When our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, Brett Russo, was walking the painful journey of infertility, she kept a journal chronicling her experience and feelings. Four years and one baby later, that journal morphed into a #1 Amazon best-selling book, The Underwear in My Shoe, giving readers an unfiltered look at the dark journey of infertility. In it, Brett talks candidly and openly about her heart-wrenching struggle—and with her breezy, friend-to-friend tone, she’s a supportive best friend and cheerleader to others feeling alone and defeated. Oh, and did we mention this best-selling author and Harding mama of a one-year-old son is also a CEO of a commercial printing company? We sat down with Brett to find out about the path to penning her book, what she hopes women doing IVF will learn from reading it and why she makes every important business decision with her dry cleaner in mind (true story).
Besides being an author, you also work for a printing company. Tell us about your background.
My brother and I took over our family’s commercial printing company, Capital Printing. I started there in sales right after college and then fell in love with it. I’m not sure if it was the thrill of sales in general or working right beside my father and brother every day, but either way, I was hooked. I’m the company’s CEO, and juggling a career with a baby is an ongoing challenge—but you can’t go wrong when there are love and passion in both categories.
What compelled you to share your journey to motherhood through a book? Did you always want to write?
I always knew in some ways I wanted to write a book. I wrote in college a little, but poetry mostly. When I was doing IVF, I found myself in a very dark place. I felt very alone and didn’t know what to do with what I was feeling. I began to write down what I was going through in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of it. I would take a break, then go back to it, managing to keep the journal, but didn’t finish it. After I was pregnant, I announced it on Facebook, alluding the journey was not perfect, and said to anyone else out there having trouble, hang in there, you’re not alone. When I woke up the next morning, I had hundreds of messages from women in my life who were experiencing the same thing and had nowhere to turn. At that moment, I knew I had to finish it—not because my story was so different from anyone else’s, but because it was the same. The book became my passion because I knew it could help other women feel less alone.
How do you hope your book impacts and inspires other women, particularly those going through challenges starting or growing their families?
I don’t think people realize how common infertility is—one in every eight couples experiences it. Yet, most people don’t understand how devastating it can be or the emotional toll it can take. I hope The Underwear in My Shoe and my story helps women during those vulnerable dark moments of their journeys to feel better prepared, hopeful, and less alone. We have to open up and talk about it without feeling shameful. And my book does that—I was there. I was the woman looking through Facebook, feeling like the only one on earth without children. I was there when test after test came back negative, and the grief hurt in ways I never knew I could hurt. I was there when people said inappropriate things and left me feeling alone and misunderstood. And I was there when I felt like I would never get the chance to be a mother—it’s a lonely place. Sometimes just knowing you are not alone can make all the difference in the world and help you feel hope. I know hope can get lost when you are going through this process, and my book encourages women on this journey to hold tight to it, even when it gets slippery.
Tell us about a local business you support and what you love about them.
Well, I know this sounds funny, but it’s true: I have learned so many lessons about customer service and sales through my dry cleaner. They are a small family-run dry cleaner close to my office in Middlesex called Continental Cleaners. No matter what request I go in there with, they say yes even if it’s an extraordinary ask or unreasonable. They make it happen without ever letting me know what a pain it was to get it done. After I started running my own business, I realized how hard saying “yes” can be and how disruptive it can be. I often think about Continental in those tough moments with an overbearing client. They have taught me that people will come back if the “ease of doing business” is there—I say to myself, there’s always another vendor, but who makes it easy for them? No matter what you do in life, you have to do it with all your heart, whether it’s a printing business or a dry cleaner or writing a book.
What great lessons have you learned from other NJMOMpreneurs, and what advice do you have for other NJMOMpreneurs who are struggling?
I have learned that anything is possible. Being a mother is not easy—it’s one of those “you don’t know until you know” experiences. It’s hard to do it all, and often the one thing you don’t have time for is yourself. But women like the ones you feature on NJMOM teach me every day that you need to make goals for yourself and go for them. I have struggled and fought the hardest battle of my life, but it made me realize we can all be stronger when we are open about what we are going through. I’ve learned even in your darkest moments, when you feel like you will never feel like yourself again, hang in there. And when you find yourself again, you will be stronger than you ever knew possible. Whatever your “thing” is, keep the hope inside of you—you’ve got this.