Dr Sarah Winward, ND – Founder of Your Downtown Doula – talks about how having a baby and starting a business can feel the same.
stnce is a platform that believes confidence is the key to taking financial ownership. This is part of a series we call, “Not at the Table!” where we ask people to address the elephant in the room – the taboos of personal finance.
I am a naturopathic doctor as well as birth, and infant loss doula. I’m also a new mom. And a small business owner. If you think that sounds like a lot, it is. If you’re wondering, is she making enough to make ends meet? The answer is kind of, not really, and I’m working on it.
Starting a business and having a baby at the same time wasn’t something I had planned. In fact, the only reason why I had considered starting the venture was that I wanted to shift my focus away from trying but not succeeding at getting pregnant. Your Downtown Doula began as a side hustle between another ND I had met as a student and me. During school, I had always been drawn to women’s health – specifically, birth, pregnancy, and early postpartum. So, turning my interest into my area of focus as a naturopathic doctor and becoming an entrepreneur just seemed like a good career move. The plan was to work in a clinic, get some experience in the field, establish a network, and focus about half my time on Your Downtown Doula until it picked up. But as fate would have it, a month after I started putting it into action, I found out I was pregnant.
Although the news made me feel nothing but joy, I realized I’d have very little time for me to make money. Usually, families get comfortable with a steady paycheque, plan for a baby, and allow for increased expenses yet decreased income during maternity leave. My husband and I went from making nothing as students to making nothing with one of us as an entrepreneur to making nothing as young parents with a newborn. We had two sources to draw on – my husband is a PhD student, works as a TA, and gets some funding from the university, and I have a line of credit. Our challenge was to figure out how to extend his earnings for longer than we had initially planned because using the loan wasn’t our favourite option.
Thankfully, we could rely on our village of family and friends to give us a hand. My in-laws own the apartment we live in, so our rent wasn’t as high as it could have been (it continues to be a massive help to our budget). My parents set us up with a diaper-washing service for the first year, so we didn’t have to account for that expense. Our friends gifted us with a lot of baby clothing and gear at the shower, so that alleviated another cost. And I decided to breastfeed for as long as I could, not just because it was good for the baby, but also, it saves us from regularly buying formula.
In the end, our first year with the baby didn’t reflect a huge increase in our cost of living. When it comes time to start school and look into extracurricular activities, it’ll be a different conversation. But hopefully, by then, we’ll be in a better financial position and not have to worry too much.
I’m not sure if it was confidence, hormones, or my momma bear instinct that kicked in, but a strength I’d never known carried me through what came next. The most significant costs of having a baby while also starting a business are time and lost income. I don’t get paid to care for my child nor do I get a salary for growing the company. Even though Your Downtown Doula has never been in the red, coming up with second-, third-, and long-term business plans were challenging because I had never done it before. Then, I had to create marketing materials, open up social accounts, and get my name out there through word of mouth and referrals from other healthcare providers. In all situations, I went in blind and had to figure it out as I went along. Fortunately, the people I work with are all self-sufficient. When we see that the market is interested in a particular specialization, if we don’t offer it already, we’ll either find an amazing practitioner to refer to, or look into additional training so that at least one of us is well-versed. It so happens that that situation came up recently and now, I’m training to become a lactation consultant. It’ll take me about a year to complete which is excellent timing because by then, the baby will be able to go to daycare or at least, I’ll feel more comfortable with a sitter. The school also allows me to bring the baby with me to class, so it’s more than perfect.
I’ve discovered that motherhood is like a startup. You don’t know where it’s going to take you, and everything happens all at once.
My project for the next year is to figure out how to set myself up for success. So that I know I’m heading in the right direction. Right now, Your Downtown Doula only offers home visits, but I’d like to open up a space for appointments and classes. I’ll probably end up reaching out to a business coach and getting more experience through partnerships, giving talks, and having a more prominent presence in the community. Beyond that, to be doing this work during such a transformative time for women and their families is so emotionally fulfilling. In many ways, it’s what keeps me going. The feeling I get when I’m with a mother when she holds her child for the first time or when I’m helping her get through a particularly tough part of labour, it’s so raw and powerful.
I’ve discovered that motherhood is like a startup. You don’t know where it’s going to take you, and everything happens all at once. You don’t know where it’s going to take you and no guide or amount of training could ever prepare you for the real deal. Whether I’m thinking about the business or the baby, taking care of them comes with their fair share of ups and downs. The best advice I’ve ever gotten is not to overthink and approach the dream day by day. And, just like my baby is growing and has shown me, I’m sure my business and bank account will grow too. All they need is a little bit of time, attention, and patience. And I, more sleep.