When Tiara Caldwell gave birth to her twins, she was distraught when hospital staff kept the newborns from her for more than 11 hours. Nurses assumed that she didn't want to nurse. She felt she was discriminated against because she is African American, and she was a young mom. “They assumed that because of my age and race, I wouldn't want to nurse,” she said.
Caldwell, now 28, had her fight daughter at 19, and twins three years later, used her anger and heartbreak over the negatives in her birth experience to become a doula and lactation consultant. Today, no longer in a relationship with her kids' father, and on top of her staff job at a hospital, she is launching her own doula, birth education and lactation consultation business, Crowned and Cradled (LOVE THAT NAME!). The business aims to serve millennial moms, especially low-income and minority women. Her business plan includes a mentorship program to support other, new doulas and lactation consultants.
This service is sorely needed. More U.S. women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. Each year in the U.S., 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and about 65,000 come close to dying — the worst record in the developed world, according to the CDC. The United States is the only developed country where has the rate of women who die related to childbirth been rising. Black women are three times as likely to die in childbirth as white women.
Breastfeeding rates among African American newborns trails babies overall. In 2008, the percentage of women who initiated breastfeeding was 75 percent for white mothers, and 59 percent for black mothers.
Caldwell's passion to help young, minority moms is also fueled by her own big entrepreneurial goals, which she is growing while she works a fulltime staff job. She plans to use the
“I can't let a company tell me what my dreams are,” Caldwell said.
Have a listen. You'll love her as much as I do.
Past Kickass Single Mom Grant winners:
Every month I give $1,000 to a single mom committed to building a positive life for herself, her family and contributing to the world in a productive way.
The Kickass Single Mom Grant supports endeavors that show promise for success — whether it is a career, business, nonprofit, charitable, creative or family project that is already underway and could use a financial boost. Learn more here.
Learn about Kickass Single Mom Grant winner Jennifer Little, founder of the Little Hands Book Bank in Texas.
Shawnta Creech went from homeless to culinary school graduate with a salad dressing business in the works.
Sheri Hopkins started Black San Diego. “I wanted my daughters to grow up seeing strong leaders who looked like them.”
Transcript of the interview with Kickass Single Mom Grant winner, Doula Tiara Caldwell
Emma: Alright, so ladies, one of my favorite, favorite times of the month, which randomly always coincides with my time of the month, FYI, in case you care. It is when I give away my Kickass Single Mom Grant, and if you’re not familiar, this is just my program where I give $1,000 to another single mom who is doing something really amazing in the world. It can be something in business, it can be something with her education, it can be about giving back, maybe you have a unique family situation and you want to tell me about. This is basically just a woman who I think is really awesome and I want to support her. The support is $1,000 which is really fun for me to give away, but I also feature her on the show, on my blog, on all the social media. It’s one, allowing her to shine and have her moment publicly, but also the real power here, the real power is showcasing these stories for women around the world. Showing that what we are doing as moms, single moms, and inspiring and supporting each other. This is where activism really happens. It is living our best lives, living your true self, and that trickles out into major and minor ways every single day, and that really is what activism is all about. Which brings me to today’s kickass single mom, and activist in her own right, Tiara Caldwell. Thank you so much for being here today, and congratulations.
Tiara: Thank you so much.
A doula for low-income mothers
Emma: Tiara is a mom of three, she lives in DC suburbs of Maryland, and she is a doula and lactation consultant and supporter of new parents. Her business is Crowned and Cradled, and this is what she wrote in her grant application, she says, “It’s a doula and lactation consultant business with a niche for millennial parents who are lower income. It wasn’t until I began my own journey as a teenaged mother that I saw the discrepancies women of color face in health care. So, I set out on a mission to provide advocacy and education to mothers to get the best birth outcomes.”
This is so beautiful. Thank you so much for the work that you’re doing.
Tiara: Thank you. Thank you for having me and selecting me.
Emma: So, let’s just dial this way back. You were a young mom.
Tiara: Yep, I was a young mom. I am a young mom.
Emma: You are a young mom. You’re a mom of three, and you’re 29, and just walk us through. So, you were 19 years old, and was your pregnancy planned? Were you in a relationship with the dad?
Tiara: Yes. We were in a relationship, he was, I guess my first real boyfriend. She wasn’t planned, but we weren’t preventing either. You know, I was young and in love. I welcomed my oldest daughter in June of 2007, so she’ll be 10 in about two days now.
Emma: So, you’re a mom of three, but talk to me a little bit about that experience. What did you see in the healthcare system through your own pregnancy and birth process that shines some light on these discrepancies? Which are very real. I mean, the birth rate– the maternal death rate in the United States is astonishingly high, and it’s usually with lower income, minority women.
Tiara: Yes, absolutely. I think with my oldest daughter since I was so young, I didn’t really pay attention to what was going on.
