Upon my departure from Corporate America, an ex-colleague told me: “wow, that is gutsy at your age.” I’m 36 years old, which means I got my Bachelor’s degree 14 years ago, got my MBA 5 years ago, and I’m a whopping 24 years away from retirement. If my math is correct, I’d argue that it’s no better time to take hold of my career by considering the bigger impact of my work, finding a company culture that aligns with my values, and not settling for a job that doesn’t spark joy. To my previous colleagues, that might seem like asking for too much. But to my current colleagues, that’s just our reality.
Yes, I left my cushy director-level position at a Fortune 5 company to join an early-stage start-up. Some people thought I was going through an early midlife crisis. Some people were inspired by my drive to not settle in my career.
Kelli with Bennett, now 17 months, and her husband Jon
So, why did I take this leap of faith? I changed my career to help BIOMILQ disrupt traditional agriculture with a new option for infant feeding. As a new mom who struggled with low milk supply, I was drawn to how BIOMILQ’s science can help reduce the guilt that I and so many moms feel.
When I was pregnant, I dreamed about a future freezer filled with breastmilk that would keep my son happy and growing after I returned to work.
My reality wasn’t as picturesque as a photo on Instagram with #freethenipple as the caption. I could only supply 60% of what my son needed which meant my freezer would only be stocked with Ben and Jerry’s. My lactation consultant’s advice to eat more oatmeal to somehow stimulate milk production only led to a growing distaste for oatmeal, instead of a growing supply of milk.
On week four of motherhood, I hit what felt like rock bottom: as I transferred four freshly pumped ounces of milk to a bottle, I spilled the liquid gold all over our kitchen counter. Tears streamed down my face as I wondered how I was going to feed my baby at his next feeding — four weeks into motherhood and I already felt like a failure. Whoever came up with the phrase “don’t cry over spilled milk” clearly wasn’t an exhausted mom. What if there was an alternative feeding option that I trusted to provide much of the nutrition of breastmilk, without the mom guilt?
Left: Kelli and Bennett, 4 weeks old; Right: Kelli and Bennett, 4 months old, snuggling before Kelli’s first day back to work after maternity leave
Last summer, when Bennett was five months old, I surfed through LinkedIn as I pumped breastmilk between Zoom calls. I stumbled upon an article about two ladies planning to make human milk outside the body — I was immediately intrigued. I reached out, met with BIOMILQ’s CEO and Co-Founder Michelle Egger, and continued to follow the company’s journey. Nearly a year after crying over spilled milk, I’m five months into my ‘midlife crisis’, working alongside a team that wholeheartedly believes in advancing our mission.
Bennett, now 17 months old, loves his BIOMILQ Teddy Bear
I’m proud that my work at BIOMILQ as Chief of Staff, whether it be financial modeling, interviewing molecular biologists, or sourcing new refrigerators for our lab, contributes to making the future of infant feeding fearless — I can’t wait to tell Bennett about how I help mamas and babies. But, BIOMILQ is much more than a mammary biotechnology company. We’re encouraging women to pursue STEM and leadership roles. We’re disrupting traditional agriculture and reimagining where food can come from.
We’re all about unlocking human potential, and our empathetic approach to employment does just that. We have industry-leading parental leave (maternity and adoption leave: 4 months full pay + 8 weeks part-time pay; caregiver and paternity: 6 weeks paid). We have a ‘Mother’s Room’ on-site for pumping privacy. We respect the 9 to 5 schedule. We recently took an afternoon off to go strawberry picking as a team. I’m home for dinner every night, it’s no big deal if I need to work from home when Bennett feels under the weather, and the team just chuckles when I show up to work with yogurt in my hair. For the first time in a really long time, I am excited to go to the office on Monday morning (the muffins and memes at our team meeting don’t hurt!).
Strawberry picking at Eno River Farm in Hillsborough, NC
When interviewing candidates for our new roles, we often ask: “what is the craziest decision you’ve ever made?” I hope that mine inspires others to make a crazy decision that allows them to be proud of the work they do with a team that doesn’t make it feel like work.