Jade Kearney is the Co-Founder and CEO of She Matters, a digital health platform designed to improve postpartum comorbidities for Black women through community, culturally competent healthcare providers, and culturally relevant resources.
Victoria and Will talk to Jade about why postpartum depression is so dangerous for women, her experience as a mother and why she founded She Matters, and what culturally competent care looks like for Black women.
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WILL: This is the Giant Robot Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Will Larry.
VICTORIA: And I'm your other host, Victoria Guido. And with us today is Jade Kearney, the Co-Founder, and CEO of She Matters, a digital health platform designed to improve postpartum comorbidities for Black women through community, culturally competent healthcare providers, and culturally relevant resources.
WILL: Jade, thank you for joining us.
JADE: Thank you for having me.
WILL: So I want to start off the podcast and really talk about the issues that you're working to solve because, to be honest, before I was a dad, I had no idea about any of the things that you're trying to solve, but now that I am a dad, I am very well aware of it. So, can you explain to our audience exactly what you're working to solve?
JADE: No problem. What we're working to solve is we're trying to decrease the incidence of Black maternal morbidity and what that means is how Black women are treated in the delivery room and postpartum. I'm not sure if anybody is aware, so I always try to give the statistics upfront: Black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and after pregnancy than White counterparts. And here in the state of New York, we're 12 times more likely to die.
So what we're doing as a company is we're looking to decrease postpartum comorbidities through culturally relevant resources, community, and culturally competent healthcare providers that we supply through our She Matters app.
WILL: Those stats are so devastating to hear. You hear the stats and postpartum and things like that. Why is postpartum so dangerous?
JADE: Postpartum is dangerous because postpartum starts the moment you have a child. And when you first have a child as any type of woman, Black, White, Asian, your focus is on the child, and you're not paying attention to the signs of your body. Also, postpartum is not talked about that much. After you have a baby, the focus is on the baby, and a lot of women don't understand what they're experiencing when they're experiencing it. So there may be some very, very alarming signs that are happening that are going off in your body or mind because we're talking about mental health and physical health that a woman doesn't resonate with because no one's talked to her about it. So there's no information.
So a woman is experiencing...has an out-of-body experience having postpartum anxiety and depression and doesn't know what's going on because there's been no information given about it. It can be a silent killer, really, when you think about eclampsia, and you think about HELLP syndrome, which is like high blood pressure during and postpartum. These are the top killers of all women. And if you don't know the signs of that, if you don't know what to look for, you may very well think it's a part of postpartum when you're actually in danger.
VICTORIA: And that sounds so important to increase awareness in the education and community around these issues. Can you tell me more about what culturally competent care actually looks like for Black women?
JADE: So culturally competent care means that you are receiving care from a health provider that understands the stuff that I'm conversing with you guys about. They understand Black maternal morbidity; they understand it is due to systemic racism. They understand that cultural competence is the first step toward communication and trust. So they're meeting Black women where they are.
For instance, culturally, a Black person may say, a Black mother, in particular, may say, "God told me this wasn't normal." Some people may see that as psychosis, so the person may be having terrible mental health issues. In our culture, that's something that we may just say. So to be culturally competent, you have to be aware that, oh, that's a colloquialism used in the Black community, and so I really should be focused on how this mom is feeling instead of maybe she needs to go to the psych ward. There are little differences and nuances like that that cultural competency changes the trust barrier, and it changes the communication barrier for both the healthcare provider and the mother.
VICTORIA: Right. That makes sense to me. And for myself being from Maryland, I have friends who have gone to doctors who just wouldn't believe them when they brought up that they were in pain. Or if another doctor referred them to get an MRI, the new doctor wouldn't want to provide that service. And so your app is trying to bridge that gap and that systemic racism that's built into the system as well.
JADE: Absolutely. That's a common complaint of Black women or Black people, but really Black women, that when we are in distress, when we are in pain, that people just don't believe us because people aren't comfortable with us being in pain, and that goes back to systemic racism. And if you're not culturally competent, you may be unaware of your cultural biases just because you've never had the conversation. And so, 89% of procedures done to Black women are done without their full consent, so Black women are not comfortable. They didn't want to have the procedure. They were coerced into the procedure because people don't listen. Doctors don't listen to us.
WILL: Jade, let's take a second because I love your passion behind it. Where does your passion come from for this situation? Tell us about your experience as a mother and why you founded She Matters.
