Pandemic Pivoting

Back in early 2004, I was an eager massage therapy student. Halfway through my 1-year training, I was caring for my 2 young children and helping my husband cope with the recent loss of his mother, a very lovely woman who had been ill for quite some time. As a class, we were starting to work in the student clinic – finally able to introduce to public clients the massage skills we had been learning for 6 months. In our business classes, we had been learning some basics about starting our own businesses. The majority of massage therapists were, and still are, sole proprietors. Back then, there were very few, if any, massage franchises and those therapists who didn’t want to work for themselves would often seek employment in chiropractors’ offices or spa/salons. Many of my fellow students were undecided, but our instructor walked us through some basic steps of creating a business.

When I enrolled and began my studies, I already knew that I wanted to run my own business (I had 2 kids and a sick mother-in-law to care for and needed the flexibility). I also knew that I wanted to focus on women with specialization in pregnancy. One of my friends who had been pregnant shortly after I had my 2nd son had received and raved about the prenatal massages she had throughout her pregnancy. She spoke so highly of it that I just knew that was something I wanted to be a part of. I planned my required elective hours carefully to support my vision for my very own massage therapy business.

In class, we practiced different business name ideas with each other and most of my fellow students could not believe that I was going to build a successful business only focusing on the female population, but I was undeterred and came up with my business name: Tranquil Touch. When I went down to the county building to register my DBA, the clerk asked me “what kind of business is this?” and I answered “Therapeutic Massage For Women” to which she quickly responded: “Then that’s your business name”, finished the paperwork and that was it. I walked in with what I considered a short and easy business name and walked out with a mouthful. It all happened so fast, I didn’t really even understand what happened. It wasn’t long before I figured it out.

In 2004, massage therapy was still fairly new as a healthcare option. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009 that we began to be licensed by the state as healthcare providers. Up until then, therapists had to approach each city to obtain licensing, if it was required, prior to practicing. Additionally, most cities had, and still have, a specific massage facility license that needs to be renewed annually. But, I digress…my main concern, and I think the clerk’s too, was the way that many viewed massage therapy at the time and the potential risks that a young female therapist had to accept when working alone. Those risks were increased if the therapist accepted male clients. Back then, cell phones were not as sophisticated, location services were not available for those, texting wasn’t even something we did. It was, and still is, common for massage therapists of any gender to get phone calls, messages, or other forms of request for sessions that are decidedly not healthcare related. I think that the clerk who completed and filed my paperwork had those things in mind, saw my naivete, and was trying to help me protect myself. When I decided to register my business at the state level as an LLC, I had already begun to establish a client base and kept the name I had- the whole mouthful: Tranquil Touch Therapeutic Massage For Women.

Immediately upon graduation, I enrolled in another program to become certified in prenatal massage which quickly led me to become a Certified Massage Doula (I eventually allowed that certification to expire after I became a Certified Labor Doula through Childbirth International,CLD (CBI)). Prior to that, I had already been a student of CBI and became a Certified Childbirth Educator, Dip CBEd (CBI) and was enjoying getting a firm footing among the birth professionals and growing doula community in Southeast Michigan. By this point my business had become a main source of income for our family because my husband had gone from working on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company to on the job training in HVAC and home automation, 2 part-time jobs that he has continued to hold for almost 15 years. The entire time, the idea that my business name no longer matched all the services I offered was niggling at the back of my mind. Most of my clients by this point adopted the shortened and preferred “Tranquil Touch” in reference to my business, but in my voicemail and with new clients, the whole mouthful had to be used for clarity with other businesses and for the occasional “creeper” call I’d get.

By 2015, I had enough birth doula clients, both new and repeats, that I was in a position to really be selective about who I chose to work with. I was teaching private classes pretty regularly, working full-time taking massage therapy clients and everything was going really well. Then, the bottom fell out of my world…

I lost my big sister in a sudden and tragic and violent way. If you haven’t read my post: “My sister became a statistic” and would like to, please contact me directly to request the password to that post. Anyway, I had 3 doula births immediately around the time of her death and I was in deep grief, trying to help my parents with theirs, and also attempting to do what I could to keep treating my massage therapy clients. The oncall life is hard and despite the fact that I had been oncall for some really major life events over the course of my career, including both my kids’ graduations and the deaths of 5 family members we had cared for, this was the one that broke me. I had already been referring clients to other doulas because I was already contracted by families, but after this, I took a giant step back and referred anyone who asked out to another doula. I could barely make it from one day to the next and we were still working out the events around my sister’s death. I just couldn’t guarantee that I could hold myself together and the idea that I could be in the middle of sobbing and get a call from a client in need of support was too much for me to handle at that time. So I focused on my own healing, or at least on attempting to glue my pieces together again.

Then in 2019, I received a doula request from a previous client. Her husband was most likely going to be out of town for work, he had no choice in that, and I would be her main support. Based on how her previous birth had been, her lovely demeanor, and the fact that I was itching to get back into the work I love, I agreed to be her doula. Her baby’s birth was truly beautiful and it reminded my why I love birthwork so much.

My client was able to recline comfortably against me as her labor progressed – look closely and you can see the bulge of baby- truly amazing!

This was a huge accomplishment for me and, even though I was still navigating life after my sister in what I call “The After-Place”, I felt like with this birth, I had reclaimed part of myself – a part that my sister had been immensely proud of. I was a birthworker and still had what it took to support a birth-giver as their baby enters the world.

In the meantime, my business name was feeling less and less accurate and the daunting idea of changing it kept niggling in the back of my mind. Then…the Pandemic hit. You can read and watch the videos in my previous posts to see how I was handling those early days. In the midst of countless webinars and conferences, I was connected to a business counselor who helped me figure out what I needed to do to keep “Tranquil Touch” going through the shutdown, and hopefully beyond. During this time, I learned so much more about running a business. I also realized that COVID19 was going to really impact the hands-on portions of my business – massage therapy will not return to what we once knew for a long time, if ever. This pushed me to focus even more on the birth services that I have offered for so long, but was still getting back in to. To this point, my birth services were secondary to my massage services and I saw the necessity to achieve a better balance.

I am so excited for you to know that I have successfully changed my business name from “Tranquil Touch Therapeutic Massage For Women” to “Tranquil Touch Birth & Women’s Wellness” This is a huge relief to me and an exciting silver lining of what I have deemed my Pandemic Pivot. I will continue to offer massage therapy, I cannot imagine ever not doing so; however, as we continue to average >3,000 positive cases/day, massage therapy for me is on pause again. I am grateful that I made that decision early on, although it was extremely difficult to do, I knew it was the right and safest decision for all involved.

So. this is a really long post and I am so grateful you have stuck with me through it. I am continuing my training in trauma and am really excited to be able to support birth-givers as they process their birth experiences and help those who need extra support for trauma as they prepare to meet their baby. I am also getting much better at teaching childbirth classes via Zoom and have had the joy of providing virtual doula support to clients as they welcome their “pandemic babies” into the world. My technological knowledge and abilities is growing and I am much more comfortable on screen and behind the mic as a podcast host.

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Thank you all who have sent me encouragement in a variety of ways. This time period has been difficult for all of us and I am eternally grateful for all of you who I have had the blessing of meeting/working with during my journey in both massage therapy and birthwork.