Tiffany Wicks is passionate about bringing accessible and affordable health care to women in all stages of conception, pregnancy, and postpartum.Read More
Sometimes our businesses don’t start out as businesses. They can be a slow burn born out of a need you wish to fill in your own life. They take on a life of their own and become something you never really imagined. Such is the story of Zoe Powell and The Mama Book.
The Mama Book, a special journal created to help mothers take time for themselves, was officially started just over a year ago. Zoe’s first round of preorders became available in July 2017, but the roots of The Mama Book run a little further back. “I have a degree in English Literature,” she begins, “which wasn’t so straightforward since my husband and I had our first daughter in the middle of my degree! I took a leave of absence for a year and continued where I had left off. A few weeks before the end of my degree our son was born, and that summer after graduation we moved down the county to Oxfordshire, so my husband could start his new job in London.” Unbeknownst to her, that move would set her on the path that would eventually lead her to creating The Mama Book.
“I vividly remember when I created the journal, going to find a blank notebook and filling it with page titles and prompts,” Zoe says. “It was something I really needed myself, after years of not giving myself enough breathing room to process motherhood and all its highs and lows. I really felt like my mind was becoming crowded and it was harder and harder to keep track of all the things, never mind contemplate the nature of motherhood. Initially I just felt compelled to make a physical space for myself to be able to write down all the things in my mind but I quickly realized that this was what I had needed to allow myself all along. Some breathing room, some intentional reflection and planning time, somewhere to focus on the joys and acknowledge challenges too.”
Creating that space for herself was the first step to getting where she is today. “I started slowly, because I knew from past experience that I am an ideas person, love new ideas but I needed to wait for all the puzzle pieces to fit together,” she explains. “I took it slow and steady, using my own handwritten version of the journal for a year before I started digitizing it, getting opinions from other mamas, and researching printing options. I had a clear idea of the kind of stock I wanted the cover to be made from and that was one of the hardest things, since I also wanted to try to keep it local and within the U.K.,avoiding outsourcing to other countries. I took part in the 100 day business goal challenge by The Business Bakery which helped me stay focused as I headed towards preorders and learned from articles and podcasts along the way, too.” That slow and steady mindset allowed her to really take her time and steer clear of the stress we often put ourselves under to get things done quicker. Her progress was “mostly done in odd evenings or nap times when my little ones were sleeping,” she says. “I tried to take away the pressure to rush for a certain date or anything, and instead focused on getting it tested by mamas from different backgrounds, different aged children and some who worked outside the home, inside, etc. Once I had the print file ready and I was happy that I had taken all the research into account, I was finally able to get a proof copy and start using the real life version!”
Her mission behind The Mama Book resonates with a lot of women. “So often in mothering we are reacting to situations, problems, or dealing with the myriad of everyday things that need to be done, feeding, playing, cleaning, tidying, feeding, washing,” Zoe says. “We can get lost in the smaller things and forget the bigger picture--to remember that it matters, it counts. We can also forget to see the joys in those mundane things, and forget to intentionally make time to do things that go above those quotidian occurrences. Writing it down is much more concrete and affects us in a different way than ideas we keep in our heads. I love having a written record of so many parts of each season to look back on.”
Her seasons have changed a lot over the years as she got her degree, started a business, and grew her family. She does all that she does while caring for her three kids. “We have a little girl, Phoebe, who is our oldest, a little boy, Simeon, and our youngest is Amelia,” she shares. “They each have different personalities but you can see that they are related! When The Mama Book website went live they were 5, 3, and 18 months but I had been using the journal in some form for about a year before that--when they were all underfoot and before my oldest had started at school.”
As anyone balancing motherhood with business knows, there are always challenges and problems to solve. “The hardest thing at the moment is mentally switching between the two,” she says. “On the whole I try to get things done when they are asleep or at nursery on my one day of childcare, but with the joys of smartphones it can be easy to find yourself stuck looking at something which could actually wait. I tend to lean towards spending time with them and the blog post or email I’m wanting to get to being pushed to the bottom of the pile--so content isn’t always as regular as I’d like but they will only ever be this young once!” One of the things that helps her is removing the temptation to do those other things. “I do try to keep apps off my phone,” Zoe says. “I deleted my email from it which has been so freeing and regularly log out of social media so that I’m not tempted to check in. Batching helps me a lot when I have enough time or brainpower to be able to do a lot of similar tasks at the same time. I do try to explain to them what I’m doing and include them though--Phoebe was gleeful when she watched the video I made explaining The Mama Book, and I have a precious memory of Simeon helping me to package up preorders.”
