By Nona Tepper
A chance meeting among three neighbors and new moms of Garfield Elementary School recently blossomed into a new business.
The Birth Boutique, 128 Harrison St. in Oak Park, opened in May with the aim of supporting and empowering parents pre-, post-, and during pregnancy. Owners Lauren Elliott, Jen Gold and Lindsey Monroe met while their children were enrolled in Forest Park School District 91's preschool program, and immediately bonded over their birthing experiences.
"I had sort of thought I would show up to my birth and just sort of fall in line and have my baby, with other people telling me what to do versus making a very conscious decision for myself and being a very active participant," Monroe said.
When she gave birth, she said, she was living in California with her husband, away from family and friends. To provide the additional support she felt was missing, Monroe hired a doula — a birth companion, coach and post-birth supporter — to help guide her through pregnancy. The support she received felt empowering. So empowering, in fact, that seven years ago she quit her high-powered career at the Nielson data analytics firm and pursued the practice herself.
"The experience really stuck with me," Monroe said. "I started motherhood feeling really confident, and I wanted to help other women with that. I never looked back."
Monroe started her own doula practice — partnering with her love of photography — and visited growing families' homes at all hours, providing emotional and educational support, and then taking new portraits. For years, she practiced alone. "Being on-call for women, that sort of job is not easy. I needed support for my own family," she said.
She had just had her second child when she met Elliott and Gold, and discovered that, along with their shared interest in motherhood, the neighbors also lived within blocks of each other. They soon started spending more time together, coordinating play dates with their kids who became fast friends. Elliott said learning about her new friend's work sounded exactly like the impactful career she wanted to pursue, compared to her then-job as a product salesperson for a hospitality firm. She also remembered how her doula helped her through the pregnancy and birth of her first child, Thomas.
"With that support, my birth was a very powerful experience," Elliott said. "There's this saying that the birth of your baby is your own rebirth. It's just so true."
In August 2015, the trio met at Counter Coffee in Forest Park for what they describe as their first — and only — group running workout. It was there, Elliott said, she had an "Aha" moment.
"When you know something like that in your gut, you have to follow your instincts," she said.
Gold said the work appealed to her, too.
"Either you had a doula and you loved it, or you didn't have one and wish you had," she said.
The group's plan to start a doula business bloomed. By October, two months later, Elliott and Gold had already become certified in the practice. Elliott has since enrolled in nursing school, to deepen her understanding of the medical end to childbirth. In early 2016, they started operating their business virtually, scheduling appointments with clients online and taking turns visiting new moms. But they always knew they wanted to open a physical space.
"The community itself, there was a calling for this type of service," Elliott said.
The trio looked in Forest Park, River Forest and Oak Park, knowing that there were so many families in the area and that the communities lacked local doulas. They toured the Oak Park Arts District in October 2017, and signed a lease for an 800-square-foot space in early 2018. After a few months of preparing the shop — setting up clothes and products from local crafters, organizing a gift wrapping and delivery service, and designing a space for continuing education for new families — they opened on Harrison Street in May.
"We built a family when we built this business," Monroe said. "In starting this business with these women that are now my dear friends, we support each other as we support other women. It's been great for our families; it's been great for us."