Moms Make it Work: Dana | Full-Time Working Mom, Widow, Re-married and Expecting Again

Today we have Dana posting for the Moms Make it Work series, a fellow Milwaukee-area mama who found me through Erika. I was absolutely intrigued by Dana's story and immediately said 'YES' to her email, requesting to post for the series. Dana is a full time working mom to one little girl, who lost her first husband to brain cancer, later remarried, and is now expecting another baby in September. When I read her post I turned to Nate and said, 'I love you,' and promised myself not to take my husband's health for granted. Dana's post is inspirational and an awesome example of how moms make 'it' work---whatever 'it' may be. Enjoy!


I was first introduced to Julia through a friend that was also featured on the Mom's Make It Work Series.  I'm a huge fan of the "let's stop judging other moms" movement and really appreciate this series.  I love hearing what works for other moms - other normal moms - normal people.   I  Why not share my story too?  You can find me over at and for the historical information you can head over to .  I know I babble - a lot - thanks for sticking it out through the entire entry!

What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And where are you now?

I grew up in a suburb North of Milwaukee, went to school downtown Milwaukee and now live in a suburb west of Milwaukee.  What can I say?  I love Milwaukee. 

I attended Marquette University and graduated with my BS in Human Resources.  I didn’t even know what HR was.  I just knew I wanted to a “business woman”.  Trust me – no one grows up saying, “I want to be in HR.”  But I actually love my profession. 

I met my first husband in October of 2003 - we worked together.  I can honestly say it was love at first sight.  But I was a professional HR woman, I was NOT going to date a co-worker.  Eh.  Flash-forward 3 years (almost to the date of meeting), and we were getting married.  Nic was the love of my life. 

Dating Nic - turning him into a Marquette Fan!

Nic was also a brain cancer survivor.  He had his first surgery before I met him and, being young and stupid, we thought it would never come back.  He had his second surgery in June of 2005.  He bought my engagement ring days later.  He battled chemo and radiation while we planned the wedding of our dreams.  

Our Wedding Day

We needed to wait one year after chemo before we could try getting pregnant and in March of 2008 we received the best news ever: I was pregnant – we were due December 28th.   I had an amazingly awesome pregnancy.  I got huge and fat and LOVED it. 

39 weeks pregnant - So bloated!
I started blogging around this time.  I don't know why.  I've always liked writing, so why not share my thoughts - and my pregnancy - with my family and friends.  Then on December 2nd, during a routine MRI, we learned Nic’s tumor was back.  He had brain surgery (again) on December 12.  Nic was so brave.  To him, this was just one more thing we had to go through.  I mean - who smiles for pictures minutes before brain surgery?  Nic was always positive. Nic was MY strength.
Getting ready for brain surgery - I'm pregnant - He's having surgery and he looks better then me!
His goal was to be off all of his pain meds by the time his daughter was born.  And he was.  On December 24th, we welcomed our beautiful baby girl, Eleanor Frances, into the world. 
Daddy's little girl
On the happiest day of my life, I could have never expected that my perfect little family would only exist for 2 years, 1 month and 29 days.  On February 22, 2011, Nicolas lost his battle with Brain Cancer.  I was 30.  I was working full-time.  I was a mother.  I was lost.  I was devastated.  And the only reason I got out of bed on February 23 was because of my daughter. 
This goofball makes life worth while - God I love her!
I continued working full-time.  I found a strength I didn’t know I had.  My life actually became better because I learned how to appreciate it.  I learned to slow down.  To live in the moment.  To value life.  To honor love.  To respect.  To laugher deeper.  I became this amazing person that my husband would have been so proud of. 

And when I least expected it – BAM!  In walked Andy.  Trust me.  My heart was NOT ready to love again.  And so Andy just picked up my heart…and Eleanor’s…and said, “When you are ready.  Take your time.”  And he was so delicate with us.  And my heart…it loved again.  I’ll never know why I get to be blessed with two amazing loves in one lifetime.  Some people don’t get the opportunity to love like this once.  And I get it twice.  And Andy accepts me as a Widow.  And knows that Nic is Eleanor’s Dad.  But now Andy is Eleanor’s Dad too. 

