How getting pregnant became a booming business

January 21, 2020, 11:44 AM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The New York Times’ editorial board backs two women, Best Buy’s CEO comes under fire, and we dig into Fertility, Inc. Have a terrific Tuesday. 

Today’s essay comes to us from Fortune’s Beth Kowitt:

– Fertility, Inc. Last year, I began to receive a flood of emails from fertility companies announcing new rounds of funding and product launches. They came from standalone egg-freezing boutiques, companies that assist couples with IVF financing, startups that provide at-home hormone tests, wearables that help women determine when they’re ovulating—just to name a few. As a woman in my mid-30s and a journalist who covers health and wellness trends, I am definitely in the sweet spot for these kinds of pitches. But I was truly caught off-guard by the volume of activity, in large part because these companies fell within a category that had been all but ignored in the past.

I wanted to understand what was driving the creation of this new industry, one that not only has the potential to be a big business but also holds major implications for society more broadly. “Some people really care about having genetic children, which makes it a huge source of suffering—and a huge market,” Stanford Law School professor Hank Greely told me.

The culmination of my reporting is out this morning in a new feature, “Fertility Inc.” What I found is that the sector is in the midst of a rapid shift that’s redefining what fertility means and has the potential to change how families are formed. Fertility treatment historically sat outside traditional healthcare, essentially considered elective and a luxury. But today, even as access remains a huge issue, several big demographic trends are starting to move the industry into the mainstream. Millennials are aging into fertility treatment, women are having children later in life, the LGBTQ+ population is increasingly turning to assisted-reproductive technology to build their families, and infertility is losing its status as a taboo topic.

Women’s reproductive health has been severely under-researched and under-funded for all of the societal and political reasons you can imagine. As a result, most of the founders I talked to had started their companies after receiving ambiguous answers about their own reproductive health. A few doctors are skeptical about some of the startups popping up, but it is clear why women are looking for alternatives to a model that’s often failed them and ignored their pain in the past. “Navigating the medical system as a female is fraught,” says Ridhi Tariyal, CEO and cofounder of startup NextGen Jane. “There’s some mistrust there.” But Tariyal is also concerned that investors’ newfound focus on pregnancy and fertility will draw away what little attention the rest of women’s health has fought to garner. The maternal mortality rates of black women, for example, is a truly dire issue that’s been largely overlooked.

And yet despite all of the funding, progress, and legitimizing of the industry, fertility remains outside traditional healthcare in that it is so deeply personal and emotional in ways that other parts of medicine are not. As I write in my piece:

It’s a reminder that the fertility industry has yet to disentangle itself from the very paradigms that advancements in reproductive health were supposed to dismantle: the conflation of womanhood and motherhood, the belief that biological ties are the best way to create a family, the implication that the burden of reproduction lies with women. It remains unclear that any amount of investment could ever shift those archetypes. But for the industry overall, that would truly be a major breakthrough.

Read the full story here.

Beth Kowitt

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Claire Zillman. By the way, Claire is in Davos this week for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. She’ll have more from the confab in coming days. 


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