Simmone Taitt’s experience with pregnancy loss in 2016 was paired with callus and dismissive treatment that many BIPOC birthing people experience. Though the term didn’t exist at the time, she turned to what many Black women in America call self-advocacy. Turning grief into empowerment by committing to a doula practice for herself, Taitt founded Poppy Seed Health, a tech-based support system for people navigating the life cycle of birth experiences. Since first debuting on the App Store in April 2021, Poppy Seed Health has held over 50,000 hours of chats nationwide supporting people during pregnancy (pre and postpartum), miscarriage, and pregnancy loss. To meet demand since launching less than a year ago, Poppy Seed has grown its advocate network by 400 percent.
NA: What made you launch Poppy Seed Health?
Simmone Taitt: Let me take you back to 2016. I had my first of what would become multiple pregnancy losses on what is still a very complicated journey to parenthood. I was seeing one of the top OBGYNs in New York City and we couldn’t find a heartbeat. It was during my first trimester and I was devastated. Instead of getting the kind of care and comfort that I thought I should get from my provider, she looked at me and said my body had terminated the pregnancy. That hit me, emotionally. She said, “It’s normal – happens all the time. I’ll see you on your next visit.” And she left the room. I was not just emotionally devastated, but in a state of shock and denial.
On the way out, I asked the staff if there was anything that I needed and they said, no. So, I left that doctor’s appointment with no medical, mental, or emotional health support. I took to the internet, like most Americans who are looking for healthcare answers. I found exactly what I was looking for. There were two very simple things that weren’t offered to me: a blood test to show that my HCG levels were dropping and a sonogram to show that I could have healthy subsequent pregnancies. I picked up the phone and called my doctor’s office with my own care plan.
Instead of feeling relieved, I felt angry, frustrated, and confused, because I didn’t have the words then, but I have them now. I had just self-advocated but I didn’t think that I should have been in the position to have to do so. I had always been taught that the best health insurance gives you the best access to care but, at the same time, I also didn’t know the statistics as it related to women who look like me—Black and brown women who are deeply affected by racial bias. We were not getting the kind of care and attention in maternal health care that we deserve.
I actually spent the rest of that day on the Internet. By that evening, I stumbled onto a doula board and, at that point, I didn’t really even know what a doula was. Just reading through the threads, I felt seen. I felt heard. I didn’t feel so isolated and I started to feel better.
I made two decisions that night. The first was to become a doula myself, which I did and I am today. The second one was the idea for Poppy Seed health. I had spent 13 or 14 years in building early stage tech startups, so I knew the power of leveraging technology, specifically putting it in the hands of women-identifying people to make decisions about our lives and to have these one-on-one interactions to make decisions about our finances and our family’s health.
NA: What functionality does the app have?
ST: Our app connects pregnant and postpartum people, as well as those who have experienced loss, with doulas, midwives, and nurses.
And when we say 24/7, we don’t mean that you can reach out 24/7 and we’ll eventually get back to you. We mean on-demand chats. Publicly, we say within 90 seconds someone will pick up your chat. Our actual latency is nine and a half seconds. If you can imagine someone who needs emotional, mental health, and well-being support, they’re able to get to one of our advocates very quickly when they request the chat, which is all text-based.
NA: What are some surprising things you’ve learned from this process?
ST: There’s so much shame and stigma around the many things that occur in pregnancy, postpartum, and reproductive health journeys as the birthing person. But, it also affects our families, our partners, and our other children as a result.
We take a very bold stance in having one-on-one support because folks tell us things they would never say anywhere else, not even to their closest friends or family. Our loss support matches you immediately, so someone who is trained in holding space for loss and grief is available in those moments. We’ve tapped into expert anonymity, so you don’t have to look me in the eye to tell me some of these things that might feel embarrassing or shameful. But you know that you’re going to be seen and supported. We also give users some really practical tips and tricks to support themselves or to advocate.
NA: Why did you decide to launch with Apple first?
ST: We decided to exclusively launch with Apple for a couple of reasons. The first was the reach. With the global power of the App Store, anyone with a great idea and the ability to code can connect with over 600 million people each week. Before we actually decided to write one line of code, we spent nearly a year in beta. We wanted to get very close to all of our users to really understand behaviors and the need.
The majority of people who come to Poppy are pregnant, but in their first trimester and they’re actually less than 10 weeks pregnant. This is during the time where we’ve been culturally taught not to tell anyone about our pregnancies, but it’s actually the time that you need the most support, no matter what the outcome is. Being at the top of the funnel, it was very clear that the way for us to help was to build an app that wasn’t just aesthetically beautiful but also functional and easy to use. And so we decided to set up an app, we decided to go direct to consumer first, which has its own challenges. It’s expensive. It’s very much taking into account what each individual needs and then doing that at scale. So, we really wanted to be the most practical with how we used our first round of capital with all of our rich data and learnings.
We also very much share in the urgency with Apple to bring equity and accessibility to Black and brown developers, who are really one of the biggest communities innovating and building apps that invest in our own communities and in humanity right now.
NA: Who have been your biggest supporters, allies, and partners?
ST: Our first allies are the people using Poppy who are showing up for themselves. Our members are showing up for themselves every single day. We learn so much from them and that informs that roadmap. Secondly, our investors, because I’m very intentional about who is invited on this journey with us in this capacity. It was important that our investors and our operating teams truly mirror the people that we support every day. To that extent, my investors are 90% women identifying people, 50% BIPOC, and 30% queer. In terms of allyship for our investors, it’s not just about writing the check, but it truly is an investment in me as a founder and our operating team.
Speaking of the investment in policy to address these huge disparities in maternal healthcare, then our biggest allies would be our doulas, midwives, and nurses. So, there is a beautiful ecosystem of support. Poppy is just an extension of the love of the work they are already doing. We create the technology for them to show up and to support people. We are leveraging the power of technology to support accessibility and community.
NA: What upgrades are you planning for in the next phase of the app?
ST: We have a very interesting sight line as it relates when people decide to start trying to conceive again. That’s a very interesting continuum for us. Many times, there’s not this kind of “closing the loop” feeling.
Our matching algorithms are incredible. If you’re pregnant and you requested a chat, then we know that you’re pregnant because you told us. So you won’t, for example, be connected with a lactation consultant at that moment. But when we look at some of these additional features, we’re thinking about whether your baby is in the NICU right now. That’s a very different kind of support that you need than you thought that you would have needed. For us to stay agile in product development and releases, we’re very lucky that we’re getting real time data from folks because they’re repetitively coming back to us. There are certain features that we are building that are much more granular than people think.