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Forget the Stuff! New Parents Say They Need Support, and This Mom Wants to Make Postpartum Services More Accessible.

The founder and CEO of the Flourish Collective shares how her baby registry platform is helping new parents.

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After having a newborn, many parents need extra sets of hands, but instead they often get bombarded with lots of presents. This is what inspired Melissa Bowley to create her company, the Flourish Collective. Through the Flourish Collective comes the Flourish Fund, the first-ever experiential baby registry where parents can register for support, self-care and, of course, stuff. Think honeymoon funds, but for parents to flourish during their prenatal, birth and postpartum journeys. Bowley sat down with Jessica Abo to discuss how the Flourish Fund supports moms and dads, and her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Jessica Abo: Tell us about the Flourish Collective and the Flourish Fund.

Melissa Bowley: When becoming a new parent, a lot of people focus on the baby showers, the baby stuff, the really expensive crib. And then they realize in the postpartum period, as I did myself, that it wasn't so much the stuff I needed. I felt like I had tons and tons of stuff surrounding me after the birth of my two boys, but really it was about the services and the support I needed.

As a biomedical engineer by training, I spent my entire career inventing medical devices for women's health. And then all of a sudden, I had my own babies and I felt like there were tons of resources and services that made the biggest difference for my postpartum mood, my sleep deprivation and breastfeeding journey. But I wasn't told about any of that by the medical community. The Flourish Fund is about prevention. We focus on helping moms in need by getting them the support they need for recovery, sleep deprivation, postpartum depression upfront like doulas, lactation counselors, yoga instructors and sleep consultants. By being proactive with registering for needed support services, instead of being reactive during a time of crisis we can prevent those issues from happening in the first place.

What was the first step that you took to get the Flourish Fund up and running?

We actually started out as a directory of services, focusing on the essential services needed by parents. We brought together doulas, physical therapists, sleep consultants and newborn care specialists, under one directory. Then we talked to many parents and learned 75 percent of new parents regretted the stuff they purchased before having the baby. They wished they had spent more time and money on their own health and wellness. When we heard that, we asked if they would put those services on their registry. Eighty percent of women answered the question with a resounding yes, but said it wasn't an option.

The other challenge moms mentioned was the funding for those services. They can be expensive. So, our goal was to pull together the two concerns. The first was bringing awareness to the services (which was the directory) and the second was finding a way for parents to fund those services. That's how the Flourish Fund was born. We wanted to make those support services accessible so all moms can take care of their health and wellness.

The platform is resonating with moms-to-be since they are starting registries; we're seeing more than 150 percent growth month-over-month on our website.

How does your registry support moms and dads as their needs change over time?

One really incredible thing we learned from our moms was they know they need certain things but don't know what those things are going to be until after baby comes. It's why all the funds are flexible. Here's how it works: When friends and family fulfill the registry request, the money goes into the expecting parents fund. Once the baby comes, the money in their fund can go towards any Flourish Fund support service. It's impossible to fully plan for what support you are going to need when the baby comes, but you are going to need support. And with the Flourish Fund, you now have the money available in your funds to go towards whatever support you need to flourish as a new parent.

Here's an example: Let's say you put a $100 gift card for a lactation counselor on someone's Flourish Fund. But then it turns out for whatever reason, they're not breastfeeding in the postpartum period, they can go and turn that into a postpartum massage instead. So it's completely flexible. So you go and you put these gift cards in for the things you think you will need, but just as motherhood constantly changes, it's like the only constant in motherhood, you have that flexibility to then use those funds within our vetted network across all various providers.

Education is another big part of the platform. Not everyone is talking about these issues or talking about what real motherhood can look like. We provide educational opportunities from the time you find out that you're pregnant — from that positive sign — through one year postpartum.

I know you still make it possible for people to register for the fancy crib and all of the toys and clothes. Tell me more about that.

There are certain things you're going to need, and we focus on what will promote health and wellness. It's why we've bundled together those essentials with services. One example is our Get Some Serious ZZZ's bundle, which is all about sleep. We have the Dohm sound machine, a pacifier and a gift card for a sleep consultation in there. So you can talk to the sleep consultant about, how do I set up my room for the best sleep? How do I use the sound machine? When should I be using the pacifier that's in there? And then there's a little sleep well kit in there for mom that has the sleep mask and aromatherapy so that the mom can get some much-needed sleep. Our value is, if mom is taken care of, baby and the whole family will be taken care of.

What's your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and new parents?

For any person starting a new business, the number one thing is to listen to your customers. We've talked to thousands of mothers about their biggest challenges, where the biggest problems were and how we could have the biggest impact on maternal health. We all see those Pinterest moms or Instagram, and are like, "Oh my God, we need to be them. We need to be out and running one week after birth; we need to get our bodies back."

But it's not about that. It's about flourishing as a family. And the only way to do that is by getting a village to support you. And it's a village of a lot of different specialists.

I also think when people offer to help, tell them exactly what kind of help you need. For example, ask them to bring you a meal. Or if you want to nap, ask them to come over and help you take care of the baby so you can nap for two hours. But be very, very specific. Otherwise, people will come over and they will just hold the baby, which may or may not be what you need.

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