Another obstacle that she has overcome in her quest of balancing a family and a business is the dreaded and relatable imposter syndrome. “Honestly, I’m probably the one who doesn’t see it as a real job since imposter syndrome can be so hard,” she shares. “I’m the worst at fumbling over my words when people ask what I do, or if I work! My friends and family have all been supportive of The Mama Book, but I could be better at asking for what I need!” As so many of us can attest, those feelings can present themselves even outside of running a small business. “Feeling like I can’t do everything perfectly is something I find challenging in all areas of life,” Zoe says. “I’ve had to realize I can’t be a perfect mother, and housewife, and personal assistant, and writer, and business owner 100% of the time. Different things and people need more and less attention at different times so now I’m trying to aim for balance overall than perfect balance of each thing each day. We have to give ourselves grace and do the right things with those around us in mind.”
The Mama Book has evolved so much since Zoe first began. “It has been so fun to see the community grow and to send journals to all kinds of places,” she says. “We have started interviews on the blog to get to know some mamas better and to learn from each other which I love. With maternal mental health awareness week we started #mamatakesfive to encourage mothers to take five minutes each day for some breathing room and I’m hoping that will continue to grow. We are starting to venture into being stocked in real life shops and so I’m excited to see what will happen over the next year or so. One of my favourite things is getting to donate a portion from each journal sale to PANDAs and support mothers with mental illnesses that way, too.”
Despite her business being young she has done so much already for mothers with her work. We all deserve that time to do something that we enjoy--whether that is journaling, being part of a community, or even starting a business. Zoe leaves us with a bit of advice that everyone, regardless of what season you’re in, can take to heart-- “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you are human and you need to rest and breathe as much as anyone else. These are the good old days--look up and see them!”
Connect with Zoe:
On the web
Alexis Edwards wasn’t always a birth worker. “I worked full time as a social worker before transitioning home for a few years after having children,” she recounts. “I still worked from home part-time for an adoption agency writing home studies and conducting post-placement home visits, while also keeping humans alive and shit was bananas. Shout out to all those work from home moms doing the impossible! In November 2016 I became certified as a birth and postpartum doula and then officially put my kids in school part-time to grow my private practice.”
She first discovered the new path she wanted to take during that time home with her kids. “I had a lot of time to think about my career and the populations I wanted to serve,” she explains. “I also had a lot of time to realize that staying home wasn’t the best fit for me. I struggled emotionally and lacked support. I felt very isolated during my daughters first year and started my blog as a way to get everything I was feeling out of my brain. Ironically, my blog connected me with other mothers and made me feel less alone. It made me realize the importance of community, especially during new parenthood, and it was then I started researching doula trainings. I knew I wanted to support new parents in the perinatal period and use my social work skills to serve the mental health needs that are often ignored during this huge transition in life.” A big part of her decision to go into this new line of work stemmed directly from her own doula use. “I had a doula for both of my births and very much valued their support along the way,” she says. “I also suffered from severe postpartum anxiety after my sons birth and coming out the other side of that inspired me to support other women in normalizing and validating the struggles new parents can face that aren’t often talked about.” Within her own practice she works to support every mother she comes across and knows that every birth and situation looks different. “I support all types of birth and have supported women in a range of experiences, from a home birth to holding their hand in the OR,” she says. “My goal is not to try and sway my client into one type of birthing environment vs. another. Each woman is unique and will have unique needs and I will always support their decision to birth with and where they feel safe and supported. I encourage all of my clients, no matter their birth preferences to seek out a comprehensive childbirth education course. One that covers all the variations of normal when it comes to birth and that provides knowledge and information on all types of intervention and the risks/benefits involved so they can feel empowered in making an informed choice. The thing I’ve realized the longer I’ve worked with women in this stage of life, is that a satisfying birth experience has less to do with where or how the baby was born, and more to do with how the experience made her FEEL. And the thing that consistently determines whether a woman has positive emotions connected to her birth is significantly related to how she was treated by those surrounding her.”
