Hi, Jena. Thank you for being with us today. I’ve really been looking forward to sharing your story. Tell us how your journey began and what has brought you to where you are today.
There’s a short version of my story: I was on the fast track on Wall Street working in sales and trading for seven years. Then I got pregnant. My identity and my career fell apart. For the first time in my life, I felt like I didn’t have a roadmap towards achieving success. I realised that I was going to have to craft my own manual of what career, kids, and self-care would look like for me.
I spoke to a lot of amazing women who went through similar challenges related to family planning. My issues were not unique. In fact, they were incredibly common. That’s why I formed my company: Babies on the Brain, to walk with women in their journeys; to help them discover the resourcefulness and resiliency they have burning inside them. Clients come to me because they don’t want their lives to just pass them by. They want to carve out their own authentic journey. They want to have a career and children and also sprinkle in some time for themselves.
Your business has so much to offer to women. I’m still discovering all the wonderful things you do. Can you talk my readers through everything that Babies on the Brain does?
Babies on the Brain focuses on four different avenues to help improve the lives of women. First, we offer one-on-one coaching for expecting or new mothers to help them in their intersection of career, kids, and family.
The second is consulting various businesses on how to retain their top female employees. 12 months after giving birth, less than 10% of women are in the same job they had before. This is not solely due to choice. Within a lot of organisations, there are systems in play that contribute to these numbers: where women who have children are unable to succeed, get promoted, and create the life for themselves and their families that they envision. I help companies attack this huge problem, and I do speaking events for companies who are progressive with their family leave policies.
The third is community building with a special focus on pro-bono work. Babies on the Brain partners with the Sierra House in Newark, NJ to help homeless mothers get on the path to living independent lives.
Lastly, we try to help with the emotional healing required for women who have endured some turmoil such as infertility, miscarriage, or stillbirth. We liaise with the Gianna Center in Midtown, NYC and do all we can to help their patients through these challenges.
With all your success, what insecurities do you still have?
My biggest insecurity is the thought that I won’t fulfil the mission God has set out for me. I worry that I have been looking in the wrong places, or doing the wrong thing.
Is there any advice that you would give your younger self?
Don’t look for answers that you will never be able to find. 5 or 10 years ago, I had a constant need to always be in control of my life and when things didn’t go my way, I needed to figure out the reason why things happened the way they did. As I have gotten older, I have been able to accept the things I cannot change and learn to let go.
You’re right. Life is full of setbacks. Can you tell us about an experience that you learned from, and how you bounced back afterwards?
One of the biggest setbacks in my life was when I first became pregnant. From week 5 until the very end of my pregnancy, I had a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). It involves severe nausea and vomiting. I worked throughout my entire pregnancy at a high-stress job in banking and it would last all day and all night. It was a huge setback for me in every way. At times, I felt my body was failing me.
It was a period of time when my mind would say yes, but my body said no and my body won every time. I had to slow down. I have been very fortunate to have always been a very healthy person, so this was all very new to me. Thankfully, once the pregnancy ended, so did the condition, but it taught me a huge lesson: listen to your body. I never did before my pregnancy. I would constantly deprive myself of good rest and regular meals. Since my daughter was born, I make an extra effort to check in with my body. What does it need? What am I not giving it that I should be?
It sounds like you had a really tough pregnancy. It’s wonderful that you were able to take away something positive from the experience. How has your world changed since you welcomed your daughter into the world?
This is a funny question because I feel I have a harder time coming up with things that have stayed constant since I became a mother. Everything has changed. I think the biggest thing is my respect and gratitude for the sacrifices my own parents made. Only since I became a mum did the impact of what they did for my sister and me really start to set in. For the first time in my life, I feel like I am responding to a calling that is much bigger than me. Being a parent is a vocation; a way of life. It has shaped the vision I have for my mission and for my business. After Siena was born, I thought: ‘why can’t I live for something greater than myself, not only personally, but professionally also.’
How do you balance your career and motherhood?
The only thing that works for me when trying to achieve that elusive balance of career and family is to stay in the moment and live in the present as much as possible. Before having my daughter, I was always living in the future; making a lot of future plans: when I wanted to get married; when I wanted to have a kid; my 1-year career plan; my 5-year career plan; 10-year plan!
I got rid of this mentality once I had my daughter. Things change so much when you have kids. I changed too. I’m still changing, so it’s hard to plan the way I used to. Because of my daughter, I have accepted a beautiful invitation to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now. This doesn’t mean giving up my dreams, but it definitely requires more flexibility, adaptability, and willingness to adjust plans.
You sound like a wonderful role model for your daughter and women everywhere. What is the most valuable lesson your mother taught you?
Before my mum said goodnight to me when I went to bed, she would tell me: “Jena, you can’t love anyone else unless you love yourself.” She said this to me every night for as long as I could remember. When I was a kid, I would say: “OK, mum!” without much reflection, but this is a lesson that I will always be grateful for. It has helped me with my self-confidence and now I feel like I practice self-love in a meaningful way.
That is lovely. Raising my daughter, I want to make sure she feels that connection to herself as well as a connection to the wider world. I travelled a lot as a child and I’m always interested to hear about the places people fall in love with. Where has been your favourite place to travel to?
It would be 6 years ago in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was an amazing trip. I visited a good friend who was working in Sydney on an externship and we went to the South Island of NZ for a few days. I have never seen a landscape more beautiful. It was magical.
Do you have a vision board?
Yes! I have a hard copy of a vision board with pictures from magazines and word cut-outs on it. The pictures are the illustrations from my website and the accompanying words are: dreams, creativity, strength, wisdom, possibility, support, community, passion, connection, love, family and purpose. These words fuel my vision and everyday life. I also got a little crazy with glitter glue on my vision board and have a glittering circle around my logo. It actually ran down the board and created a messy look. However, it reminds me that there is a lot of messiness to life and bumps in the road when it comes to building your own business, especially when you have to take family into account.
You always look very cool and comfortable in your skin. How would you describe your style?
My everyday look is very casual. For most of my life, I’ve been a t-shirt and skinny jeans person, with a cool pair of sneakers. My colleagues have called my work style: edgy and non-traditional. Working in corporate, I saw most women wear shift dresses or pencil skirts. I rarely wore any of that. My frame is lean and I find that European brands are the best place for me to find fashionable work clothes that suit my body. A typical outfit for me would have been a sleeveless black top with a leather collar, maroon skinny pants, and two-tone black and beige stiletto heels. I like to stand out from the crowd, especially in a professional setting. However, my everyday style is pretty relaxed.
Which is your Onnix Bag of choice?
The Elizabeth tote with the Onyx clutch—black on black. I have always gravitated towards all-black bags. The combination has a classic and iconic feel while also making me feel a little bit badass. I call it my power bag, as I take it to feel powerful and close deals!
What does #CreateYourOnni mean to you? Onni is luck and happiness in Finnish*
Creating my own Onni means creating my destiny. I think finding and living out one’s destiny definitely comes with a little luck but it’s mostly within our own power. The amount of happiness that can come as a result of living out our calling is infinite.