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The Path To Better Maternal Healthcare Can’t Be Walked Alone

The state of maternal health in the U.S. is less than ideal—and that’s putting it lightly.

But there’s impact and progress to be seen, celebrated, and invested in our femtech leaders. Together, we are capable of creating change despite the odds. A recent blog of mine outlines in depth how the return on investing in women’s health could be one of the greatest economic decisions we can make in our lifetime.

My passion for improving the state of maternal care runs deep, and it led me to create The Maternal Health Project: an organized effort and think tank dedicated to advancing women's health by developing innovative and equitable approaches to care. Our mission is to challenge traditional models of women's health and find new ways to expand access, improve outcomes, and promote health and well-being for all women, regardless of background, status, or ability.

It isn’t the job of one stakeholder to repair and resolve the current women’s health crisis. Instead all of the players need limits removed to take actionable steps in the right path forward.

In honor of Mother’s Day this year, I sat down with three femtech founders and fellow mothers to discuss their start-up missions, their unique experiences with modern motherhood, and what realities shocked them the most about the maternal care journey.

Here were the most interesting insights from our conversations and how each respective founder is taking their idea to impact within their corner of the maternal health world.

Motherhood is malleable.

When I say “family,” do you still picture a married heteronormative couple with two kids and a white picket fence?

It’s likely, but the traditional image of family and motherhood is no longer the standard in the U.S. While there are commonly shared struggles and experiences that transcend every parent’s journey, people are building families at all stages of life and on their own terms.

Motherhood has evolved and continues to evolve every day. Because of this, our resources and solutions to better support our mothers and parents need to follow suit.

Meghan Doyle has made this her mission with Partum Health. As the founder & CEO, she understands that the narrative and subsequent stereotypes of motherhood are not only outdated, but incomplete.

Partum Health aspires to close the gap in maternal and infant health outcomes in the U.S. Starting with a radical transformation of postpartum care for women and families with newborns through an approach that prioritizes a combination of unused clinical evidence with family-demanded support. Their mission to bring more joy, better health, and less stress to growing families is exactly what maternal care needs.

“We want people to be aware of their options and have the ongoing assumption that you don't need to do it yourself,” she adds. “You can get support. In fact, the evidence points to better outcomes when people do have that support around them.”

Nobody can know (or do) it all. It is a complete whirlwind and learning in real-time every day. No matter how much you prepare, you will still have unexpected obstacles and need help. Though it’s said time and time again, Doyle wants to emphasize: that is normal, and that is okay.

Support will look different for every person and situation. Tailored, precise planning is necessary, and this is informed by a person’s unique history, circumstances, and relevant context that all comes into play on every decision during a pregnant patient’s journey. More vulnerable conversations about motherhood and maternal health, from the pressure to be perfect to the unmet needs of our systems, will move the needle slowly but surely.

This leads us to one of the most critical aspects of support in maternal care: community.

Community is everything.

We are not meant to be alone, whether in celebration or struggle.

Yet when it comes to motherhood and the parenting experience, there is an omnipresent and overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation—so much so that it’s been deemed a mental health crisis.

As the founder & CEO of Tandem Community, Sheila Pande knows firsthand how instrumental a strong network of support can transform a woman’s mental health and mindset. She studied maternal mental health as part of her Master's Program at Columbia, and Tandem was launched as a direct result of her experience as a woman of color navigating her own mental health struggles.

Women of color are only half as likely to be screened for postpartum depression and anxiety than their white counterparts, but they are 3x more likely to rely on their community for mental wellness support. On top of that, “In the U.S., unfortunately, only 14% of providers are racially diverse,” she shares, which leads to poor therapy and retention among racially diverse communities.

This means the majority of women are left to fend for themselves, which further exacerbates negative emotions and conditions. Pande references the belief that mothers think it's innate to be “strong,” which can vary in intensity based on one’s unique background, cultures, religion, etc.

The core of the problem is that “motherhood isn’t about getting mental health support,” shares Pande. “That’s not why someone wants to become a mom. Someone wants to become a mom to build a family and share values.”

Tandem actively works to improve this by providing a community that offers evidence-based support through mental health education to women of color. Without the barrier to access, women of all backgrounds can find validation in their experiences and hope for their family’s future.