Her social work background has led her to create quite a unique, and much needed, business. With a goal to bridge the gap between birth and mental health, her work serves to help many women who may otherwise fall through the cracks. Her ability to connect more extensively with birthing people prenatally helps build a deeper relationship than one may typically have with a doctor or other healthcare provider. “This allows for rapport and trust to build early on and I’m planting seeds about postpartum the whole time, reminding them that should they need additional mental health support postpartum, I am trained to do so,” Alexis explains. “It’s so much easier to reach out for support when you already know who to reach out to. As a doula, I’m also seeing my clients sooner than a medical provider in the postpartum period. Most women don’t see their provider until 6 weeks postpartum which is light years in new parent land. Doulas typically do a postpartum home visit around 1-2 weeks postpartum and are also checking in via phone/text during those early weeks so it allows me the opportunity to observe clients in the midst of the newborn haze when it’s more likely for issues to surface. Doulas are also trained to provide options and encourage informed choice. This means that I’m not just discussing medication as an option, but also offering referrals to support groups, lactation support, psychiatrists, etc. and especially those trained in perinatal issues. I don’t want to paint medical providers in a bad light. Many are providing proper referrals in the same way, but not all have that knowledge and the best they know to do is prescribe a standard medication which may not always be the best fit depending on the patient and their unique needs.”
In addition to offering birth and postpartum doula services, Alexis also uses her education and experiences to advocate for trauma survivors in birth through her program Carry on Warriors. “I am a trauma survivor myself and experienced traumatic birth with both of my children,” she shares. “I also primarily worked with trauma survivors as a counselor before having children, but despite all that, I didn’t really consider the impact my history would have on my own births and postpartum. That’s the thing about trauma, even if you feel ok cognitively, the body still stores those trauma memories and they can come flooding to the surface during the perinatal period. So much of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum is this raw, primal, physical, and emotional journey and our body can interpret those sensations as unsafe and women might find themselves being triggered by the normal parts of birth or new parenthood. I think this is one of those things that isn’t often talked about so I’m passionate about creating conversation around this issue, especially considering 1 in 3 women are survivors.” In addition to the Carry on Warriors program, she also offers a group called Growing Together which focuses on partners becoming parents. “There is so much emphasis prenatally on making a birth plan, decorating the nursery, or what to pack in your hospital bag, but no one is talking about the shit show you are about to navigate when you get sent home alone with a tiny human that is basically a digestive system,” says Alexis. “Growing Together was created with the goal of educating both partners on the various postpartum issues they may face and equipping them with tools and support on how to better handle conflict and meet each others needs during this rocky time as a couple.”
One of the things within her work that she is passionate about is changing the statistics of maternal mortality. “There are many wonderfully compassionate and evidence-based OBGYN’s that also provide women centered care, but the truth of the matter is our healthcare system is significantly flawed,” she explains. “There is an overall issue with unnecessary interventions that absolutely contribute to birth trauma which increases your likelihood of experiencing a postpartum mood disorder. The U.S. also has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world, and black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Even more, as many as 1 in 5 women experience a mood disorder postpartum and that increases to 1 in 3 for women of color so it’s hard not to consider the correlation between what is happening in birth and what women are experiencing after the fact.” She even attended the March for Moms in Washington D.C. earlier this year to lobby for maternal health. “That means I had to run around capitol hill in a pencil skirt and kitten heels to yell at Senators to stop letting mothers die in the U.S.,” she says. “No, that’s an exaggeration, lol. But that is essentially what I did. The first day was an actual March for Moms to build awareness around maternal health issues such as postpartum mood disorders and maternal mortality and survivors and family members that have lost loved ones were able to speak and share their stories. I think that portion of the trip was meant to motivate and inspire us to speak from the heart when meeting with legislators. Our goal in the legislative meetings was to encourage their support and sponsorship of three specific bills related to maternal health. One was a bill that requires medical providers to screen for postpartum depression, another would strengthen maternal mortality review committees in order to collect more accurate data on why mothers are dying, and the last was to create paid family and medical leave, all causes I’m extremely passionate about as each could improve outcomes for mothers.”
