Gulf Coast moms find connection and resilience — even in times of crisis — through blog

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About five years into her marriage, Christy Elias of Gulfport and her husband were ready to start their family. But, it wasn’t until five years later that she gave birth to their son, John Salem, in 2016. 

“My husband and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary of marriage when my son was nine months old. We waited for that sweet baby for a very long time,” she said.

Courtney Pace Hawkins Photography

Christy Bjork Elias, Gulf Coast Moms Blog co-founder and co-owner

Elias, who is now expecting her second child, is a co-founder and co-owner of Gulf Coast Moms Blog. She is hopeful the work she and her team have been doing since launching almost two years ago will bring a sense of connection and relief to Gulf Coast mothers as they adapt to raising their families during this COVID-19 crisis. She is confident that the women in these coastal communities will be just as resilient as they were nearly 15 years ago during another disruptive time in their lives.

“Most of us went through (Hurricane) Katrina,” she said. “And now we’re going through this (COVID-19 pandemic) with children. It’s so different. We’ve gone through devastation before, but to go through devastation with the worry of a child, that’s a different kind of anxiety. But moms still want normalcy for their children. As much as we may be anxious about things, we still want that.”

Elias, who was born in Costa Rica and moved to Mississippi at 6 years old, decided when her first child was born to leave her “dream position” as director of student affairs at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast campus and fully dedicate herself to her new role as a mother. 

“To really make that decision… it took a lot, but I also just felt so much at peace with it,” she said. “That doesn’t happen for everybody. This is just my story.”

Elias said she was able to see that firsthand through the experience of her close friend and business partner, Elizabeth DiLorenzo.

Both first-time moms, Elias and DiLorenzo were constantly searching for and reading content online in hopes of finding some guidance through the uncharted territory of motherhood.

Gulf Coast Moms Blog logo

It wasn’t until DiLorenzo presented an idea to Elias that the two college friends realized they could build their own community of mothers and exchange the type of resources and support they were in search of. 

Captivated by the stories they were reading on the New Orleans Moms Blog website, one of about 90 sites under the City Mom Collective, DiLorenzo and Elias began discussing a plan to start their own Gulf Coast Moms Blog. 

“The more we thought about it, we said to ourselves, ‘We have these women on the Coast that have stories,’” Elias said. “We have moms that can empower each other. We have women that could share their stories and help somebody else in our community.

“People tell you all the time that it’s so different when you become a mother, and it truly is. I didn’t really know that until I became one. I didn’t know how much support you needed not just from your family and friends but from absolute strangers that were also in your shoes.”

With Elias’ 11 years of working in sales and community development and DiLorenzo’s background in journalism and editing, the two launched the site in 2018 right before Mother’s Day. It is the only Mississippi site that’s part of the City Mom Collective, which has sites in cities throughout the country. Formerly the City Moms Blog, the network has a mission to “provide a positive voice for motherhood by connecting moms to resources and parenting perspectives unique to their communities by supporting women in the growth of their businesses and by creating meaningful partnerships between brands and hyperlocal audiences.”

Gulf Coast Moms Blog executive team members (left to right) Julie Krohn, Christy Bjork Elias and Elizabeth Slade DiLorenzo with Macey Fisher Young, co-sponser of the Happy New (School) Year Social event

During their first contributor call two years ago, DiLorenzo and Elias made a list of the different kinds of mothers they wanted to join the Gulf Coast Moms Blog team. It was important to the co-founders that their team was diverse enough to provide a variety of content that reflected a wide-range of parenting styles and was inclusive of all perspectives and experiences.

“There are so many different moms out there,” Elias said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that each mom is different. But, guess what, each child is different, too.”

More than 50 women submitted writing samples in hopes of becoming contributors. At that time, Elias and DiLorenzo could only manage about 25, so that’s how many volunteers they accepted that year. Elias said they hit almost all of the check marks on their “dream team” list. 

One of those first founding contributors they selected was 42-year-old mother of three Dr. Jennifer Ratcliffe, who currently serves in an administrative position at a local hospital in Gulfport. 

Jennifer Jones Photography

Jennifer Ratcliffe, a founding contributor of Gulf Coast Moms Blog, and her family

Ratcliffe had already been expressing herself through blogging long before volunteering for the Gulf Coast Moms Blog. She used writing as an outlet to stay encouraged and connected while her husband, who is a military officer and pilot, was away on deployment. Still a member of the writing team, Ratcliffe is now sharing her story of what it’s like working in a hospital during the coronavirus pandemic while still juggling raising children who are now home due to school closures. 

“I actually wrote something about this for Gulf Coast Moms Blog a couple of days ago,” Ratcliffe  said. “We always want time to slow down with our kids. The gift in all of this is that the pause button has been pressed for us. That daily rhythm of life that we’re so accustomed to is just gone, and we have been blessed with these big empty spaces of free time.”

As a founding contributor, Ratcliffe has witnessed the growth Elias and DiLorenzo have been able to achieve over the blog’s first two years of operation. Today, the blog’s Facebook page has more than 6,000 followers, and the writing team has doubled in size, with 50 current members.

Tilly Photography

Gulf Coast Blog Moms new contributor meet and greet

Ratcliffe says it’s the founders’ consistent push for content that is “relevant and relatable” that has ensured the success of the Gulf Coast Moms Blog.

“By managing the content and making it those two things, Christy and Elizabeth have attracted a huge following,” she said. People now see the blog as a resource and recommend it to their friends. Gulf Coast Moms Blog connects with a wide audience because of the diversity in contributors. Everybody can find somebody they can connect with.”

With growth comes the need for strategies to not only maintain but to also transcend that growth. Elias and DiLorenzo were well aware of this and, therefore, hired Tori Bishop as the blog’s business development director. 

Not even three months into her new role, Bishop was faced with the challenge of having to strengthen the network’s brand in the midst of a health crisis. Right now, her main priority is gauging the needs of mothers in the community and seeking local partnerships that can provide resources and solutions to help them cope during this time.

Brandi Stage Portraiture

Tori Bishop, Gulf Coast Moms Blog director of business development

“You don’t realize how connected you are to people,” she said.  “And the fact that that connection has been disrupted by this invisible thing, it makes it very difficult. We want to find ways that families can still have fun and celebrate things like birthdays, Easter, Mother’s Day. These are moments that you don’t get back.”

Bishop is in the process of developing a Facebook Live series that answers some questions mothers have about the coronavirus and that addresses topics, such as homeschooling and mental health. 

She has also helped organize a neighborhood Easter egg hunt activity, similar to the bear hunt that has become widely popular during quarantine. The Gulf Coast Moms Blog has provided printable coloring sheets of Easter eggs for decorating and hanging in windows, offering neighborhoods on the Gulf Coast an alternative to traditional Easter egg hunts.

“It is not easy,” Bishop says about being a working mother during this time. “But I lived here during Katrina, so I know that we are resilient people. I know that if we just do what we’re told, stay quarantined and keep everybody safe, we can get through this sooner than later. We’re going to bounce back because that’s what we do.”