Yesterday I gave a keynote speech in front of an 80% male audience.
That’s not an unusual statement. I’m a reluctantly frequent speaker. And I work in the tech and startup ecosystem, where most audiences are overwhelmingly male. And yet:
Yesterday I gave a keynote speech in front of an 80% male audience. I am 33 weeks pregnant.
I acknowledged it from the get go. Stopping short of calling out the “elephant in the room” – because at 33 weeks that’s more self-deprecating than even I’m willing to be – I told the audience: “I bet you’re not used to seeing a 33-week pregnant woman keynote at an event like this.” And they laughed. Because I was right.
Before I had my first daughter, I left my very fancy, big title, glamorous job mid-way through the pregnancy. That’s also not an unusual statement: 43% of highly qualified women will “off-ramp”, deciding to (or having no choice but to) become a stay-at-home-mom.
But I didn’t want or need to off-ramp. I just changed directions. I decided to start a company, be my own boss, and work towards a mission and product that were more meaningful and fulfilling to me. (More accurately, I decided to try to start a company, because it’s really friggin’ hard).
This time around, with baby girl #2 on board, I’m running the Female Founders Alliance without skipping a beat. I’m no longer apologetic or shy about this pregnancy. I am vocal and visible and proud. And I’m committed to being honest, because going at it this hard at 33 weeks is not glamorous. It’s not easy. It’s not for everyone.
You want to know what this is really like? I am functioning entirely on adrenaline, I can’t walk at a normal pace, I have to pee every hour including at night time, I get winded if I talk too long, I fight bouts of nausea daily and I can’t figure out a comfortable way to sit and type for more than a few minutes. It’s a choice and a struggle, a joy and a pain in the ass, all at the same time.
Being pregnant invites opinions. I’ve been told that I’m a superhero, and also that I’m triggering other women’s perinatal mood disorders by being “so successful” (meanwhile this doesn’t feel at all like success). I’ve been told by a peer to not “show up at that VC’s office while pregnant”. I’ve been told by a potential female investor to think very carefully about who will be raising my children if I am not at home with them. I’ve been told by an employee that I was being too hard to read and too hard to please – but that it finally made sense why once she found out I was pregnant. Because, didn’t you know? Non-pregnant female CEOs are not allowed to have high standards and/or struggle to express concern or dissatisfaction for fear of being labeled a bitch.
I get asked constantly – CONSTANTLY – if I plan to take time off. If I’m going to slow down. If I’m ready for the added stress and the added costs of a second baby. And the answers are: I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, and NO. I am living in uncertainty. But you know what? That’s not just parenting, that’s entrepreneurship! I am a master at managing uncertainty.
Here’s one thing I do know. March is Women’s History Month. I sat down to write a blog post about what this means to me, and instead I found myself staring down at my giant pregnant belly hitting right up against the edge of the desk, with my arms stretched out un-ergonomically to reach the keyboard. My baby is kicking so hard right now I can see her through my clothes.
It is Women’s History Month and my team, my daughters – one 3-year old, one unborn – and myself, we are not sitting and reflecting on Women’s History.
We are making Women’s History.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Happy Women’s History Month to all my fellow history makers out there. I see you.