Her foray into birth work was slow and built around her family and the season of life they were in at the time. “I started my doula training journey in early 2016 when my youngest was almost 2,” she says. “Our first year and a half with her was a hot fucking mess. She slept zero. She only wanted boob. And I felt immense guilt that I wasn’t giving my older kiddo the attention he deserved. Looking back, I know I would have failed at starting my practice during that stage which is probably why I didn’t even consider it until we started to come out the other side of that sleep deprived, over touched torture. I definitely took it slow in the beginning as I was still home with them full time, but just did what I could when I could squeeze it in and gave myself grace along the way, knowing I would eventually reach a place where we could transition them into more childcare. And that’s exactly what happened. They are now almost 4 and 6 and my oldest will start kindergarten this Fall and we will transition our daughter to a full time preschool. It’s crazy to think I’ve come that far in the journey.”
The on-call nature of birth work provides an additional challenge to running a business with kids. You never know exactly when a call is going to come in and you have to drop what you’re doing or sneak out in the middle of the night. “Not gonna lie, on-call is fucking tough,” says Alexis. “I suffer from anxiety so I have to be mindful of those feelings creeping in and engage in the right self-care so I can stay well rested and not feel on edge waiting for the call. But I also limit the number of birth clients I take on each month to make that process more manageable. Many full time doulas might take 5-6 clients a month, but I only take 1-2 which also allows me to manage the other services I offer and still ‘balance’ that family life.” As working mothers that balance ebbs and flows as we move through different periods of life. “It definitely has gotten easier as they have gotten older,” she says. “They are more independent and really enjoy school and time with their friends vs. those earlier years where separation anxiety and thirst for nipple was real life.”
Though on-call work as a mother is hard, Alexis says the biggest challenge she has had to overcome is “definitely affordable, quality childcare.” “It was hard initially to start a business without childcare,” she continues. “I needed to make money to pay for it, but I also needed childcare to serve clients. It was rough there initially and there were a few months I wanted to quit from the anxiety, but I just kept pushing through and eventually it all worked out and now that is less of a stressor. I do still have it in the back of mind though since my income isn’t consistent. If I have a slow month, it can get stressful, but I’ve been working harder at adding in those unexpected periods to my budget to give us a cushion for when that does happen. That’s been a big part of my journey that I’ve learned as I go. Managing money is uncomfortable AF, and I think many business owners struggle with how to manage a budget and make financially sound business decisions. I recently invested in a bookkeeper to keep my life right and that has been tremendously helpful.”
So often as small business owners we face criticism or doubt from others about our ability to not only run a business, but to run one with children. Alexis has the perfect answer for those would dare to question her choices. “Fuck that noise,” she says. “It pisses me off how often I am asked ‘how do you do it all?’ when my husband is just being a dad and having a career no questions asked. I constantly have to remind myself that women are given this ridiculous narrative that we can’t have it all so I know that’s where the question stems from. But the truth of the matter is I don’t have it all. I’m not perfect and I have good days and bad days, and no matter what I do or how I do it, one thing will suffer while I give energy to another. And I just give that some grace and keep going. I know I have something to offer this world, and if someone wants to doubt that then they ain’t my people. This is another space where my village comes in. I surround myself with other female entrepreneurs and feel inspired and supported by how much they kick ass and take names on the daily.” That village is also what helps her get through challenging times. “I’ve learned over the years to ask for help and seek connection when I need it. Our culture doesn’t do the best job encouraging a village. We are one of the only cultures that doesn’t raise families as a community and I do believe that contributes to the poor outcomes our country is navigating in regards to maternal health. So I try really hard to practice what I preach to my clients and ask for support when I feel myself getting overwhelmed.”
What’s on her business bucket list?
“Write a book!!!”
Her favorite creative and business resources:
“You are a Badass by Jen Sincero. The Courage to Become by Catia Holm. Also the Hey, Girl podcast. And Brene Brown. All the Brene Brown.”
Her advice for other biz owning moms?
“Keep doing you boo. When doubt or comparison starts to creep in, kick that shit in the face and keep doing that goodness you know you were meant to do. Also, wine.”
Connect with Alexis:
On the web
Thank you so much for reading.
Yours in business and motherhood,