Every aspect of motherhood is a joy that needs to be celebrated, but the experience can be overwhelming for some mums who may not have a support group or a helping hand when they experience a parenting issue that leaves them overwhelmed. Finding someone who experienced the same problem or seeking advice from a mother who has navigated a similar route earlier can be a Godsend particularly for first-time mothers.
"As a mum, especially a first-time mother, sometimes you just need to have a non-judgmental chat with other mums to understand the struggles of being a parent," says Tasneem Daud, who realised how tough it was finding a support group when she moved to Dubai in 2019 with a four-month-old baby.
It was to shine a spotlight on just such issues that Sumayya Sarwar created the Mama ME app exclusively for mothers and mums-to-be. "It’s a sort of ‘tinder for mothers’," she says. "Swipe Right to connect with like-minded mums or Swipe Left and move ahead."
Sumayya’s journey to creating the app is in itself an interesting one.
A dentist by profession, she delivered her baby in the back seat of an Uber en route to the hospital, a day after sitting her postgraduate Specialist Dentistry exam at University College London!
Having managed much of the transition from being an independent woman to young mum with the help of her family and an app back in the UK, landing in Dubai five months later Sumayya realised there was no such app here. "I couldn’t believe a more modern form of connecting and using technology to really support a community of mums wasn’t available in a city that was super friendly in every way." Deciding to plug the existing lacuna in the market, she decided to create an app for the Middle East.
Why an app
But why an app and not a page or group on social media? I ask.
"As great a space as social media groups and WhatsApp groups are, they’ve got limitations," says the 33-year-old techpreneur. "See, in a group I can ask if anyone wants to go out for a coffee and would not be upset if my invitation is turned down. But someone else could feel hurt." Many people would think twice before reaching out in a group for fear of being rejected. With this app, if I message you individually and you don’t respond, it’s between you and me. This gives a lot of people the confidence to reach out to others."
Since women have to deal with several sensitive issues in the first year of pregnancy, Sumayya decided to limit use of the app to just women. "While dads have their own challenges, I do feel there is huge value in keeping it for women only as it gives those who are shy, the confidence to speak up. For sure many women would not be comfortable speaking about their issues in a mixed group. Even on the app, although it is only women, some mothers post questions anonymously."
The app has a strict verification process for each user to ensure the participants are safe. "I want mothers to feel their privacy is not compromised."
The app brings together users according to age of children, geographical location of the user, and other interests. "This helps to connect women who have more in common," says Sumayya.
Clearly, bringing value to the role of woman by developing a community where mums can express their concerns in a safe space and support one another socially and emotionally is helping many mothers feel less isolated.
"The Mama community is extremely helpful. I’ve always seen positive comments and support for anyone who has a query. The app has given me a tribe of mums, I feel comfortable to just be myself with and ask honest questions," says recipe creator and Youtuber Tasneem, pregnant with her second child. Receiving overwhelming encouragement to share her weaning recipes with the Mama ME community also gave Tasneem the confidence to start her very own YouTube channel.
With a user-friendly interface, Mama ME effortlessly allows mothers to make play dates with one another or send meet-up requests for a cup of coffee. "The locality feature was very useful for me," adds Tasneem. "When I first moved to Dubai I didn’t drive, so being able to find friends I didn’t have to travel too far to meet, was important."
Users can also browse through the Community Forum and ask questions, from basic ones such as, "looking for a good pediatrician in xyz neighbourhood" to even serious psychological issues they may be facing. "One thing that is surprising is how many women deal with postpartum and prenatal depression, anxiety, negative thoughts... and they don’t even know they are experiencing this at the time! They talk about crying all the time, feel really sad or that they don’t feel connected to their child," says Sumayya, who hosts podcasts on a variety of topics for women from mental health, post-partum fitness, managing a business to common baby issues such as sleep problems and colic.
