The ultimate irony was walking into my first pitch meeting, pitching BabyChakra (an online app to support and empower families through pregnancy and parenting) to Mr. X and being asked if I would continue building this company if I became pregnant. The question was so unexpected and seemed so sexist, that I was startled at even being asked this. In between my pitch, I paused. And I walked out.
Well guess what happened. Four years, five funding rounds and 14 million families served annually later, I did become pregnant. While I had not raised money from the investor who asked me that questions four years back, the memory stuck.
Initially, I paused. I wondered how to break the news. The memory of the questions I got during my first experience pitch made me wonder if my capabilities would be judged and my commitment questioned again since I was pregnant. The venture space can be brutal and building a company is all consuming.
After a few weeks of wearing baggy clothes, I decided if anyone had the right to know about this evolution first, it was my team. So I told them I was expecting. Their reaction surprised me. It was pure joy. Not a single hesitation, question or inadvertent slip from any member on “how I would manage”. The assumption was of course I would not only manage, I would thrive and my team would be with me every step of the way.
The second set of folks I broke the news to was my board. My board comprises folks who have seen the company through its highest highs and lowest lows. We were at an inflection point as a company. When I broke the news to them at our board meeting, the main reaction was one (again surprisingly) of relief: one of our board members had been wondering why I had suddenly put on all the weight I had and if my health was fine 🙂
That’s when I realised what is now my truth. All my insecurities, lack of confidence around announcing my pregnancy professionally and worry around a perceived lack of commitment were a battle I needed to fight with myself. Folks who knew me, who knew of our company’s track record knew also that through the transformative journey of pregnancy and parenting, the one thing that would not transform would be commitment levels to the mission we had set out to achieve at BabyChakra and our promise to our user families, to our investors and our team.
I ended up running the company and waddling into pitch and client meetings till pretty much the day before delivery. Also after my baby was born, I pushed myself to be back on my feet and at office around two weeks later.
It has not been easy though. The nights are patchy and the days long at work still. But I’ve learnt to appreciate how I spend my time at work and at home even more. The role of family in supporting me as a new mother is one that I cannot thank enough. My in-laws moved cities to stay with us and look after baby while we are at work.
I still met new investors/clients where there was a distinct (albeit very politely) framed enquiry about ‘how I was managing’/ ‘how I intended to manage’. Questions a male founder would never have experienced.
This may be due to the perception that caregiving is still primarily a female responsibility and while pregnancy and breastfeeding are truly what only women can take on, the world at large needs to appreciate the increasing role that men play in caregiving. My husband plays a hands-on role in raising our child as he must. As partners, we divide and conquer to win.
My levels of ambition are higher than ever before. In fact if anything through pregnancy and now motherhood I find I now have a newfound strength to fight pretty much any challenge that comes my way.
More importantly, as an end user of BabyChakra myself, my engineering and product team members now take my suggestions a lot more seriously. As a mom, I have found renewed purpose in building a product that solves a whole host of problems for a sisterhood of millions of other Indian mothers.
Btw: Mr. X? The person who we had first pitched to and who had asked me the question on what after pregnancy? I met him socially at an awards function recently where we had been invited to share our story of growth, and he mentioned that he regretted missing out on investing in us.
I told him it was honestly still too early to regret or celebrate his decision since we still have many milestones to meet. But I did thank him. His question four years back and my pause had stayed with me.
If ever asked this question again, this time I won’t pause. I did become pregnant while building the company. And guess what happened? I came back stronger, more determined to succeed and driven to leave a legacy of impact that my daughter would be proud of.
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