It was a new situation, so I was just kind of going with the flow, like, okay the doctor told me I need this, this, and this done, and I was like, “Fine.” It wasn’t until years later when I got pregnant with the twins that I was more into researching maternal care and birth outcomes, and I kind of had a vision for how I wanted to deliver the twins. I found that the prenatal care period wasn’t bad. I had a pretty good experience with my provider. It wasn’t until I actually went to deliver the twins that I faced, I would say, a lot of discrimination from some of the healthcare staff.
I had to have a c-section with the twins, which was, I don’t want to say fine, but it was acceptable because my son was breech, so I couldn’t really deliver them vaginally. Just the treatment that I had, even in the operating room. They didn’t have enough staff in the room with me delivering twins, to assist my daughter who was having difficulty actually breathing. She needed resuscitation. They didn’t have enough nurses for that. I also didn’t see my babies for about, I want to say maybe 11 hours after they were born. When they were generally healthy, didn’t require any oxygen or anything like that and I also was informed that they had been given formula without my consent. That was just the tipping point of everything for me for my hospital experience. I was really solid on breastfeeding them and really having that time with them after the c-section.
Needless to say, I was very traumatized by that experience. I don’t even want to go into detail, but it really opened my eyes to what women face sometimes.
Emma: Yeah, I mean, I identify with something and I’m not low income and I’m white. I had two c-sections. The second was planned, but the first was not at all and that was 10 years ago, nine and a half years ago, and it’s so emotional. I feel like it’s this visceral thing, you are so prepared to have that– your body on every cell, you are prepared to have a vaginal birth. Unless for some reason you are mentally prepared ahead of time that there’s medical reasons not to expect that, and I feel like it’s such a primal thing that’s taken away when you don’t have that vaginal birth. I really connect with that. Tell me about the discrimination part. Did you feel that that experience was especially negative because you’re a woman of color?
“The nurse assumed because I was a young mom I wouldn't breastfeed”
Tiara: No, I don’t think it was solely just because I was a woman of color, I think it was many factors. Even though I was a little older, people think I’m really young for some reason. I think they thought I was younger than what I was, less educated than what I was as well. So, I did receive some comments from some of the nurses who were on staff that was kind of unfavorable, but I don’t think it was just because of– I would hope it was not just because of my color. I think it was many factors that they just assumed that this young mom, she most likely won’t breastfeed, especially twins. You know? They were probably thinking, she won’t breastfeed twins, you know?
Emma: Right. What did they say? What stands out?
Tiara: You know, me and their father actually had to get a little aggressive with the hospital staff, because we were very concerned that we had not seen the babies. I had not seen my daughter at all. So, I didn’t even know what she looked like if it was really my baby, I hadn’t seen her. You know usually, they show you the baby after they take the baby out during the c-section. I hadn’t seen her at all. I got to hold my son for maybe about two minutes. We went to the hospital staff and we was like, “You know, we really want to see the babies. She really wants to breastfeed the babies.” I remember one of the nurses saying, “Oh, well why would you want to breastfeed your babies?”
Tiara: And I said, “Well, only because I’ve studied the benefits, and that’s my right to feed my children.” She said, “Well, most moms your age don’t breastfeed.”
Emma: Oh my God, I’m so mad on your behalf. You have to explain to the nurse why you want to nurse your baby.
Tiara: The nurse. The nurse, you would think she would be encouraging me to breastfeed. Especially being that they were twins, they were healthy but they were a couple of weeks early. So, you would think she would be pushing for me to breastfeed.
Emma: Well, considering she’s a healthcare professional and PS nursing is good for babies, and moms. PS.
Alright, so what was it that you were like, “Okay, I’m going to turn this negative experience into positive for other women. Activism. A business.” What was the process there?
Tiara: Honestly, the process started off pretty selfish for me, without me realizing it was being selfish. I was so traumatized by my birth experience that I was just like, “I don’t want any mom to go through what I went through.” But it wasn’t– It was more for my satisfaction. Since I couldn’t have the birth experience that I want, I want to be there when a mom has her baby and she gets the birth experience that she desires, because that will make me feel good. That will make me have some closure.
It wasn’t until I actually took a doula training in DC with a great organization, they’re called Mamatoto Village. I took a doula training there with them for a few months and it absolutely changed my life. It helped me a heal from a lot of things that I didn’t even know I was holding onto from my births, from my past relationship with their father. I was just able to heal and see things totally different. From there I said, “You know what, it’s not about me really.” It’s not even really about, necessarily the moms, even though all moms deserve to have the birth that they want. It’s about number one, rebuilding families, and also about doing my part to lower some of these maternal death rates and infant death rates that we see in our communities. That really gave me the push to really reach out and research, even more, how I could help and be a part of that.
