Meet Later Mom Melissa Birge (Interview by Robin Gorman Newman)

AGE: 48
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: Married to Robert Birge for 5 years
RESIDENCE: Westport, Connecticut
CHILDREN’S NAMES/AGES: Tommy and JoJo (5 yo twin boys), Bobby (1.5 yo boy)

I’m the founder and CEO of Mia Tango, an online maternity boutique that features a curated set of designer clothing for pregnancy and new motherhood. The idea for Mia Tango came early in 2012. Eight months pregnant with twins, and the CFO of Kayak at the time, I found myself left with no choice but to wear house slippers to a meeting with the CEO and CFO Priceline Group while we were in acquisition talks because my feet were so swollen. I’m accustomed to being the only woman in the boardroom – but to be the only woman, and to be in house slippers?! That experience left me determined to transform maternity.


What was your road to parenthood like? I was baby crazy in my 20s! But, I also felt like it was important to establish myself in my career and new marriage, so we decided to wait to have kids. That turned out to be a good decision, because my first marriage ended when I was 32. By the time I met the father of my children, I was 41 and thought that motherhood had passed me by. Luckily, he did not feel the same. We ended up having to do IVF, and after the second round, I was pregnant with twins at the age of 43. We had one more embryo that was on ice, but we were so overwhelmed with the twins that it was hard to imagine adding to our crew. Then the twins turned 2, and we found that life got magically easier, and we were ready to complete our family with the last remaining embryo. I was 47 when Bobby was born, and I’m so grateful that he is in our lives.

How does being a mom influence your work? Being a mom has not changed my ambition or desire to work on interesting things, but it has changed how I’m willing to spend my time. In fact, it was a major factor in why I decided to start my own company. While there are great CFO opportunities for me in New York, I’m simply not willing to spend three hours a day on the train commuting when I could be hanging out with my boys instead. I find that I’m more productive now that I’m a mom, because I’m forced to think about and use time differently.  Knowing that I have limited hours when I can completely focus on work means that I use that time more wisely than I did in the past, eliminating busy work and going straight for the stuff that will make a difference.

How do you balance parenting, a personal life and professional pursuits? Becoming a parent forced me to assess my priorities, and the things I valued less naturally got dropped. The truth is, I don’t have much of a social life anymore. We are lucky to get one night a month out of the house to socialize with friends, but that’s OK because we’re happy snuggled up on the couch together, watching a good TV show and drinking some wine. I also don’t have time any longer for things like manicures and facials – I dropped those things in favor of exercise and keeping the grays out of my hair! And we use a lot of childcare to make it all work. I used to feel guilty about using a Saturday sitter when we had a nanny all week, but we are with our kids every morning, every evening and every Sunday all day, and it’s real. I’m not the mom that makes fancy birthday cakes or homemade play-doh, but I am the mom who will build Legos, have tickle wars and teach them to ride bikes. I’ll do those things rather than spend my time with them obsessing over having a perfectly clean and orderly house. You’ll always be able to find Cheerios on our floor and that’s OK.

What do your children think of your work? JoJo thinks that I send beautiful dresses to princesses, so he’s a fan! Mia Tango is still a young company without many employees, so we all work out of our homes. At times, it’s frustrating for the boys to know that I’m home, but that I can’t play with them, but I think it’s valuable for them to see me working hard at something I’m passionate about and to know that there is satisfaction in a job well done.

What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over? On the plus side, I’m more established in my career and therefore, more able to have some flexibility at work and afford childcare and other services to help me find the right balance. I also think I have some perspective to offer my kids that I couldn’t possibly have had when I was 25 or even 35, and I don’t take everything so seriously at this age – drama was for my 20s! The biggest downside to me is that when you have kids when you’re older, your parents are also older. It breaks my heart that my parents can no longer run around with my children or travel out to Connecticut to come and see them, and that my kids won’t know what their grandparents were like when they were a bit younger.

Has anything about being a mom surprised you?  What do you love the most about it, and what is the most challenging? For some reason, I thought that I would somehow become more patient when my kids were born. Let’s just say that hasn’t happened – if anything, I’m less patient due to sleep deprivation! Maybe what’s surprised me the most though is the million heartbreaks that come with motherhood. I was prepared for the joy. I just wasn’t prepared to be sad and happy at the same time watching my kids grow up. It’s amazing to see the independence develop, and it’s freeing also, but one day, they don’t hold your hand anymore and it’s gut wrenching; and the thing is, you never know when the last time will be.

There is so much I love about being a mom – I love seeing the pride on their faces when they learn something new, I love their natural wonder and delight as they discover the world, I love the unexpected and silly things they say, and of course, I love the snuggles and adoration they give their mama so freely. What’s so challenging to me is the self-doubt. I never expected how much I would question my abilities and decisions as a parent – everything from whether they have too many toys to whether I’m feeding them the right things. Am I too easy on them or too hard on them? Are they over scheduled or under scheduled? Ugh – it’s constant.

What do you most want to teach them?   What have you learned from them thus far? This is a hard question! I want my kids to be independent, self-confident, hardworking, curious about the world, thoughtful, generous, fair and kind, but I guess if I had to choose just one of those things, I would want them to be kind. What I’ve learned from them is that I’m both stronger and more vulnerable than I thought I was. For them, I can handle any amount of vomit or blood, but the idea of a losing one of them brings me to my knees. I was reading a book recently where the father and daughter got separated from one another during WWII and the thought of that was almost too much for me to bear. They’ve also taught me that perfection is highly overrated – it’s far better to be messy and happy than perfect and boring.

Any particular memories from your own childhood that inspire you to make memories with your sons? I had the most idyllic childhood growing up in a small town. We could roam anywhere from a pretty young age, get into scrapes and figure things out on our own. I try very hard to give my boys some of that freedom, because I remember what it felt like. Family vacations are also a big priority for me – they don’t have to be fancy, it’s just the time together away from the daily routine that matters. Right now, our vacations usually involve a lot of sweat, tears and swearing, but it’s still worth it! I have so many great memories of driving all night in the station wagon to Florida for our annual beach vacation. I’m sure it sucked for my parents, but we have common shared experiences that will always tie us together, and it gives us a lot to laugh about looking back on those times now.

What words of wisdom would you like to share for someone contemplating motherhood over age 35? I don’t have any wisdom, I just have encouragement. Age is only a number, and it will only bother you if you let it. Life is short. Eat the pie. Have the baby. Be awesome. You’ve so got this.