Up until 9 months pregnant, I’d spend every evening and weekend working on short and long-term projects, mostly because I love what I do and exploring new opportunities. But when I had a baby, all this extra time just disappeared, and I had to better prioritize every moment and every day. I felt less in control, but was actually doing a better job because I was laser focused on my role and how I could make the biggest impact within my core responsibilities as the Chief of Product rather than a startup founder. And now when I notice people overwhelmed with work, my advice is to actually not work this upcoming weekend and see how removing that crutch time impacts how you prioritize your week days.
As a part of my series about “C-Suite Moms” I had the pleasure to interview Gina Nebesar, the Chief Product Officer and co-founder of Ovia Health. She’s also a mom of two and an avid Ovia user and ambassador, connecting with millions of moms and parents daily through the Ovia Fertility, Pregnancy, and Parenting apps.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?
Before I made babies professionally, I made vending machines and satellites. I started my career as an engineer and production line manager at Northrop Grumman Aerospace systems before moving to Boston to attend Harvard Business School. I launched my first company out of my dorm room in 2010, a vending machine company called Automatic Apparel where we sold basic apparel, ranging from t-shirts, tank tops, socks, scarves, umbrellas, and sunglasses out of conveniently located vending machines. In 2012, I teamed up with my co-founders at Ovia Health as the chief of product where I now have the dream job of helping people during one of the most transformative times in their lives, starting a family.
I helped start Ovia because I was inspired to use the power of data to give women the confidence and control to achieve their personal health and life goals. In the U.S. — where the maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the developed world, with nearly half of maternal deaths are due to preventable causes like high blood pressure — it’s clear why we need more support for women and the value of providing products like Ovia, that help women have healthier outcomes.
Women track their health data in Ovia, and Ovia applies machine learning and clinical guidelines to help them have a better health outcome — whether that’s getting pregnant, having a healthier pregnancy, or simply understanding their bodies and health better. We also work with employers and health plans to provide maternity and family benefits that allow women to grow their careers and their families. So far, we’ve helped 12 million women and families on their health journeys.
Can you share with us how many children you have?
I have two beautiful Ovia babies, Hazel and Quinnie.
Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?
I was working at my second startup, Ovia, and 32 years old when I had my first child. I have a very unique pregnancy work experience! We actually filmed my pregnancy week by week and shared the videos with the millions of Ovia moms around the world in the Ovia Pregnancy app. So now, when you sign up for Ovia Pregnancy, you receive a video every week about your baby’s development and highlights from my pregnancy journey. They’ve been viewed over 30 million times, and I feel like I have a personal connection with Ovia women beyond the essential tools and resources the Ovia Pregnancy app provides.
Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?
Honestly, no! I didn’t always know I wanted to be a mother, and I didn’t feel like I was one until the moment I held my baby in my arms. Of course, I felt connected to her in the womb, but I didn’t feel like a mother until I held her. And after that, I couldn’t imagine the world any other way and I am so grateful for this gift of being a mother.
It’s odd because I spent three years helping other women become mothers before I became one myself. I was so aware of the ups and downs of motherhood — from struggling to conceive to miscarriage to health concerns and working parenthood. I have always carried around an immense empathy for mothers, and pride of helping people realize their life dream. I just didn’t realize it was my life dream until my holding my daughter.
Did motherhood happen when you thought it would or did it take longer? If it took longer, what advice would you have for another woman in your shoes?
Too often I see women delay their dreams for their career or make choices about something as intimate as breastfeeding based on the restrictions of society or their employment. So my message is more for the support systems than the woman: it’s her choice when and how to have children, and it’s our responsibility as employers and society to support her through paid parental leave, benefits, and norms.
Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?
Every morning at around 5:45 a.m., I wake up to the sound of my one year-old. My husband feeds her and changes her diaper, then I wake up to play with her for about an hour. She wakes up an hour before her sister, and this is my time with her. If I have travel or early meetings, this is interrupted, but I try to be present and enjoy this hour free of the weight of the responsibilities of the day ahead of me.
By 8 a.m., my toddler is up and I’m out the door to go to work. Kiss, hug, honk, and wave. We have a nanny, which is an incredible privilege, one I’m grateful for since we don’t have family nearby and need the extra support to make our busy lives and careers work.
I’m in the office by 9 a.m., and every minute is packed. I work in product development, so every 30 minutes brings a new challenge and mindset, from strategizing new product development, talking with Ovia women, talking with our customers, planning, and more. Every single morning when I look at my to-do list, I ask myself one thing before I start working: what’s on this list that’s going to increase the value of the company? What’s the thing here that uniquely I can do to execute our mission and improve the world for women?
I leave the office at 5 p.m., work on the train for an hour, and get home by 6 p.m. to spend about an hour and half with my kids before they go to sleep and I take out the laptop. I find it harder to be present during this time — I’m a little tired and aware of the work I still need to do. But I do my best to put my phone away so I can’t see it, and enjoy this chaotic time before bedtime. Last night at bedtime, my 3 year-old told me I had 3 jobs: read her books, tell her a joke, and sing two songs. She’s going to be a CEO one day.
Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?
Becoming a parent hasn’t changed my career path, but it’s made it clearer why I should dedicate my career and life to helping other moms and families.
Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?
