Why Rory. Why menopause. Why us. Why now.

Today, is a special day for the Ro team. It’s the launch of our third vertical, Rory. Rory is the first end-to-end service for women in perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.

There are approximately 43M women in the U.S. of menopausal age. Almost all women will experience at least one symptom of menopause, if not many. These can include low libido, mood changes, weight gain, chills, hair loss, dry skin, insomnia, vaginal dryness and hot flashes. And while over 75% of women experience symptoms, nearly 55% of women are untreated.

With the launch of Rory, Ro expands into women’s health, helping an incredibly underserved segment of women. Below, Rory’s leaders and advisors share why Rory, why midlife, why now.

Why Rory. From Rachel Blank, Rory cofounder

Rory cofounder, Rachel Blank

Women’s health has been a part of my DNA since before I was born. Quite literally, I was born because of it — my dad treated my aunt while she was pregnant, and in return, she gave my mom’s number to “the nice OB-GYN she met.” As a kid, there was nothing more exciting than having “sleepovers” with my dad at the hospital. We would have dinner in the hospital cafeteria, look at the babies in the nursery, and I would get to sleep in the on-call room.

As a child, I heard the word vagina constantly and thought nothing of it. As my dad says, “it’s just a body part.” But around middle school, I started to cringe every time my dad said the dreaded v word. I even grew embarrassed about the very fact that my dad was an OB-GYN, choosing to tell my friends instead that he was just a “doctor.” At some point, I started to learn from society that women’s bodies, and all their natural processes, aren’t meant to be discussed.

But then I experienced first hand the price women pay when they feel the need to be silent about their bodies. When I was 22, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal condition. Even though I had been experiencing symptoms for years, like inexplicable missing periods, my diagnosis only came accidentally while I was seeking treatment for an unrelated issue. I still remember lying on the exam table, watching the sonographer point out the cysts on my ovaries that “looked like pearls.” Laying there, I felt alone, confused, and scared. I went into the office with a stomach ache, and walked out wondering if I would ever be able to have children. (The answer I later found: most likely yes).

I feel incredibly lucky that once I did receive a diagnosis, I had my father to guide me through the healthcare system when I was the most scared and confused. At this moment, I stopped feeling embarrassed about my dad’s job, and started feeling grateful that I had someone trusted to talk to me about society’s “taboo” topics.

What I’ve found is that many women only get the first half of my experience — the confusion and fear — because they don’t have a guide in the healthcare system like I did. From painful periods to menopausal symptoms, natural biological experiences are shrouded in mystery. Women are not getting the help they need. They don’t feel comfortable asking questions about their own bodies, and when they do, they often don’t feel heard.

That’s not ok with us. And when we started looking at how we could help change the healthcare experience for women, we realized the unique challenges associated with perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause. Every woman will face this, and yet most of us are completely unprepared for it.

Studies show many doctors wait for a woman to bring up menopause symptoms like vaginal dryness instead of asking her directly about it. Why do we put the burden on women to advocate for themselves when we haven’t even given them the tools or education they need? Unlike the billions of advertising dollars behind drugs like Viagra and Cialis, treatments for women’s health concerns aren’t mainstream. As a result, women may not even have the language to use to voice their concerns to their physicians.

Menopause is a natural part of life, but that doesn’t mean we should have to suffer through it. Women shouldn’t have to be in pain when they have sex because their vagina is dry, they shouldn’t have to be exhausted every day because they can’t sleep through the night, and they shouldn’t have to have a big presentation at work disrupted by an embarrassing and unforeseen hot flash.

And more than any of this, they shouldn’t have to feel alone, isolated, and embarrassed when they experience these incredibly common symptoms. At Ro, we believe that everyone’s concerns about their health are valid, and everyone deserves equal access to the treatment that allows them to live their best, healthiest and fullest lives. This is why we we built Rory. Rory was built by a talented, powerful, group of women at Ro who led everything from product management to copywriting. We used our experiences, and the experiences of the women in our lives, to design the healthcare partner women need.

Rory provides solutions for women going through the natural changes of midlife. But we hope to do more than that; we hope to give women a voice. Rory was created to open up a dialogue, and to give all women the education, tools, and support they need to be their own advocates in the healthcare system.

Why now. From Zachariah Reitano, Ro + Rory cofounder

Zachariah Reitano, Ro + Rory cofounder

I can’t tell you I know the first thing about how it feels to experience menopause. I don’t. As many of you know, Ro’s first vertical was Roman, an end-to-end service for men’s health based on my personal experience with erectile dysfunction. We launched with a single condition out of capacity, not out of a lack of desire to build something larger.

The inspiration for Ro was not men’s health or women’s health. It was simply health.