Setting up the app
Venturing into the world of technology nine and a half years after being a professional dentist, was far from easy, admits Sumayya, who had to start her learning journey from the ground up. Finding a plethora of free resources online she began by taking courses on Google while buffering her grasp on the topic by reading books on the subject. Within three to four months she had mapped out the steps needed to create the app. She set the deadline to launch Mama ME for April 2020 but the coronavirus pandemic hit.
As mothers began taking to social media platforms to voice how difficult it was for them to juggle full-time work while having children home all day and trying to make sense of what the pandemic was all about, Sumayya pulled all stops to release the app a month earlier.
"I realised it was the most crucial time that mums needed support, a safe, judgment-free space to vent, talk and connect, more than ever, especially for new mums."
A year since its launch, response for Mama ME has been, in the Founder’s own words, ‘fantastic.’ Growing organically within the UAE, the App has over 5000 active users today with an engaged community of 4,300 mums on its Instagram handle.
"Being stuck at home with small kids during a lockdown was very challenging and stressful. Most of the time I felt like I’m the only one struggling,’" says Odette Abou Haidar, franchise partner, Juice Plus+.
"Once I read on the App there are other mamma’s going through the same challenges, I felt less alone. We all struggled, cried, laughed together as we all had the same challenges during the pandemic."
While Odette and Tasneem are among the many mums who found the app extremely useful, Dubai-based Archana Kalarikkal Arjunan wishes she had known about the app earlier.
"As new mums we have only basic knowledge about newborns or about postnatal care and could only get help from Google to check other people’s different experiences since we could not step out to consult a doctor or even hire a midwife or nanny during the lockdown," says Archana, manager, Innovative Minds. Wishing she had known about the App earlier, mother of one-year old Darya is eager to start using it now to expand her support network.
Though the world is still in the grasp of the pandemic, the future of the app seems bright. Recently invited to an accelerator program with Bahrain’s Flat 6 Labs, Sumayya will receive seed funding and support from prominent tech leaders in the region. She has already participated in the first session of Google Women Tech Founders. Ever the visionary, Sumayya has plans to introduce an expert on the Community Forum who can evaluate and guide users battling psychological issues to reach out for professional help if required. She is also in the process of running tech tests to see if the app could bring value to users in India.
Having used her savings to develop the App, the self-taught entrepreneur knows building technology requires fairly big investment. Her advice to people eager to rush in is to continue with their day job and learn as much as feasible through free resources. "There is so much you can do to validate the idea even before you build an app. Speak to people, do focus groups, run tests on paper. Once you have some level of validation you can go for investments and reach out for funds by saying, ‘see this is all the data I have, I know this is a viable business, can I have seed money’."
Well aware she will have to think of the app’s financial feasability at some point and perhaps get sponsors to generate funds, Sumayya confidently says, "I will figure it out when I get there. For now, I want to keep Mama ME value-based and clutter-free for mums."
Look out for events, get togethers
Mama ME hosts safe in-person events at carefully selected Covid-compliant venues across Dubai. "Our meet-ups have limited capacity to ensure we can maintain safe social distancing with plenty of space for the little ones. The response has been fantastic. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing those magical moments unravel from something you’ve created and ignited," says Sumayya.
• With a rigorous verification process in place, the app clusters users based on location, interest and age of child.
• Mums earn Mama Insider Points when they leave a review of a local restaurant, play area or medical clinic and can redeemed these for spa experiences, hotel stays or a designer handbag.
• The app is free to download on the App Store and Google Play.
How to stay motivated...
Describing herself as motivated, determined and empathetic, Sumayya says she tackled the uncertain low points of her entrepreneurial journey by keeping her headphones on and silencing her inner critic, listening mindfully to motivating podcasts including:
• ‘How I built this’ with Guy Raz
• ‘Impact Theory’ with Tom Bilyeu
• Tony Robbins Podcast
• Reading about ‘The 5 second rule’ by Mel Robbins