JADE: Well, my passion comes from becoming a mother, becoming a Black mother to a Black child when I had my first daughter. The first doctor I went to treated me like a statistic, and she was a Black doctor. I felt so scared all the time that I knew it wasn't the right practice for me, and I switched practices at 27 weeks. And when I got to my next practice, I was able to talk to my doctor, Dr. Garfinkel, in Morristown, New Jersey, who is a Jewish man, but was culturally competent, knew the statistics, understood the system and promised me that he would do everything in his power to make sure I had a healthy birth.
I did have preeclampsia. I did have an emergency birth. But my daughter and I made it out of that situation healthy. The issue was during my postpartum period; I had nowhere to go. I didn't understand that the mental illness that I was facing around postpartum OCD, where you have terrible ruminating thoughts about your child or yourself, so harming your child or harming yourself, I didn't understand that that can happen during postpartum and really felt like I was losing my mind.
I felt like I was failing as a mom, and I felt a lot of shame. I went to both my family and friends, and because of the stigma around mental health in the Black community, I didn't find any support there. What I did find was shaming. I found disbelief and really just avoidance of the problem. Like, my mom said to me, "We're Black women. We don't have time for this. You have to go back to work. You need your health insurance."
When I reached out to my healthcare provider at the time, I was told, "I'm going to send you Zoloft and check in with you in six weeks." That's not what I needed to hear. Because I'm a Black woman, I wasn't comfortable with taking an antidepressant. I also was uncomfortable not speaking to my healthcare provider. And I knew that there was a disconnect right there. I couldn't go to family and friends. And I couldn't go to the healthcare system because I was being completely neglected by psychiatrists, by the emergency room, by doctors.
And I created She Matters because I never wanted any other Black woman to feel the way that I felt during my first 12 months of being a mother. I thought we need culturally competent healthcare providers. We need communication with each other, community so we can validate our experiences when we're having these weird things that happen to your mind or body.
And we need culturally relevant resources because when I was on the internet, I couldn't find anything where Black women were talking about our problems because of the stigma. I couldn't find a lot of information around the postpartum state of Black women because we're neglected in healthcare. So that's why I founded She Matters.
VICTORIA: And you founded it over four years ago. And at the time, I believe you were in the process of one of your master's degrees. And looking at the degrees you have, it almost seemed like you planned on founding a company like this. [laughter] But yeah, can you tell me more about your education and how that feeds into your ability to perform as a founder?
JADE: Sure, I did not plan this. [laughter] I was definitely being over-educated, didn't want to leave school; I love to learn. And so I have a degree in diversity and inclusion management and digital media design from NYU. And at the time, I thought I was going to create continuing education platforms or blended learning programs for K through 12. I didn't know that this would be my trajectory.
And so everything I did around diversity and around digital media has helped me launch She Matters. It's really allowed me to cultivate who I am as a CEO and not look at the problem only as a Black mother who experiences these things but also as a business person, also as a tech founder, and be able to zoom out and see what adjustments need to be made that aren't personal to my story.
VICTORIA: And that probably is why you've been so successful, and congratulations on your most recent round of funding. What are you most excited about to be working on with your new capacity?
JADE: I am most excited about working with the thousands of healthcare providers that we're getting ready to work with. It's so important that cultural competency be something that's not a new wave or something popular, but it becomes ingrained in the healthcare system. I love when hospitals are open to making these changes, and they're aware of the problems within hospitals.
I'm also really excited about our new symptom tracker that can be connected to wearables. So preeclampsia, eclampsia, and HELLP syndrome are some of the things that I talked about. And we've created a system tracker on our app that can help mothers get to the hospital faster. I'm really excited about unveiling that on our version two of the app.
WILL: What causes these issues in the Black community? Why are they so overlooked?
JADE: Why are they so overlooked in the Black community, by Black people, or in general?
WILL: Just in general. So you said that you were overlooked and your doctor was a Black lady. But then you had a Jewish doctor that said, "I'm going to take care of you." From your understanding and your view, what do you think caused that?
JADE: It's systemic racism. So the status quo...systemic racism doesn't change because you're Black. We're all part of the system. And that's why cultural competency is needed. Everyone needs that regardless of your race because when you're part of the system, sometimes you're unaware of your biases. People are doing what's been done, and what's been done is unfair. There's no health equity.
People are comfortable with the level of pain Black women experience. People are comfortable with the stats being where they are. Things are just now starting to change. People are just becoming uncomfortable, and that's going to take some years for everyone to become uncomfortable. But it is because this is the system as it is, and people are comfortable with the current system, Black, White, or other.
VICTORIA: Right. And you talked about what new features you're excited about for your platform. And how does the app that you've created start to increase that cultural competency? Like, how does it really work within a healthcare system?
