Navigating Healthcare Systems During Pregnancy: Podcast Episode #164
We talk with Estelle Giraud, CEO and co-founder of Trellis Health, about navigating healthcare systems during pregnancy. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello, hello. This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am so excited to chat with Estelle Giraud today. Estelle is the co-founder of Trellis Health, which is an online platform that takes the frustration and anxiety out of coordinating and curating pre- and postnatal health. Estelle is also a mother herself. So navigating the healthcare system is a personal passion of hers, as well. So welcome, Estelle!
Estelle: Thank you so much! It’s great to be here.
Kristin: I would love to hear a bit about your journey as a mother and then what led you again to getting into technology in the healthcare space.
Estelle: Yeah. So I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve worked my entire career in healthcare in one way or another, in human health. At the time, kind of prenatal and throughout the early part of my pregnancy, I was working for a corporate company in the medical and healthcare space, and I was really focused on precision medicine and kind of how do we make medicine better. So it’s always been in the back of my brain, and a big part of that was focused on cancer patients and, you know, really sick – these really kind of catastrophic diseases that we face. I didn’t think about parenthood or motherhood or really anything in that journey, and I’ll say with my motherhood journey, I am an IVF mum. I’m really open about that. It was not an easy or a fast IVF. We were doing it for other reasons. I went into thinking, I’m in my early 30s. I have no kind of infertility issues. This is going to be really straightforward. I’m one of the lucky statistics. And that obviously wasn’t the case, and we did three cycles and multiple egg retrievals. I had a couple of pregnancies that didn’t come to term that I lost the children. I lost the babies during pregnancy. I mean, this is a quick sidebar. I think I didn’t speak about these things, but as I’m speaking about them now, I realize how common this is and how quiet we stay as women generally, and I think we miss out on a lot of support for each other to just understand and be there and say, you know what, I experienced this as well. It’s really, really hard.
Kristin: Absolutely. We don’t talk about it enough. I agree.
Estelle: We don’t talk about it enough. So, you know, I went through this process, and then I became pregnant with my son. And, you know, I’m sure we could talk about just what IVF looks like in terms of early pregnancy, but some of the things around injections and progesterone injections – everything was just mind blowing to me. But then I made it into – I think I was about 20 weeks when I started to feel really kind of comfortable in that pregnancy, and I was like, oh, I can breathe out. I’m like, it’s fine now. I’m – you know, I’m pregnant. It all – you know, I don’t have to – there’s nothing really that can, like, happen at this point. And I don’t say any of this to kind of scare your listeners or anything like that. It’s just about, you know, education. All the different journeys that motherhood can take, and to be secure and empowered in that, in your journey. It’s nobody else’s, but this was my journey. And so I had a couple of months, but then I had prenatal hypertension, and I was a high risk pregnancy, so I had a lot of appointments. I was monitoring my blood pressure. I was monitoring all of these symptoms. I was at risk for preeclampsia. And I ended up getting postpartum preeclampsia. Ended up back in the hospital, actually in the same delivery ward with the same nurse in the same room that I had my son. The nurse was like, what are you doing? Why are you back here? But I was back in hospital at day seven after he was born. So I had a newborn, and it was just – you know, the experience wasn’t what I expected all around, but one of the things that I really took away from that is how much women take responsibility for their health throughout this journey. And as a first time mum, you know, you think that it’s all this completely standardized process, and then when you get into it, you realize that it’s not, and you have a lot of decision-making power, and you have a lot of kind of – you take responsibility for your health like you never have before, but at the same time, our medical system – everything about it isn’t really set up to support women easily and kind of, you know, take away some of that anxiety, support them in their choices, support them in understanding their health, giving them digital tools to help them manage their health. You know, I had hypertension. I was measuring my blood pressure three times a day. And I had it in an Apple note in my phone so I would, you know, make note of the time and what the measurement was and take that into my doctor’s appointment every week, and I had ten minutes with the doctor. And the question always was, you know, how are you feeling? What should I know about? And I’m trying to, like, communicate everything in ten minutes and be really efficient about it, make sure that I don’t miss anything.
Kristin: Yeah, it’s not enough time at all.
Estelle: It’s not enough time, and, you know, they want to be helpful. They want to make sure that they’re not missing anything. But we don’t have – you know, it’s not like 50 years ago or decades ago when we had family doctors and this kind of really supported generational care. I’ve lived in multiple states. I’m in Seattle now, but I moved here just a couple of years before I was pregnant, and so I’d never seen these doctors before. They didn’t have my history. It’s just a lot of pressure to put on a new relationship, and so to cut some of the story out but to sum it up, what I’m really committed to now with Trellis Health is this idea of, can we support women in this journey with their own personal health information, with everything about their health history and their choices and goals and give them the tools to navigate that journey with ease. And so things like blood pressure monitoring for anybody at risk or suffering hypertension, we have a digital app. We kind of pre-program in all the reminders that you would need to manage your health with prompts. You can input measurements directly into the app. And we summarize all of that into, like, a snapshot of your health that you can then take into your doctor for that appointment. You can make note of questions that you have. But they have all of your lab history and blood pressure readings for the last week or two weeks or however long it’s been, symptoms, kind of everything summarized in one sheet that you can both look at and kind of have a real conversation about your health in a very efficient way.
