Pregnancy: The Ultimate Hero’s Journey
How one woman’s journey through three pregnancies transformed her relationship with her work, her writing, and her self.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
This essay is part of the Startup Pregnant Interview Series asking women (and men) about what it means to birth new businesses, grow in leadership at work, and bring new people into the world. These interviews seek out the personal details as a way to inspire new thinking about what it means to be pregnant, to go through physical and emotional transformations, what it means to be your most creative self, and how that influences work as we understand it today. Outdated cultural thinking about what work looks like and traditional gender roles leave both men and women tired and searching for a different kind of meaning.
These interviews are conducted in three parts: (1) first, on pregnancy, parenthood, and babies, (2) second, on work, wisdom, and culture, and (3) on startups, teams, and businesses. Each layer informs the other, and none is held as a separate entity.
TODAY WE GET TO INTERVIEW MELLISA REEVES
Mellisa Reeves is a writer, doula, and podcaster. She is the founder of Womb and Hearth and Mother Birth, and was previously a highly successful real estate agent. Through three pregnancies and her experiences writing about fertility, grief, compassion, and connection, she provides connection and support for women throughout their experiences of motherhood. Her honest, authentic, and vulnerable writing have made countless women whisper, “me, too” across the internet and reach out to her for support, emotional connection, and wisdom.
“Pregnancy can be extremely isolating, even when you have supportive people in your life who are engaged and present. There is simply no way for others to feel the sensations and emotions that you will feel throughout the pregnancy journey.” — Mellisa Reeves, Founder, Womb & Hearth and Mother Birth.
Let’s begin. We’ll start by talking about pregnancy, motherhood, parenting, and babies.
SARAH PECK: Have you always known that you wanted to work and have babies? Did you want to do both at the same time?
MELLISA REEVES: I grew up in a really large family (the oldest of 10 kids), so I believe I always assumed having kids was going to happen, although I wasn’t “dying to be a mother.” I had grown up with a really traditional view of family structures, but couldn’t ever see myself being a stay at home mom, even though that was my strongest image of motherhood. After getting married in my early 20’s, we decided to wait a few years to have kids, by which time my real estate career had really begun to thrive. It was always assumed that I would continue to work, although admittedly I didn’t think through the logistics much at all. At that point my career felt so exciting and rewarding that I had a hard time focusing on the transition to motherhood.
How did pregnancy change the way you worked?
During my first pregnancy, I really didn’t see any changes. I was a workaholic, riding the waves of burgeoning career success, and I didn’t want to slow down for anything. I worked right up until my birth, and can recall taking client calls during labor. I went right back to work within a couple of weeks postpartum, which was a regretful decision. I struggled with severe postpartum anxiety and wasn’t in a state of emotional awareness to be able to identify that or seek support. I found a lot of comfort and peace in my work (which I could control) and it was very difficult to be present as a mother during the first several months.
During my second pregnancy, I knew that I couldn’t do things the same way, and now also had the awareness and tools to identify when I was struggling. I was also in a more stable place in my career and with much stronger partner support, found myself pulling back from work, especially busy work, during pregnancy. I would take naps, spend time writing, and focus on emotional preparation for baby’s arrival. It was a much different experience.
How did your mindset around work, motherhood, and babies change when you became pregnant?
The second time (and now third), greatly. After the experience of my first where I became so fixated on work, I was determined to find a much better balance and to nurture both my career goals/dreams as well as my body and mind in preparation for motherhood. Now, during this pregnancy, making a complete career shift from real estate to writing and podcasting “full time” has allowed me to rewrite all the rules and decide what feels right and works best for me. Every day is a process of listening and taking cues from my body, trusting that it can guide me.
What was an unexpected joy, surprise, delight about pregnancy? What was something that surprised you about being pregnant?
With all of my pregnancies I have been delighted by the sensations of growing a human, and learning to trust my body more each time. Body awareness and connection was not something I experienced growing up, and so pregnancy has been one of the gateways for me to accepting my womanhood and femininity, and to nurturing the integration between my mind and my body.
How did your mindset around work, motherhood, and babies change after the arrival of your kid?
Looking back on my postpartum period with my first, it was very evident that I used my work as an escape from the pain and anxiety I was experiencing. This made the transition even harder as bonding was difficult when I was so disengaged, and I had no idea how to balance the two. I withdrew more and more into my work, and it took me years to recognize this and to accept what it had cost me. Later, through therapy, increased emotional awareness and presence, as well as the pregnancy and stillbirth of my second, my mindset completely shifted. The process of going back and bonding with my first even all those years later was painful but such an important gift, one that taught me it is never too late, something we always fear as mothers. This period of my life also gave me the insight and strength to pursue living intuitively and with balance, something I will always have to work at.
What was the hardest thing about being pregnant that you wish other people knew?