Emma: It’s so beautiful.
Tiara: Thank you.
Emma: It really is. I’m so touched by that. Thank you for that work. So just practically tell, you said you’ve been a doula for three years now. How many births have you assisted?
Tiara: So far I’ve assisted around, I don’t think I’m at 30 yet. Maybe around 27 births so far. I also postpartum doula work, which is assisting the moms after they have delivered their babies. Which I kind of think I like a little more than being a birth doula right now, just for my own schedule and lifestyle. I’ve served about 80 to 90 families as a postpartum doula since I started.
Emma: I always think that is– That and midwifery and, it’s like you are bringing babies into the world every day.
Emma: Does it ever get old?
Tiara: It doesn’t get old. If anything, I would say that I’ve noticed since I’m such a person who– I have such an open heart and such a soft heart, sometimes I do get emotionally fatigued by birthing, and physically fatigued, because it can be a long process. So, I have to really pay attention to my self-care and really be kind of selective in who I decide to assist with births. Only because I want the best experience for them, but I also want to protect myself and have a good experience for me as well. I have to take my experience back home to my own kids and family.
Emma: That’s a very evolved way of thinking. I’ve been dealing with that a lot too in my business too. It’s like, you serve people best when you– Yeah, you have to keep your energy positive. Yeah, it’s sometimes hard but it’s critical. That’s awesome.
So you have found your path, in terms of your career in the birth assistance business and post birth business. Now you’re starting your own business as an entrepreneur, which is Crowned and Cradled, which by the way, is a great name.
Tiara: Oh thank you.
Emma: I love it.
Tiara: Thank you so much.
Emma: So, that’s where the grant comes in. But I’m sure you’ll– It costs more than $1,000 to start a business. I’m sure you’ll use that money many times over. Tell me your visions for this business. What do you want to do in this business that maybe you haven’t been able to do as an employee of others? What’s driving you to go off on your own?
Tiara: I think because I really didn’t see where I necessarily fit in into the birth world at first. To be quite honest, sometimes I find that most doulas and birth workers are either extremely crunchy. And what I mean by crunchy, is very into everything natural. You know, no vaccines, no circumcision, all organic, all homeschool, which, nothing is wrong with any of those things but that’s not necessarily me. Or that I’ve found the other spectrum was doulas who are very more medically centered, very by-the-book, and that wasn’t me either. I really couldn’t really find the right place to where I felt like I could best represent myself and serve the moms that I really want to cater to, which are moms, I call them millennial moms. Moms my age, moms who aren’t really sure about the doula world, not really sure about parenthood at all, because they’re just entering this phase from being into the career field, or school, or what have you.
I think Crowned and Cradled provides me with a way to reach a wide demographic of women. I have a heart for women who are lower income and face different challenges, but I definitely serve all women. I just wanted to do something different. I wanted an avenue where I could provide services but I could also branch off and give back to other women who want to do the work that I do. I also wanted to have an avenue to brand myself as well to do additional things in the community.
Emma: Part of this business is that you have a mentorship program for training, doulas in training.
Tiara: Yes, and I’m still trying to get it together exactly how I want to do it. I definitely don’t feel that I’m ready to necessarily train other doulas or lactation consultants. I definitely want to be a support or a resource for them if they want to come along with me and get some clinical hours by watching me serve families. That’s great and I’ll be happy to do that for anybody.
Emma: Let’s talk about how do you work your family life? You’ve got three kids. There’s twins that are six and a 10 year old. I mean, the schedule of a doula, that’s all over the place, right? That’s when the baby decides to come in.
How she built a single mom-support system
Tiara: Yes, it’s all over the place because I’m just budding to be an entrepreneur, so I still work a regular job as well. This year has been very challenging for me trying to balance everything with the kids. I’m glad that– Well I don’t want to take credit for it, but I’m glad that I guess God gave me this vision at this time when my kids are a little older. They’re not babies right now, so that helps a lot because they’re in school during the daytime. I get a lot of work during the day. Then when I knew somebody was due, usually I had my mom or their Godfather on call, or on standby, like, “Hey, I might have to run out for a birth.” I’m grateful for my mom and the support system that I do have, but it’s definitely challenging with three kids and trying to balance everything with them and serve other people and try to find a little bit of time to take care of myself as well.
Emma: And what do you do to take care of yourself? What’s your recharge or your fun thing? How do you get your whole self together?
Tiara: I’m a girly-girl, so I enjoy spa days when I can sneak them in, which have been few and far between. But, I love spa days. I’ve recently begun working out, and that’s really helped a lot with my mental health and my energy. I’ve definitely been in the gym and I’ve sacrificed a little bit to invest in a personal trainer. That was probably like the best gift that I could give to myself this year. I’m pretty boring. I do a lot of reading, listen to podcasts, and my spiritual life is also important to me as well. I just try to take little breaks here and there. I have a vacation coming up, so that’s good.
