We are delighted to introduce our next female founder interview, Mary Tighe of Doula Care Ireland. Jen and Mary host our Virtual Mum Tribe Meet every month to help mothers of all ages and stages connect with each other in a safe space.
If you could summarise your business in one sentence, what would it be?
Offering our knowledge, encouragement, kindness and support to birth and postpartum families at a very special, exciting (and potentially vulnerable and challenging) time in their lives & supporting doulas who train and work with us.
When did you start your business?
Why did you start it?
Myself and Jen were both extremely busy doulas. We were turning clients away. We were aware of the existence of the Doula Agency model from doula friends in the States and were aware there was a gap in the market here in Ireland for a similar model. We are both passionate about working to support families in Ireland throughout their pregnancy, birth and parenting journey and we felt we could offer a one stop shop for parents allowing us to continue to support doulas and source clients for them. Establishing this model also enabled us to develop professional standards for anyone involved in the Agency (for example all doulas we represent have to carry insurance and have Garda Vetting).. We also long term felt there was a need for an Irish training organisation and had long wanted to develop a training programme for birth and postpartum doulas here in Ireland (which we launched last year).
How has covid affected your business?
When it started last year our business completely dried up. Clients (understandably) did not want doulas coming into their home, doulas were also not able to attend hospital births and the doulas themselves were also nervous about being frontline with clients. We also had an in person postpartum doula training planned that we had to postpone (twice – as restrictions kept changing). It was a hugely stressful few months, but myself and Jen are both resourceful and actually the time was really helpful for us both as it allowed us to sit down and look at how we could pivot. We began offering virtual doula supports. We amended our birth contracts to allow for early labour support at home and virtual support when the client went to the hospital (which has proven to be very popular). We began offering online antenatal and parenting classes. And we re-developed our postpartum doula training so that it would work in an online setting. The time also allowed us to develop a birth doula curriculum (and we launched that training this year), and a Certifying process for doulas wanting to Certify (we are the only Irish Organisation training doulas that offer a pathway to Certification). We both benefitted as well from the downtime away from the business – it had been so busy we had no time to plan long term for our goals. We have completely turned the business around and feel very lucky to be able to continue to earn a living from it (when we know others have not been so lucky). It’s been a tough 12 months but we are still here!
How did you come up with the name?
It was my husband’s idea actually – he is very creative and does most of our design stuff – he was playing around with names for us and came up with that. The minute we both heard it, we loved it!
What did you do to get your business out there at the start?
Jen set up our FB page and we were so excited and nervous!! It felt so real. We used social media mainly – Facebook, Instagram etc. We were also very lucky in that Meghan Markle became pregnant in 2018 and all of a sudden there was a huge interest in the media in doulas and we were featured in a number of magazines and newspapers. Irish Life Health then approached us to offer postpartum doula support to their policy holders after baby arrives (they were developing amazing add ons for families with a new baby such as offering gourmet foods delivered to the house – and they felt the doula would enhance the quality of their packages). So both of these factors helped us immensely.
What role does social media play in your business?
It plays a HUGE role!!!! We are very active on Instagram and Facebook. Instagram especially we find is extremely interactive and a fantastic way to meet our customers. We have a a number of Pregnancy and Parenting support groups on Facebook where we post regular content for members and we have FB groups for the doulas who are a part of the Agency and Doulas that have trained or are training with us. These allow us to interact and support them through the sharing of resources and articles and opportunities such as information about other trainings they might find helpful. We haven’t explored Tik Tok yet, and we are much quieter on Twitter.
What did you do before you launched your business?
I worked in the community sector. I had worked for 13 years in a Citizens Information Service – we offered information, advice and an advocacy service to the public (I worked all over the NOrthside of Cork, but our main office was in Knocknaheeny). The job was quite helpful for what I do now. As a doula I offer information and support to clients and we support them in a self advocacy role. We never tell a client what to do, but offer options and choices so that they can decide for themselves (and this is very similar to the role I had in the Citizen’s Information – just a different subject matter).
What female founder inspires you?
Do I have to pick just one!!! I am so lucky to know lots of amazing women in business who inspire me. Irene form @nurturehealth who has done such amazing work ensuring families in Ireland have more access to mental health supports. Melanie McCardle from Rainbow Kids Boutique, Tricia Nugent from Snugglebugs, Kathy Milliken from Bump, Baby and Me, Loretta Kennedy who runs MamaBear Foods, my sister in law Wendy Hickey who has started a refill shop in Midleton, Heather Condren (my husband’s cousin and a good friend who runs flowerpop.ie and Tracy Donegan who developed GentleBirth all come to mind. These are all small business owners like ourselves that have created such amazing sustainable businesses around their families – just like myself and Jen have done.