While I have had relatively easy pregnancies from a physical perspective, it is so easy to underestimate the physical, emotional and mental toll of experiencing something that no one else can really experience with you. It can be extremely isolating, even when you have supportive people in your life who are engaged and present. There is simply no way for others to feel the sensations and emotions that you will feel throughout the pregnancy journey. Reaching out and being vulnerable becomes more important than ever to reduce that feeling of isolation and to share as much of the experience as possible.
Let’s shift and look at the world of work and our wisdom about work from a cultural lens.
SARAH: What do you wish was more common in our culture?
MELLISA: I believe that “Leaning In” has had the unintended effect of disconnecting us from our intuitive feminine energy and from the support structures that women have always thrived in. From mommy wars to female competition in the workplace, women are often not a safe place for each other, and we become further disconnected from each other and our own intuition. I wish we could all embrace our unique gifts and limitations and inspire/support each other to success in it’s various forms.
“If I could tell my male and/or startup friends this one thing about working a startup and being pregnant, it would be that…”
We don’t have to be just like you to be effective, productive, indispensable contributors to and originators of important work. Building something you care about while subsequently giving yourself to the nurturing of family life requires an ongoing evaluation of priorities and orientation that is demanding but fundamentally central to the gifts of womanhood. Being pregnant (or a mother) enhances what we have to give, instead of limiting it, but it does mean we have to structure things differently to thrive and be satisfied.
What was maternity leave like for you? How much time did you take off? Who designed the policy?
I did not take more than a couple of weeks off with my first, which was my own choice, as I am self-employed. I intend to take 3 months off more or less completely after this pregnancy and then re-assimilate into various projects over the following 3 months. This is a tentative plan — I firmly believe that following my intuition will enable me to know if I (and my family) need this to shift one way or the other. I also realize that this is a profound privilege — many women are at the mercy of their employers maternity leave policies and/or financial needs.
How has being a mom transformed you? How has it transformed the way that you work?
It has been a work in progress but motherhood has brought me, in a way, full circle to my roots. While I value many things differently than my family of origin, one of the things we share is the desire to show up and be present. Learning to balance family and career has taught me how important it is to be fully present in whatever I am doing, even when it feels like I am sacrificing something else to do so. Being a mom has also made me much more efficient as a businesswoman — I know the value of my time and none of it is wasted.
How do you think work has influenced the way you parent and raise kids? What do you hope to share or teach your kids about work?
Building things I care about, and moving more towards that over time, has taught me to also value myself and my need for contribution. My son is at an age now where one of his favorite lines is “oh, so is ______ more important than me??” This is always a hard question to face, but in those moments I am faced with the possibility that I AM prioritizing something over him unnecessarily, or that I need to help him see how what I am working on is important in a way that doesn’t detract from his importance. I want my son to grow up knowing that he was my top priority but also seeing me come alive in my work and making space for myself to pursue those things that bring that life.
I want to ask you a few final questions about startups, businesses, and teams. How does running your own endeavor work? How does entrepreneurship meld with motherhood?
What are the most helpful and supportive practices you’ve taken on during the journey into motherhood and entrepreneurship?
Yoga and ongoing therapy have been two of the most transformational experiences for me, as both a mother and a woman. They have both, in different ways, enabled me to see and value myself in a way that transforms how I can show up for my family and for my work.
What is the most frustrating part of owning or working at a startup or small company?
As someone who recently transitioned from working with a team to working on my own, I find the biggest challenge to be staying motivated and accountable for projects I am working on. I also find it difficult to build and sustain habits around creatively as I previously accessed the “creative zone” when I had time and inspiration. Now, cultivating my relationship with this energy on a daily basis is something that is counter-intuitive for me.
Conversely, what is the most exciting thing and appealing thing about working at a startup or small company?
I love working on something adaptable and evolving, and seeing how my relationship to what I’m building influences the rest of my life.
Any advice for other women or new parents out there?
Give yourself the time and space to find your groove as a new mother. Even if you have to go back to work sooner than later, take things slowly and focus on being present in each space. It’s such a cliche, but time really does fly. It’s easy to wake up one day and realize you don’t really know what’s important to you or how to align yourself with that.
Mellisa Reeves is a writer, doula, and podcaster at Womb and Hearth and Mother Birth. Previously, she was a real estate company owner. Through writing, podcasting and birth support, her goal is to provide connection and support for women and their experiences of motherhood, focusing on issues such as birth choices, loss, anxiety & career balance. She believes in the innate intuition that all women possess, and in helping women truly own and tell their stories.
Sarah Kathleen Peck is the Editor of Startup Pregnant and a writer, connector, and business owner. She is the co-host of the podcast Suddenly Wondering and is working on her first book, “Startup Pregnant,” in 2017.