The mission of personalized care for everyone is very personal for me. Each person in my family has a life threatening illness. I’ve experienced the healthcare system as a patient, as a son, and as a brother. My father has had three heart attacks and a stroke, my mother has a neurological disease, I have a congenital heart condition, and my sister has had ovarian cancer twice, a brain tumor, and an autoimmune disease.

But my story is not unique. We’ve all experienced hardship related to our own or a loved one’s health. Ro’s team is filled with people who joined because they too have felt lost, scared, and had nowhere to turn.

These experiences are the Ro team’s fuel. They give us the strength and energy to work as hard as possible every single day to build Ro.

We set out to build the most accessible healthcare platform in the country. A place where someone could get high quality care wherever and whenever they needed it. A place that personalized a patient’s care according to their unique goals. A place for healthcare they could afford.

Rory is the next step towards bringing this vision into reality.

The playing field for men and women in technology isn’t level yet. Women don’t receive the same amount of funding as men. Women’s health companies don’t receive the same amount of attention as Roman. Startups like Dame and Unbound can’t advertise on the same platforms or use the same accounting software because women’s pleasure isn’t valued equally to men’s pleasure.

It’s unfair and the result of deep-rooted sexism. I haven’t experienced it and, in complete honesty, I do not truly understand what it feels like. I can’t.

I don’t know what it’s like to experience all of those things and be a woman in today’s society.

But I do understand what it’s like to be a patient, to be scared, embarrassed, or lost. I’ve dropped dead in a doctor’s office and had a heart procedure 3 days later. I know what it feels like to need access to the healthcare system.

I promise that we will listen before we act. I promise we will take feedback earnestly. Above all, I promise we will work relentlessly to fight for women’s access to affordable and high quality healthcare.

Why us. From Dr. Melynda Barnes, MD, Rory Clinical Director

Dr Melynda Barnes, MD, Rory Clinical Director

I’m board-certified in both Otolaryngology and Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery — any connection to menopause is not obvious, I know that. But as a practicing Facial Plastic Surgeon, the majority of my aesthetic patients were women between the ages of 35–65. Many of the issues I treated them for were related to perimenopause: hormonal acne, thinning hair, dry skin, facial wrinkles. As I connected with these women, it was clear these symptoms were just the tip of the iceberg.

My commitment to women’s health advocacy stems from my experience working with women and listening to them talk about their unmet needs in the traditional healthcare setting. It was my interest in women’s health advocacy as well as healthcare innovation that led me to Ro and to Rory.

We have a saying in medicine called “load the boat” which means that physicians and healthcare providers are better, stronger and more knowledgeable when they work together. While I may not have direct experience in treating women for gynecological symptoms of menopause, what I do have is the access and expertise to bring together the best providers and create a high-quality, safe framework for them to work in.

I load the boat with the best experts in women’s health — OB/GYNS, internists, family medicine practitioners — so that we can provide the healthcare experience that our members want and deserve. As Rory’s Clinical Director my job is to provide the medical voice and perspective for Rory’s corporate practices and enable Rory-affiliated physicians to focus on providing safe and quality medical care. By focusing on quality, safety, medical accuracy and member-physician relations, I help lead the Rory team to partner with women in midlife to live a better life on their terms.

Why menopause. From Dr. Pepper Schwartz, PhD, Rory Medical Advisor

Dr. Pepper Schwartz, PhD, Rory Medical Advisor

Like all women my age, I have gone through many of these symptoms myself, and observed them in my friends and colleagues and I know that while some women have modest discomforts, other women may be having a dramatically rough time.

Because I am a sexologist, I knew what to expect and some of the remedies for these changes, but I have been surprised and dismayed how many women do not know about even simple remedies, such as additional artificial lubrication. But even though my own physical changes were relatively mild, I can certainly remember being bathed in sweat in a movie theater and hoping that no one thought I was dying of some tropical disease.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I think traditional medicine has, for the most part, failed women who are starting perimenopause or are in menopause. Women do not know how young this change can begin, are not prepared for interpreting symptoms, and the severity of the symptoms are not discussed beforehand. Many doctors do not ask about perimenopausal symptoms or when they do, minimize them or their consequences in a woman’s life (and, her partner’s life). Even if they do ask about her discomfort, they rarely ask, unprompted, about her sex life. Most, if they offer anything, will offer a sleep aid or mention additional estrogen, but the amount of time spent on any of these issues if they are even broached, is minimal.

It seems to me that once a woman no longer has reproductive capacity, the health of her sexual organs is simply ignored. My own feeling is that, like puberty, this is a period of enormous change for women and it needs just as much explanation of what to expect, what options are available, and how long it might go on.

There is a great need for Rory and I think they are going to help a lot of women get the care they need.

To learn more Rory and the treatments and options we offer for women in midlife, please visit: www.hellorory.com