Jada Shapiro of ‘boober’: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” I struggle with perfectionism, as do many entrepreneurs. Sometimes that intense drive to do everything perfectly or at least as well as possible, pushes me to work hard and continue to accomplish. However, I have finally, after many years of being in business and in therapy, come […]

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“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” I struggle with perfectionism, as do many entrepreneurs. Sometimes that intense drive to do everything perfectly or at least as well as possible, pushes me to work hard and continue to accomplish. However, I have finally, after many years of being in business and in therapy, come to the understanding that sometimes being “good enough” means that whatever I’m working on will actually get done. I’m laughing as I write these answers and struggle to accept that what I’ve written is good enough to share with your readers! At some point, you just have to let it go, take that step and push whatever it is out into the world. Ok, I’m done!

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jada Shapiro, maternal health expert, doula and founder of boober, where expectant parents and new families find classes and on-demand expert care providers, pregnancy to postpartum. She founded boober to empower parents to positively transform their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experiences and outcomes through expert education and easy access to qualified maternal healthcare providers. She also founded Birth Day Presence, NYC’s most trusted source for birth worker trainings and expectant parent education, which has supported over 20k parents since 2002. She is a birth and postpartum doula, childbirth educator, lactation counselor, birth photographer, mother, and step-mother.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

In college, I found myself interested in reproductive health and took a class called “biology, politics and reproduction” which was fascinating, but focused only on aspects of reproduction with little focus on the actual birth. How can we discuss the politics and language of the reproduction process and then disconnect it from the actual birth experience?

Later that year, while skimming the stacks at a town library I stumbled upon a book about midwifery. The title piqued my interest, though I didn’t know what midwifery was. I opened the book and entered a world where childbirth was described as a peak and positive experience, where midwives helped people safely birth their babies outside of hospitals without pain medication and with extreme levels of support and where the birthing people moved throughout their labors, ate as they wished, had lots of people surrounding them and gave birth in a wide variety of positions. Having mostly seen images of childbirth in our culture as medicalized experiences where people in labor ran to the hospital and then laid on their backs while doctors pulled their babies from them, my whole perspective on birth shifted. My senior thesis was about the medicalization of childbirth in the US.

After college, a dear friend invited me to photograph her birth and as I watched her move about, get in and out of the shower, the bath, lean on a birth ball, squat, stand, lie down, move, eat, drink, moan and wiggle all while surrounded by 20 of her closest friends and family, my path was set. Soon after I took a birth doula training, met my first business partner and launched my first company, Birth Day Presence, in 2002, which I grew into NYC’s top childbirth education and doula training and matching center. Boober grew out of market demand from my students who couldn’t get the lactation support they needed fast enough. I would get endless calls and texts reaching out for help and eventually gave out my cell phone on a postcard encouraging new parents to text if they needed lactation help. When the texts started rolling in faster than I could keep up with, boober was born and has now grown into a marketplace where expectant and new parents can find all their classes and on-demand in-person and virtual care providers they need to thrive from pregnancy to postpartum.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

My work is only disruptive in that the American approach to community, healthcare, family, pregnancy, birth and postpartum and let’s just say it, life, is so far-off from the “normal” order of things, that my focus on educating and empowering birthing parents and making it easy for parents to find the care that they need becomes disruptive. It is incredibly sad to know that the disruption we are providing in the US is the norm in other countries. My goal is to revamp our reproductive care system entirely including midwifery led birth care, healthcare for all where profit is not the main motivator of the procedures we use in childbirth, ending systemic racism in birth care, and returning birth to the family and community so we don’t need to hire outside people to care for us during these transformative times of our lives. Until then, I am doing what I can to ensure that all people are able to easily access the care providers they need like birth doulas, postpartum doulas, lactation professionals, and mental health therapists who can help parents not only thrive, but survive the transition to parenthood.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At the first birth I attended before I trained as a doula, I walked in, and saw my friend perched on her birth ball leaning over a double bed. I remember waving to her and saying “hi” enthusiastically, as though we were going to hang out, and she barely glanced at me and gave me no response. Suddenly, I realized that birth and labor was monumental and entirely different than what I had imagined. My friend had been working for over 24 hours already to birth her baby into this world. I was humbled and in awe at her power.

