Artemis Period Tracker wants to help you communicate the pain
Enter Tabitha Holbért, a tech entrepreneur who learned to code herself after a car crash derailed her acting career. She first founded and sold YOGO, a booking application for private yoga sessions, before turning his attention to the technological space of menstrual health. His most recent company is Artemis, which was launched in the fall with a free period tracker app aimed at helping people better understand their experiences throughout the menstrual cycle and communicate them with their health care providers. A patented portable device to reduce period pain will hopefully follow in 2021, and Holbért plans to grow the business from there to meet the needs of his community.
“I think black women, in particular, need to know their bodies,” Holbért told Well + Good. “I could tell you stories of terrible things that I have seen in my life happen to black women.” She cites the experience of her sister, who was denied treatment for her uterine fibroids for over a year while in prison, until she needed surgery to emergency to treat fibroids the size of a soccer ball. At this point, she had to remove her entire uterus, which Holbért said could have been avoided had she received care much earlier. This experience and others inspired her to try to find a way to empower people with uteri about their menstrual and reproductive health – and that’s how Artemis was born.
Well + Good recently spoke to Holbért about her new business, her plans for the future and why it is so important for black women in particular to take charge of their health.
Bien + Bien: What attracted you to the women’s health technology space?
Tabitha Holbert: I remember getting chronic yeast infections when I was little, and I had no idea what they were or why I got them. There are so many things a woman needs to follow besides fertility and infertility. Nobody says things to women [about their bodies], and that kind of ignorance stays with women from infancy to femininity. I don’t think women know the four stages of their periodI don’t think women know that tracking their stress or anxieties, chronic pelvic pain, or yeast can help them start to see correlations.
And then I would sit and think about how we can make a Tesla, but women still have to suffer from period cramps … There are so many issues waiting to be resolved. And how do you solve a problem? Bite by bite. Artemis is a company focused on advancing the lives of women through technology. So I thought we were going to start from the beginning with the app. But an app isn’t a big step forward, especially if you have to pay for it. Ours is free forever because I don’t believe a woman should have to pay to learn more about her body.
Let’s start with the app, then. How is it different from other rule tracking apps on the market?
E: It starts like any other period tracker, where you enter the date of your last period – and your cycle length if you know it – and the app starts learning your cycle from there. Then, on a given day, you can grasp your symptoms, but with nuance. We try to help women create language around their symptoms. We don’t have emoticons for this reason.
So let’s say you are in pain, what level is it? Are you bedridden? Can you stand up? From those extremes on the other end of the spectrum, having no cramps. (By the way, one of our male investors told me that “bed bound” was “extreme” and I had to educate him that there are women who are absolutely bedridden by menstrual pain.) Emojis [used by other period-tracking apps] did not work for me to express these distinctions. I can’t go to the doctor and say, “I was three lightning bolts and a tear.”
But if a woman goes to the doctor and can say, “I have burning pain during sex,” and then the doctor can ask if it burns when her partner comes in and if she says yes, then [they] can diagnose him with pelvic pain disorder, then you go somewhere. If women don’t have the language, how are they supposed to communicate? I must have seen so many doctors about the pain I was experiencing before I was finally heard. What about women who aren’t so radical, who aren’t so fiery? Who do we tell to calm his pain? They need a voice, they need a language. And Artemis relies on data so they can say, “I suffered,” and then show them the data about that pain.
Again, it’s also free forever which sets it apart from the rest. Also, a lot of these businesses are male-run, and a lot of them focus on fertility, revolving around when you can and can’t get pregnant. But women are multi-faceted and there are other things they want to follow. And I want to build it with my users. If there are other things that they tell us they want to follow, we will help them follow them.
And speaking of pain, tell me about the next cramp relief device.
E: I was hit by a car and ended up in the hospital for a long time, in great pain. So I’m just a little obsessed with the pain. So like I said, I thought it was crazy that we didn’t find a solution to the pain of period cramps.
I’ve been working on this product since before we started designing the app, and it now has 11 provisional patents. It’s a 7.3-millimeter device, so it’s thinner than an iPhone. Basically it uses door control theory to relieve pain. [Editor’s note: Gate control theory is the idea that non-painful stimuli can stop pain inputs from reaching the central nervous system—explaining, for example, why rubbing your knee after hitting it on something can make it feel better.] The technology is multifaceted, but the main feature is vibration, which distracts your brain from pain.
There are three presets. One is random vibes – I like doing this one when I’m training because it amplifies me. Then there’s a wave setting, which is basically like kneading one of those massage chairs. And then the third setting is just deep [vibrations]; it’s intense and stays at a level. I like this one when I’m working because it’s less distracting. The device can be used either for your uterus or for your lower back – it is one of our provisional patents, that it can be used in both places. And you can stick it to the skin – we’ve worked really hard to get the right adhesive – or we have period panties with a little pocket that you can drop them in.
Because I’m a gym rat, in fact a lot of our testers were from my gym. But we had a diverse sample. I gave one to an MTA employee. I gave one to my friend in Texas who has seven children. I wanted to make sure they worked for all the women, and I wanted them to get slapped to see if they would break. They are expected to launch in fall 2021.
What else do you have planned for Artemis at this point?
E: We’re working on a warming device for menstrual cramps, so this will be one of the next products, but we won’t launch it until we get it 100% tuned. And we are also preparing for a Pap test at home. From there, we really want women to build Artemis with us. We want to know what they want and create it for them. But the app will always be free. Even if you are able to check how your baby is developing during pregnancy – if women want something like that, for example – it will still be free because you should have access to your own information.
Do you feel a special responsibility or call to help black women, since they have been notoriously neglected and abused in the area of menstrual and reproductive health?
E: This world is hard for black women. We are resilient, but we need to take charge of our health because no one will do it for us. There are medical inequalities in this country that the pandemic has shown us – there is a gaping hole where Blacks and people of color fall and die. Black women must therefore be vigilant. And these inequalities and prejudices are why things like free period tracking and home Pap smears really matter to us, so black women can take better care of themselves. I do things with the intention of improving the lives and health of all women.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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