First "Family" Photo

Andy and Eleanor - Fast Friends!  

Strain for the Brain - 5K run for Brain Cancer - with my true love - for my true love.

In September of 2013, Andy and I were married.  It was a beautiful fall day…except for a few moments when the clouds opened up and it POURED and we had a crazy quick thunderstorm.  And it wasn’t coincidence.  And I sat in my wedding dress, holding my daughter’s hand, watching the rain….watching the blessing from above cover the land in happiness.  And as quickly as it started.  It stopped.  And our wedding was perfectly perfect. 

Becoming an official family

An amazingly perfect wedding day!

And then….BAM!  While preparing for a New Year’s Eve celebration….I thought…hm.  I wonder where my period is?  Andy and I will be expecting OUR first child in September 2014.  Eleanor will be a big sister…to a little brother. 

And through this all – through life’s twists and turns I have always remember that life is crazy sweet

 What are the best parts of your situation? What are the challenges?

The best parts?   The support that I have. 

1)      My husband dove head first into this “Family” thing. When I met him he was a 34 year old bachelor in every sense of the word.  Then two little ladies took over his life.  He supports me in EVERYTHING I do.  Want to apply for a new job?  Do it!  Want to run a ½ marathon?  Do it!  Want to make all of our wedding invitations even though I think you’re crazy?  Do it! (he even helped punch paper and tie ribbons.)  He’s amazing.  I have never felt more supported in my entire life.

2)      I just started a new job in January.  I work for a much smaller company now, located approximately 3 miles from home.  3 miles from day care.  I have breakfast every morning with my daughter and I take her to school.  By the time I leave work at night, my husband and daughter are just pulling in the driveway from daycare – he does pick up.  I work a lot of hours and have to travel for work, but I have a lot of flexibility.  I can chaperone a field trip, I can participate in school activities and given our proximity to school and daycare, I can still work a late night and manage to get out in time for an evening school event. 

3)      I have an amazing family!  My parents live relatively close by.  We used to live about 2 miles from them and after my first husband passed away they were an imperative part of my daughter's and my life.  They picked her up every day from day care.  They had us over for dinner more nights then not.  When I moved into Andy's house, they were devastated, but they still want to be involved as much as possible and will do anything to help.  I’m also still very involved with my first husband’s family.  I always loved them like my own.  Just because Nic isn’t around, doesn’t mean they get to get rid of me too!  And my husband’s parents are divorced.  So I have a mom and step-dad on one side of town and a dad and step-mom on the other side of town.  Both parents accepted me AND ELEANOR into their lives whole-heartedly.  What?  Do things like this really happen or do I live in a fairy tale?  Eleanor may be MY daughter - but there is truth in the saying, "It takes an army to raise a child".

Eleanor's 4 sets of Grandparents.  One Lucky Lady!

4)      I should probably mention that my husband works from home.  This is a blessing beyond words!  While I’m running around in the morning, he’s getting our daughter ready.  He cuddles with her in bed while I’m getting ready and while I’m making lunch and breakfast, he’s with her picking out clothes.  With him not having to get ready in the morning and not having a commute, our mornings are glorious!

What are the challenges?  Read everything above.  I work a lot of hours.  I’m the HR Director of a company with 450 people.  I travel for work.   I have 3 mother-in-laws and a mom that thinks I moved across the planet, when I really just moved across the city.  The working mom guilt is so oppressive sometimes it’s hard to breathe!  (More on that later).

Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?

 Um.  Yes?  No?  I always knew I was going to work.  I always pictured myself dropping off my kids at school wearing my black power suit and black pumps.  I imagined changing in the car on my way to a PTA meeting that I was late for. 

