By Julie Arvan
Founder and Chief Mother Officer, Nesting Days
At 73 years old, I might not be your typical entrepreneur. But in business, just like in life, age does have its advantages. You’re free to do what you love, and if you’re lucky, you finally know what that is! For me, it’s changing how we welcome babies into the world.
A career is a journey of the heart
I’ve had a wonderful career—many careers, really. I’ve been a mother of two sons (my most loved job) taught preschool at Stanford (my most fun job); led the product development team for Gymboree’s line of children’s clothing that took the company to an IPO (my most creative job); and been a strategic consultant to small businesses (my most adult job). And those are just the highlights.
As I approached my sixties, I wanted to put all of that experience together in a way that would be fulfilling for me and useful for other people. So, I got a degree in training and HR development at UC Berkeley and started teaching hundreds of women the skills and thrills of entrepreneurship.
But something was missing. There I was, at 60, teaching a course called “How to Start Your Own Fashion Business,” and I kept thinking, “I’m too young to just teach this stuff. I still want to do it!”
I signed up for a sustainable gardening class, thinking it might guide me to my next career. It did. But the career had nothing to do with gardening. One of my classmates was a woman who showed up with her young baby in tow. I felt drawn to her, and we struck up an instant friendship. She told me she was a doula, a profession I’d never even heard of. She described her job as providing emotional support to women through the birthing process, and when she said, “There’s a whole world of new mothers out there who need our help,” I felt my heart skip a beat.
I looked into doula training and discovered that beyond providing support with labor and delivery, there are also postpartum doulas who help moms connect with their newborns— and I instinctively knew that was for me. A hundred volunteer hours at San Francisco General and dozens of babies and mothers later, I was a postpartum doula. I was happy with where I’d ended up. I was helping people and doing work I believed in. But what I didn’t realize was that my career transition was actually just beginning.
Turning a purpose into a product
Two years later, I was still loving working as a doula, but I was feeling that restless itch again. Something was still missing. And then one day, as I was talking with one of my moms and her baby, I found it. She was cradling her little one tenderly on her chest, and she said, “I wish we could stay like this all day.” And I thought, “You can. And I can help.”
I thought about the threads that had woven (in some cases, literally) through my career: women, babies, clothing, business development. I thought back to my entrepreneurship training days and what I’d told so many hopeful women: “You’re the one who defines what success is. So, ask yourself what you love, and what success means to you.” And I realized I had the unique combination of skills and experience to create the first newborn carrier specifically designed for babies 7 to 18 pounds and for their new moms.
As it turned out, this was a big idea that created a brand-new niche the world was just about to realize it needed. Sure, there were plenty of baby carriers out there. But they were all designed for what I call the backpack paradigm: putting the baby in some kind of “luggage,” so you could transport it somewhere. My carrier would be designed to serve a bonding paradigm—keeping mom’s hands free so she could go about her life with her newborn safely and comfortably nested next to her heart. And it would provide the skin- to-skin contact that the latest evidence-based research had proven to be so important in the first days, weeks, and months of a baby’s life.
Sitting at the 1950s sewing machine that my own mother had taught me on (I would imagine her looking on approvingly as I sewed, and sewed...and sewed), I made more than fifty bad carriers before creating the prototype I patented in 2013. My family and friends helped me pull off a successful Kickstarter campaign, and I launched my company, Nesting Days. In my first year in business, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation flew me to the Kangaroo Mother Care Conference in Rwanda. How amazing is that?
We’re growing. It’s working. But it turns out what success really means to me is not so much the sales and the numbers. I can honestly, humbly, and very happily say, we’ve created the best newborn carrier on the planet. It’s helping people, and I hear that from them every day of my life. Our carriers are creating happier lives for little ones and their parents. There’s less crying, less postpartum depression and anxiety, more connection, more love.
So, let me put on my “career doula” hat and share a few words of encouragement from my heart to yours. It is never too late to do what you love. You’re never too old to make a difference. And there’s never been a wiser, more experienced you than the person you are today.