We had the good fortune of connecting with Danielle Merlino and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Danielle, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I have been working with startups in various industries for my entire career. I have always loved the idea of building something and being a part of the roots of a business – it’s a creative process. Working alongside small business owners has always been exhilarating, terrifying, time consuming, risky and a little soul crushing at times so, I know better! But I still wanted to try it myself. When I got pregnant for the first time I had some thought that I might be inspired to create some kind of product or service in the parenthood space, but I thought it would be something like a lactation cookie or a swaddle blanket.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Since the birth of my first child, I’ve talked to a lot of people about their experiences with pregnancy, birth and postpartum. I haven’t been able to shake the sense of responsibility for wanting the future generations’ experiences to be better. The US maternal mortality rate is the worst among “developed” countries, with more than half of those deaths happening after birth. With no guaranteed parental leave and a single health check at six weeks for most people, this is unfortunately unsurprising. For Black birthing people, maternal death is three times as likely as for white folks. For me, my first postpartum experience was a pretty big shock, at first. I found breastfeeding especially overwhelming. Thankfully I had a friend who had had a baby 10 months earlier, so I knew that lactation consultants existed. I also gave birth at St. Joseph Hospital, which has a strong lactation clinic, so I felt like I had lifelines to call out to. But it occurred to me that these “extra” services like lactation support aren’t always in reach for everyone. Sometimes that is a financial thing, but part of it is societal. As a middle-class, white, cisgender woman, it was socially acceptable (and encouraged!) for me to lean on these types of resources for help. That’s not the case with everyone who gives birth or wants to nurse a baby.
I had a friend who couldn’t find a pelvic floor physical therapist who takes Medicaid, after experiencing a lot of pain after the birth of her son. But she also couldn’t pay a provider out of pocket without losing her Medicaid, so she suffered for months before she finally found someone.
I know women who have struggled with prenatal or postpartum depression for months because the only mental health screening they’ve received is a form they’re given at the doctor’s office – it’s not standard for a real-life medical provider to ask much about mental health.
These were all the thoughts spinning in my head while I was on maternity leave with my second child in early 2020. I had a business plan and was prepared to launch as a side-hustle in March 2020, so you can guess how that went! It took almost a year before I had the financial stability and childcare structure to be able to put some time and attention on building Lantana Collective.
Lantana is the resource I wish I’d had in postpartum. Through virtual wellness coaching, social media and a text message-based wellness check (launching soon) we offer customized, evidence-based resources to help people thrive in the postpartum period. That might include referrals to different professionals in health and wellness, evidence-based reading materials, apps, groups, classes and more. There will also be low-cost offerings for those who need them.
Because first-time pregnant folks don’t know what they don’t know, friends and family members can also purchase gift sessions.
There are a lot of “prepping for postpartum” courses on the internet, and I think those can be really useful, too. But what I most needed was a real human being to talk to about the massive physical, hormonal and emotional changes and challenges that were happening. And not just a human being who had their own experiences, but ideally someone who knew of resources and tips that were evidence-based. Right now we release postpartum people out into the world with no guidance and very little follow-up care, so they spend a lot of time asking friends or searching the internet. Why make every new parent re-invent the wheel?
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I have two young children so my free time mostly revolves around kids! We live very close to what is, in my personal opinion, the best coffee shop in Denver, Wash Perk. I almost always start my day with one of their coffees and a gluten-free scone. From there, we’d either walk to Wash Park and take a stroll around the lake, or hop in the car and hit the Denver Botanic Gardens. “The Garden” as my four year old calls it, was one of our main quarantine activities. It’s beautiful and peaceful, there is always a new area or feature to discover, a big hill to sit on and for kids to roll on, And there’s a coffee shop! Are you seeing a theme here? For lunch and dinner, some of our favorites are Dio Mio for pasta, Uncle for ramen, Tavernetta for upscale Italian (there’s a theme here too, hello carbs!).
Red Rocks, either for a daytime hike or a nighttime show, is usually a destination when we have guests. It’s great for giving people a little taste of the mountains without dragging them up a 14er and giving them altitude sickness.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The industry I’ve been working in the last seven years is consumer packaged goods (CPG), specifically natural and better-for-you products. Two of my friends and mentors in CPG and life are Mandy Touchet and Katie Journeay, currently in sales for a brand called Richard’s Rainwater. We’ve worked together on a number of up-and-coming brands over the last three years, and it has been hugely transformative to the way I communicate. One of my personal core values is integrity, but in past work experiences I sometimes found that telling the truth wasn’t always well received. Or on the flip side, I would avoid talking about the elephant in the room because I knew it would be awkward. Katie and Mandy have always done an excellent job bringing uncomfortable but important truths into conversations and relationships. Working alongside them for years has given me the ability to better confront situations where something needs to be said, when there will be feeling and internal politics that get in the way. It’s a skill that transcends industries.
Alex Priebe Photography on the first two, Rouxby Photo on the last