JADE: The app is for our community of moms, and our learning management system is where healthcare providers go. So that's where you get the experience of the culturally competent certification. And you get the curriculum, and you get the experts in health equity leading the classes and talking about Black maternal morbidity and making connections between systemic racism and health outcomes. Our LMS system is the most important part of our training.
And our app is the most important part to communicate with our moms and offer a listserv of these doctors who are taking our certification, the resources that we talked about, and those symptom trackers that we talked about. Without technology, none of this would be happening.
VICTORIA: That's great. So you have really two user groups, right? You have your Black women mothers and then also hospitals that you're designing for.
VICTORIA: And I wonder if you found any interesting design challenges for either group.
JADE: And this is my life. The most challenging thing for the mothers is engagement because you have to understand being a mom is full-time. It's like a full-time and a part-time job together. So how do you create programming at an engagement level that's fair for moms? How do you measure a mom's engagement? It's going to be a little bit different because if you have one child or four children, your time on an app is going to be different, not to mention if you have a full-time job.
So it's just about creating engaging programming that mothers will take their downtime to utilize. And I feel like we have a little bit of secret sauce there; it's around our ability to connect to our moms and to bring experts in healthcare to our mothers. When it comes to healthcare professionals, I think healthcare professionals are more than willing to take a course.
It is explaining to hospitals that Black women are worth the investment because, remember, they've been comfortable with the situation as is. Having to convince people that the demographic that you've ignored is important is a job. I also feel like once a hospital decides to come on board with us, I have this huge sigh of relief because trying to explain to people why Black women deserve to live through birth and after can be taxing.
VICTORIA: I can imagine being a mom yourself and having this startup and having to do that difficult work of explaining to people how systemic racism affects their healthcare and why they should care is exhausting. So how do you recharge and find time for yourself and balance your life if it's possible? [laughs]
JADE: I have a great support system; I cannot lie to you, like, between the people who helped me with my children, my team here at She Matters, our board. Like, some people talk about their boards...my board is like family in terms of the support that they give to my co-founder and I. They've been committed to helping us change maternal morbidity in the United States and to have their support and to have the support of everyone in my life is most important.
And I often say to founders, "You cannot do this without support. I don't care how much money you raise. You will lose your shit no matter what your venture is." Because being a founder, being a CEO is very lonely. It doesn't look like anything that's been done before, and you don't have punch-in and punch-out hours. So support is the way that I keep my mind healthy. I'm able to have downtime for myself, and the way that I'm able to be the best person I can be so I can be the best mom.
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WILL: You know, you're from Newark, New Jersey. What is your favorite thing about that area?
JADE: I love Newark. In Newark, we say 'nurk.' I know outsiders say 'noo-urk.' But I love being from Newark because I saw kind of the best of both worlds. Newark has such a rich history. And there are so many problems currently around just systemic racism, whether it's education, healthcare, the judicial system, and you kind of see both things play out where you have great private schools, and you have great universities. Shout out to Rutgers; I went to Rutgers, Newark. And then you have all the problems that the country has.
So it gave me a different lens. I own where I'm from, but I also saw the greatness of where I'm from. And I believe it's helped propel me to where I am because I have lived both lives firsthand. And I know what it's like to go to a school that's not receiving funding, to go to a hospital that's coined a Black hospital and to be treated unfairly, and then to go right into another town in Essex County and be treated differently because it's quote, unquote, "a White hospital." Newark has given me the duality that I have as a person to experience both lives.
WILL: Wow, you speak of systemic racism. And in my opinion, I think there are almost two sides of it. I think you have the side that that's their beliefs and the way that they comprehend it, and that's what they're going to believe. And then you have a different side that's like; I had no idea because I've been in my bubble for so long.
And correct me if I'm wrong if I'm missing a category, but in my experience, it's almost the two that I see. And especially with 2020, I think a lot of that slowly started peeling back. And so it seems like you're dealing with that head-on. How have you been received by the doctors and the hospitals in that area?
JADE: It just depends on the doctors and the hospitals. Sometimes people say, "This is what we really want, oh my God, because we don't know what to do." And this is such a huge problem speaking to Black maternal morbidity. With the Black Momnibus Act that was passed in November 2021, there's been $3 trillion put into the pipeline to make these changes. So hospitals are paying attention.
But paying attention and providing your healthcare professionals with the service are two different things. I've been received in both ways; wow, you guys are the second coming. And yeah, this is great, but we're not really focused on it right now. We want to pretend that we're focused on it, but we're really not. It's difficult.
