The Motherhood Center Founder Gabriela Gerhart moved to Houston from the Czech Republic 21 years ago as an exchange student with Au Pair Care, an organization that brings young adults from another country to the United States to provide in-home childcare.
Soon, Gerhart got married and started teaching new parents about childcare. By 2001, she started Loving Infant Care before turning it into The Motherhood Center in 2003. The center aims to help new parents with a variety of services, such as nanny placement, newborn care, massages, yoga, labor doulas and more.
Gerhart sat down with the Houston Business Journal to share her journey starting out as an exchange student to becoming an entrepreneur, along with her plans to revamp The Motherhood Center.
What brought you to the United States? I came here with Au Pair Care, which is basically an exchange student program. My background is as a pediatric nurse back home in the Czech Republic. I got offered a position at a private hospital in my hometown, but I knew that once I start working there it would be for the rest of my life. I asked the head doctor if she would wait for a year because I wanted to explore the world.
I applied with the Au Pair and, because of my nursing background, it was easy to get accepted. Within six weeks, I landed in Houston. The family I stayed with had four boys ranging from 10 days old to 9 years old. I spent a year with the family and learned about the American lifestyle. I was with the children all the time, helping get them ready for school and studying English by reading books to the baby.
What was the cultural learning curve like when you first arrived? Everything was a learning curve. I came to Houston after living in a small town in the mountains in the Czech Republic. It was funny; the family and I had a lot of phone conversations before I came to Houston. I was kind of naïve — I thought the family said they had Chinese pigs, and so I thought I would be going to some kind of farm, but once I landed I realized I was nowhere near a farm. When I got to the family’s home, it turned out they said they had pugs.
When did you decide to start The Motherhood Center? After my Au Pair year, my husband and I started exploring my options. We figured out I would have to start my education all over if I wanted to pursue nursing again. That’s not something I wanted to do. My husband got a phone call from a friend of a friend who just had a baby and didn’t know anything, so they asked if I could help. They called me a baby nurse, and I started getting referrals to other families. After a few years, I started training other women. A few years later, I pulled it all together. We’ve been in business for 19 years now.
Why did you start The Motherhood Center? It’s a unique concept. I created The Motherhood Center from learning there’s a need. I was working as a baby nurse and visiting clients homes and helping them understand their baby’s needs. I was usually there at night, and sometimes during the day, but every time I would leave, the mom would ask, “What are we supposed to do now?”
The goal was to create a safe place and a nurturing environment for mothers with several services that were all under one roof. What we’re seeing is that mothers are staying with us from the moment they realize they’re expecting until the child is about 2 years old.
What were some of the needs you started noticing? The Motherhood Center is like eight different businesses under one roof. They all operate differently, but they all come together for the expecting couple or new parents. It was originally an educational component, because blogs and the internet were not around as much 20 years ago. I wanted to create a curriculum for parents to build a basic foundation.
The other part was exercise. Again 20 years ago, exercise during pregnancy was not encouraged. Exercise is important, even during pregnancy, so I developed yoga classes for them. Over time, we started noticing a need for massages and other childcare needs.
How hard was it to start a company as an immigrant? I don’t know where my drive came from, but I just went for it. The original landlord here was playing golf with my husband, and he asked my husband how I was doing. My husband told him about my idea, which was the Motherhood Center. The landlord said he had a space, so he showed it to me. After about 10 days to decide I wanted to do it. I called the guy, but he told me a printing company took it before me. My dream completely fell apart. A week later, he called and said the printing company couldn’t fit the machines in and said I could have it. After that, I just had to start finding people.
How has The Motherhood Center grown in 20 years? Over the years we’ve doubled the size of the center. We’re actually resigning our lease and revamping the concept of The Motherhood Center. We’re going to restructure some of the services and incorporate an online community. We want to reach people outside of Houston and helping spread the message of what we offer.
We’re going to shift within the space and create more of a multi-use space. We feel that more and more of our clients are looking into household staffing. They want a nanny who can be a household manager. So, we’re expanding the staffing department as well and adding household manager under our umbrella. We’re going to redo our website and introduce a new brand for the household staffing.
We’re hoping the remodel will be done by the end of June. We’re doing strategic planning for the website, and hoping to have that done within the next few months.
Do you have any plans to start another center? We’re exploring having another satellite location within Houston. Ideally, we’d go to other cities, too. Once we revamp this current concept, we want to look into investors and other cities.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Closer look: Gabriela Gerhart
Family: Husband, stepmother of two
Hobbies: Traveling, flying, golf, outdoor activities, gardening
What’s your favorite thing about Houston? “So many! I love the foodie scene and all the cultural aspects of people from all parts of the world! I love the art scene and, of course, Texas pride!”
This article originally appeared in the Houston Business Journal.