, especially with our schedules and everything. But it’s really not that different, it just takes longer to do everything. … They’ve been really great and really fun. And I tell Demetrius all the time that my face literally hurts by the end of the day sometimes, just because I find myself just smiling so hard at them. They just bring a lot of joy.

 

Why did you decide to “go public” with your story?

 

Erin: After we went through the few cycles of IVF, we realized, first of all, insurance very rarely covers it, it was incredibly expensive, and a lot of times you just feel like you flushed $20,000 down the toilet and have nothing to show for it. And then you have to start all over again. Not to mention the emotional toll of being pumped up on hormones and all this stuff. … And it’s just a huge financial and emotional struggle and a lot of times there aren’t resources for these people. … I started thinking, why not just be open about all of this? I think it was the right call for us. … It’s been really awesome having support from people we don’t even know.

 

What is it like to co-parent with your husband?

 

Erin: It’s been fun to parent with Demetrius … You have to have a sense of humor when you’re doing this. When you’re overly tired and working these hours and there’s a lot of kids and a lot of dog hair in this house, you have to have someone who’s going to make you laugh. … It’s nice to have someone that really keeps things light and fun when otherwise, it could be kind of stressful and feel overwhelming at times. For me, half the pleasure has been watching him enjoy being a dad. He lights up with these babies. And with the older kids, he’s just fun. I tend to be a little more Type A, I have a list of eight things we need to do before dinner. Demetrius keeps it fun and treats them every bit as much as his kids as the younger babies.

 

Demetrius: Erin is a great mom. If you looked at it from the child’s point of view, that’s what you want your mom to be. She’s willing to do anything for the children; she creates a loving environment for them. … And the babies, I think, have kind of taken on her personality, her enthusiasm and her laugh-at-anything. They’re just really, really happy babies.

 

What advice would you give to fellow parents of twins?

 

Erin: The thing that has made the biggest difference is just not taking anything too seriously, to be able to find some humor in the moments where there’s meltdowns and messes and everyone’s exhausted. Just try to remember to be in that moment because they go so fast. I think that’s probably been the best advice that I received and it really rang true for me.

 

Demetrius: And keep them on a schedule.

 

Lindsay Avner, 34

 

Founder and CEO of Bright Pink, and one of the youngest people to undergo a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy

Credit: Laura Pollack/Pollack Photography

 

Spouse: Gregg Kaplan, Redbox founder

 

Children: Zach, 18; Lexie, 15; Abby, 13; and Lucy born Sept. 30

 

Pregnancy must-haves: Pea in the Pod maternity clothes, Urban Oasis prenatal massages

 

How have you been feeling?

 

The first 16 weeks, I wasn’t prepared for how slow time would go. I was just really nauseous. … And then you expect at 12 weeks, you’re going to miraculously feel better! … I’ve laughed that if I were to get pregnant again, I would love to take my maternity leave in the first trimester. Because it is so much work to go about your day, not telling anyone, and playing it off when you just feel so blah. … Even early on, I always felt very useful. Like, if I don’t accomplish anything else today, as long as I get up and I eat well and move around a little bit, I’m growing a little person in there.

 

How does being a mom change your perspective on work?

 

One of the things that I’ve realized is so much of being a good parent is just being present. This isn’t something that can fit nicely into your Google Calendar between 11:30 and 1. It’s about just being around and being there. … In the beginning, [Bright Pink] was about my story. And then I met [my stepchildren], who had seen cancer up-close-and-personal, watched their mom battle cancer for seven years and then passed away, and the work of the organization took on a very new meaning. It was the first time I felt like I had a deadline.

 

Knowing your genetic history, do you worry about having a daughter?

 

When my mom was diagnosed with both breast and ovarian cancer, they hadn’t even completed the Human Genome Project. Twenty-plus years later, we have access to genetic testing and the ability for people to make decisions, and I’m so blessed to sit on the front lines of watching the progress. She’s going to grow up in an environment where we’re going to be talking about this in a really positive, empowering way. She’s going to have a lot of good role models who can show this isn’t the end of the world. And ultimately, the most important thing for me is that early on she has a sense of responsibility when it comes to her health. … I look at my children, the three older ones and this new one coming in, and they need me. They are relying on me doing everything in my power to make sure I can be healthy. … I never met my grandmother or my great-grandmother. This is pretty beautiful that science and technology and information have allowed my mom to battle both breast and ovarian cancer, for me to be proactive with my own health, and for both of us to be around for a moment like this.

 

What are you most looking forward to about the baby’s arrival?

 

Love at a whole different level. I’m bringing this little person into the world, and there is so much love that she is going to be walking into. Not only from my parents, who are over the moon, and Gregg’s family, but our older kids and his late wife’s family, who we’re very, very close to. There’s just a lot of people who are going to be set up to give a lot of love and support, which I think is such a beautiful thing. … It’s definitely a modern family, but to us, it’s all we know. And I feel so blessed on every significant [level].

 

What are your hopes for the baby’s future?

 

I want to equip her to be self-sufficient and happy. To me, those are the two number-one qualities. I will never see myself get worked up over “Is she top of her class?” or “Is she an amazing athlete?” You want to have somebody who has a great relationship with themselves, first and foremost, is capable of having strong relationships with others, and ultimately can lean into their best skills and strengths and be happy.

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