If you asked me about fertility five years ago, I'd write it off. "Oh, the baby stuff…that’s not for me"—and that was pretty much it.
I run a fertility company now, so needless to say, I’m no longer writing it off. What the heck happened in between?
Let me take you back.
As a girl growing up during the #millennium (you know, tamagotchis, gel pens, TRL), I was encouraged to reach for the stars. And oh did I reach for them.
I am the middle child of three girls, and we are all two years apart. We’re all stage 4 overachievers, and growing up we crammed our days with activities, practices, and paper mache volcanoes.
In high school, I’d run from the field hockey or lacrosse field to the stage to rehearse a scene for the musical. I was obsessed with getting good grades, in an acapella group and––get this––president of the high school chorus (that was a thing). I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
You get the drift — I had a strong internal drive that went into turbo drive when the social forces around me whispered in my ear, “if you can dream it you can achieve it.”
All this is to say, babies and family couldn’t have been farther from my purview EXCEPT when I thought about the most horrible thing that could happen to me: getting pregnant. The life ruiner. Pregnancy was one of the things I feared most. How is it that it’s also the very thing we are programmed to desire most? The fear was instilled in small ways––my parents assuring me that I “wouldn’t do what they did” and have kids early––and big ways at school where prevent-at-all-cost “education” was drilled into our brains.
This consequence-focused approach made me straight up embarrassed to talk about sex, let alone, fertility.
Because I didn’t want to eff up my life, and because I was also a teenager, I sought out my own solution. One cloudy weekend morning, my best friend and I drove to Boston and straight into the Planned Parenthood parking lot. There, they gave me little blue pills whose job was to keep my life on track.
I didn’t know what they were made of or what they would do to my body. But I knew I wouldn’t be getting pregnant, and that was enough.
Today, at 30, I can't help but see the irony. One day it’s the end of the world if a pregnancy test reads positive, but when the time is right it’s the most important thing in the world.
That’s a big baby-sized blindspot for women to have. And with age — you guessed it — things began to change for me. Big time.
After moving to San Francisco in 2014 at the age of 24, the hustle I was so accustomed to went to hyperspeed. I was busy (which, if you can’t tell already, is exactly how I like it) advancing my career at Google and Uber while making new friends in a new city. I started a feminist book club, and started dating Charlie.
Cut to 2016, and I’m meeting Afton Vechery for the first time. She and I sat down for coffee one day to talk about the business she wanted to start and used words like “fertility,” “hormones” and — my least favorite at the time — “family planning.” Check, please.
Despite having a lovely conversation, the baby stuff was just “not my thing.” I had truly not once thought about some of these things. My body might not be able to have kids? Hormones matter?? What???
How is it that I didn’t really understand what was going on in my own body? So, I started doing my homework. My bedside table switched from American president biographies (guilty pleasure) to clinical papers and fertility memoirs.
I started running this fertility thing by friends who also had “not the slightest idea” what was real and what was myth when it came to having kids in the future. I started to wonder if my feminist gusto––focused on equal pay, equal rights, women in the workplace––should be focused on the information gap that I was just now digging myself out of. What if understanding fertility was the last great equalizer? I suddenly came to see fertility as the ultimate creative opportunity—a chance to rebuild the meaning of something so core to being a woman from something hushed to something powerful.
I joined Afton and we built Modern Fertility. When I was packing up my desk at Uber and moving into “I’m starting a company” territory, I was taken aback by the reactions when I said I was going to start a fertility company. Everyone, especially my male colleagues, seemed to have a story about struggling to have a baby or their sister or cousin who couldn’t have one. It felt like another world that was a reality for just about everyone––that I hadn’t been privy to until I had asked. They reinforced my choice: we NEEDED more tools to get ahead of this and open up these conversations.
As we built the company, the science and information I was inhaling was getting personal. When Charlie and I got engaged, at the age of 29, the script flipped 180 degrees — “reach for the stars” became “so, when are you having kids? You’re not that young anymore.” Not only were family members asking me, but my friends who had kids were, too.
What I wanted to do was scream my new found knowledge from the rooftops: fertility shouldn’t start when you have a fiance or when you hit a certain age. It’s ongoing, just as your life is.
We don’t get the information we need to plan proactively. Yet we’re waiting to have kids later in life––and no fertility treatment is a guarantee. We need to be better about teaching younger generations about pregnancy and start moving toward a more well-rounded, proactive education about our bodies.
I’m not saying we should teach 16 year olds how to have kids––but we can do so much more to help women understand their bodies and options earlier in life. I love Peggy Ornstein’s book Girls and Sex. She argues for well rounded sex education and uncovers that in the Netherlands, teen pregnancy rates are lower because Dutch teachers and parents candidly discuss sex, the concept of pleasure, and the importance of loving relationships.
Crazy, right? It shouldn’t be.
Society has good intentions by encouraging women to have it all, but that doesn’t prepare us, nor has it offered us the resources to achieve that. Right now, it’s a complete bait and switch. We need to find better ways to openly discuss fertility way before we’re thinking about having kids so that we’re not compelled to stick our fingers in our ears every time we hear the word pregnancy.
Our realities are changing, too. We live in a world where families are all shapes and sizes. There is an uptick in single parenting, LGBTQ+ couples with children and more unmarried parents cohabitating. These types of families need options.
I want my kids to be educated about fertility in the same way they are educated about family, self-image, puberty, and growing up. I want them to have the whole story. They shouldn’t have to grow up with the stigma and discomfort that surrounds seeking information proactively. And they definitely shouldn’t be blindsighted.
There is so much more to fertility than just the baby stuff. I wish I had the vocabulary for it earlier––so it’s time we redefine it.