These Medical-Industry Innovators Are Proudly Saying ‘Reproductive Care Is Health Care’ in a Post-Roe World
It’s time we think about reproductive care as a people issue, not a political issue.
The past year has been rife with challenges to reproductive rights and women’s health in general. The overturn of Roe v. Wade compromised access to life-changing health-care for millions of people; the maternal mortality rate rose, including postpartum complications and death; and access to health care for all people shrunk. As a result, it’s hard to believe that health-care policies in the United States are looking out for anyone, but in particular, women.
Thankfully, there are people who are working to improve access to health care, and their work stands to improve health outcomes. That’s why they’re our 2023 Well+Good Changemakers.
“Accessible, affordable, and easy-to-use health products for people with vaginas should be the norm,” says Jamie Norwood, co-founder of Stix, a vaginal and reproductive health startup. Launched in 2019 with Norwood’s co-founder Cynthia Plotch, the company produces products like UTI and yeast infection tests and medication, ovulation and pregnancy tests, and more. In 2022, after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the two launched their own emergency contraceptive product Restart—then made it free and accessible to anyone who needs it through a donation platform. (To date, Restart has given away 20,000 free doses.) “We want to help people make confident health decisions,” says Plotch.
Being able to make those confident decisions starts with being empowered with knowledge, which Boram Care aims to provide with respect to postnatal care. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in eight postpartum women in the U.S. experience symptoms of depression post-birth (though that number is likely higher, considering that many new mothers don’t feel supported enough to disclose symptoms). And yet, women, mothers, and birthing parents are largely responsible for handling their postpartum transition themselves without support from the health-care system.
“We need to recognize that postpartum is as much about the mother as it is about the baby, and then we need to bring awareness to available solutions to help the mother during this time,” says Boram Nam, co-founder of Boram Care. Launched in 2022, the startup offers “postnatal retreats” in its New York City location for new mothers and babies, supported by certified practitioners. Following the retreat, it offers virtual care.
Boram Care’s intent is ”to revolutionize what postpartum care looks like in America, providing new families with space to recover and be properly supported and educated as they transition into parenthood,” says Sarah Mallin, RN, founding member and director of operations, adding this will hopefully contribute to “decreasing the risk of postpartum mood disorders and other health complications.”
Similarly, an education and knowledge lapse is what led Brian Levine, MD, to start Nodal, a surrogacy-matching platform that offers transparency, equity, education, and support to both surrogates and prospective parents. A doctor with years of experience in the fertility space (he is a founding partner of CCRM, a leading fertility clinic in NYC that has now opened other locations), Dr. Levine sought to remove some of the widely held common question marks surrounding the surrogacy process. When surrogacy came up with his patients, Dr. Levine would preface these conversations with the phrase “we’re about to have a really terrible talk,” referring to the high costs and complex, difficult experience associated with traditional surrogacy.
“I can not be complicit in the ills of surrogacy in America today,” says Dr. Levine, on why he’s working to change that landscape. “As the dad of two little girls…I think, truthfully, the best lesson I can teach them is if they see a problem, [they should] take responsibility, and try to fix it. And that’s what we’re doing at Nodal—we’re working to fix a problem that I can’t unsee.” Nodal works by using technology to screen surrogates to ensure they are not putting themselves or their families at risk by simply becoming pregnant, and then if they do have complications, providing appropriate care so everyone is taken care of, understood, and empowered. “We are committed to emparting safety for surrogacy for everyone involved.”
Dr. Levine uses metaphor about driving to illustrate the road to better health care for all: you must look back at what isn’t working before moving forward to find something that does. “No one drives a car by looking in just the rearview mirror, but no one drives a car by only looking through the windshield, either. You need to take a look around what’s behind you and what’s in front of you to make the best plan forward.” Here’s to moving forward this year, for everyone.
—By Samantha Leal, Well+Good Deputy Editor
Jamie Norwood and Cynthia Plotch
Co-founders and Co-CEOs of Stix
Jamie Norwood and Cynthia Plotch are co-founders and co-CEOs of Stix, a vaginal and reproductive health startup focused on providing discreet and effective health products, destigmatizing health issues, eliminating judgment, expanding accessibility, and delivering peace of mind. Norwood and Plotch started Stix in 2019, with a focus on not just solving issues, like vaginal infections, but truly preventing them, and they expect that focus to continue to grow over the next few years by releasing new, accessible products for purchase.
