Shannon Stone and her family

Shannon Stone and her family

Shannon Stone was handed the proverbial lemon and not only has she made lemonade, but she has made enough to nourish her community.

Six years ago, Stone was having trouble adjusting to motherhood with her newborn son so she sought out help from a community agency.

“I was broke and scared and I left with a $400 bill and no support beyond that visit.”

After this experience, Stone decided this was not acceptable for her or for any mother in Louisville. She took this frustration and started a business, Mama’s Hip.

Mama’s Hip, located at 1559 Bardstown Road, opened in 2008 as an attachment parenting retail shop, selling items such as baby carriers and wraps, wellness teas, and teething necklaces, as well as a space in the back of the store for play groups to meet.

Now, Stone sees her business as being less about a particular style of parenting and more about parental support.

She considers Mama’s Hip a resource for all moms. “Parent how you want,” she says. “If you come here, you’re not going to be judged. Even though I did breastfeed and co-sleep and wear my babies, and I still may have parenting practices that aren’t mainstream, they work for us, and that’s all that matters.”

rebuilding the villageAt the beginning, Mama’s Hip was a store that offered support groups and new mother classes, but over the past few years, Stone tells me, her priorities have flip-flopped.

“We’re mostly classes and groups and education and just a little bit of retail,” she says. “We have anything from pre-natal yoga, childbirth, breastfeeding classes, on up to parent-child/toddler activities, basically anything to support and empower parents.”

This shift in focus has allowed Stone to offer more free support, both on-site and online.

Drop into Mama’s Hip and you’ll notice that the retail space is located in the front room of the renovated shotgun house, painted a cheery canary yellow and decked out with a variety of gear and supplies.

But the real magic is behind this retail space where Stone hosts drop-in music, art and yoga classes for parents, caregivers, and children, where support groups meet once a week, and teachers offer a wide variety of classes for parents with children of all ages. Rather than relying on the income generated by her retail business, Stone says the bulk of her income now comes from space rental to teachers.

Stone sees her business as a space for moms to connect with one another and views her role as the connector.

“I love moms, and I love telling moms that they’re doing a great job,” Stone tells me. But as the number of classes and support groups she offers has increased, she is happy provide space for the group without having to facilitate.

“I like the way I’ve been able to step out of it over the years and just create that space for other moms,” she says. “Because it used to be I felt like a bartender for a lot of years. People would come in to buy something, but that was never why they were coming in. They were coming in because they wanted to talk about something. And that’s hugely important when you have a baby, to talk to other grown-up people, and sympathetic people and supportive people.”

Stone likes that the groups now have little to do with her. “I don’t participate all that much. In fact, I have a pretty hands-off approach with a group because it’s not about me. It’s about people connecting with each other.”

Stone is not simply referring to the parenting groups which meet at the store, but also to the 10 private Facebook groups that Mama’s Hip administers. These groups are just as much a part of the Mama’s Hip community as the ones that meet on site. In fact, Stone believes the Mama’s Hip Facebook groups have grown tremendously as a community.

“I kind of can’t believe it. It’s a really big thing that’s happened. I don’t think I would have dared to imagine it would have happened this way.”

Currently, the Mama’s Hip’s Facebook groups have 1,043 members. “I got on Facebook I don’t know how long ago, maybe five years ago, and was kind of dabbling in it and opened up a group, and it was an open group for a long time, but there wasn’t much action. And over the past year,” Stone explains, “the groups have just exploded. The groups are closed now to give people some privacy.”

And this privacy is key. Parents, Stone believes, aren’t posting questions about parenting problems on their personal Facebook walls because they are afraid of being judged. Since she has shifted her business’ focus away from retail and toward parenting support, Stone believes her Facebook groups have grown because they see Mama’s Hip as a resource for support and advice.

Some of the Facebook groups Stone administers include: parenting groups devoted to children’s different stages and ages, healthy eating habits, single moms, attachment parenting, working moms, and a clothing and gear swap group.

The feedback she has gotten from members is that they feel safe in the groups, and that’s exactly what Stone wants. She worries about protecting her community’s privacy. To that end, Stone is working on migrating her Facebook groups to a new platform located on her website. Ultimately, she hopes this will give her members more privacy than Facebook can guarantee and be accessible to more people.

She projects that the new website will be running by summer and hopes to poll her members for feedback before it launches.

The new website isn’t Stone’s only new endeavor. In 2012, along with three other moms who teach yoga, childbirth, and parenting classes at Mama’s Hip, Stone began the nonprofit group Mama to Mama with the hope of taking the services that Mama’s Hip offers and bringing them into the wider community.

“As much as I feel like Mama’s Hip is accessible because we have free activities and we’re sort of centrally located, it’s just not,” she says “If you’re not a certain type of mom, living a certain type of life, then you’d never come in here.”

Molina and her daughter Emma

Molina and her daughter Emma

While Stone and her partners, Heather Molina, Anne Darku and Emily Whitsett Pickett, are waiting for Mama to Mama’s nonprofit status to be approved, they are not waiting to work. The group just finished an Indiegogo crowd-sourcing campaign to support their services for the first six months and surpassed their financial goals.

The group is providing a cloth diaper loan program for families on WIC and just launched their volunteer doula birthing program that also provides pre- and post-natal classes and support to moms through three local organizations: Volunteers of America’s Freedom House, The Center for Women and Families, and the Jefferson County Public School’s Teenage Parent Program (TAPP).

Mama to Mama also offers educational workshops for volunteers. Recently, the group sponsored the two-day training workshop “When Survivors Give Birth” held at The Center for Women and Families. Twenty-five volunteers attended.

Restructuring her business has allowed Stone to start Mama to Mama and to focus more on the needs of all Louisville moms. And while Stone assures me that she loves babies very much, she loves moms even more.

“I really feel that we can support children more by supporting their parents.”

For a list of Mama’s Hip’s current classes, workshops, and support groups, go to their website or check out their Facebook page. If you are interested in joining one of the Mama’s Hip Facebook groups, you must request to join.

For more information about Mama to Mama, visit their website.