As humans we seek to learn from every form of creation – and what better way than learning from the process though which we all came into being. That’s the closest we can get to spirituality. The times in my life that I have come closest to the experience of true spirituality, that deeper feeling of a connection to something large, essential, and mysterious, are the months that I was pregnant and the hours when I was giving birth.
Pregnancy and childbirth is a time of greater self-awareness, of heightened senses, physical and emotional sensitivity – a primal state that ties a woman to nature and to all humanity. And it is most certainly transformative. In a short span of time we go from being our familiar selves to being two in one, to being linked to another life with an emotional and physical connection like no other.
The transformation from being a woman to being a mother is one of beauty and power and also fear and pain. You are not in control, there are forces of the universe at work, and you are not really the star of this show. You are the medium through which another life will assert itself. During this transformation it pays to embrace uncertainty, and the reality that your life is never going to be quite the same.
My work is the other area of my life where I still feel the thrill of a spiritual and transformative connection; knowing that the product we sell is assisting in bringing a new life into this world. The transformation from powerlessness and ignorance, to agency over one’s body is a powerful gift I want to give to women. This has always been my motivating ideal.
The flagship product of my company, ayzh (eyes) is our Clean Birth Kit in a Purse. Introduced in India in 2010, it was designed to prevent infection at the time of childbirth, containing simple tools that ensure the “Six Cleans” recommended by The World Health Organization (clean hands, clean birth surface, clean perineum, clean cord cutting, clean cord tying, and clean baby drying). Since then we have impacted the lives of over 800,000 mothers and babies.
Over time our view of women’s health has become more holistic, we saw the need to reach, educate, and change the lives of women earlier – when they begin their menstrual cycle as girls. Our products now include a menstrual pad called kanya, through which we hope to educate girls and women about basic hygiene, reproductive health, and upend the prejudices and taboos that restrict their potential.
With all the stress and ups and downs of building a business there is nothing more grounding than staying focused on the human beings you intend to serve. The central dramatic event in our world of reproductive, maternal, and newborn health is birth. So, I am connected to this magical process all the time. Giving birth to a child and building a company determined to change the world do have something in common. When we start an enterprise, we are entering the world of the unknown, just as when we are pregnant, full of the hopes and fears about this journey and the entirely new life (for everyone) at the end of it.
Just as you cannot have a baby in a week, there is no overnight success in any business. It has to be grown and nurtured with care and with a different kind of attention and level of pain at each stage. An impatient investor or entrepreneur can alter the course of the business for good or bad, and I would hope that the investor would trust the instincts of the entrepreneur at least until the baby is born, so to speak. There is a reason passion and resilience are two key qualities on the minds of investors these days when evaluating an entrepreneur looking to make social change in the world.
When one starts a new business, just as when a baby arrives, we realize our early imaginings don’t have much in common with the needy reality we see before us. Women can share their pregnancy and birth experiences just as leaders can share their experiences and explain their strategies, but in the end, it is the act of going through it, the anxieties, the pain, the excitement, that makes it ours alone. It is the experience itself that shapes us, and forces us to grow and change. We have people to support us, we have experts to call on, and we can study up on what others have done before us. But just as each woman goes through pregnancy and childbirth in her unique way, so does the entrepreneur whose baby in the end is an idea, a service, a product, or a business.
My first investors saw that my husband and I were totally focused on building ayzh, and were in love with this entity we had not yet seen. It was clear we were willing to do anything it took to bring our business baby into this world. And still today this love and passion is what we bring to the table when talking to partners and investors and to the women we serve.
Our passion now is to reach girls as well, to build the next generation of healthy mothers. The incentive for expanding our work at ayzh to include menstrual hygiene is rooted in the understanding that building long-term, monthly experiences with the brand, and comfort in talking about these issues among underserved women, will also increase adoption of the life-saving practices and products throughout their reproductive health cycle.
Just as the wish to have a child is a passionate one, passion is the start of a social sustainable enterprise. I did not want to build a company and then turn it over next year to somebody else. We are interested in the impact we can have over time and want to nurture our enterprise so it can live on beyond us making an intergenerational difference in the world. This is the transformative connection, the spiritual part of my journey.
I see in my business that the biggest question that needs thought and action is how can we increase the overall well-being of the mother and the baby? This can only happen if everything around them functions the way should, and they have access to effective emotional support systems as well as medical. The mother is in a vulnerable position and must be aided in playing her key role; being tuned in and baby focused and showering lots of love and care on herself and her baby.
I enjoyed to the fullest being pregnant each time and do remember that heightened sense of awareness of everything around me. I also had deep self-care routines, from good eating habits, to getting plenty of sleep, and generally focusing on my (our) good care. I am sorry to confess I have not been so conscientious in the years since when taking care of just myself in a busy life. Here is another goal I can set for myself!
There is dignity in having the knowledge and ability to take good care of our bodies, and those of our children. This can be achieved with well-designed and well-marketed products that become a familiar and trusted part of daily life, something that the developed world has long taken for granted. Until women of all ages understand the importance of health and hygiene, and seek and demand it across their life stages, there remains a huge missed opportunity for sustainable, intergenerational impact.