It Takes a Village to Help a Mother

A hackathon inspired us to think about the broader experience and anxiety around motherhood, spurring the creation of Village, an app designed to help mothers feel a little less alone.

N o matter how much someone researches and prepares for motherhood, unforeseen challenges can arise. Every mother-to-be and new mother goes through an experience unique to her alone. In each phase of early motherhood, the stories they hear, the things they read or see, and the voices of the people around them affect their expectations of “normal” motherhood. When those expectations and personal realities misalign, feelings of failure can result. This mars confidence, making it difficult for mothers to stick to their plans.

Even the strongest individuals need a helping hand when the unexpected occurs. Not all mothers have support systems in place—no easy ways to find people who can aid them in their quest to keep their baby and themselves healthy, physically and mentally. Many find it difficult to reach out for the help they need, whether it’s due to a will to remain self-sustaining, a culturally imposed expectation, or the fear of being burdensome.

While studying the reproductive care journey at W+K Lodge and participating in the MIT Media Lab’s second Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon, we began to understand the importance of a present and accessible support system for new mothers, and we began to experiment with how to scale mothers’ access to resources and community. How can we connect mothers to those people in a way that makes them feel comfortable rather than burdensome? How can we further support mothers by connecting them to the resources and educational materials they need at each stage of their journey?

The idea we landed on was a web app called Village. Our aim was to help mothers find educational resources, healthcare resources, and local community resources to help support them—wherever they are in their motherhood journey. An additional goal was to connect a mother’s existing social support group to her journey so members of that group have more context about the challenges she faces at each step, and how they can better support her. By empowering both the mother and her immediate support group with targeted information—when they need it—we hoped to help mothers feel better prepared and supported.

To prepare for the hackathon, we interviewed six mothers in our network. These were women we knew personally or through mutual friends whose backgrounds ranged from lower-middle to upper-middle class. Two of the six mothers are lesbians and one of the six is a woman of color. These in-depth interviews were supported by an email survey sent to all women in the W+K Portland office, as well as their supporting partners.

Our interviews confirmed that gaps in new mothers’ knowledge were large—many mothers are focused on birth while pregnant, but not on the steps immediately following. For many interviewees, self-doubt was prevalent and led to confusion and guilt in early months; access to resources and information varied greatly across socioeconomic levels.

When living in an age of misinformation, many mothers were also unsure of which voices to listen to, or which sources were most valid. Within this murky sea of information and rapidly dissenting opinions, how can they find voices and resources worth trusting? Or information that is relevant to their unique journey? We made efforts to push ourselves toward accessibility and empowerment through education.

After our interviews, we developed a general idea of what we wanted to make: a platform focused on providing education and resources to all mothers, regardless of their personal and socioeconomic circumstances. The points we chose to address included:

  1. Unexpected challenges arise at every milestone of early motherhood, and all mothers’ journeys are different, so their expectations of what is “normal” and their own realities clash.
  2. It is difficult for mothers to advocate for themselves when they are in vulnerable situations, especially when they don’t know their rights (when they’re about to give birth, after they give birth, their rights to breastfeed and pump in public, their rights for breastfeeding and pumping at work, etc.).
  3. Biased opinions, social pressures, and healthcare professionals’ actions affect a mother’s decision-making when it comes to her own feeding and rearing plans.

Some important background: based on their learnings from the first Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon, MIT Media Lab took great efforts to make this version of the hackathon more inclusive. They invited community organizers, mothers, lactation specialists, and a varied ensemble of individuals to create a more diverse and collaborative environment. Instead of focusing on the breast pump itself, they broadened the lens to include different types of feeding and care in the overall process of early motherhood. In tandem with the hackathon, they also held the Make Family Leave Policy Not Suck Policy Summit to tackle policy issues. Both the hackathon and summit approached the issues from an equity standpoint.

All participants took time to understand the equityXdesign framework that the organizers presented, which was built into the programming of the hackathon. The framework is a “practice that merges the consciousness of racial equity work with the methodology of design thinking.” It was a much needed exercise which forced us to consider our own lenses—how our perception of others is affected by the privileges our backgrounds have afforded us. It also creates a more open forum for respectful dialogue by fostering understanding through inclusive community, and encouraging empathy. We took this framework back to Wieden+Kennedy in the hopes of improving our everyday work processes.

