As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Stern. Denise is the CEO of Let Mommy Sleep, America’s Night Nurses and Newborn Care Providers. After her own postpartum struggles when her twins were born, and her son was only 17 months old, Denise started Let Mommy Sleep in 2010 and is now franchising the company nationwide.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My background is in small business ownership so starting a business was familiar territory for me. What was not familiar was the traumatic birth experience that led me create a company that supports postpartum families. When my twins were born, I experienced near fatal health problems and was at an ongoing risk for stroke.
My husband is also self-employed so every day he wasn’t working was a day we were missing income, so he exhausted all of his “leave” while I was hospitalized. Bringing my preemie girls home and also caring for my toddler son while still trying to recover myself, starkly demonstrated that qualified support should be available for those who need it in the postpartum phase.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Because we help care for vulnerable families of all backgrounds, each day is very interesting, but if I had to choose one story it would have to be attending President Obama’s White House Summit for Working Families. It was the first time the need for parental leave and postpartum solutions had really been recognized at a national level, and to be part of all these brilliant, compassionate people coming together -lead by the President — for the good of working families was unforgettable and motivating.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Postpartum visits to families just home from the hospital with their newborns will change the world. Let Mommy Sleep already has the data demonstrating that in-home visits even as short as 2 hours, result in better maternal health outcomes as well as success for the entire family…for years!
How do you think this will change the world?
In home postpartum visits are a standard of care in most developed nations, and instituting them here in America accomplishes 2 things:
I truly cannot think of any potential drawback to providing proper mental and physical assessment and support to brand new mothers, fathers and their babies.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
The most vulnerable time in a human’s life is the postnatal period, those 6 weeks after being born. Any parent will tell you that this vulnerability also extends to them as well.
There have been many times when our Nurses and newborn caregivers have provided life saving support but the true tipping point for me turning from entrepreneur to advocate for maternal care, was the time one of our mothers was hospitalized and…just sat there. This mom was referred to an ER and then a hospital to help her postpartum depression which had progressed to the point of needing medical attention. She was literally sitting in the hallway of a hospital for 7 hours and then another day, because there was no system in place to know what to do with her. The US should be able to handle avoidable crises like this, by having an early intervention tool in place for families.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Making postpartum visits a national norm really requires insurance coverage, which means quite a lot of lobbying and holding the maternal success data up to scrutiny. Corporations can also be leaders by giving their employees maternal health benefits the same way they offer family leave, but true change will only occur when postpartum care is a recognized standard of health care no matter one’s income level. Like most things where widespread adoption is the goal, the seeds of success boil down to a large amount of money and time.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
I think because postpartum care is seen as a “women’s issue” it’s not a priority issue for anyone. If American’s had access to the information showing that postpartum care benefits all of us, at the very least economically, they would be more accepting of the idea.
Secondly our bootstrapping nation has a fear of creating a culture of American’s who “want everything for free,” so postpartum care is seen as an unnecessary expense, or funds that could be saved if people “just planned for their baby better.” The facts are that -saving lives aside — early intervention lessens usage of the healthcare system so it benefits all Americans.
2. True change is a slow-moving beast
This is reality for any advocate, business owner or innovator. Creating change on a regional or national level means securing support, funding and data…small goals to the larger goal that take years to accomplish.
After seeing the incredibly positive results my business was having in the lives of postpartum families, I started a non-profit called Mission Sleep, to make our newborn care service free to military and first responder families where a parent was deployed, wounded or deceased. It took a full 18 months to become a recognized as a 501c3 charity and we only received the classification after a personal (literally) plea to the IRS because the paperwork was…just sitting there. This lesson of tenacity and patience is one I learn every single day!
3. Appealing to people’s personal experience is the only way get this message across
We humans tend to put people into boxes, and even worse we put them into our box. “I got through it okay when my kids were babies, why can’t you?” is a pretty common theme when we discuss child care or postpartum help. The only way to break through this mindset is to allow people to imagine what it would be like if they didn’t have parents to help, or if they were diagnosed with an illness or any number of unexpected scenarios that can arise after birth.
4. You must be ready to defend yourself and Every. Single. Thing. you say
If you have a Big Idea, the internet is where conversations about it have to happen. The opportunity is huge but so is the responsibility to communicate and the absolute need to remain thick skinned.
In addition to being told to “go back to the tanning booth,” and “worry about my own spawn,” I’ve been called on to defend just every single data point, leadership choice and business practice via social media and comments’ sections. It’s a different era than any other time in history; asking yourself if you’re ready for the emotional and social part of business is a real question for change-makers of today.
5. You need about twice the amount of money you think you need.
A universal truth for Big Idea-makers, small businesses and anyone entering the adult world. Like all businesses that began posting on Facebook years ago, we had an engaged and social community. When Facebook started suppressing content to encourage paid postings, we quickly made ad buys part of our regular budget and have been adjusting and adding funds to all of our social posting ever since.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
This is a tough one because the common-sense advice of “make yourself irreplaceable” and “have a can-do attitude” don’t seem to hold water in an increasingly automated world. I think keeping up with continuing education would be the best way to future-proof a career. Consistently staying ahead of the curve can ensure success.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
Newborn and postpartum care, and the birth industry as a whole, continues to be an unaggregated industry. Different states require different licensure-if any- and there is no third-party oversight. Think of all the professionals you work with over the course of a year that service the public; plumbers, electricians, hairdressers, elder care workers and on and on. All of these professions require licensure, insurance and oversight. I would invest in the same type of accountability infrastructure for the care of newborns and their parents.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
Like many working parents, my life and career often intersect. Transparency, living and telling your truth and gentle communication are the guiding principles of both. In addition to always trying to err on the side of kindness, honesty is a very practical way to live; by showing the world who you truly are you save everyone a lot of time and can cut to meaningful, productive interaction.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
The most important thing is to just keep going. You can read a million motivational quotes, but success comes down to being the person who responds quickly to road blocks by jumping over it, tunneling under it or better yet, blowing it up. I often say I’m not the smartest person in any room, but I am the one who’s going to sit there the longest.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Postpartum visits by a Registered Nurse will change the way American families begin. In addition to better health outcomes and an economically sound model, we’re also creating an entirely new “future-proof” profession. Postpartum visits are the “why didn’t I think of that?” idea of our generation.
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