Childbirth is a major transition for human beings, undervalued by many, and the experience impacts individuals, families, communities and society at large in a profound way. The lesson learned for me was birthing people are powerful and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, be allowed to choose the positions during labor that feel right for them, be allowed to bring whomever they want to their birth to support them through one of the most physically challenging experiences of their lives, and to be placed at the center of the birth experience with all aspects of care geared toward not only keeping birth safe, but keeping the parent in the driver’s seat as much as possible. No one told my friend what to do, besides making gentle suggestions and she was able to have a vaginal birth despite the slow pace of progress (which easily could have resulted in major surgery in a standard hospital), surrounded by the people who loved her, which impacted her so deeply she went on to become a midwife herself.

This lesson has stayed with me throughout my career and empowering parents with the education and information they need to make the best choices for their own experiences is what motivates me; we show up for families in their time of need and solve their real life problems even in the beginning. Even when our tech was minor (simply texting parents on my cell!), we had considerable success because we cared and because we meet parents where they are with no judgment. We were (and are) here for when families need us responding to their requests day in and out, making the space for them to transition to parenthood and removing the shame associated with asking for help.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I am lucky to have learned from some amazing people along the way both from the birth side and the business side. Debra Pascali-Bonaro, longtime expert doula, childbirth educator and trainer, who offered the first doula training I took, opened my eyes to the amazing possibilities in childbirth. She showed me how the birth experience affects health outcomes, like the likelihood of nursing one’s baby, and to the ways people birthed historically and currently around the world.

I met my first doula/business partner, Terry Richmond, in my doula training and she was instrumental in helping me develop confidence and power in my voice in order to become the teacher I am today. Right after my training, she and I jumped into starting our birth business with a deep passion for making childbirth more positive in this country with no real business knowledge. Eventually I hired business coaches, but I realize now that my natural marketing impulses came from watching my father, Gary Shapiro, a Hollywood studio marketing expert. Along the way, I was lucky to be mentored by a couple in my childbirth class who became my doula clients. They were both successful business people, who formally helped me grow my first company after I helped them with the birth of their baby! Soon after boober was born, I reconnected with an acquaintance, Arshad Chowdhury, an entrepreneur and early-stage growth expert who encouraged and supported me along the way as I took my new idea and turned my brick-and-mortar lifestyle business experience into a company with much larger scale and potential. My co-founder, Noah Shapiro (not related), deserves some serious praise for bringing his operational & financial know-how to this care-focused business.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disrupting a failing US healthcare system is not what I would call a positive thing, as much as a necessary thing. I would much rather see families getting the care and support they need from our healthcare system (like Canada or many European countries do), than be the one doing it. Pregnancy and postpartum care is a basic human right. Having doula care can literally save your life, but when the costs are inaccessible to many parents or when the care is not covered by most insurance, then families lose. That’s why, beyond boober, I work with an activist organization in which we regularly meet with local city and state council, assembly and senate members to fight to help families get access to the insurance and care they need and are entitled to and to advance midwifery in this state. In this country, entrepreneurs are often the ones setting new standards for the community around them.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Birthwork is political,” is a quote you’ll hear often in my field. I’ve been lucky to be working among a vibrant, vocal and politically active birthworker community in NYC. I am endlessly reminded of the privileges so many of us, including myself, hold, which affords us opportunities that many do not have. Who we refer our clients to for care matters to keep our clients safe and in some cases, alive, how we educate the people we work with matters, who we vote for matters and where we direct our money matters. Birthwork will be political as long as Black and Brown people experience preventable death in labor due to racism. And this leads into more great advice, “Whatever the question, the answer is in the community.” Kimberly Seals Allers reminds us that our racist system devalues the community perspective especially in communities of color and that it’s time to listen to community members and learn from the community members, not so we can “fix” or “change” or even “help,” but so we can look to the community as a place that actually has answers and if we listen to the people we can learn from them and do better. Finally, “Get the best, it’ll cost you less” is something my mom often says. It’s simple but a good one to remember. Always focus on the value and remember that many costs remain hidden or delayed. It’s not only in purchasing items, but in how we live and act ourselves and with whom we engage. I want to elevate the work that I do by surrounding myself with people who do their best.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Far from done! I plan to shake up the way this country gives birth. First, I’m creating the marketplace where pregnant, planning, and postpartum parents come to find all their expert classes and on-demand care providers who help people thrive during the childbearing years. My grand vision: A country that is patient centered and equitable with midwives running the reproductive healthcare system (as they do in every other country… who all spend less than we do and have significantly better outcomes), an end to the systemic and medical bias and racism in our birth care system, and creating a new type of place where people can give birth safely, but do not have to set foot in hospitals which are meant for sick people..