I didn’t expect to be in a position like I’m in this early in my career, which is positive and negative at the same time.  It can certainly be stressful.  I feel a lot of pressure and I create my own internal pressure to succeed.  I didn’t expect to be a widow.  I didn’t expect to love again.  I didn’t expect to be the person I am today, but feel pretty dog-goned blessed that I am. 

Getting a visitor at work!

Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?

Was this my ideal situation?  Ha!  No one imagines losing their husband after only 5 years of marriage.  I never imagined needing to start over.  I never imagined needing to date again, at 31, with a 2 year old daughter.  I never imagined I would get such an amazing second husband. 

When my first husband became really sick, I became someone I didn't know.  I found this strength I didn't know I had.  People ask me how I did it - I don't know.  I just did.  And if you found yourself in this situation - you too, could do it.  I needed to take care of him.  I needed to protect him.  I needed to protect our daughter.  Who cared about me?  I surely didn’t. 

But when my first husband became really sick and I stopped caring about me these people just came out of the woodwork to take care of us!  Friends, family, strangers.  People are AMAZING.  People are great.  Just give yourself a moment to trust humanity and amazing things can happen.  My job at the time wasn’t really great.  Not working, especially as the only person in the family making any money (can you believe at 2 my daughter wouldn’t get a job?!) wasn’t an option.  When all my friends were quitting their jobs to stay home, grow their family and raise their children, I didn't have an option.  If I wanted us to stay in our home, I needed to work.  I kept working hard and am now I'm in a great position with a great company.  I can work in a high level position because I have a husband that supports me and starts dinner if I send him a text saying…"Oops.  Running late.  Again."  And even when I get home late, he still greets me at the door with my running shoes, reminding me how much better I’ll feel after a run.  And I hate him for it…but he’s right. 

Is this my ideal situation.  Maybe.   Maybe not.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do you see yourself making a career change (whatever that means) in the next 5-10 years? Or is this current set up staying put for the long haul?

Career change.  No.  I’m in HR for life.  I truly love what I do, which is great because it's a big time commitment.  

Secret confession?  The only other second career I have in mind is a children's author.  I dream of writing a children's book.  The first one I will write will be for small children dealing with grief.  I had a hard time finding decent books to read to my daughter when Nic got sick and eventually passed away.  Unfortunately, Eleanor isn't the only 2 year old that has lost a parent.  If I could help just one person try to explain death to their small child, I would feel such a sense of accomplishment.  Someday I'll get the courage to take my scribbled out notes and turn them into a book.

Being a goof - as always!

Tips on how you make your situation work for you:

Plan for the unexpected.  Sometimes, we get home from work and we want to go play outside.  The next thing we know it's 7:00 and we are supposed to be getting Eleanor ready for bed.  So, we eat grilled cheese for dinner. 

Find support.  I'm lucky.  I have an amazingly involved family. But there is support in so many areas.  I have friends that I consider family, we are that close.  I'm involved in our church and am slowly meeting more people that way.

Communication with your spouse!  Andy told me on one of our first dates that he wasn't a mind reader.  And believe it or not, I had to hear that and remind myself of it constantly!  When I get mad at him, I think, Darn it!  Why can't you read my mind?  Ummm, because he's not a mind reader and I need to TELL him what I need.

How do you handle mommy guilt?

Wine. Chocolate. Online Shopping.  Running.

Seriously - it's HARD.  Every day, I drop my kid off at daycare.  I feel bad.  But she loves it there.  She has made friends and she has learned WAY more than I could have taught her if she staid with me these 5 years.  90% of my friends either stay home full-time or part-time.  Sometimes I get jealous.  But when I'm with my kid, I'm with my kid.  I try to put the phone down when talking about her day.  I make her a priority.  We make the most of our weekends.  And I know we get to enjoy things that we maybe couldn't enjoy if we both weren't working.  We can take a weekend trip away, plan for and look forward to a big vacation.  Eat out so we don't need to make dinner at home when things get super crazy.

