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I never considered the lessons I’d learn during pregnancy when I held that positive test in my hot little, albeit shaking hands. To be frank, I was focused on staving off what felt like a panic attack — I was feeling equal parts unmitigated excitement and overwhelming fear. There were so many logistical aspects of impending motherhood to consider — so many parts of my life to thoughtfully examine — that it never dawned on me that 40 or so weeks of gestation would consist of a series of lessons that would aid me not only as a future mom, but as a woman who is self-employed.
Of course, I knew that my life was changing and would continue to change and those adjustments were going to organically facilitate an ongoing education of sorts. I’d learn more about my body, I’d have an even better grasp of this country’s medical system (in theory), and I’d gain a deeper understanding of the people in my life as my pregnancy progressed. But in a society that tends to assume a mother and an entrepreneur are two completely different people, and never the same person, rarely are the lessons we learn in pregnancy considered worthwhile outside the realm of parenthood, let alone applicable in business.
But I’m here to say, as you all undoubtedly know, that they are. There were so many things I learned throughout my pregnancy that would prove beneficial years after my kid was born, and not just when I was staring a tantrum-throwing toddler in the face. These lessons would pop up when I was faced with a difficult work situation or negotiating a salary increase or managing a team of employees. It was surprisingly all the non-mom moments where my pregnancy lessons became vitally important. In my experience, motherhood made me a better business woman — and it all started during pregnancy.
1. How to advocate for yourself
Whether it’s making sure your labor and delivery wishes are honored to the best of your health care team’s ability, to telling overprotective family members to back off after they attempt to police your meals or physical activity, there is never a shortage of times in which you have to advocate for yourself during pregnancy. In roughly 40 weeks, I received a crash course in how to stand up for myself in ways both big and small, and that ability absolutely came in handy in my professional life. If I could tell a stranger not to touch my stomach, I could absolutely lead a pitch meeting in a room full of potential investors.
2. How to push back in a thoughtful but assertive way
I wasn’t a reproductive or childbirth expert when I found out I was pregnant, and pregnancy didn’t automatically bestow me with expertise. In many respects, I had no idea what I was doing and no idea what was going on. So, I did what any astute woman does: I delegated. I relied on my team of experts: my nutritionist, OB-GYN, labor & delivery nurses, and midwife. But I also knew what I wanted to experience in pregnancy and in labor and in childbirth, and working towards that experience or something adjacent to it meant taking my team’s expertise into account while holding my ground. I had to remember that while I didn’t know what they knew, they didn’t know what I felt.
I didn’t shrug off their medical advice, but there were plenty of moments when I had to learn to empower myself to push back in ways that were thoughtful of their experience and expertise, but assertive enough for my team to take me seriously. And to say this was a godsend later on in my professional life would be a huge understatement.
3. How to establish and hold boundaries
For better or worse, a substantial part of the time I spend as a working mom is allocated to setting and holding my boundaries. Whether it’s with my children, my partner, or my clients, I have to be intentional in the ways I spend my time and who gets what part of me when. Thankfully, establishing boundaries was the name of my pregnancy game. Whether it was keeping my mom and an especially overbearing, de facto mother-in-law out of the labor and delivery room, to telling people that, no, they could not touch my pregnant belly without my permission, holding onto any semblance of bodily autonomy during pregnancy relied on my ability to set boundaries and hold people to them.
4. How to plan for the future…
In parenthood, we plan for damn near everything: the possible worst-case-scenario; the notorious blowout; the rogue temper tantrum; leaking breasts; random periods — you name it, we have thought about it and probably have something in our pursed or diaper bag to deal with it. And we practice all that planning in pregnancy, be it multiple routes to take to the hospital or birthing center, possible labor and delivery outcomes, birth plans, and postpartum rituals.
Learning how to be this organized and focused on a future vision will only aid us in our business endeavours. Entrepreneurship is all about innovation, intuition, creativity, and having the wherewithal to turn it all into a business plan that can be executed and sustained in the long-term.
5. …and how to pivot when those plans don’t pan out
We don’t know what we don’t know, and like business in general, pregnancy is full of what-ifs. So when a new set of information enters our purview and we have to pivot as a result, we adapt, we let go of what we thought was going to happen, and we shift our gaze to what is possible in the moment. If that’s not a prerequisite for owning and operating a business, I don’t know what is.
6. How to delegate
In pregnancy, when so much is out of your control, the need to feel in complete command of every aspect of your life is so real. It’s also impossible, and it doesn’t take too long to realize that if you’re going to remain even relatively sane during pregnancy and parenthood, you need help. You need to surround yourself with people who are good at a variety of things; things you might not necessarily excel at. You need friends who are diligent, friends who are laid back, people who like to research, people who think of the little things, and people you can vent to — a variety of people who can aid you in a variety of ways, and in ways that just come naturally to them.
The same can be said of any person in a position of management or power within the business sphere. To succeed in business you need to surround yourself with intelligent, hardworking people who know more than you do in their specific area of expertise. And then you need to have the humility and wherewithal to leave them to their job; to give them the space to excel in the way only they can and in a way that will benefit the company overall.
7. How to recognize an individual’s strengths and weaknesses
I had to figure out which friend could handle being in the labor and delivery room the day my son was born, and which friends couldn’t. I quickly learned who could cook a decent frozen meal, and who would be better at babysitting. Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses in the people around me helped me help them support me in pregnancy (and beyond) the best way they could. It would have been unfair of me to ask the friend who hates planning to head up the meal train, or insist the friend who feels uncomfortable around newborns to babysit. Taking the time to truly know my support group made it easier to ask them for, you know, support.
This absolutely helped me manage teams in the future, when I had to look at what was being required of me and then figure out who could speak to what and to the best of their ability. Just like my friends, I had to take the time to know the people I was managing in order to harness their true potential and, more importantly, give them the opportunity to truly see that potential in themselves, too.
8. How to power through…
Morning sickness. Endless doctor visits. Fatigue. Swelling. More doctor visits. More morning sickness. I mean, this is just obvious, right? No one powers through like a working mom, except maybe a pregnant person.
9. … and how to take a break
To be honest, I’m still trying to learn this lesson. But pregnancy certainly put the need to learn when to say “no” and take time for myself into perspective. When you’re throwing up constantly, completely depleted of energy in the first trimester, you need accommodations. You need to rest; to sleep; to slow down for the betterment of your physical and mental health. And when you’re in the third trimester and you’re uncomfortable, swollen, and nervous about impending labor and delivery, you need the space to take a beat and check in with yourself, to focus on you and only you before you have another tiny human being taking up your time and attention.
The same can be said of working motherhood. There are more than a few moments when I need to say that, no, I can’t answer that email at 11:30PM on a Thursday night. That, no, I cannot work another 12-hour day, or an extra shift, or attend another meeting in a series of meetings that could have easily been emails. That not only do I need and deserve a sustainable work-life balance, but I need and deserve a work environment that not only facilitates on but encourages everyone to have one.
10. How to believe in yourself, even when you’re scared
Pregnancy is scary. Even the most wanted pregnancy is filled with uncertainties that are nothing if not anxiety-inducing. We all, at one time or another, doubt our abilities as parents or potential parents; we wonder if we can really “do this”; we err on the side of self-doubt.
But we also persevere and overcome and choose to invest and believe in ourselves and our capacity to be the best version of ourselves. The same is required of any entrepreneur brave enough to start a business; of any executive tasked with leading an organization; any working mom who shucks convent and does what she knows is best for her career, her family, and most importantly, for her.
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