In 2022, the brand was placed in the national spotlight when they reacted to the overturn of Roe v. Wade by launching its own emergency contraception product, Restart, and making it available for free to anyone in need through Stix’s website, no questions asked. The brand has donated around 20,000 doses to date.
Both founders have been recognized on Inc.’s Top 100 Female Founders list and Forbes’s 1000 Entrepreneurs in 2021, and Norwood was named on Forbes’s famed 30 Under 30 list in 2023 as the brand and experience lead of the duo for “leveraging business smarts to save the world.”
“We need patient education and empowerment! At the end of the day, we all know our bodies the best. We need to be able to truly understand how they work (or let’s be honest, don’t) and why. We deserve to be educated about our bodies, so we can best advocate for ourselves.”—Cynthia Plotch
What do you think most needs to change in the wellness industry for people to be well?
“Historically, health and medicine have been developed for men’s bodies. There are a ton of ‘wellness’ products out there, like feminine washes, that are harmful and totally unnecessary. To be well, we need comprehensive sex education and radical acceptance of our bodies the way they are. Vulvas do not need to smell or appear a certain way!” —Jamie Norwood
Brian Levine, MD, MS, FACOG
Founder and CEO of Nodal
Before founding Nodal, a surrogacy matching platform that offers transparency, equity, education, and support to both surrogates and intended parents, Brian Levine, MD, started one of New York City’s most recognized fertility practices. When surrogacy came up with his patients, Dr. Levine would preface these conversations with the phrase “we’re about to have a really terrible talk,” referring to the high costs and complex, difficult experience associated with traditional surrogacy. After years and years of having the same discussion, he knew it was time to rethink the process. In 2022, Dr. Levine raised $4.7M to build Nodal, and brought together a founding team of surrogates and intended parents to reimagine surrogacy together.
Considered one of the world’s foremost experts on IVF and surrogacy, Dr. Levine is board certified in both reproductive endocrinology and infertility and obstetrics and gynecology. His TED Talk on fertility has been viewed over 2.5 million times and he has been tapped as a quoted expert by outlets including CNN, The TODAY Show, and Popular Science. In 2023, Dr. Levine and Nodal are helping to match intended parents and surrogates with transparency and safety for everyone involved.
What is your biggest hope for Nodal?
“My biggest hope for what we’re working to do at Nodal is to use best-in-class technology to screen surrogates to ensure they are not putting themselves or their families at risk by simply becoming pregnant. We are committed to imparting safety for surrogacy to everyone involved. Nodal is transparent and, quite simply, we’re a digital approach to an analog system.” —Dr. Brian Levine
Boram Nam, PhD, and Sarah Mallin, RN, IBCLC
Co-founder and Director of Operations at Boram Care, respectively
Boram Nam is currently the co-founder of Boram Care, a hospitality startup established in 2018 focused on postpartum mothers and their newborn babies. Healthy babies start with healthy moms, which is why Boram Care supports mothers and prioritizes their health by offering a hotel-like stay, complete with round-the-clock medical care and support for parent and baby, including lactation consultants.
Nam and Sarah Mallin are both mothers to two children, and prior to joining the team as director of operations at Boram Care, Mallin had a fulfilling nursing career that began in the neonatal intensive care unit. She later advanced to the role of pediatric educator, and then nursing director. When she met Boram in 2022, she was reconnected with her passion for maternal and child care and knew she had to be part of Boram Care’s mission to make postnatal care essential in the U.S.
Research shows that the more support women have postpartum, their risk for postpartum mood disorders decreases as well as other postpartum complications.”Sarah Mallin
The two look forward to making postpartum care beyond the hospital stay accessible by working with employers to offer Boram Care services as part of corporate maternity benefits and integrating with insurance companies to offer reimbursements for certain aspects their care, while also creating an industry for those who traditionally work independently in the field—such as doulas, baby nurses, and lactation consultants—and providing them with consistent paychecks, benefits, opportunity, and growth within the company that they would not have while working independently.
What do you think most needs to change in the wellness industry for people to be well?
“First, we need to recognize that postpartum is as much about the mother as it is about the baby, and then we need to bring awareness to available solutions to help the mother during this time. Many countries outside of the U.S. embody our same belief that postpartum care is essential care and have had long-standing institutions that care for mothers after birth.” —Dr. Boram Nam