Celebrating New Year's Eve 2013 in Disney World


I make time for me too.  Andy has been great with helping me with this.  When I lost Nic, I overcompensated with Eleanor and had to be mom and dad.  I felt like I needed to be with Eleanor all the time.  She lost one parent - I needed her to know I wasn't going anywhere.  And I know I got strength from her in return.  She kept me going.  I wanted life to be "normal" for her.  Andy teaches me, reminds me, that doing things for me is just as important.  Taking care of me is just as important.  It feels so special to have someone tell me that.  And now, while I'm running, and the mom guilt creeps in...I think...she might not be with ME, but she's with her Dad.  And I smile.  And Dads need that time...without mom interfering. 

And sometimes, Andy and I even get time alone.  Which is so important for any adult relationship, but I feel it's especially important for us since we have only been together for a short time.  And sometimes I feel guilty about that.  I feel guilty that I'm choosing me, instead of Eleanor.  That I should be the one to put her to bed every time.  But Grandparent time is just as important.  Eleanor has some great grandparents that love her unconditionally.  Those grandparents are just as deserving of her time.  It's so special that she can go have a sleepover with one of them and Andy and I can go out to dinner, catch a sporting event, catch a concert - or just sleep!  I'm the parent - but I'm not raising my kid alone. 

My two best girls - Eleanor and my sister - after I completed my 1/2 marathon

Advice for new moms struggling with returning to work outside of the home? Or struggling to decide if staying at home is the right choice?

Argh.  It's the toughest decision a mom has to make. I remember starting my maternity leave thinking I never wanted to return to work ever again - It didn't help that I didn't like my job.  I couldn't imagine parting from my baby girl.  But every day it got easier.  I love working. I love knowing that I'm being a great role model for my daughter.  I am a strong, independent woman.  I can stand on my own two feet.  But I know how to ask for help.  I'm proud of myself and feel two little eyes watching everything I do.  You HAVE to make the right decision for YOU.  But don't make it in the hospital when they are handing you your baby for the first time.  And whatever decision you make at first, doesn't have to be the decision you keep for the rest of your life.  I have friends that went back to work right after maternity leave and then 3 years later decided they want to stay at home.  The decision that each of us makes is the best decision for us.  No one can tell you what to do...and seriously, don't ask anyone what to do.  What they do works for them.   

Oh yeah - I'm a proud momma to a 55 lb. fur-baby - Karl!  It's a full family photo...

How do meals work in your family? Meal planning? How often do you grocery shop? Who is in charge of this task in your family??

I meal plan for the upcoming week and do all my grocery shopping on Sunday.  It's sometimes hard to decide what I want to eat for dinner on Thursday on the previous Sunday, but if not we'd be eating out every night.  I plan a great dinner for Sunday evenings because I have time to cook and I really don't mind cooking.  Then I try to keep it simple and easy Monday through Thursday.  On Fridays and Saturdays I'll either run to the grocery store to pick up ingredients or we'll eat out, at a friends or at my parents.  It REALLY helps that my husband works from home.  He's pretty good with being able to start dinner before I get home so we aren't eating at 7 at night.  Andy wasn't much of a cook before we entered his life.  He still needs to follow a recipe pretty literally, whereas I'm more likely to improvise or substitute, but he's come a long way in a short time! 

How do you keep your house clean? Power cleaning after bedtime? Staying out of the house as much as possible? Cleaning while kids are awake? Purging often? Cleaning schedule?

Am I supposed to keep my house clean?  Again - my husband works from home.  So when Eleanor and I leave for daycare in the morning, he has about 30 minutes before he starts work.  He usually takes care of the kitchen at this time.  I'll try to clean the bathroom while giving Eleanor a bath.  And usually we'll both take a room one day over the weekend and try to clean it.  When we move (did I mention that?  With baby #2 on the way and a husband working from home, we needed to do a little upgrading!), Andy's office will be in the basement, so I'm going to hire a cleaning lady to come in and do my deep cleaning.  Then I just need to do maintenance.  Andy feels weird having a cleaning lady with him working from home, but he's WORKING.  Just because he's at home doesn't mean he has time to clean.  So I'm hiring a cleaning lady.  Yeah!

