It was the beginning of 2015. We were just a group of women observing how France applied progressive maternal healthcare policies such as 10-20 sessions of pelvic floor physical therapy after birth to avoid complications and chronic health issues. Our research and early user data showed that over 70% of women experience intimate health problems such as incontinence or sexual pain at some point in their lives, and yet only a small fraction of these receive the comprehensive care and support they need.
We decided to find a way to reach millions of women to bring the type of health resources and education we as women need to address the changes our bodies will inevitably go through, from puberty, through pregnancy and birth (if applicable), until after menopause.
Little did we know that the implications of this initiative would be much bigger. After several app releases, expanding internationally and reaching hundreds of thousands of users, and a myriad of conversations with experts in women's health and technology and users, it became really clear that our mission is not just about improving healthcare for women through self care. The change we are trying to create has multifaceted implications.
It's not just about women's health, it is about economic ideology
For our generation to raise the standards of women's health, whether maternal, sexual or reproductive, we need to shift existing views in cost vs. investment and reactive treatment vs. prevention.
We can no longer afford to make decisions aimed at short-term savings. Not if these have an impact on the health of women and their choices. Often, women find themselves in a position where maternity is not financially viable - or desirable - because they can't afford to have unpaid maternity leave, they fear the negative impact on their careers, or because the level of stress of trying to do everything takes a toll on their mental wellbeing. By focusing on creating a support system at the workplace that serves the needs of new mothers -and fathers, as equal partners in the family-, we will facilitate healthy work-life balance.
Also, the lack of personalized women's health educational resources and therapy awareness leads to false notions on what can be improved. The belief that women have to live with symptoms such as stress incontinence, because it's part of having children or aging is not uncommon.
They don't always get encouraged by the medical community to seek the right alternatives other than to wait until it's worse, then fix it with a surgical procedure.
Estrella Jaramillo speaks about women's health
These are preventable situations. Investing in women's health prevention, guidance and early detection programs and personalized resources will lower the health impact and costs associated with common women's health problems, including issues that originate during birth and postpartum, such as incontinence and prolapses.
It's not just about women's health, it is about gender equality
It's about changing the underlying mindset that qualifies women of a certain age as a liability, instead of an asset. Even the most elitist universities and Ivy League schools are catching up with the trend: Demographic data studies show a gender distribution close to 50/50, with female graduates increasingly outnumbering their male counterparts. However, avoiding to hire women in their late 20's to late 30's as a measure to dodge the potential costs of maternity is still common practice, In a 2014 study, 40% of 500 top managers admitted to this practice. Women carry the biggest burden of family building and the pay gap grows after building a family and increases with each additional baby.
As more professionally ambitious women demand a 50/50 on “the second shift" - that is, that their partners contribute the same amount of dedication to family and home -, male employees' “seemingly unlimited" work availability will not remain untouched. They, too, will have to go back home to take care of their children.
Therefore, the aforementioned practices are not just ethically wrong, but will soon become unsustainable. Progressive organizations that want to attract talent need to integrate policies that make work/family balance possible. Flexible schedules and health support and childcare close to office campuses are highly valued. Companies like Qualcomm and LinkedIN are already on board.
It is political
It wasn't until some developed countries declared the declining number of born babies as “crisis situation", partially also due to its implications on the economy now that we also live longer, that those select governments started taking steps towards making it easier for young couples to build a family.
In addition to this, women's reproductive and sexual health and freedom is currently on the line. It feels like for every step forward, we take another two steps back. Even safe, legal contraception forms are under scrutiny and might be limited. Reproductive and sexual health services, education and support are insufficiently covered by government programs, and would be out of reach for many women more women if it wasn't for the work of some non-governmental organizations.
Similarly, the quality of postpartum support and access to birth choices says a lot about the overarching position of a society and the value they place on maternal rights. It is no news that the postpartum period is incredibly hard on women (and their partners): 30% of women still report pain during sexual intercourse 18 months after birth, yet there are no widely accessible programs in place that educate women on how to improve their sexual health after birth.
Women's sexual wellness after maternity is simply not a priority. The same applies to postpartum depression: Another big taboo that is costing billions of dollars to payors -and much pain to the women suffering it- because of a lack of prevention and treatment protocols.
It is about human rights.
Maternal mortality rates in the US are alarming, and lag behind most developed countries. African American women are 3.2 times more likely to die during birth or from post-childbirth complications. There is significant evidence of racial discrimination in the fields of birth and women's health. Access to adequate care and health support is still a privilege.
The United Nations and Its Global Development Goals made a statement to address this with Goals 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing) and 5 (Gender equality). Better maternal programs and healthcare support throughout women's subsequent life transitions helps women stay healthier, preventing rising costs from preventable health complications.
Finally, as an institution or organization, the investments made on female employees career development, health, and work ethics programming represent the stance of the executive leadership on the subjects of women, harassment at the workplace, and diversity, equity and inclusion. We all are a part of this. Governments, companies, associations and citizens.
The current state of women's health is far from optimal, and this is not just another part of healthcare that needs improvement and better efficiency.
This is a matter of values. It is about who we want to be as a society and what we want to create for our future generations.
It is a multifaceted issue that touches upon political, economic and equality ideologies. It is about taking a stance on the future we want to see for women and their communities. It is about providing an infrastructure for all humans to thrive, and to create a better, more fair society.
WRITTEN BYEstrella Jaramillo