How A Humiliating Boardroom Experience While Pregnant Sparked A Business Idea


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.

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.

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Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."