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Let’s start with this question! Men are rarely asked what challenges they face that women do not. More often than not, “women disruptors” or let’s say “people disruptors” who gave birth and are feeding their babies from their bodies, face bias and discrimination, more demands from their family, prejudice, less opportunities, lower pay, and most of the time are the primary caretakers. Women face the fact that they are rarely seen as fund-worthy with only 2.7% of venture funding going to female CEOs. The lion’s share of a family’s responsibilities still typically sits on women’s shoulders. Finding the right balance? I think we all recognize that it’s not really possible to find balance in a country that doesn’t offer significant paid maternity leave. I receive the benefits of white privilege, have older children who do not require every minute of my attention, and am lucky to have a partner who makes almost every meal and does significantly more housework than I do, but I see many women entrepreneurs abandoning their ideas for lack of support in their personal lives or because of systemic barriers to entry which include race and gender. The expectations to do it all — parenting, leadership, look a certain way etc. without missing a beat is exhausting. In the healthtech space, talking about the birthing body to predominantly male investors who are not always parents can be a challenge. Elevating an issue and solving a problem that may not be felt by them can be very challenging.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

This question assumes that somehow in my time of parenting my daughter and three stepdaughters and building a startup that there would be anytime for reading or listening! I live in a walking city, so I do not spend time driving and listening and I prefer to hear my environment while walking. That being said, I do attend talks about birth, postpartum and parenting frequently at the birthworker trainings we host and most recently attended a talk on anti-racism and birth justice by maternal health advocate and founder of the game-changing Irth App, Kimberly Seals Allers. Kimberly presented the idea that doulas think about a “co-liberation model in doula work,” in which our lives and freedoms and rights to a safe birth experience and life are inextricably linked and that none of us will be free until all birthing people and mothers are free. A plea for the white doulas among us to care as deeply about Black and Brown birthing people and their experiences as their own.

I also enjoy the How I Built This Podcast by Guy Raz and have been inspired by listening to these founders on their pathway to building their amazing companies from the ground up. I remember listening to the story of Angie’s List and the founder was talking about how she’d sit on her floor with two phones and a notepad answering endless calls and hustling. I thought, that’s me! When boober was in its early days and people were texting my cell thinking it was a bot, I was in bed in my PJs fielding late night desperate texts, calling and calming parents and getting them immediately connected to lactation professionals. I was on the phone endlessly, running out myself when the parent was nearby. It is amazing to see where we have come from and how we are growing. Listening to all these founders, hearing their setbacks and nuggets of wisdom from their trials, watching how they cobbled together things to make their business take the next step, inspires me through the long days and nights of startup life!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would hope to inspire as many white people, hospitals, institutions and our government to support and get involved in the birth justice movement which already exists, led by Black midwives, doulas and thought leaders. The birth justice movement is working hard to reverse maternal mortality trends in the US — the worst of all developed countries! — In my own city, NYC, Black birthing people are 8–12x more likely to die in childbirth (or soon after) than their white counterparts, due to systemic racism and bias. I would also flip our maternity system on its head and we’d go back to our roots and to the way all countries and groups of people have always given birth; with midwives and in birth centers which encourage freedom of movement, position choice, unlimited support people and keep birthing parents with their babies at all time and can also offer live-saving medicine and procedures when medically called for. Midwifery is much more cost effective and saves lives. We just need to follow the evidence and implement the care.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” I struggle with perfectionism, as do many entrepreneurs. Sometimes that intense drive to do everything perfectly or at least as well as possible, pushes me to work hard and continue to accomplish. However, I have finally, after many years of being in business and in therapy, come to the understanding that sometimes being “good enough” means that whatever I’m working on will actually get done. I’m laughing as I write these answers and struggle to accept that what I’ve written is good enough to share with your readers! At some point, you just have to let it go, take that step and push whatever it is out into the world. Ok, I’m done!

How can our readers follow you online?

@getboober on IG, www.getboober.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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