How Motherhood Made Me Better Entrepreneur
Poonam Sharma Mathis

Like many women, I grew up convinced that while worthwhile, choosing to become a mother one day would inevitably slow me down as a professional. Decelerate me, if you will. So at 38 while airborne en route to Lima for business, when my son first kicked me from the inside, I stayed calm. And four months later on a conference call with Germany when confronted with labor pains, I stayed calm. And eight hours and one epidural later when a nurse checked the fetal heart rate and announced deceleration…I stayed calm. In the OR between leg pricks (to test if the anesthesia had kicked in while she asked me Can you feel that?) I never hesitated to repeat No, cut me.

I had been preparing mentally for this utter suspension of myself for my entire life. The transformation was in some ways instant, but also not at all. I lied. I felt those pricks. But motherhood was the end of one life and the beginning of another. None of my degrees or accomplishments could protect me from the deceleration…and I had accepted that.


The truth is: I was TERRIFIED of becoming a mother.

I was not incomplete before, but at 38 when I had my son, what I didn’t know was who I could become. In a deeper, steadier, far more primal way than just enhancing my ability to multitask or put myself second. Motherhood changed everything….for the better.

I knew that parenthood requires trade-offs, so rather than worrying I’d be bad at it, I believed that the only way to be good at it was to give up the precious prior momentum of my one and only life…because how else could it possibly work?

As early as middle school I remember telling my own mother that I wished I could get to like 25, freeze time, and have another 10 years before I turn 26. Because there’s so much I want to do that I can’t do after that…and if I were a man, I would have that time.

From 15 to 35 I did just about everything (school, work, travel, adventure) I figured would slow me down as a mom. All the while I quietly hoped I could cover enough ground before the gas ran out and I started having to enjoy the stars from the ground, wherever I found myself planted, knowing I’d never get much closer. Of course, society was there to pepper me with helpful terminology like mommy-penalty, second shift, mommy guilt, and pay gap. Why assume that I would be the outlier, the one to beat the odds? Ceasing to accelerate, in the interests of my child, was part of what a good mom did.


In that operating room, once they laid him on my chest, our eyes met, and I passed out. Four days later we wrapped him up and took him home where, like most babies for the first few months, he gave us no feedback. If it hurt to breastfeed, I didn’t shift. If I was thirsty while rocking him to sleep, I waited. I went from making the most of each minute to holding my breath while measuring formula so that the baby could sleep. And after the baby blues and maternity leave were done, I was ready to rejoin the world. To get back on the path. Because however slower I would now be, I had to keep moving, right?

But six months in, the look on his face one morning, when I peered over the edge of his crib, changed my life. It was like watching someone see their first sunrise, and then realizing that to him I was the sun. My first thought: Look at that light in his eyes. I never want to forget that look. My second: How long until that light will go out?

Biologically he was right to revere me as the animal who would bite the face off of any malintent nearby. Plus I sang songs and gave cuddles and anticipated needs and always ready with the food. But what would happen when he grew up and saw me clearly…as just a person? A mismatched accumulation of potential and choices. Here were my insides with a face, scooped out and staring back at me. With no concept of perfection, he only saw me as the person he could trust…because he had seen me trusting myself to handle his very life since he had been alive. I was not full of the right answers; I was full of fight. But what he didn’t know was that even though I was wired to fight for him…I’d stopped fighting for myself (like a lot of people do) in countless small increments over the years. I was capable of so much more. And I wanted so much more. I couldn’t let him grow up thinking his mama stopped swinging. So at that moment, I decided not to.

I reframed my paradigm for motherhood that day, to rid myself of the fear. What if mommy brain is more than the fog? What if it’s being relieved of the burdens of rational fear? If you are disavowed of the notion that no is an option, (because it is not, once you are a mother) then what might happen? Your child will trust you 100%, and when you become a mother you will KNOW he is right for doing so.

The day before I had my son I would’ve consulted ten people for advice before requesting a promotion. The day after, I was ready to run until my legs gave out and then drag myself along by my teeth with my baby on my back…to keep him away from a guy with a cigarette on an NYC sidewalk. And the only lion at my door is the possibility of the death of that light in the eyes of my baby. And also perhaps, the memory of my 15-year-old self?

When your insides are ripped or pushed out… it blows a temporary hole in your core, leaving you emotionally open to the elements. It’s like being stripped of all the physicality that you’ve come to enjoy about yourself. It’s like passing out and coming to and recognizing that you’ve been in the near equivalent of a car wreck, so you’ll have to learn to do everything all over again. Walk, breathe, run. And then as it’s all hitting you from every direction it also dawns on your that in your arms is a creature even more scared, confused, hungry, tired and lonesome than you feel right now because it doesn't even know where it is. But it trusts you utterly. Suddenly, you’re not a crash victim. You’re an army. You’re whatever that baby needs. You are MOM. And if you can be that…what is honestly left to be afraid of?

In the end, motherhood has changed me for the better, and given me a new kind of momentum…even aside from the intense joy I get from just being his mom.

And I used that momentum, to be honest with myself about what I wanted to do next with my life. What honestly, I’d wanted to do for a long time before he came along. Launch my own company. I did so when he was six months old, and I sold that company about 3 years later. But win lose or draw I still would’ve been glad I finally summoned the courage to take that swing. What I wish I’d known before is that magically, motherhood was a large part of what helped me to do it. Ironically, the thing that I believed would slow me down ended up accelerating my path to who I always wanted to be. An entrepreneur. And now that I’m prepping to launch my second startup, I can’t say that it’s been easy, smooth, or gone remotely as expected. What I can say is that I’m bolder and better for it. And for him. And for me.

Turns out, motherhood can do that to you.