Entrepreneurship, and Motherhood: The Ultimate Balancing Act

By Anu Bhardwaj 

I was six months pregnant when I launched my private equity fundraising startup. My husband; a Canadian-trained neurosurgeon with a doctorate in stem cell regenerative medicine from the Nobel Medical Institute in Stockholm, Sweden; was having immigration issues with Homeland Security. We had lived in Sweden for the bulk of our married life and the rest in Toronto, where he was completing his neurosurgery residency, and we basically filled up our passports with just about every warm country we meandered to during eight Arctic winters. So there we were, newly minted professional certifications in hand, pregnant, and repatriated in the United States.  We had much to figure out, including preparations for our firstborn.

We were advised that it could take up to four months until he started his new position at Rady Children’s Hospital as a new fellow in pediatric neurosurgery. When I heard this news, I reviewed my options. I had spoken with one of my colleagues at the time about a new private equity initiative focused on helping U.S. venture capital fund managers raise capital in Scandinavia from Nordic institutional investors. I had strong links to this region because I completed my MBA at the Stockholm School of Economics, had many friends who I consider family to this day, and frankly I miss November in Stockholm: the candles, the darkness, the warmth of the Swedes just as it starts to get cold. I sought every opportunity to stay connected, and this new venture was the perfect chance. I was advised by my contact at the U.S. Department of Commerce that I would need to pay an upfront fee of $18,000 to cover various expenses required by the U.S. embassies who would be assisting us in our preparations, travel logistics, and event planning.

I believed in myself, first and foremost, and envisioned what success would look like once my daughter was born. With this single focus in mind, I signed up to be the first U.S.-Nordic Private Equity Certified Trade Mission organizer. I was given exactly 45 days to design, develop, and execute a new model that would ultimately disrupt the global private equity fundraising industry where millions of dollars of broker fees are the norm. My husband spent the majority of my pregnancy reading baby books and would give me the condensed version of how to be a new mom. He would be infuriated when I would toss the books aside and regularly ask why I had no interest in reading them. My answer was genuine: I will know what my daughter needs as soon as I meet her.

Every child is different, so why do we read these books that only give certain points of view for “certain” types of children? I knew from the time Arya was in my womb that she would be fiercely independent like me and extremely sensitive like her father. Most neurosurgeons I’ve  met thrive with spouses who take on traditional roles. PTA/soccer mom was not exactly my dream career or orientation in life. I was very clear about this when I got married. I just didn’t anticipate that my career would take off just when Arya was due to arrive. How would we manage with my husband just starting his job search and me needing to travel internationally to Europe for work?

Like most working households, we secured help, and lots of it. Friends were invited to live with us as family over the course of the next few months after Arya’s arrival. What was extremely unique about my marriage at the time was my husband’s insistence on equal parenting. This is unusual for Indian men, especially from my father’s generation. While I would breastfeed Arya, my husband would insist on bathing her, washing her hair, cutting her nails, and taking her for regular walks to help me with my demanding schedule. I was responsible for night feeds, but he would take over in the early hours of the day and read his neurosurgery textbooks to her to put her and me both to sleep.

I recall when Arya was three months old, my husband accompanied me to the Women in Private Equity Summit. We booked a room with a fire pit and ordered s’mores while I nursed the very first night. While I was in meetings the next day morning, my husband decided to prepare a proper bubble bath for our daughter, complete with suds and a rubber ducky. There were two other mothers with small children at this conference so I wasn’t the only one.

A month later, I had scheduled my first international trip to Europe with Arya, with a stopover at the IFC-Emerging Markets Private Equity Association’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. My husband was on his way for a neurosurgery conference in Greece this time, so we planned that I would fly with the baby to Paris with my dear friend and nanny Tameer Barnslee, who worked closely with me on a grassroots initiative in Thailand years prior. When we landed in Paris, Arya broke out with a very high fever. No one slept for two days, and we ended up calling the emergency pediatrician to our residence at 3 am the morning of the

OECD-MENA Women in Private Equity Summit I spent six months organising.

We made many sacrifices as a family that affected my husband, my daughter, and me. As Arya got older, it became clearer that we needed more help. We travelled with several different nannies to the Middle East, Scandinavia, Asia, and all across North America while keeping a full-time live-in nanny at home at all times. To date, Arya has travelled to nearly 25 countries on business with me personally. She has recently started kindergarten and now has a more normal schedule, including gymnastics and Girl Scouts. Her father took her heli-hiking last summer in the Canadian Rockies and has been teaching her how to ski over the past few years in locales such as Jackson Hole, Alta, Aspen, and Whistler. When she turned 5 I took her to Maui for surf lessons, which she now continues in Tofino, British Columbia.

The objective of good parenting, in my opinion, is to give both moms and dads the opportunity to bond with their child in their own unique ways. Arya, I know, remembers many of the trips we took together without her father—like the time we went to see Cherry Blossoms in South Korea; visited the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Indonesia; or traveled to Stockholm for several of my Nordic Women Investing in Women Summits. Every Saturday, between the ages of 2-and-a-half to 4-and-a-half years old, I took Arya with me to record our “Women Investing in Women and Girls” radio podcast; along with Arya’s babysitter, Michelle Jaffee and nanny, Jessica Igharo. I am a huge believer that little girls can’t be what they can’t see, which is why I have been insistent that we have positive role models around Arya at all times.

Over the past year, I have been working almost 120 hours a week building my startup, Women Investing in Women Digital, which has scaled rapidly around the globe. We have now reached over 1 million Facebook followers around the globe and have active communities in Sweden, Turkey, South Africa, Singapore, Germany, the Middle East, and several cities across the United States. Arya is very much a part of our growth—both when she is with us traveling to meetings or in her absence.

I cannot emphasise how important it is for the father to be engaged in the intellectual and psychological development of his children. I also want to make it clear that being a career-oriented woman in our society today allows us many choices that women did not have before. Social media, FaceTime, and iPhones are all tools that have helped me with work-life balance. I have endless kisses and cuddles for my little girl, and I know she feels the same toward me. We have developed a very special dynamic between us that is cemented by the love of her father. Having it all is possible, but new structures are necessary—whether that happens within traditional marriages or new paradigms that we create for ourselves.