My life might not be exactly as I imagined it, but I’ll tell you this – it’s great and I wouldn’t change it.  Life really is what you make of it.  Life hands you lemons.  Sit down and cry about it.  Eat a ton of chocolate.  Drink yourself silly.  But pick yourself up.  This is the only life you will get.  Make the most of it.  It won’t go as planned.  I promise you that.  But you never know…it might just turn out beyond your wildest dreams.

You just can't help smiling!

{Thank you so much, Dana! Best of luck with baby number two. Find the rest of the MMIW series here}


  1. Wow. I loved reading this. Dana you are amazing!

  2. love loved this post!!! I also have to work so it was refreshing to read about someone who has to make it work and yet still has gone through so much more than me! What a great inspiration.

  3. This was an amazing post, thank you so much for sharing - I love your positive attitude, what an inspiration!

  4. I love how positive you are and how you picked yourself up. Great input!

  5. Absolutely speechless! Amazing life story! Dealing with divorce or multiple kids is one thing, because usually the ex/spouse is still out there somewhere to help out somehow... dealing with death while having a kid so young is really tough. Amazed and cannot imagine having to go through that and sill have such a great sense of humor and such a great big heart! Congrats!


  6. What a great post, thank you for sharing your story! I, like most of us, probably, can't imagine losing my husband at such a young age - how very sad, and how wonderful to have met a man to love the second time around and who loves Eleanor as his own.

    This may sound totally weird and stalkerish, but reading this I thought "we should be friends!" I totally grew up thinking I wanted to be a "business woman," too, though I had no idea what that meant for me. I work full-time and always envisioned that for myself, despite also wanting three kids. I'm expecting in September, too, and her name will be Eleanor! By chance will your baby boy be named Henry or Ben? Those are some good names right there! :)

    Anyway, best of luck with the rest of your pregnancy and thanks again for sharing!

  7. I'm so glad I found this blog! This series is wonderful!

    My friend lost her husband to a sudden illness less than two years after they got married when their son was six months old. She's an amazing picture of strength and I'm so proud of her for her optimism and outlook on life. It's especially inspiring to read about Dana's experience, and I wish the same happiness for my friend.

    Also, as a mom of two and children's book illustrator, I couldn't agree more that there aren't enough books out there to help children tackle issues of grief. If Dana is ever interested in discussing a collaboration, please let me know, whether it be now or in ten years! Here is a link to a project I did on adoption: just so you have a feel for my style.

    Thank you again for sharing this incredible story.

  8. I think this has been my favorite of this series! Dana, you're an inspiration. Best wishes with your new baby!

  9. Wow. Dana, you are a very strong and spirited person. You have been through A LOT in a short span of time. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  10. Wow! I love this post for many reasons, but mainly because Dana is such a positive person and a true inspiration. My brother died suddenly last summer from a heart attack at 33. He didn't have any children but was married to the love of his life and my SIL would say the same. I want nothing more than for her to find the 2nd love of her life and get to have a house full of children. She deserves it, and this post gave me hope that true love & happiness can be hers again! Thank you for sharing!

  11. Crying my eyes out over here! Sad and happy tears. What a beautiful family and story. That race photo has to be the most maxing story-in-a-photo picture I have ever seen.

  12. This post had me glued to the screen with tears in my eyes. What an amazing story and a truly inspiring woman, wife and mom. I hope you do write a children's book - you truly have a story to tell and I know you could inspire and be there for others when they need it most.

  13. Your positive attitude is so inspiring. Wish you the best with the remainder of your pregnancy and I hope you have a smooth delivery. Congrats to you and your family!

  14. This is such an amazing story. Thanks for sharing!

  15. We're about to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary next month- I now feel doubly blessed to have had so many good years with my husband. Your positivity and infectious good spirits are so inspiring. I wish you, Andy, Eleanor and your little one a lifetime of happiness and as few trials as God would see fit to give you. God bless!


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