Need Help Getting Pregnant? This Female Led Startup Is Breaking The Stigma Around Infertility

4min read

Photo Courtesy of Natalist

It seems that most people are more interested in how not to get pregnant these days, but where can you turn to when you actually want the opposite? That is where Natalist steps in. After experiencing the struggles of IVF first-hand, Natalist founder and CEO, Halle Tecco, (former founder of venture capital fund Rock Health) was inspired to start a company that connects women with basic fertility support and education.

The startup's flagship product, The Get Pregnant Bundle, is a reproductive health kit that is delivered directly and discreetly right to your front door with products and resources including prenatal vitamins, ovulation tests, pregnancy tests and a complete conception guide, Conception 101. It retails for $90 as a one-time buy or $81 if purchased as part of a subscription. This bundle is the culmination of all of Tecco and Natalist's work thus far and is the key to helping this one-of-a-kind startup achieve its mission of helping women get pregnant by supplying them with doctor-approved essentials and resources.

Tecco got in depth with Swaay about her new company, her journey and what she hopes to achieve through Natalist.

What is your educational background? What got you started in the healthcare field?

In college I majored in finance while volunteering at the Cleveland Clinic and interning at the Columbia University Medical Center. The intersection of business and healthcare is in my DNA. Neither of my parents graduated from college, but my mom worked in the healthcare field and my dad was a small-business entrepreneur. I ultimately went to business school to merge these interests, where I had the opportunity to work for Apple covering the healthcare segment of the app store. That experience inspired me to start Rock Health—the first venture capital fund dedicated to digital health. From there, I went on to teach the first MBA-level course on investing in digital health at Columbia Business School, start my MPH at Johns Hopkins… and most recently started Natalist!

You mentioned you started this company after going through the IVF process. Tell us more about that experience. What did you find the most frustrating in your fertility journey?

My own personal fertility journey opened my eyes to the huge opportunity to rebuild the experience. I was probably most frustrated by the sheer amount of junk science being peddled to women. Creating a new human is one of the most exciting, yet vulnerable, times in your life. I look back at the products and services I fell for and just cringe at all the wasted time and money. I wanted to build something that helps women cut through the crap and makes their experience a little more beautiful.

What do you hope Natalist and your team would accomplish in the first year?

We want to help make babies, lots of them!

How does Natalist manage the gender dynamic of fertility issues?

We do have two men on our team, and one of them is a dad. We've learned that men are motivated to be part of this journey as well. They also deal with fertility complications (about half of infertility is male-related). Also of course both men and women grieve when a miscarriage occurs. We recently brought on a content contributor who is a urologist to help us build out content specifically around male fertility.

You mentioned one of the goals is to educate women on conception because a large number of women don't have the correct information. What do you believe is the most significant shortfall of the current health education system for women?

There is a lot of federal funding for sex education (and unfortunately also abstinence-only education, which we know doesn't work). But most of us do not get educated on how to get pregnant when we want to, so we turn to the internet. There's an insane amount of misinformation out there, and our OBGYNs don't have a ton of extra time to debunk ever myth we read during our annual visits.

What has been the response of the traditional medical community when it comes to your company's product? Has there been any push-back from licensed practitioners?

If I've learned anything in this industry, it's that the best way to improve healthcare is to work with the experts. For example, we don't plan on entering the D2C fertility drug space because we think these decisions should be made in concert with your OBGYN and not by a faceless, remote doctor who is paid per prescription.

We follow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines and refer to them often in our content and in our first book, Conception 101. We also used ACOG and Academic Pediatric Association (APA) guidelines to develop our prenatal Duo, which includes a Prenatal Multi and Omega DHA.

I hope that by taking these steps to protect patients and not bypass the patient-provider relationship, we can build trust with the broader OBGYN community.

Why do you think there is such a stigma around infertility?

Because we don't talk about it! Once I started opening up about my struggles, I learned that so many of my friends had gone through similar experiences. One of my good girlfriends even did IVF not once, but twice. And I had no clue!

You have been pretty open about your IVF journey. Do you believe there is power in sharing your story?

I hope so. It's a balance for me. There were other women who really helped me in my journey by sharing theirs. I want to share enough that I can hopefully help carry others through their journeys. But I also want to respect the privacy of my family. In a lot of ways, my IVF journey belongs to my children and not me.

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Going Makeupless To The Office May Be Costing You More Than Just Money

Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.

Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.

Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.

As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.

Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.

So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.

Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.

For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."