Emma: Oh yay, where are you going?
Tiara: I’m going to Barbados in two weeks.
Emma: Nice. Oh, that’s great. Talk to me, so many moms they get into this rut, where maybe they’ve got a perfectly decent job, but they don’t love it. They have an idea for a business or different career, but they’re like, “Oh I’m a single mom and I can’t take that risk because my babies need me and I need the steady income.” You are taking the risk, and you’re doing such a beautiful thing and I’m seeing you be such a great example for your kids, for other women, everybody that’s going to listen to this podcast, and read this blog post, you are an inspiration for them. I see you, I mean this is so much bigger than you by doing this. Where did you get that? Where did you get that courage and that strength to take that risk and go after this thing that you obviously care about so much?
Tiara: It just got to a point where– and I’m not going to get deeply spiritual or anything like that–
Emma: You can.
Tiara: Okay. God really placed this vision to me years ago, years ago. Even when I was home the first year with the twins, with no income and not the healthiest relationship, I was always writing down my goals and dreams. When I would write them down I would always be like, “I’m crazy.” Or like, “Where is this stuff coming from? This will never happen, it’s just so random.” You know? It wasn’t until, I would say, maybe a couple of years ago that I just had an epiphany like, “Why can’t you do these things? You have all these things written down in all these journals, who’s going to do them? Because nobody else can see them but you. You’ve written those down.” And then also on the other side, it’s never to me necessarily about the money, but I am a single mom, I have three– well, four people to take care of, and at the end of the day to get the life that I desire for me and my children I knew that I wanted to be in control of that and not necessarily have a hospital or a corporation or an employer to be the one to write down what dreams I can accomplish for family.
Emma: Man, you nailed it. I always say that. I always say that when you have a job, when you have a corporate job, somebody else is telling you how much you can make.
“I don't want a corporation telling me what my dreams can be”
Emma: I love that. I love that you said that. Say that again. What did you say? You said, “I don’t want a corporation telling me what dreams I can have.”
Tiara: Yeah, that’s not going to work for me. That’s not knocking anybody because it’s different strokes for different folks, but for me, I knew that the odds were stacked against me. I don’t have a college degree, I’ve just been blessed to have opportunities where I make pretty good money for my skills. But at the end of the day, I don’t want a cap on my dreams. I want to be able to actually go out and work for what I’m bringing home for my kids. And know that, hey, this is how much I worked, this is what I earned because I earned it, nobody can take this away from me or tell me that I can’t use this time to do things with my kids. This is what I brought home for us.
Emma: You are gonna love it. You are gonna love working for yourself. It’s like the best ever. And you’re going to be so successful. I think this is so great. So, I don’t know, do you have– Speaking to mom’s out there that are maybe stuck. Right? Everybody’s got a dream whether they wrote it down, or whether they pray about it, everybody has something in them that they want to be doing, that they’re probably statistically not doing. What would you say to those moms?
Tiara: I would say a couple of things. I think the first thing I would say is be confident in your dream. I think one of the most common excuses I hear from, not just moms, but anyone who has dreams is that “Oh, well everybody else is doing it.” Or, “There’s already so many of these.” You have a dream, do it, because nobody can do you like you. That’s the first thing. Number two, I would say work smart. Be realistic in your dreams. I know right now that I can’t afford to stop working and to do my business full time, so I have to make sacrifices. You know, I work but also I work on my business, sometimes at work. You have to be realistic. Sometimes we act off emotions and be like, “I’m tired of this. I just want to quit my job.” No, don’t quit your job yet, come up with a plan and be smart about it. To the single moms, I would say, you’re a single mom. You’re a superwoman already. If you can deal with a lot of the issues that you have to deal with that’s unique to us, why can’t you start a business? You’ve done everything. You’re raising kids, you’re–
Emma: That’s right, it’s nothing. Oh, God.
Tiara: Why can’t you start a business? I would just say, just do it. Definitely be prayerful and definitely do your thorough research before venturing out. But definitely venture out. There’s no stopping you at all.
Emma: Well, thank you for your work. Tiara Caldwell, she’s a doula, lactation consultant, mom of three, DC area. Her business is Crowned and Cradled, she’s getting her website up and going. I’m not even worried about you, you’re gonna kill it. It’s like a given.
Tiara: Thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. This was totally unexpected.
Emma: Well, you applied for it. It wasn’t totally.
Tiara: I never thought I was going to win. Never. I was just like, “Oh let me just go in and see what happens.” Never thought I was going to win. I never win anything.
Emma: Well there you go.
Tiara: So, thank you so much.
Emma: Trust me, it’s my pleasure. Thank you.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.