Once we had the idea for Village and the team was formed, we worked with our new members to find the most logical entry points for mothers to enter the experience. One of our teammates, a mother and manager of innovation & strategy at Deloitte, created a timeline that showed her emotional ups and downs and also plotted out the points where she had the most questions about her experience. This served as our initial map of the early motherhood journey. Our team then dispersed to ask other mothers about their doubts throughout their journeys. This feedback helped us create more structure for the timeline, defining which buckets of information were relevant for different milestones.

While we were starting to flesh out our tentative branding and prototypes, our teammate Jes brought up the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” Since our focus was on empowering mothers, we riffed on the proverb a bit: It takes a village to help a mother. The word “village” resonated with us since it reflected the supportive network we were trying to create for mothers. We executed a swift branding exercise, fleshed out a quick user journey, created a light InVision prototype, crafted illustrations, and designed a printed prototype of the Village Guide to tell the story of Village, and all in less than 24 hours.

The logotype we slapped together on Saturday night.

Village became a web app that covers the overall journey of motherhood—from pregnancy to three years postpartum, focusing on each unique stage as the mother experiences it. Since each phase comes with different sets of concerns and challenges, we wanted to create a tool that allows a mother to focus on topics of interest at specific points in her path. Based on the pain points we noted in our research, we focused on providing unbiased educational, healthcare, and local community resources.

Once a mother enters Village, it asks for her location and general background. Next, it asks her to choose where she is in her motherhood journey—whether that’s pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, birth, or postpartum (post-birth). Each area expands to reveal a more granular timeline so she can zero in on that moment. After that, she chooses the topics and resources that are of interest to her. It generates a few follow-up questions for each topic, which she can skip freely.

Once finished, Village delivers a bundle of curated educational materials, community resources, healthcare resources, and contacts based on her location and input. The guide can be accessed via their account on the web, as PDFs optimized for different screen sizes, as well as a printable PDFs, which are easy to fold and transport. Village continuously follows up with her when she reaches certain milestones in her journey, prompting her to engage with the site based on any new challenges she may be facing. This extended engagement provides her with relevant information across her journey whenever she needs it.

A quick InVision prototype we created at the hackathon.

We also included an opt-in social feature where mothers could enter their network of supportive helpers. Village sends the group an email digest of what the mother is going through at that stage of her journey, centered on what she needs help with and what she is comfortable sharing with others—suggesting ways to be a helpful advocate for her during that time. This helps reduce a mother’s feelings of being burdensome by letting her offload the responsibility to inform others of what she’s going through.

While a web app is easy to access for those with access to internet and data plans, some people cannot afford either. This made us consider how Village should take shape out in the world, and where it should be placed. We designed a kiosk that allows a tablet to pop into the top while being reinforced on the sides. The interior of the kiosk holds a printer, and printed pages exit from a slim slot in the front. Our goal is to make it accessible to women from all backgrounds—accessible from locations such as libraries, shelters, clinics, post offices, airports, and pharmacies.

To extend the accessibility of the site via this kiosk, we want to ensure that those with disabilities can easily use it. The ability to change the height and angle of the Village kiosks, as well as enabling audio support and brightness options, are integral to making it an inclusive and accessible experience. Other accessibility concerns include offering multiple language options to provide help to a broader audience, as well as supplementing the web app and the Village Guide with illustrations to keep it more approachable and digestible for those who may have trouble reading.

Village is the beginning of something we want to grow with the help of more mothers and experts within local communities. Starting in Portland, we’re interested in connecting with organizations nearby to prototype, test, and validate the app. If you are interested in helping us realize Village, or in partnering to create other tools for new mothers and families, please reach out to us at frontiers@wklodge.com.

Mothers have plenty of work on their hands as it is—they don’t need to wade through a sea of contradicting information, and they shouldn’t have to go it alone.

Illustrations by Meg Hunt.

In this Reproductive Care series of W+K Lodge Frontiers, our team of designers and engineers explores how brands can create better products and experiences for women, children, and their partners. Join us as we consider what it means to deliver not just utility but care along the reproductive journey. If you’re interested in collaborating on any projects or learning more about W+K Lodge, email us at frontiers@wklodge.com.