Being a startup founder, it’s easy to have a 100 hour / week job with responsibilities beyond your core role’s. Up until 9 months pregnant, I’d spend every evening and weekend working on short and long-term projects, mostly because I love what I do and exploring new opportunities. But when I had a baby, all this extra time just disappeared, and I had to better prioritize every moment and every day. I felt less in control, but was actually doing a better job because I was laser focused on my role and how I could make the biggest impact within my core responsibilities as the Chief of Product rather than a startup founder. And now when I notice people overwhelmed with work, my advice is to actually not work this upcoming weekend and see how removing that crutch time impacts how you prioritize your week days.
What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?
There’s no challenge I face that compares with the challenges faced by women without paid parental leave and family healthcare benefits. That’s why we’re so proud of our employer and health plan benefits — women in the workplace need support, and we’ve created a version of our apps that provide transformative, personalized support for working women and parents. And this is why we’re working with other organizations to identify the ideal parent benefits package — one that includes fertility, pregnancy, and parenting support — as well as flexible work scheduling and paid leave policies.
Of course, life is inherently challenging when you work in a dual-career household with demanding roles. But I have more power and control than 90% of women in the U.S. who don’t receive paid leave, access to affordable childcare, and time to properly bond and care for their children after childbirth. As women, we put so much pressure on ourselves, but the pressure should be put on our employers and society to better support us.
Are there any meaningful activities or traditions you’ve made up or implemented that have enhanced your time with your family? Can you share a story or example?
For traditions, there are some activities I purposely introduced, like reading before bedtime. But my favorite traditions are the organic ones. For example, I told my daughter a knock knock joke one night, and now we tell them every night before she falls asleep. And, one time I told a story starring her as a bunny, and just recapped the day’s events. That’s now lovingly called “the bunny story” that we tell everyday to relive the day. The first time I did it was to bore her into going to sleep while we were on vacation, but then she really loved it and it became our thing.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 3–5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
When I’m with my kids, I try to put my phone where I can’t find it. If it’s near me it’s too distracting to check email and slack, or take 100 photos of them instead of enjoying the moment.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
My oldest daughter is only three, so I haven’t ventured into the concept of dreaming big yet (beyond playing doctor or other important roles), but I am conscious of teaching her the concept of perseverance. My daughter was actually part of a research study to see how a child learned perseverance, and the finding was that children emulated adults. Ever since, I’m more conscious about how my daughter learns from my actions, and we continue to try even when things are hard. And by hard things I mean opening a playdough container!
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
The Ovia Parenting app! We just released breastfeeding & bottle tracking on Ovia Parenting, and we’re so inspired to help new moms & caregivers understand their baby’s patterns and take control of their breast and bottle feeding journey! It was a highly requested feature, and we’re thrilled to be releasing it and having an ongoing conversation with our users about tools that will help them better manage their own and their family’s health. At the end of the day, our goal with Ovia Parenting
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?
One day when I was in junior high school, I remember coming home jealous of some other kid’s grade on a test or something equally unimportant. I remember something my mother told me that I hope to instill in my daughters. She told me there will always be people out there who are smarter or more advantaged than me somehow, and vice versa. So when faced with the choice, always choose to feel admiration over envy. This really resonated with me and let me just focus on being the best version of myself undistracted by unnecessary competition or comparisons to other people.
If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?
If I could sit down with every new parent, I would ask them how they’re feeling before sharing any advice. Through Ovia’s platform, I have the unique opportunity of speaking with millions of parents everyday to share thousands of pieces of advice on navigating health and parenting decisions. Every day women enter their health in Ovia — their moods, their fertility indicators, their pregnancy symptoms; and many women have told me that Ovia is the only one in her life that asks her how she’s feeling every single day. And this is so important because we’re creating a conversation with each and every mother about her health, a conversation she might not have otherwise had. So before sharing any advice, I’d first ask how she’s feeling and how I could help.
Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.
About the Author:
Jessica Abo believes no matter where we are in our careers, relationships or level of activism — we are all a work in progress. Her debut book, Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media was released in August 2018 and sold out on its first day. Women’s Health Magazine named Unfiltered #1 on its list of self-love books and it was selected to be in the official GRAMMY Awards gift bag. To bring her book to life, Jessica launched a collection of statement tees and hoodies at New York Fashion Week. Jessica has spoken about her research and #liveunfiltered movement on The TODAY Show, Access Hollywood, ABC News, KTLA and in dozens of publications including Forbes, Fast Company and SHAPE.
A multi-award-winning television journalist, Jessica spent 15 years working as a television anchor and reporter. She started her own production company, JaboTV, in 2013, which profiles athletes, celebrities, CEOs, entrepreneurs and changemakers. Her videos appear weekly on Entrepreneur.com.
Jessica’s nationwide speaking tour has taken her to Facebook, Microsoft, Delta Airlines, Weight Watchers, TEDx, the United Nations and hundreds of conferences, nonprofits, universities and schools. In her spare time, Jessica is a passionate philanthropist, having raised more than a million dollars for several causes by organizing her own galas. Jessica sits on several boards and committees and contributes to their recruiting and fundraising efforts.
Jessica received both her bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. You may have spotted her, cast as herself, in several shows and movies including: House of Cards, Gossip Girl, Nurse Jackie, Girl Most Likely, Delivery Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
A New Yorker at heart, Jessica now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their daughter.