A Humiliating Boardroom Experience While Pregnant Lead To This Business

How A Humiliating Boardroom Experience

While Pregnant Lead To This Business

Once upon a time, there was a woman in a man’s role. As she advanced in her career, she increasingly found herself the lone woman in the room. She became used to sticking out, but worked hard to make sure no one noticed that she noticed. One day, she became pregnant…with twins…and there was a whole new meaning to ‘sticking out’. When she was 7 months pregnant, her company began acquisition talks with a much larger company. By this time, she had gained so much weight that very few things fit her, including her shoes. She found that the only shoes that she could wear were house slippers, and so she went to an important meeting, with the CEO and CFO of a large multinational company wearing her house slippers. She was the only woman in the room, and she was the only one who had to wear slippers. She did not feel confident. She did not feel like a powerful executive who was getting ready to make a big deal. She felt like less, and she felt very conspicuous.

Woman after woman told me where they usually shop and what they usually spend on clothes, and then described how they completely changed their entire shopping strategy after they got pregnant.

That is my story and although the men in the meeting could not have been kinder or cared less about my slippers, I still felt humiliated. At the exact moment when I wanted to look and feel like a real badass, I felt instead very, very human. As big as I was, I felt quite small.

But from that experience, my business was conceived. I didn’t even fully realize the impact it had made on me until several months after my twins were born. My husband and I had put the boys to bed and were enjoying a glass of wine together when he asked me what I wanted to do next. He knew I had grown bored at my job, but it was just so convenient that it was hard to give it up. Being the supportive partner that he is, he challenged me to get back the fire that I always had about my career. The answer flowed so easily from my lips, and yet it almost surprised me to hear it. “I want to start my own company,” I said.

The answer flowed so easily from my lips, and yet it almost surprised me to hear it. “I want to start my own company,” I said. Photo Courtesy of Hey Mama

From there, I told him everything that I thought was broken in the process of buying maternity clothes and how I would change it. I hadn’t even realized how much I had been thinking about it, but it all seemed so obvious to me. Retail was changing, the sharing economy was growing and millennials were embracing new ecommerce brands. All of this was happening, but maternity was the last area to adopt the trends, which really was no surprise. Maternity seemed like it was always the forgotten stepchild of fashion. I wanted to change all of that. I wanted to bring the best brands together all in one place and create a boutique experience with outstanding customer service. I wanted to give women a new way to buy maternity and create a marketplace for gently worn maternity clothes. I wanted a store that recognized that getting dressed after pregnancy, when your body hasn’t yet gone back to its previous shape and you may need functional clothes for nursing, was even harder than getting dressed during pregnancy.

Melissa R. Birge enjoying a meal with her son. Photo Courtesy of Hey Mama

One of the things I really wanted to address head on was the guilt factor in buying maternity. When I was exploring the idea of Mia Tango, I interviewed dozens of pregnant women and new moms. I started out asking them to tell me about their pregnancies.  Every last one of them described their pregnancy in joyful terms. Mind you, many of these women suffered horrific physical effects: debilitating morning sickness; a full body rash that itched like mad; preeclampsia; gestational diabetes. These are not little inconveniences – these are painful and frightening experiences – and yet, the women still felt their pregnancies were wonderful, because they all know, as every mother does, that the birth of a healthy child is a miracle.

Then I asked them to tell me about getting dressed for pregnancy and I got an entirely different reaction. Frustration. Resentment. And Guilt. A lot of guilt, which is kind of bullshit given the burden they’re carrying. Woman after woman told me where they usually shop and what they usually spend on clothes, and then described how they completely changed their entire shopping strategy after they got pregnant.

They went from buying high quality, well made and fashionable items to cheap basics. Most often, the brands they knew and loved didn’t care maternity, so they were forced to shop brands they weren’t familiar with. The service was nonexistent at most big box stores and online, and they felt confused by what to buy and how to make a new wardrobe. The bought as little as they could get away with, focusing on plain tees, leggings and jeans. The result? They hated their clothes. The poor quality made their sensitive skin itch. The colors faded and the materials pilled and sagged. They wanted to burn their clothes in the end. Worse yet, like me, they felt like a lesser version of themselves. At the exact time they should have felt their most beautiful, they felt anything but.

I thought about all the things we sacrifice when we become pregnant, from daily indulgences (coffee and wine) to the embarrassing (bladder control) to the obvious (our former shape) and to the extraordinary (physical complications). So why, in the name of everything that is good, should we feel guilty about wanting to feel comfortable and look stylish?

The answer flowed so easily from my lips, and yet it almost surprised me to hear it. “I want to start my own company,” I said.

From there, I launched Mia Tango and it has become my passion. We started with only four designers and limited inventory, but we’ve since expanded to carry almost twenty brands from all over the world. We’ve added pretty and functional lingerie, every day basics, performance athletic wear and diaper bags. We generate content for mothers by mothers, and we’ve got much bigger plans. We will continue to add cool new designers that make the best clothes – clothes that make you say, “can I wear that even if I’m not pregnant?” (Answer, yes! I do). And we’ll continue to innovate how women buy and use maternity clothes.

In the end, I’m grateful for the slippers and for being the elephant in the room. It led me to Mia Tango and opened the door to a whole new community of women that I work with, from our suppliers, to influencers who tout our store, to our web designers and of course, to my incredible co-founder, Stephanie. Just when I felt like I’d reached the top of my career in finance, I found this new opportunity that has completely re-energized me. At times, it keeps me up at night.

Founding a company is a crazy ride and the hardest thing I’ve done in my career, but the personal and professional growth has been simply awesome and I’m so happy that I went for it. I wonder if Robert knew what he was starting when he asked that simple question: “So, what do you want to do next.” My guess is that he did.

Melissa R. Birge

Melissa R. Birge is the founder and CEO of Mia Tango, an online maternity boutique that features a curated set of maternity clothing that customers can buy new or used, and then trade back in for credits to buy new styles.

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