Mother Run: Alexis Edwards of Birth 360

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    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.”

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    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.”

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    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.”

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    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

On Instagram

Top Knot Squad Podcast

 

Thank you so much for reading.

Yours in business and motherhood,

Brittany

Mother Run: Karen Liebner of Finding Your Momtra

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    Karen Liebner always knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.  “I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was five years old,” she remembers.  “I always played school at home and loved being at school during the day. I’ve taught in Philly, Hawaii, pre-school to graduate school.  I love engaging people in learning and figuring out what their learning style is.” Her calling to teach has recently led her down a new and exciting path toward entrepreneurship.  “I love teaching but every time I’ve started a new teaching position, after the initial excitement, I’d suddenly start to feel in my gut that it just wasn’t right,” she explains. “I kept pursuing degrees and certifications trying to find my niche.  I spent 10 years bouncing around in education. As a side note, I’ve always been into mindfulness, meditation, the law of attraction, etc. Once I became a mom I started to rely on my intuition and inner voice more than ever. When I went back to work when my son was eight weeks old I was miserable but I also really didn’t feel as though I wanted to be a stay at home mom (also, we couldn’t financially handle that).  After some soul searching, I just kept hearing the word ‘teach’ in my heart and couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to teach. In the months following my son’s birth, several of my friends were giving birth. I found myself being someone that they reached out to for support often. Suddenly, I realized that ‘teach’ meant I should be teaching (I use that term somewhat loosely here) moms about caring for themselves and showing up as their best selves for their families.”

    That message of ‘teach’ morphed into her new venture, Finding Your Momtra.  “This realization just hit me like a ton of bricks one day,” she says. “I was having a serious internal struggle-- trying to justify wanting more satisfaction in my career, wanting more freedom in my day to spend with my son, but also knowing that financially (and mentally) I needed to work.  I always felt called to teach but then I’d have a visceral reaction to having to report to a school every day and adhere to the bureaucracy that is education today. It just didn’t feel right. Suddenly, I had a major ah-ha moment, all of my experiences started linking together in my mind. I truly saw this picture coming together of people and classes and experiences and I realized that I never could’ve done this prior to becoming a mom so really it had all been building up to this.”

    The idea of Finding Your Momtra is that every person's Momtra is different.  Karen’s goal is to help mothers really see themselves, which can look different to each of us.  She describes what it means to her by saying “I’m still finding myself as a mom and I think that that is an evolution that continues through every season of motherhood.  You don’t just ‘arrive’ at the destination because you gave birth. Your baby changes, you change, the world changes and you adapt. Our mindset has so much, if not everything, to do with how we respond to this constant evolution.  I wanted to create a place where I could share my growth and provide support and resources to inspire other moms to share their stories and grow with me.”

    Finding Your Momtra began as a website and blog.  It was an entirely new type of work for Karen who just dove into learning everything she needed to bring it to life.  “All of it was very new to me since I have zero technology background or marketing expertise,” she says. “But my head was bursting with thoughts that I had to put out there before I even got my website to look as presentable as I’d like (that’s still a work in progress).  I’m researching and planning as I go. I’ve made some mistakes like signing up for services too quickly and then realizing it’s not the right one for me/my business. Thank god for free trials! For example, I started with one email service and quickly realized it was too complicated for me.  I thought that ‘complicated’ meant I’d be able to tinker around with every single detail until it looked professional. But instead it came through that I had no idea what I was doing. Since I’m still at the ‘beginning’ my struggle has been deciding what to focus on. Do I work on making my site more presentable today or do I build content?  I just sat down and wrote a plan for for the entire month of April [note: this interview was completed in March] and today I’m creating most of that content so when the day comes I can click submit, serve my audience, and have some free time to play around with website formatting, etc.”

    She soon realized that a website was not all she was meant to do and began work on a podcast in addition to the Finding Your Momtra blog.  “A podcast was definitely not the plan,” she explains. “I definitely thought I’d hide behind a keyboard and send out my words after carefully crafting and reading and rereading them.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love to talk and I do consider myself a good storyteller. I was working on building my site and was listening to other podcasts about launching a business and it just dawned on me that I’d be much more natural at sharing my thoughts that way instead.  I have to say, if you listen to Episode 1 I probably sound a little stiff, but I’m getting more comfortable with each recording!” Starting a podcast with no tech background was another challenge she overcame to bring her vision to life. “I, again, had absolutely no idea what I was/am doing,” she says.  “RSS feeds? Royalty free intro music? A foreign language. But I’m learning and I’m finding it really fun to learn as I go. I’ve made mistakes, signed up for services I probably didn’t need, etc, but those are the normal growing pains of diving into something completely new.”

