When Melissa Bowley was pregnant, she diligently filled out her baby registry with loads of items to prepare. But after her newborn arrived, she realized she needed so much more than onesies, bottle washers, teething rings and toys.
“I was sitting there surrounded by a bunch of baby products made of extruded plastic that I felt weren’t as useful as the things that I hadn’t learned about, such as doulas, newborn care specialists, sleep consultants and lactation consultants,” Bowley told TODAY Parents. “Nobody makes you aware of (these experts) before you actually have the baby.”
She felt so sure that other beleaguered women must not be getting the help they need that she decided to start a different kind of registry for moms-to-be. Launched in 2020, Flourish Fund works like a honeymoon fund where couples register for money toward a trip or mortgage, for example. In this case, family members and friends might chip in so mom can talk to a therapist about postpartum mood disorders, hire a lactation consultant, or find a doula, midwife, pelvic floor physical therapist or sleep consultant.
“We found that people were spending a lot of money on stuff,” Bowley said. “We’re going to make an effort to shift the consumer spending from all the products to services that are going to make for better maternal health outcomes.”
The idea for Flourish Fund came after Bowley struggled to find support after having bladder problems following the birth of her second child. When she went to the doctor to talk about it, she felt stunned by his response.
“He told me, ‘What do you expect? You’ve had two kids.’ He gave me no options on where to go,” said Bowley, who lives in Newport, Rhode Island. “I dug into the research to try to figure out: Is there something I could do?”
That’s when she discovered pelvic floor physical therapy. Most of what she understood about pregnancy, birth, delivery and the postpartum period came from her own research. Bowley figured if she felt disconnected from such knowledge and services, many other moms must, too.
"I felt like I was tossed aside after the baby came," she said. "I had to do so much research in the middle of being postpartum. That’s the last thing you want to be doing is trying to figure out, 'OK do I have postpartum depression or anxiety? Where can I go for help?'"
Bowley said she hopes the Flourish Fund can help women better understand what to expect so they’re not up all night searching the web for answers.
“We’ve been changing the conversation. Part of our mission is to make sure that people are informed and have access to wellness services they need,” she said. “We are really focused on bringing real world education, so part of our platform is that we provide free monthly virtual education.”
These sessions might include midwives, doctors, moms, physical therapists or others sharing their experiences and insights.
One of these sessions helped prepare Tanaka Sotinwa to deliver her third child. Even though she had experience with childbirth, this pregnancy felt different for a few reasons. She had moved to Rhode Island, leaving behind most of her friends and family in the United Kingdom. She also wanted to try for a vaginal birth after cesarean section and didn't know how that might work.
After attending an online chat hosted by the Flourish Fund, Sotinwa said she felt ready to advocate for herself with her doctors.
“They didn’t only talk about products. They talked a lot about providing you with that community support that I was going to be lacking,” Sotinwa, 42, a blogger, told TODAY Parents. “There was just so much that was different (with this pregnancy). First of all, I was 41 when I fell pregnant ... and being here was completely different.”
Sotinwa used the Flourish Fund to get the help she needed when she struggled with sleep for her newborn, her two older children and herself.
“That just helped ... to establish a really good sleep routine for the baby and therefore give me some moments of calm,” Sotinwa said. “It just made me feel a little bit more control.”
The Flourish Fund now works with 156 providers, most of whom are located in New England. Thanks to Zoom and the introduction of telehealth, these experts can work with moms across the country. Bowley said she hopes that as the business grows there will be enough resources across the country to serve families everywhere.
In addition to wellness services for new moms, the Flourish Fund allows parents to register for essential baby products as well.
Christa Votaw lives in Charleston, South Carolina. When her friend mentioned the Flourish Fund, she looked into it and felt relieved by what she saw. Even though she’s due in a few weeks with her third child, she’s been experiencing a little apprehension because her last child was breech. Votaw said she wanted to make sure her body was ready for the birth, so she spoke with a pelvic floor physical therapist to prepare.
“It just gives you a different level of support that you don’t normally see from a registry or from a 'taking care of mom' standpoint,” the 38-year-old mortgage specialist told TODAY. “This is a good resource for being able to get a different perspective of the things that are concerning you. You’re able to talk to a specialist.”
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