What other Irish businesses do you admire?
So many – the businesses mentioned above most definitely. But also I love Earthmother and Reuzi for being able to create a living from being sustainable, solidstart.ie who produces such amazing content for parents that so many find helpful and some of the doulas we represent here in DoulaCare are doing incredible work for families in Ireland with their skills sets such as @lisajoycedoula who offers pregnancy and postpartum yoga classes @fearlessbirth who is also offering GentleBirth workshops as well as being a doula @mairead_spacetobreathe who has developed a beautiful course for for parents around finding the calm in the busyness of parenting. I also am very inspired by Marian from @anewmum and Layla from @nuanua
If you could give one piece of business advice what would it be?
You don’t have to do it all. Being able to outsource is hugely important, especially as you grow – and it’s something a lot of business owners I have met find challenging (including myself and Jen). We have finally learned, however, that we cannot do it all – and we actually shouldn’t be doing it all either! It’s just as important to hire the right people for the right job than trying to be a Jack of all Trades and wearing ourselves out.
What’s your five year plan?
We have so many ideas and plans for our business over the next 5 years. We want to offer more training courses for birth professionals and parents, we want to develop the Agency so that more families around the country are utilising the services of a doula (so many book us on their second having not known about doula support on their first). We would love to have the option to support families on low income (and see the government offering support to them to be able to access doulas). We have grown quickly over the last few years so one huge goal is to improve the systems we utilise in the day to day running of our business so we are doing less admin and more support (and we are lucky to have 2 amazing administrators supporting us in DoulaCare which has made a huge difference to our day to day).
How do you create a work/life balance?
It is a challenge, but I have a fairly strict schedule nowadays (this has taken me a few years to achieve). I work mornings and then I turn my phone off and focus on my family if I am not on call, or if I am on call and need my phone on I let calls go to voicemail. I schedule my time when I work and again have my phone turned off so as not to have distractions when I work. I have very set schedule – so for example I allow myself 40 mins to check email every day and reply to mails. Once that 40 mins is up that is it for the day – I don’t check again until the next day. Then another time slot for scheduling social media etc. Of course there are weeks where this goes out the window (when we are extra busy or have a project on) where this changes and work does take over, but I try to make that the exception rather than the rule. I am also learning to say no more – there are so many amazing opportunities out there that we could be a part of, but we cannot do everything, so I am way more conscious of this now and finding it easier to say – not right now.
How do you look after yourself to avoid burnout?
This is something close to my heart as I became quite sick a few years ago and really had to start developing tools to help me manage my health and stress levels. When DoulaCare started we both put so much of ourselves into it, we both reached burnout (and are still dealing with the after effects). I have a morning routine that follows the Miracle Morning. A friend told me about it a few years ago and it has been such a huge support for me. the guy who developed it uses the SAVERS acronym and suggests that it can be helpful to start your day with these. So I do a mindfulness practise every day, (S- Silence), I make sure to do 10 mins of Yoga with Yoga Kassandra every morning and another 10 mins on an exercise bike, I read a book that will educate me or make me think (so for example I am just finished re-reading The Body Keeps the Score which I originally read in 2007 and didn’t have as big an impact on me as it is now with all the knowledge I have gained over the last 15 years! And then I journal for a few minutes. This has been an absolute life saver for me and really helps me when I am getting frazzled.
What keeps you going?
Knowing that we make a difference – both to clients and to the doulas we support and train. There are so few supports here in Ireland for parents when they get pregnant, the system can be overwhelming. Likewise after baby arrives there is no village (we say it takes a village to raise a child, but for the majority of us nowadays that village is no longer there). So being able to offer support to families is something I love doing. Similarly supporting doulas is something I love to do. While the job is amazing, there can be burnout in it, and so being able to offer mentorship so that people can continue to do what they love long term is so rewarding. I also love building and growing a business. It is very exciting. If you had told me 20 year ago I would be business owner I would have laughed at you. It just wasn’t something I ever considered and yet know I love the flexibility it offers me, I love that I learn something new every day and am constantly growing and developing – it’s a very exciting path to be on.