Where do you go to teach you the A-Z’s of childbirth, lactation and returning to the job market? You go to the Baby Caravan. Meet Jennifer Mayer, the founder of an amazing collective of women Doulas that guide women through the journey of pregnancy and beyond. Think of it like a Doula on Demand. Read on to learn more of Jennifer’s experience in becoming a Doula and creating the caravan.
1. When I picture the Baby Caravan I picture an adorable parade of babies in strollers. What exactly is the Baby Caravan and what services do you offer?
I love that image! When we started Baby Caravan in 2013, the idea was to create a “caravan” of support for expectant and new families in NYC. During pregnancy and after the birth of a baby, your world becomes very, very small. You’re no longer going around the city seeking out resources because you’re too exhausted. So we created Baby Caravan to bring needed services right to the comfort of our client’s homes. We offer private Childbirth Education, Newborn Care and Breastfeeding classes, Birth Doula support services, both daytime and overnight Postpartum Doula services, Lactation consultations, and Back-to-Work coaching for moms preparing to return to work following maternity leave. Our clients love how easy it is to meet qualified professionals that can help.
2. How did you get into the industry of brokering doulas and connecting them with new parents? Did you use a doula yourself when you had your child?
I first started way back in 2005 when I trained to be a birth doula myself. At the time I was 22, living in Boulder, CO and practicing as a Licensed Massage Therapist. I’ve always been interested in natural health and holistic healing and eventually I took a certification training in prenatal massage. My colleagues began inviting me to their births as a massage therapist, to massage them as a comfort technique during labor. And that’s where it all started. I trained as a doula, traveling to The Farm in Tennessee to train with legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin, and read as much as I could about birth, midwifery, and supporting women and families. Once I began attending births and saw what an impact consistent support through the birthing process could offer I knew I had found the work I was meant to do.
Eventually I went back to school for my bachelor’s degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder in Gender Studies. I knew how to support women like my friends, but I knew there was a vast difference in women’s experiences across gender, class, race, and sexuality intersections. I wanted to be educated and informed on how I might best be able to serve women from a variety of backgrounds.
After college I moved to New York City and started my private birth doula and massage therapy practice in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn in 2010. Three years later is when I founded Baby Caravan and slowly grew our team as demand increased.
I gave birth to my first baby in December of 2014- after nearly a full decade of supporting women and families during pregnancy and birth. I had a planned homebirth with midwives, and ER nurse as the assistant, and then two close friends who served as my doulas. One of the friends who was there, I had been her doula, and we had gone to massage school together. I knew I needed her there. My other friend is just super rock solid support. And although she had never attended a birth before, and has no children of her own, I knew she would be the kind of strong, quiet, presence my husband and I needed on the big day.
3. You’re also a member of the Wing, a women’s only co-working space in NYC. How was surrounding yourself with other women owned businesses helped grow your own?
I love The Wing, and I’m so fortunate to be a member. It’s a very unique community in that it’s filled with incredibly inspiring and supportive women. Being a solo-founder, it can get pretty isolating working from home. Sure, I have a fantastic team who I adore but often times I’m working by myself. Which, don’t get me wrong, I love being able to work from home, I can get a lot of tasks completed. But I also love the ability to go to The Wing, take meetings there, and work along side other female founders. Not all members run their own business, but many of the women who work there during business hours are either business owners or freelancers. I’ve also developed a few friendships with likeminded women, who otherwise I probably wouldn’t have met.
4. What are your plans for expansion for the Baby Caravan?
My current plan for Baby Caravan is to maintain the agency side, and grow our consulting services. I recently launched Baby Caravan at Work were we offer consulting programs for companies and organizations who wish to best support their employees before, during and after parental leave. I’ve developed this offering over past three years, following the success of our Back-to-Work coaching program where I coach moms on the major pain points of returning to work between 3-6 months postpartum. After hearing feedback from my coaching clients that much of their experience returning to work was influenced by the cultural environment at their workplace, I knew there was more work to do.
The fact is 85% of women in the US are going to have a baby at some point. 40% of households now have a female breadwinner. We are going to have women who work, we are going to have women who have babies, and we are going to have many women who do both. That’s not changing, so how can we plan our businesses for life events? How can we as business owners retain talent and boost employee engagement? That’s what we’re all about.
As part of the consulting services we help companies and organizations review their current family leave policies and benefits to see if they support their core-mission, and if they are up to industry standard. In addition to company and organization policies, we also help to enhance employee resource programs, which could look like a parents group, a lactation program, access to lactation rooms for pumping, as well as back-to-work coaching for all parents as they prepare to return to work following the birth of a baby. We are currently looking for the right company or organization to partner with to launch our pilot program.
5. Do you have any tips for mom’s to be to approach the birthing/doula conversation with their doctor?
Discussing your birthing preferences with your OB or midwife is so important, and I recommend that expectant mothers bring up the conversation as soon as they know what their preferences are. If you have a low-risk pregnancy and are hoping for a natural birth, free of interventions but you’re working with a high-risk OB at a hospital with a 40% C-section rate, that’s probably not the best fit. Even though the high-risk doctor is likely incredible at what they do. But they work with a high-risk population, which usually means many interventions could be required for a safe delivery. On the other hand, if you have a high-risk pregnancy, you’ll want to be in the hands of a fantastic high-risk OB.
For the most part these days, many OBs and midwives are thrilled when their patients hire a doula. Doulas generally make the provider’s job easier, because their patients with doulas tend to be informed, calm, confident and focused, as compared to patients who don’t have the support of a doula. Doulas offer continuous support for however long the labor lasts, offering reassurance and support the whole way. For the most part, doulas wish to work as a team in a positive way with OBs and midwives, and to build good relationships for a healthy outcome for mom, partner, and baby.