Kristin: That’s amazing. And I’m sure if any of our listeners are working with, say, a homebirth midwife, they could also, of course, you know, share that information regardless of who the provider is.
Estelle: Exactly. I’m really a strong proponent of the midwife. I mean, anybody in that care team, and even partners, as well. There’s support for women around their health and around pregnancy, like being able to communicate that story with people around you that are helping you manage your health.
Kristin: I’m all about that empowerment. We have a program at one of the hospitals in my area called the Centering for Pregnancy Model, and they do some of their own assessments and meet together weekly and really take charge of their pregnancy, and then also have that support combined in one. So I love everything you’re doing.
Estelle: I think it’s such – I mean, I get really riled up about this. Like, women’s health has been overlooked. I’m a woman in tech. I’m building a software company. And it took me until I was pregnant to realize the gap here. And why in this age with all the solutions that we have is this still overlooked? Women’s health is such an important area, and particularly around pregnancy, we have to do better.
Kristin: Yeah. And women are dying in childbirth. It shouldn’t happen.
Estelle: Exactly. These are preventable deaths. I’m sure you know this and I’m sure your listeners know this, as well, but the US has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world. We’re trying to change those statistics and giving women the tools to really advocate for and communicate their own health, and everybody, like regardless of access to the top holistic, women’s health, maternal care facilities in the country, like, this should be available to every woman.
Hey, Alyssa here. I’m just popping in to tell you about our course called Becoming. Becoming A Mother is your guide to a confident pregnancy and birth all in a convenient six-week online program, from birth plans to sleep training and everything in between. You’ll gain the confidence and skills you need for a smooth transition to motherhood. You’ll get live coaching calls with Kristin and myself, a bunch of expert videos, including chiropractic care, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health experts, breastfeeding, and much more. You’ll also get a private Facebook community with other mothers going through this at the same time as you to offer support and encouragement when you need it most. And then of course you’ll also have direct email access to me and Kristin, in addition to the live coaching calls. If you’d like to learn more about the course, you can email us at email@example.com, or check it out at www.thebecomingcourse.com. We’d love to see you there.
Kristin: I totally agree, and having had preeclampsia myself and bedrest and an induction, I can totally understand, you know, that need for really understanding how you can converse with your healthcare team and really advocate for yourself early on because I was overwhelmed. And then as you had mentioned, eclampsia after delivery and so on. So many things get missed. It’s not just the pregnancy complications, but as you had mentioned in your own story, it’s some of the postnatal and hemorrhaging, eclampsia. Really being able to have that self-assessment and understand your own personal healthcare history and story. So knowing when things might be off or wrong rather than waiting for that six-week appointment.
Estelle: We spoke to so many women – you know, user interviews – and it was such a common theme that you – you know, for your entire pregnancy, you have so much focus on you and your health. You know, people will give you a seat to sit down or you’ve got these appointments, in the end particularly, like every couple of days, every week. And then the baby is born, and in a lot of cases, whether that’s a natural delivery or a C-section or whatever that looks like, it’s a huge experience. And from a physical, emotional, mental, everything, and then you don’t have a follow up for six weeks and you’re taking care of another human around the clock. It’s just – you know, we’re also really kind of focused on that early postpartum period. Like, how do we check in with women? How do we make sure they have the right tools again to easily manage their health, whether that’s pain medication or other medications that they’re on? When I was leaving the hospital, my husband pre-programmed in my calendar all the whole schedule of all of my medications for the next two weeks. You know, I had blood pressure medications. I had painkillers because I had a C-section. I had all these different things. And I just couldn’t do it. But he – like, I didn’t even know what time of day it was, but I would just get a ping on my phone. It’s time to take this medication. I’m like, oh, this is convenient. This is helpful. But he had to spend, you know, a couple of hours manually doing that. I was like, why can’t we have a digital tool that helps do this for parents?
Kristin: Yeah. That’s amazing. So how – you know, there are so few women in tech. How did you make this happen? Bring the dream to reality.
