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The unsung hero who helped a woman in her moment of shame over being stay-at-home mom

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

When times are stressful, it can help to think about the people who've helped us in moments of need. Today, we kick off a new series from the team at Hidden Brain. It's called My Unsung Hero. Each week, we'll bring you stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on another person. We begin today with Mary Amato. Mary encountered her unsung hero shortly after a difficult pregnancy and the birth of her second child. Mary's choice to become a stay-at-home mom was starting to weigh on her.

MARY AMATO: My husband, a science writer, had just won an award for his writing from a chemistry association, and we were flown from D.C. to California for the big award banquet. It was really exciting, but I was also a mess. I was having an identity crisis. I had quit my job when our first child was born because I felt that raising kids was important work, and I wanted to do that work. But people would say you stopped working. I had been working harder than I had ever worked and not getting a single paycheck or recognition from my social network.

And the host took the mic and introduced my husband, listing all of his accomplishments. And then after this long list, the host gestured to me, a homemaker and mother of two. This was the first time I ever heard myself defined by those words. The place was full of scientists, mostly men, but there were a handful of women. And I remember feeling a sense of shame, and I thought they must either see me as clueless or as a traitor to the cause.

After the speech and the banquet was over, I sat at the big round table alone, feeling way too self-conscious to mingle, staring at my dessert plate. And then one of those older female scientists walked up to me. She looked me straight in the eye and she said, I just want you to know I'm sorry. She said, I just want you to know that what you're doing is so valuable. And she moved on before I had a chance to thank her. She had given me exactly what I needed in that time. Now, when I see a woman or a man during the middle of a workday pushing a stroller, I will often stop and say what you are doing is so valuable. Thank you.

SNELL: Mary Amato of New York. Mary is now a children's book author and educator. You can share the story of your unsung hero. Record a voice memo on your phone and email it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.