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    Starting a new business and mixing that with motherhood always comes with a few challenges.  “My biggest challenge has been fear at this point,” Karen shares. “I’m finishing the year as a school administrator and then setting out as a business owner to see what happens.  I’m a very driven person and one of the things that got me through my doctoral program was thinking of how I could tell my future children that I persevered through that challenge.  So I should say that part of the inspiration for taking this leap is my son. But also my fear that it will put us in a difficult spot financially is also tough. Thankfully, I have the support of my husband and we have other options if I need to take on other work.  I guess the answer to how I overcome this challenge is sort of metacognitive--I’m sharing my thoughts on meditation and mindfulness with other moms while at the exact same time incorporating this practice into my own journey of parenthood in order to overcome my own hangups.  My podcast and blog have always been about this full circle.”

    Another challenge she has encountered since the birth of her son in May 2017, has been “asking for and admitting I need help,” she says.  “I had a strange compulsion to make sure that my husband’s life stayed as pre-baby normal as possible. I thought that he’d think I was superwoman and could just do all of this without my mascara running.  And a few months into that charade I realized that that was insane and none of us were benefiting from it. Also, he chose to be a parent too so I feel like he also put some thought into how his life would change.  Once I started asking for help and being unapologetic about needing time for me, it was tangible how different I felt and how much more manageable and enjoyable life became.”

    We all have things that help us get through those tough and challenging times--both in the case of motherhood and running a business.  “Staying sane on challenging days is the point of my entire business, you know?,” says Karen. “Recognizing that is and will almost always be challenging in some way but also remembering that I have power over how this all feels for me is very liberating.  I can change my vibration in an instant if I decide to. My current ‘momtra’ in launching my business, blog, and podcast is to remind myself ‘to be of service.’ One of our big concerns in starting a family was that this world seems to be losing its collective mind.  BUT when you dive into this community of mindful parenting, etc. you realize, thank god, that there is a huge movement and shift going on of this new generation of parents who seem to be also raising their children to just be good people. We wanted to be a part of this movement in our home but then it dawned on me what a bigger impact we could make on the world if moms had a place where they felt supported in doing the same.  This helps me remember that all the work I’m putting in is in service to a much bigger picture, it reminds me that it is totally worth it.”

    One thing a lot of entrepreneurs have in common when they get started is that they often deal with doubt from those around them.  Those who don’t share their vision may not be able to see the value in what is being done and may inadvertently, and sometimes even purposefully, make comments that are unsupportive.  “This is something I think about constantly,” reveals Karen. “Not only is this not a ‘real job,’ I also don’t have a ‘real product’ in some people’s eyes. I’m pretty guarded with who in my family knows I’m doing this at this point.  The thing I remind myself is that they are not my target audience and so I don’t really need their approval. I actually got in a little bit of an argument with my dad about what exactly I’m doing and I ended it by saying, ‘You’re not my target audience, so I don’t need you to understand it.’  That’s been a sufficient answer for now. Thankfully, I have a ton of support both from people I know (especially fellow moms) as well as the virtual community that I’ve grown into.”

    Having a year of motherhood and a few months of business under her belt, she leaves us with a bit of advice.  “You are you and that is your power,” she shares. “One of the biggest things that held me back from initially hitting ‘publish’ on my first blog was that I felt like my message was overdone, like there were too many others wanting to do the same thing.  But I’ve learned that there’s room for all of us. We don’t all have the same vibe, or exactly the same message, and we definitely don’t have the same goals. Some moms are going to resonate with me and click ‘subscribe,’ others won’t find me interesting or appealing and that’s perfectly fine.  I can’t be that for everyone nor would I want to be. My hope is that we can all find support and leaders who fire us up and get us vibrating on a higher level. That’s what it’s all about in the end.”

 

Connect with Karen:

On Instagram

On the web

Finding Your Momtra Podcast on iTunes

 

Thanks so much for reading!

Yours in business and motherhood,

Brittany