Functional medicine doctor, Founder & CEO of Parsley Health, Robin, is a total powerhouse and at the tail end of her second pregnancy.
Here, this inspiring mama (to say the least) sounds off about the top foods, supplements, and lifestyle practices she’s leaned on to keep her feeling good through all nine (ok, ten!) months of pregnancy.
Plus, her hilarious pregnancy-test story, plans for maternity leave (can we say startup + toddler + newborn, oh my!), the truth about infertility, and why she feels motherhood is not an either-or situation.
Current state of mind?
Feeling good. Cannot complain! I’ve been running around like a crazy person, per usual. I’m definitely ready to rock & roll but also need every last second I can get to second to prepare my work life before the baby comes.
Girl or boy?
Girl. Which will be a nice balance with our two-year-old boy. After this, I think we’re done having babies — although my husband just gave me the side-eye for saying that. He likes the idea of having more, in the abstract sense. I’m not sure I could handle a third pregnancy though.
How has pregnancy been?
Fortunately, both of my pregnancies have been relatively easy. I never got sick, and there haven’t been any complications, so far. I know that for many women, it can be tough, so I am very grateful for this.
Path to pregnancy?
While I was never one of those women that got it on the first try, it also didn’t take very long. The first time I was 34 and wanted to be pregnant before I turned 35 — we made it just in time. With the second, I was 37 and figured it would be more challenging given my age. I wasn’t stressed about getting pregnant but nonetheless, since I’m looped in with some of the best fertility doctors, I reached out to a buddy of mine from Columbia Med School to explore my options. I was curious about potentially taking Clomid or doing IUI if we needed to jump-start the engines.
Meanwhile, I ran all of my tests and took the results to him. As we read through my stats, he audibly cringed at the labs; the numbers weren’t good, aside from my progesterone level, which was VERY high! Upon reading it, he gaped and suggested I might actually be pregnant — either that or I had a cyst. I told him both were impossible. I just had my period, but it was a weird period and only lasted a day. And, I definitely didn’t have a cyst. He explained that the “period” may have been implantation bleeding. I took a test and guess what?! Positive. I still can’t believe I was calling my fertility friend trying to sort out how to get pregnant when all the while, I was pregnant!
Are you taking maternity leave?
I’ll be honest, it’s tricky. I certainly don’t have a typical job, and it’s not as if I can check out for three months. That said, I’m trying to balance taking some time off to bond with my baby while also being reasonably available for my team. Ideally, I’d like to be present for the most critical things and ease back into work. We’re lucky to live in an era of Zoom conference so I can chime in remotely. The ability to do this alleviates some of the pressure of being in the office and allows me to reacclimate gradually.
When I had my son in 2017, we were in thick of it. I was in the middle of raising a round of funding and trying to close before I delivered. Ultimately, I had to pause, have the baby and go right back to raising. That was not fun and very scary, actually. It turned out fine, better than fine, in fact, but it was nerve-racking at the time. I had never raised money in that way before, and so it was all new to me; raising and momming. After my son was born, we closed the round in the Spring. In hindsight this was the best thing that could have happened as I ended up with a set of investors that I met after he was born. Had the timing not happened the way that it did, I would not have met them, and they ended up being extremely helpful. Although, at that moment, I felt like I was sliding down the wall with my fingernails.
Plus, the company was a lot smaller — we were about 15 people. When I think about it compared to now, I was doing everything from seeing patients, to making all the decisions — there weren’t any senior leaders outside of myself. Now, we’re in a different place. We have a big team, including incredible executives, and I feel much more supported. That’s not to say it won’t be challenging, but certainly feels more manageable. Nonetheless, I hopefully have an opportunity to change things for women by showing you can do all of these things. Becoming a mom or having a family is not an either-or situation. It’s possible to have a career and be a mother.
Any wellness tips?
First and foremost, I’ve tried to stay super active to maintain muscle mass and insulin sensitivity because gestational diabetes is real. The reality is, we live very sedentary lives, and there’s a risk of becoming less insulin sensitive when we’re pregnant. Women are surprised when they’re fairly healthy with no history of diabetes, and they get it. In an effort to avoid this, I’ve kept to things like light yoga, weights, and resistance bands.
Secondly, I can’t stress enough the importance of good food. I always tell my patients (and myself), to keep eating like your healthy self — lots of clean fats, high-quality wild-caught fish, (avoid the high mercury fish), and take an omega supplement. Our prenatal includes one, but if yours doesn’t, then add that to your routine. Omega 3s are the building blocks of a baby’s brain, and they are essential for your milk supply. Also, load up on fiber, and lots of greens, but don’t overeat!
A lot of women get the message that they’re pregnant and should eat for two! Historically women were active nomadic hunters & gathers — they weren’t sitting at a desk all day hunched over and eating. The truth is you don’t need any extra calories in the first trimester, and for the second and third, it’s only an additional 200 extra calories, which is the equivalent to a handful of nuts. I always tell our members to eat healthily and regularly. Now is not the time to intermittent fast, especially when you are trying to get pregnant or you are pregnant but at the same time don’t go crazy eating.
How did you decide to launch Parsley?
Everything laddered up and led me to where I am now. During medical school, I co-founded Mother Healthcare Company, which gave me some experience with startups and how technology was changing healthcare. Plus, I’ve always been passionate about primary care, chronic disease, and integrative medicine.
In 2015, it came time to make a decision around the direction of my career and I decided to go out on my own. I started what I would now consider the beta program of Parsley. I was keen on testing my idea at a micro level to gather some proof points. While I always had the intention to build something massive, I bootstrapped it initially to solidify the concept. I had seen startup life a little bit and felt it was essential to operate at the pilot-scale before going bigger. It also gave me real data to support my concept and see actual patients in that format. In 2016 we officially formed the company.
What are some issues you often see related to fertility?
While fertility is not the focus of Parsley, it’s all related. Many of the problems we see with infertility are underlying blood sugar issues. When people overeat refined sugar, flour and processed foods it can lead to unhealthy and irregular menstrual cycles, PCOS, and metabolic hormonal disarray. In short, people are eating way too many carbs and having too much sugar. While that can work for some, it doesn’t work for most. When that gets cleaned up, the hormones tend to fix themselves.
For hormone health, same as with pregnancy, it’s essential to have lots of good healthy fats, tons of organic veggies that balance your blood sugar, and give your body lots of phytonutrients to help manage stress. A lot of the metabolism issues that create hormonal imbalances are caused by chronic overstimulation of life, work, and exercise, that perfectly come together in a stress picture and drive irregular cycles or missing periods. Sometimes women need to manage where their head’s at above anything else. Ultimately, your period is a vital sign.
Lastly, many women are on the pill for a long time, and that might be OK, but it can cover up your period symptoms and hormones, making it difficult to know what they’re dealing with in advance. We hear a lot that women think if they go off the pill, they will get pregnant, but that’s not always the case.
If you know you want to have a family and that’s important to you, get going. After having my son it dawned on me how mistaken I was in thinking that having a child meant I would have to trade success for motherhood. It was a very narrow way of seeing myself. I didn’t fully realize that my capacity for creation was greater and more magnificent than both of these things; becoming a mother is an AND not an OR. That said, I could not have known this until I lived it.