I had worn this dress many times before, but this time it fit in all the wrong places.
The buttons up the front pulled apart, threatening to reveal small glimpses of skin between the gaps. The knee-length hemline clung too high, inching toward my upper thighs.
I looked down at my feet, tightly squeezed into a pair of blue flats. Luckily, I had managed to pull on a pair of nylons which encased my lower half like a human sausage. Good thing, too, because my insides felt like they’d spill out at any moment.
When they called my name, I eased my way to the front of the room.
I was participating in the Babson WIN Lab’s final pitch competition, having been selected as a finalist for a $5,000 cash prize to support my business. I had to give a five-minute presentation – probably the shortest presentation I had given in my life – and answer questions from a panel of judges.
Though I had been pitching about my business throughout the last nine months of my participation in the WIN Lab, I had practiced quite intensely for the last two days, running through the slides again and again until they were smooth. Five minutes wasn’t a lot of time; the presentation would have to be needle-sharp.
I clasped the presentation remote in my hand and took a deep breath. In front of me was a dark ocean of faces, many belonging to people who had supported me throughout my time in the WIN Lab. But at that moment, I hardly saw any of them. In fact, the only face I could think about was that of the one person who had not the faintest idea what was going on. That face, in the far back corner of the room, belonged to my daughter.
She was five days old.
Less than a week prior, I had received a call from Ashley Lucas, the Boston director of the Babson WIN Lab. She called with exciting news – I had been selected as a finalist for the WIN Lab final pitch competition! I was invited to present my business, Wanderful, on stage at their big event the following Wednesday.
I was thrilled, of course, though the timing was terrible. The day she called, I was approaching 42 weeks of pregnancy. The next day was Friday and I was scheduled for an induction at Mass General Hospital. I had no idea in what condition I’d be for a pitch competition the Wednesday after giving birth.
I told Ashley I’d give her a call on Saturday (the day after my presumed labor) and let her know if I was in or not.
Immediately after hanging up the phone, I called some of my closest friends and mentors. Is it a crazy idea to plan to pitch at a competition just five days after giving birth? Would I be in any physical shape to do it? Would I be in any emotional shape to do it?
I fiercely Googled topics like “postpartum pitching” online and found nothing. Some of my friends recommended I hang back this one time. Childbirth is serious and it’s not worth the added stress to pile work on top of that. The timing was just too tight to be reasonable. Could I join virtually, or record my pitch on video instead?
The last person I called was my WIN Lab coach and mentor, Miriam Christof. She Skyped me from her home in Germany. I told her the situation. And Miriam, in the direct, open, and honest way that I have always loved about her, basically said, “Look, Beth. If you have a c-section, it probably won’t happen. But if you don’t have a c-section, you can totally do it.” I trusted her, not only because she was an experienced entrepreneur and business leader herself, but because she was also a mom.
So it was decided. Provided everything went smoothly at the hospital, I’d do it.
That’s what led me to that stage, five days later. I gave one last look at my daughter, her small body making her stroller look enormous. Then I turned to the judges. And I pitched my heart out.
I think back to that evening often, because it was a very pivotal moment in my life. For months during my pregnancy I wondered if having a baby would change everything. Would I want to give up my career? Would Wanderful feel less important? Would I want it to feel that way?
I didn’t pitch at five days postpartum because it was easy or convenient. I didn’t pitch because I felt like I had to, nor did I take my new responsibility as a mom lightly. I pitched because it was difficult. Because it made me stronger. Because, frankly, I had a lot of time to kill just laying in a hospital bed doing nothing for a few days and prepping a PowerPoint seemed like a pretty decent option.
I pitched because I realized that though a part of me had transformed, taking on a new identity as a mother, it didn’t mean that I had lost any of the parts of me that had been there before.
I hadn’t changed. I had upgraded.
I pitched because I wanted to show my daughter – even a five-day-old daughter – a mom who could do anything. Because I want her to grow up seeing her mom do amazing things and knowing that she, too, can do amazing things. Because I want other women to see that we are complex creatures, that we are “and” creatures. I can be a mom and an entrepreneur. I can be a consultant and an artist and an aunt. I have many facets, and each side of me shines differently. And sometimes, one side can strengthen another side.
Today my daughter is eight months old, and while I write this, she is passed out in her crib, dreaming. She already has a fiery personality. She loves to laugh. She knows exactly what she wants and finds creative ways to get it. She is happiest when she is out exploring. And when she’s mad, the world around her trembles. The journey of parenthood is not for the faint of heart. But if you can embrace it, it will bring you more joy than you can imagine.
I write these words because I know there are women out there who constantly battle the career versus family question, as if we are meant to be great at one or the other but not both. There is little on the Internet that discusses the experiences of moms in the startup world, and certainly nothing that goes into pregnancy or the “fourth trimester” (the first three months postpartum) for entrepreneurs.
And it hasn’t always been easy. My motivations have been questioned more times than I can count by well-meaning strangers who want to make sure I have my priorities straight. Are you sure you don’t want to just focus on being a mom? Ask me how many times my husband has been asked that question.
These are things we must write and talk more about. Because the topics are important. Because there is so much we can learn from each other. Because women have been growing families and running businesses for centuries, and yet we have done it so quietly that society hardly realizes how long we’ve been doing it. Because until we raise our voices and share our experiences, we cannot expect the tech ecosystem to be more accommodating for moms and women considering motherhood.
It’s time for us to share our stories.