At the end of the day, every person, even aside from pregnancy and motherhood, needs a trusted circle of support. When one does embark on their maternal care journey, this circle becomes that much more central to ensuring a thorough, balanced, and healthy experience.

Mothers deserve the same love, comfort, and care they are committed to providing their children. The bottom line is that we need more proactive, holistic opportunities and resources for women overall. It shouldn't only be available to those in positions of power or wealth, and it definitely can’t only be offered when they’ve already hit rock bottom.

Fertility is foundational.

I often wonder: why do we only talk about fertility when it's time to start or grow a family?

Fertility does not get the attention it deserves, and it still appears to be something many don’t consider or think that they need to care about…until they do.

The truth is that fertility is integral to the human experience. It is not an afterthought or something to only address when someone feels “ready” or prepared to create a family of their own.

Unfortunately, the subject of fertility has continued to be neglected until it is usually too late, or at the very least, later than ideal.

Jessica Bell van der Wal, founder & CEO of Frame Fertility, created Frame for this exact reason: to help support individuals in their family-building plans, bringing awareness and proper care to inform and connect women with unique solutions.

After a thorough, evidence-based intake evaluation, Frame assesses where you are, potential focus areas, clarity on what you can and can’t control, and most importantly, action steps to achieve your family's dreams. Because every pregnancy even within each person can be different—whether it’s your first child or your fourth—intentional and consistent care matters.

“Less than 14% of women ever have a what's called pre-pregnancy care and counseling visit with their OBGYN, even though it's the standard of care,” she shares. “It's what we all know is going to actually optimize outcomes for not only pregnancy, but potentially flagging risks and issues related to fertility.”

For Frame, empowering people with helpful information earlier is a no-brainer. Reducing levels of anxiety and stress related to pregnancy and fertility planning is something that women have expressed a need and desire for, so demystifying myths and misinformation with proactive facts and resources makes a powerful difference for how we are able to approach our respective decisions—because they are full of nuance, complexities, and considerations only YOU know.

The World Health Organization recently confirmed that globally, 1 in 6 people will experience fertility issues in their lifetime. This figure was 1 in 8 only a few years ago, which means infertility is not only more common than it may seem, but a growing concern—making conversations about infertility a must for women in their 20’s.

Even if you know for sure that you don’t want a family for a while, or perhaps you are questioning what your future looks like in terms of building a family, being proactive with questions and information can only be in favor of your best interests—and advocating for your future self by investing your health today will always pay off.

Motherhood Moving Forward

There is no one “right” answer that will solve the major gaps and shortcomings of health care, especially in women’s health and modern motherhood.

This reality informs how we approach The Maternal Health Project’s mission and goals. We understand that it isn’t the job of one stakeholder to repair and resolve the current women’s health crisis. Instead, all of the players need limits removed to take actionable steps in the right path forward.

What we do focus on is the opportunity for transparent conversations, collaboration, and innovation that prioritizes people and real, undeniable needs, based on research and shared human experiences.

We can better streamline and implement personalized, plug-and-play solutions once we have stronger, more efficient health structures, creating a kind of “choose your own adventure” that improves the experience for all involved.

I like to use the analogy of urban planning and a road trip. Health systems need to build the roads and infrastructures first so you can make your choices on your GPS. There are so many things to consider throughout the journey: when will we need to stop for gas? How much do we budget for food? How long will it take if we make X amount of stops?

If your options are limited due to lack of expressways, gas stations, restaurants, etc., it makes your trip that much more stressful. Plus: what happens if you get a flat tire? Or lose service? Or need to pull over for the night because you don’t feel well? There is so much we can plan for, and just as much of the unexpected that can arise. Only you can make the best decisions based on your unique needs for this specific trip. Another road trip can (and most likely will) be a completely different experience.

This analogy could not be more appropriate for the motherhood and pregnant patient journey—and I am optimistic that our health systems and solutions are headed in the right direction thanks to these thoughtful, innovative femtech initiatives.

The full videos of each of these important conversations can be found the new Interviews page.

Check out more on how to get involved.

And please reach out to these founders, learn more about their companies and initiatives and help me cultivate more collaboration in the women’s health startup world.

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