Estelle: I’m sure we could spend a whole podcast talking about this. I’m mission driven to found it. Like, I couldn’t do this. I think there’s such strength that you have if you recognize, and especially if you’ve lived through a problem yourself as a founder, and you’re like, the world needs this, and I have this skill set, and I have the experience to be able to build this. There’s this responsible that comes with that, and it’s something that drives me to be able to do it. When I left my corporate job and – you know, we haven’t really spoken about it, but the vision for Trellis Health is beyond pregnancy and even women. We see it evolving into a family health platform that houses all of your family’s health records. You know, health is such a generational thing. And for a lot of women, post-pregnancy, you are managing the health of that child. Women are the chief medical officers typically of their family. You know, you’re making the decisions around healthcare or you’re in those early appointments. You’re responsible for feeding and sleeping, a lot of these things. And, you know, partners of course are part of that, but it’s a transition from pregnancy that often doesn’t kind of fully go away. And so we see Trellis Health evolving into tools for women to manage the health of their children; partners on the platform, as well, and then elderly parents as they age. You get kind of sandwiched into this health management role as a woman, and you’ve got a corporate job. You’ve got a life. You’ve got all of these other things that you need to be able to do with your time. Like, let’s just make that easier and connected and build this generational resource that you can then kind of pass down to your children. They can see your health history, risk factors, really help them manage their health for the rest of their life, as well. This goes all the back to my genetics background. You know, I see the generational nature of health and how we can develop a better understanding of what contributes to disease through really connected family generational information.
Kristin: Beautiful. And oftentimes we don’t know our own family history. We get asked, you know, those questions at doctor visits, but we don’t always have the answers.
Estelle: Yeah. And so this is something that I saw when I was in my corporate job, and I see the way the medical industry is evolving, you know, indirectly, as well. We just have a data problem in healthcare. Your data is all over the place. And this is not – this is such an obvious take in healthcare, but nobody has been able to fix it. And I think part of that is missing the right value proposition for the right customer at the right time, and my experience through pregnancy made that crystal clear to me, that this is a missed opportunity for women. And yeah, nobody was building that. So I’ll say it’s not easy. It’s a process. Everything’s a process. And we’re small. We’re building. I have a great team of people that are really committed to this mission with me. I can talk about kind of what it takes as a female in tech, you know, VC-funded and the way that our funding system works and some of the biases that exist against women founders, but at the end of the day, wanting to change those statistics, as well.
Kristin: I mean, it’s honestly just tackling two huge problems in society in one business, so I love it. Yes, so walk me through how our listeners would be able to join the platform, how affordable is this. I’m thinking it’s almost like having concierge medicine but in the tech space.
Estelle: So we are in private beta right now, and I say private because we’re not – you know, this isn’t something that you’ll find on Google ads. But we are still open, and so if any of your listeners are currently pregnant and want to be a part of our beta program, we’re offering that free of charge for two years, and so they can sign up on our website. There’s a short form that they fill out. We will be in touch with them, get them set up. We’re offering a white glove onboarding for all the people who are part of our beta. And then what I will say is the experience that we’re trying to enable is that this is as frictionless as possible. So for anybody that maybe has thought about health records before – I regularly come across people who think they have to call their doctors and get all these faxed medical records or input in a lot of data themselves. One of the key differences with what we’re able to build today is that we can do a lot of that completely frictionless. So we verify people’s identity. We have a super secure system. We’re a HIPAA-covered entity. So we have this security system that enables us to verify identities and then connect medical records in the back end so users don’t have to kind of do that heavy lifting themselves. You’ve got other things that you want to do with your time right now. And then the beta, the one ask that we have is that people would be willing to give us feedback. We’re making this product for women and for this experience, and so any and all feedback, we’re really kind of leaning into. So if people are really kind of passionate about this space or even just interested in and want to test it out, please get in touch. We would love to chat with you. In terms of moving forward, we’re priced at $99 a year.
Kristin: Very affordable.
Estelle: Right. We’re still investigating, but I have a goal that we will be able to be covered under HSA and FSA accounts, as well.
Kristin: Makes perfect sense that it should be covered.
Kristin: I love it. So you’re also on other social media channels, correct, Estelle?
Estelle: Yes, that’s correct. And I am personally on – you know, we were talking about women in tech. I want to be a voice for other women. When I was pregnant and I was in the early days of founding Trellis Health, I was constantly looking for role models.
Kristin: Of course.
Estelle: I would spend hours on Google. Where is the pregnancy or founding a tech company – how do I know that I can do this? And there wasn’t a lot of – you know, I really struggled to find examples of those women. And so I am on Twitter. I’m on LinkedIn. I’d love to connect with anybody, particularly other women if they’re interested in the story. I talk about, you know, just what it means to be a female founder and to build a company in software and being a mother at the same time. So yeah, happy to connect with people there.
Kristin: You are so inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story, Estelle, and for the work you’re doing. You’re definitely going to be changing so many lives for the better, and I will share the information about your beta with my doula clients and Becoming a Mother students, and of course, our listeners.
Estelle: Thank you so much!
Kristin: Thank you!
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