Many women refer to their businesses as "their baby." But what happens to business when a real baby is on the way?
"I'm accustomed to being a strong, independent person," says Alison Nelson, 30, co-owner of candy store the Chocolate Bar and CEO of event execution firm Four Little Sisters, both in New York City. Nelson, seven months pregnant with her first child, admits, "The physical limitations can be frustrating, but it [has] also taught me to allow others to pitch in." Nelson believes her pregnancy has made her more focused. She's achieved goals on specific dates based on her birth schedule and plans to resume work within three weeks of giving birth.
Caroline Caskey, 37, president and CEO of Houston-based Identigene Inc., a DNA identification service with annual revenues nearing $5 million, spent almost eight months of her pregnancy working and focusing on getting the company ready for her maternity leave. After trying to conceive for six months, she was already prepared to make changes in her work life once she became pregnant. She plans to continue working after her child is born, but has hired a COO to help with some day-to-day responsibilities.
For Adrienne Lumpkin, pregnancy at 45 was unexpected. The president of Raleigh, North Carolina-based Alternate Access Inc., a converged communications firm specializing in business telecommunications tools, had planned to go to the office two days per week after her son was born, but 17 months later, she's working nearly full time again.
Lumpkin started her business 10 years ago from home, juggling the business while raising her daughters, ages 1 and 2 at the time, and her stepdaughter, 13 at the time. Her husband joined the business in 1994. It's been six years since the company moved into an office and added eight employees. For Lumpkin, "working while pregnant was not that big a deal." Lumpkin didn't announce her pregnancy until she was five months along, opting to keep a low profile: "I worked pretty much as normal until the seventh month, when the pregnancy became physically difficult for me."
All three women admit to mixed emotions about pregnancy and work. Says Nelson, "People assume being pregnant means being weaker. They predict that your abilities will diminish as your focus becomes fixated on your child." Nelson believes mothers who are also businesswomen not only multitask well, but also set a strong example for their children.
For Caskey, the issue is personal. "I'm amazed at how readily other people volunteer their opinions about whether a mother should work," Caskey says. "People should make their own choices about how they live their lives. I believe having a baby will be the most profound experience of my life. However, I want to maintain my sense of self as well, for myself, my husband and my baby. My work is a big part of that."
Lumpkin is even more pragmatic. "The business is our means to earn a living. [Justin] has given us new energy to tackle our business. He [and the girls] are incentives to keep it going, and make it even stronger." How can other moms make this work? "Be flexible enough to know the plans you make won't happen 'just so,'" Lumpkin advises. "You have to roll with the punches, expect to give up sleep for a while, and by all means, get household help!"
"Don't let clients, partners or colleagues shake your confidence," says Nelson. "Look for support from your family, husband and friends. And know you are capable of being a mother and a business owner."
Aliza Pilar Sherman (www.mediaegg.com) is an author, freelance writer and speaker specializing in women's issues.