The Mama Circle’s Erica Chidi Cohen On Birthing A Business Built To Last
Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Visuals: Lauren Moore
First, ask yourself: “How is this cosmically linking up to the greater good?”
Today women are feeling more comfortable than ever in saying—and getting—what they want, how they want it. It may explain the rise in the number of American women seeking doula services, as today’s moms-to-be become more intentional about their pregnancies.
It’s the reason why Erica Chidi Cohen founded The Mama Circle. The Los Angeles-based company provides doula and maternal health services to pregnant moms and parents who are looking for a thoroughly modern take on an old-school tradition.
“In the past, women were all supported through their pregnancy and their labor,” Chidi Cohen says. “It was a communal effort, and that's definitely fallen off. I just knew that more and more women were wanting to have a very different pregnancy experience, wanted to transition into motherhood more consciously—in a way that didn't feel too woo woo or out there, but still had that spirituality and connectedness that they're looking for.”
Since it opened in 2014, The Mama Circle has become a well-loved destination for expecting families looking for resources, education, and community. (Its Mama Mornings have become an especially popular meetup for moms and babies.)
For Chidi Cohen, The Mama Circle has been a lifetime in the making—and she’s taking steps to ensure its success grows. The doula, chef, and lactation consultant tells us how she’s redefining the doula experience for her clients and says exactly what we all need to hear about networking for business growth.
What made you want to become a doula?
It's hard for me to say I woke up knowing this is what I wanted to do, but [I had] a very clear unfettered desire to guide women. What I really liked about doula work is the type of social support that I really felt was missing from the medical system.
I recently learned that my grandmother basically did the work that I do [now] many years ago in our village. She would deliver babies, help with breastfeeding, and make herbs for jaundice. As I grew up, my parents always called me "nne" which in Igbo means grandmother or mother. It's interesting that in my early 20s I kind of gravitated toward the work of my grandmother.
I don't have children, but my ability to support women around pregnancy has always been an innate skill. It feels like definitely ancestry at work, but then my background is in the arts and PR, so my ability to connect people, support people, and help them articulate their own needs really plugged in well to pregnancy and wellness.
Do you ever feel pushback from people on your abilities because you're not a mom?
Maybe a tiny bit, but nothing that was prohibitive to me. I feel like not having children is so [beneficial] to my work because I'm not coming from the position of "I did it this way." I come from a more scientific point of view where I'm looking at all the hundreds of women I've worked with, which for a lot of women helps them feel not judged, like we're working together to find a common solution that's not ego-motivated.
I feel like doulas who are older bring in a lot of their own personal experience. I'm sure once I cross that threshold, I will understand that more. But I would always like to work from a space of, “You know what's best for you, I'm a conduit.”
What were the gaps you were hoping to address in the doula landscape with The Mama Circle?
I wanted to bring all of the doula and birth world support environment into contemporary times. People were missing out on something vital because there was a high barrier to entry. They're like, "I don't want that super clinical experience or that super dreamcatcher experience. I want something that looks and feels like everything else in my life."
That was basically my premise: bringing people lesser-known but very integral support services in a way that they can understand and feel like "I can adopt this." That's what I felt was missing: Not necessarily a lack of desire to access [doula services], but just not knowing that it was there and [also] not necessarily understanding the language of it.
What were the challenges you experienced when you first launched your business?
I think that's a really important thing from the very beginning: Creating a brand or an aesthetic that talks to you, and through that will talk to the right person to come to you. But I think it's just getting the word out. For me, I tried to position myself in places that would allow me to make better contacts. I think it was hard to figure that out initially, but a big piece of it is just networking.
And just believing that it was going to work. I think that was the hardest thing, especially when you're just starting out.
How did you find your clients initially?
I would say a good part of my business growth has been through networking and creating real relationships with clients. The hope is that your clients don't just end as clients; you'd like to take them into the relationship space because that's how you grow your business.
There's always competition, [but] I'm one of those people who doesn't believe in the scarcity model at all—there's room for everybody to do well. I think it's very important to keep a few core contacts and then keep it moving, just because you can get really bogged down and it’s best to give your space to create without any energetic interference.
What advice would you give someone who wants to launch a business in this space?
Really know what it is that you're offering. Be very clear about it, because wellness can encompass so many things. It's really nice to want to offer a myriad of services, but people really respond well when you know what you're doing so they know how to access you.
I think it's always better to do a few things really, really well, and then once that's established you can layer, versus doing a lot of things with varying levels of efficacy. Then you're confused, your client is confused, and then you're feeling like there's not growth happening. If everything you're doing is feeding back into your business, then you're really cooking with gas.
If you're doing something and you're like, "How many steps away is this from the core of my business?" do not do it. Even if it's like "Oh, I want to go to lunch with her. But do I really have time?"
It's not a negative thing like "How are you going to help me?" I'm not that girl. But I am [wondering], “How is this cosmically linking up to the greater good?” You don't have to do anything directly for me, but will this somehow result in a positive impact? If you feel like it is, then that's great! For me, things have grown organically because I'm always coming from place of "how can we support each other?”