And I do think those two sides of the coin of systemic racism exist where there are people who are proponents of it and who know what they're doing, and there are people who have no idea. Either way, training is necessary so that you can treat people equally.
WILL: Yes, I totally agree with that. Totally agree with that. If you had one message you had, you know, however long you want, what would be the one message that you would want the audience to know about She Matters and what you're solving?
JADE: She Matters is solving for an American problem. This is an American healthcare problem. And people assume when you say Black maternal morbidity that it is not an American problem. Black people are Americans. And I know that sounds crazy because if you're born here, you're an American. But it's not crazy. People act like this is a separate problem from themselves. No, this is our problem, everyone's problem. When women are dying, that's everyone's problem. When there are health inequities in your hospital, it's everybody's problem. We should all care about Black women dying, period.
VICTORIA: Yeah, I think there's a book out this year that calculates the cost of systemic racism, and this area, in particular, the amount of death and the hospital costs related to this is, for no other moral reason, it's very expensive. And addressing it and protecting our community keeps us all healthy, and safe, and good.
I love what you're doing with the app. And I think it's so important, and I'm really glad you came on the show to tell us about it. I'm curious, if you could travel back in time to when you first started, what advice would you give yourself?
JADE: Prepare for the long haul, prepare for the long journey, prepare for the long road. Pace yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It is going to be harder than you think. I didn't think it was easy at all. But I did think that people would understand the severity of the problem we're solving for, and that's just not the case. [laughs] So the convincing part, like I mentioned earlier, is very taxing. I become exhausted with explaining the value of my life as a Black woman. It's exhausting.
WILL: Wow. If you can sum up (This is a two-part question.) your toughest decision or time since you founded She Matters, and let's end it on your best, successful, happy moments since you founded She Matters.
JADE: Okay. The toughest was raising our most recent round. There's a lot of systemic racism there as well. Black women get less than half a percentage point of the venture capital given to startups. And knowing that challenge and speaking to investors who claim that they have interest in people of color and women of color, and when you get in front of them, it becomes the same stats that you use for all startup and tech companies when this is different. This is not a chip. This is not something that people are familiar with.
So people not understanding that when it comes to something like this, which has not been done before, sometimes you have to use a different metric system. We should present to you in a way that is comfortable in Silicon Valley. So I'm not saying we shouldn't do anything that everybody else does; no, we should. But when we're presenting to you, you have to understand the hurdles and the challenges that it took for us to get in front of you. If Black founders are in front of venture capitalists, we are unicorns. We're the best of the best because for us to get there, we had to go through hell and fire. So that's the one thing.
And when it comes to the most positive thing, it would be the amazing feedback we get from mothers and from healthcare professionals. Some people send us donations; some people just volunteer their medical experience, which is expensive. Anytime a healthcare professional says, "I have 10 hours that I can volunteer to a Black mom," that's huge for us. A therapist saying, "I'll offer any She Matters community member 45 minutes free," do you know how much my therapy is? [laughter] I'm like, oh my God, that's so amazing.
And those things matter to me. Like, it's not about revenue for me as much as it is about getting the women the help that they need. And so every time what I say lands with a healthcare system or professional, it warms my heart. Every time a mother is helped, it warms my heart.
VICTORIA: Well, that's wonderful. It's been amazing to hear more on this issue. And I hope our listeners appreciate getting educated on this topic. Is there anything else you want to promote or take a second to leave our audience walking away with?
JADE: Yeah, sure. Just go to shematters.health to learn more about what we're doing. And if you're a Black mother, download the app. If you're a healthcare professional, sign up for our next cohort November 7th. If you just want to learn more, send us an email. Follow us on social media, @shematters.io, on Instagram. We're around, and we love to hear people's feedback. We're here for the volunteering. We're here for it all. We're here if you just want to learn more really.
WILL: Jade, thank you so much for, one, being on the podcast, but most importantly, the impact that you are having on our community, the United States, the world because I think you are going to have that impact on the world the longer you're in this, and the more you go. So just thank you. Thank you for everything.
JADE: Thank you, guys, for giving us a platform to reach more people, and thank you for caring enough to have me speak for Black mothers and for She Matters. I appreciate it.
VICTORIA: Well, thank you so much. I really enjoyed our conversation today.
WILL: You can subscribe to this show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at giantrobots.fm.
VICTORIA: If you have questions or comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WILL: You can find me on Twitter @will23larry.
VICTORIA: And you can find me on Twitter @victori_ousg.
This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.
WILL: Thanks for listening. See you next time.
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