I’m a Venture Backed Startup Founder and I Just Had A Baby Omg!
Okay, so really I had said baby 3 months ago. In my defense, those three months have been a blur of tears, snuggles, work, breastfeeding, stress, smiles, poopy diapers, and a general swing between a complete sense of serenity and total chaos. So it seems to have gone by quite fast.
I found out I was pregnant (with my second) just a few days after my investor and I decided to work together. After considering all the pros and cons, I made up my mind to share the news with him, even though I was only 6 weeks along. There wasn’t even a visible heartbeat; he was the third person in the world to know.
We still only really had verbal interchanges (and agreements) between us, and if he was an asshole he could have found some roundabout way to get rid of me because it doesn’t fit his runway that 9 months from now I’ll be a little distracted. I was actually bracing for it a bit. Instead he looked at me straight in the eyes, didn’t lose his composure for a second, and said, “Well, it’s going to be challenging — for you — but startups are all about overcoming challenges, and I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it work.”
I’m so grateful to be backed by someone who isn’t freaked out by the fact that people have babies. When I went to visit him a few weeks postpartum he held my baby enthusiastically, lulled him to sleep with his baby-whispering skills, took selfies with all three of us, and then wrote this wonderful article about women in tech, and female founders in general. He definitely walks the walk when it come to these things, and the confidence with which he embraces it is both inspiring and contagious.
Operating out of a fog
Even though things are under control now (well, as much as they could be in an early-stage startup machete-ing its way to product/market fit), I have to say that he was definitely right about it being challenging. Sometimes it has been so damn challenging I thought it was impossible to overcome.
I was in labor for about 30 hours. It was an extremely powerful and an equally draining experience. After D was born, I guess I must have sent out a note to everyone because people started pinging me with messages of the congratulating kind. My co-founder texted. My first employee called. My investor called twice. I knew they were calling to wish me well, but I could not bring myself to answer. I was so exhausted I couldn’t imagine talking to anyone, couldn’t imagine doing anything except falling asleep while staring at my baby (rooming-in is da best), and I especially couldn’t imagine taking care of all those background tasks that were waiting for me at work.
I remembered all these stories of women who worked from their hospital bed through labor and right after, and I was too tired to be disappointed that I can’t even fathom the thought of sitting upright with a laptop. A little voice told me, “Don’t compare; it’s exhausting. Go to sleep.” So I did. But I couldn’t help but worry that I could never run my startup again because I will always be this tired.
I woke up to this text from my CTO and co-founder: “So happy for you. Hope you’re getting some sleep. This ship will sail on while you rest.” Hormonal and exhausted, I shed a few tears of sheer relief and gratitude, and fell back asleep.
At two weeks postpartum, I paused in the middle of all the chaos to contemplate the fact that in order to not lose their jobs, my counterparts in the U.S would have to go back to work now according to federal law. “There’s gotta be some agenda there,” I muttered to myself, but before I could think too much into it my baby pooped himself awake, and I was summoned.
At four weeks my baby was on a schedule, I started sitting in on meetings to get back in the loop. I would sip iced-coffee while listening to the conversation or follow their debates on collaborative documents, and think to myself how lucky I am to have such an independent team, and also how silly it was of me to cast my opinion on every single little product-related thing, when they can clearly handle it themselves.
Return to normalcy. Or not.
Fast forward to 7 weeks postpartum. I still legally had 7 more weeks of parental leave, but I tag-teamed it with my husband and went back to work. I was excited and nervous to return, and found it encouraging that the thing that bothered me the most was this superficial “Oh-man-I-still-look-pregnant” feeling (later I will find out I have diastasis recti, but that’s a story for a different post).
My first week back, I got so sick I thought I was going to throw up at the office. Incoherent thoughts about cows being separated from their nursling calves clouded my mind, and as I struggled to hold a proper pumping schedule I kept thinking that “my boobs are sad” (I remember thinking those exact words over and over again).
Over the next few weeks, we will have shipped a fully functional front-end, and later our SDK. Every week, I would think to myself, “Wow, I’m doing it! I’m CEO-ing a startup while raising a baby and a toddler!”
At the end of each week, I would reflect back on the week that passed and realize how much I was operating out of a fog. I’d comfort myself with the thought that at least this meant my week-by-week mental clarity was on its way up.
We were shipping new features and hitting deadlines, but at the same time I would crash and burn every 3–4 days, my mind and body clearly begging for a reset after being stretched too thin for too long. Even now, it’s clear to me that this is just the beginning.
If it’s never a good time for something, it doesn’t matter when you do it.
Startups are hard. And having babies is hard. And doing the two simultaneously is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (my time in the military included).
I don’t regret doing either of them, though. There’s never a good time to go build your startup, and there’s never a good time to have a baby. Entrepreneurs and parents both know this. They are both things that if you want them, you just have to do them, and then kind of juggle balls in the air in the hopes that the rest of your life will fall into place around them. And if you’re agile and smart but also very, very lucky, you don’t drop any ball that’s too important. If you choose to do both startups and babies at once, you pretty much double the number of balls in the air.
Investors around the world should take a page out of my investor’s book, but actually do it to the extent that he does. This means not pretending that everything will be the same after the baby is born (or even before then, for that matter). Something life-changing and life-creating has taken place, and it should be given the space that it deserves rather than be pushed aside by rewarding founders (or any employee, for the matter) who “works like they don’t have a family.” It works both ways — the people who have strong commitments outside the workplace are demonstrating not a lack of commitment to the company, but rather an innate ability to commit.
No, it won’t be easy. Yes, it will be damn challenging. But startups are about overcoming challenges. And after you’ve done this, trust me — all the other stuff will seem like a piece of fluffy vanilla cake with sprinkles.
Acknowledge that it’s going to be challenge, be there for your founder/colleague/employee, because *that* is what will cause them to push forward and achieve the kind of greatness neither of you thought was possible.