LMany others This founder story starts with a problem. This story is different from others because it involves a pregnancy check and a meticulously curated spreadsheet.
When Kate Casey, now 37, learnt she was pregnant the first time – “As soon as I’d peed on a stick”, she recalls – she hit the baby stores with a mix of excitement and trepidation. But instead of the fun experience she had hoped for when shopping for the biggest event in her life, she left feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, “like they were forcing everything on me”.
Casey was a former beauty buyer for David Jones, Mecca and Mecca. She turned to a friend who is a lawyer. Together they created a list of essential baby items that she had compiled after her personal experience. It was created on an Excel spreadsheet with categories for feeding, nursery, and so on.
Casey returned to work after the birth of Matilda (6 years old), in 2007. She was pregnant again with Jack, now 4 years old, when Casey had her lightbulb moment.
“I felt like I was being spoken down to … [as if shop staff think], ‘You’re pregnant, here’s some plastic crap,’” she says. “I thought, ‘Why isn’t there something like Mecca, for babies?’ ”
Many women have their own version of Casey’s story. In my case, becoming a first-time mother at 41 (during a pandemic, no less) meant a lot of my friend’s children were grown up, and the collective knowledge around childhood – not to mention the research about issues such as safe sleeping – had moved on. “Oh, it was much simpler in my day,” was a common refrain from women in my life who had given birth 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
The ongoing debate about whether or not child-rearing has become more complex is ongoing. Pew Research Centre, a US-based organization, conducted a 2020 survey and found that two-thirds said parenting is more complicated today than it was twenty years ago. However, parents have a lot of modern conveniences today that make parenting much easier.
Casey realized that 10,000 baby products were available, but many were too hyped to be useful to parents, who were often at their most vulnerable. She reached out in 2019 to Phoebe Simmonds who was a beauty industry veteran and had just launched The Blow, her own blow-dry bars.
Casey pitched to Simmonds the idea for a one-stop online destination for modern (read: Pilates-going, Net-a-Porter-shopping) parents they’d eventually call The Memo. The name is an ode to that humble spreadsheet: each time someone announced they were expecting, someone else would say, “I’ll send you the memo.”
They launched The Memo in October using their savings. It has 400 products and focuses on the blind spots of big-box stores like postnatal care. Its first physical store was opened in September in Armadale in suburb Melbourne.
At the time of the online launch, Simmonds, now 35, was single and didn’t have children, but says this gave the pair an unexpected edge when it came to tackling some of the biggest shortcomings in the parenting sphere.
“The message out there is that there’s one way to parent, and we felt there was an opportunity to completely break that down,” Simmonds says. “We’re all coming to parenthood from completely different values and beliefs. There’s no clear directive and it’s incredibly confusing if one place is telling you one thing and one sleep consultant is telling you another. It can freak you out.”
A recent study in Australia examined 600 images on Instagram with the hashtag #postpartumbody to see if there’s any doubt. The study found that only 20% of the 20 participants had stretch marks, cellulite, or scars.
Monash University’s Dr Heidi Bergmeier, who contributed to the research, says many of the images “don’t seem representative of real life” for the average woman recovering from pregnancy, and could expose them to “feelings of inadequacy and body dissatisfaction” if they sought to compare themselves to the social media ideal.
The same time, one-in-six Australian women suffers from postnatal depression. In fact, calls to PANDA’s perinatal advice and support services have skyrocketed in the past year.
Things are changing. Ashley Graham, supermodel and Instagram user 19,3 million followers, shared a photo showing her stomach nine months after giving life to twins. Her skin was uneven and her pants’ waistband showed stretch marks.
“The message out there is that there’s one way to parent, and we felt there was an opportunity to completely break that down.”
Phoebe Simmonds – The Memo
It followed a video she posted in June, which Graham dedicated to mothers who “haven’t and may never ‘bounce back’ and for anyone who needs to be reminded that your body is beautiful in its realest form”.
Bounce-back culture, sleep, feeding, childcare, screen time … the list of issues modern parents must navigate – sometimes in one afternoon – is mind-boggling. And that’s before new parents enter the maelstrom of the multibillion-dollar baby industry, which Casey and Simmonds assert has been set up for parents, especially mothers, to fail.
Both are determined and willing to address any issues that new parents face, even those that may seem delicate. “We’re never going to tell you what we think you should do,” says Simmonds. “We will give you recommendations, suggestions and guidance. The rest is up to you, and we’ll support you to do it your way.”
Recalling her first postpartum experience, Casey’s grateful the conversation around motherhood, and the products available to help women, have progressed. “When my daughter was born, the Haakaa silicone breast pump [a cult-status milk catcher from New Zealand] didn’t exist,” she says. “I was strapped to a pump with that terrible noise.”
Casey says it’s hard to believe that it was only six years ago that women experiencing breast engorgement, or pain after a vaginal birth, were using cabbage leaves and frozen, water-filled condoms as there was nothing better available. She’s pleased to see brands developing more luxury postpartum-care products.
“People tended not to talk about [postpartum] as much … it was a word that was hardly used back then,” Casey says. “Or haemorrhoids; they just weren’t talked about. Or that it was okay to go home from the hospital and ask people to not come over.” Forget society’s expectation that you would make 45 cups of tea for visitors after just two hours’ sleep. Ask for help straight away. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Simmonds was six months pregnant last year with Remy. Shaun is her partner and has a son Tyler, five years old. Tyler shares a father, Sam, who passed away suddenly when Tyler was just a baby. Rather than project the #girlboss image of pregnancy – that is, acting like you’re not pregnant at all – Simmonds went in warts and all, even when she was diagnosed with cervical insufficiency, a condition in which the cervix opens too early in the pregnancy and is associated with a high risk of pre-term birth.
“I didn’t think anyone would be interested,” she says about vlogging her ordeal while she was on months of bed rest. “Turns out, they were. Our community is just so keen to connect and to feel that they’re not alone.”
Another positive shift in recent times is the normalising of giving gifts once viewed as taboo – perineal wash bottle, anyone? “When my friends had a baby, I would bring them a teddy bear, and now I know better,” Simmonds says.
“They want some chicken soup, someone to empty the dishwasher, or someone to hold the baby so they can wash their hair in peace.”
Simmonds hopes the wider baby industry will listen to Simmonds’ honest talk about parenting.
“People tended not to talk about [postpartum] as much…. Or that it was okay to go home from the hospital and ask people to not come over.”
Kate Casey, The Memo
“Women have been screaming out for understanding and support for centuries,” she says. “So why aren’t brands listening? Why, in a category that’s all about a mother and her own experience, are we only just now investing in products like … portable pumps so I can go to work or the footy and continue to live my life and feed my baby. People are saying it’s a miracle but it should have happened 30 years ago.”
Since having Remy, Simmonds has shared images of her pumping and plenty of stories that once would have been considered NSFW (not suitable for work) but are now a normal part of the parenting conversation – just like Rihanna showing off her baby belly, or beauty influencer Heidi Moustafa sharing her battles with postnatal depression with her nearly 400,000 YouTube followers.
“I went for a run at 12 weeks and it was not pretty – I literally had wee in my sock,” Simmonds says. “So people need to understand their limitations and not push themselves. As babies are unique, so are parents and bodies.
“That’s the crux. We want our community to feel we are there for them … You can do anything but you can’t do everything. I think that’s really important to share.”
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