Andrea Syrtash started her career as a relationship expert. She’s written two bestselling books, appeared in countless media interviews, and has been known throughout her career for her relationship advice. Then, after a decade of infertility and finally having her daughter through surrogacy, she created Pregnant, the first media and patient advocacy platform dedicated to infertility and modern family building.
Five years later, Syrtash began to notice a new problem cropping up. Drawing on her decades of relationship expertise and anecdotes from the pregnant community, she kept hearing how those seeking fertility treatment had relationship issues — not with their partners, but with their doctors. , clinics and fertility providers.
Syrtash suspected this was a key issue preventing patients from continuing their fertility journey. The lack of trust they had with suppliers was contributing to a general negative sentiment during an already emotional period. All this led them to take the decision to suspend the process from the start.
A survey of more than a thousand patients proved that Syrtash’s suspicions were correct. In the study, “Why I Left My Fertility Clinic for Another ART Provider – It’s Not What You Think: A RealTalk Patient Survey”, 49% of patients indicated a theme based on relationships for the reasons they left a provider, such as feeling like a number, not feeling heard, treatment is unsuitable and more. In other words, people did not leave for lack of efficiency, cost or access. It turns out that the relationship with their doctor or clinic mattered just as much, if not more.
The research has been submitted to ESHRE (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology), has been accepted and will be published in the Human Journal of Reproduction.
I spoke to Andrea about running an infertility-focused business over the past five years and the unexpected spaces she found herself in along the way.
Amy Shoenthal: Take me back five years. How did you come up with the idea of pregnancy?
Andrea Syrtash: I’ve worked in the media and published relationship advice and felt we were missing a major chapter in modern relationships: when people want to have kids and sex doesn’t make a baby. It affects all relationships – the relationship people have with friends, family, partners, dates, and their own bodies and themselves. I first thought, and told my agent, that this would be the subject of my next book. After losing another pregnancy at that time, I realized that this was much bigger than a book and needed to be a platform to educate, advocate, and help people find community.
Shoenthal: What were the initial reactions from your wider community when you “revealed” your struggles with infertility?
Syrtash: I was blown away by the response. I first shared my story on Facebook with friends to say I was starting something I desperately wanted – an infertility site that didn’t live on a blog, wasn’t clinical and dry on a medical site and which wasn’t on a parenting site, where I had to sift through babies to find my sad section. The post was so shared that someone encouraged me to make it public. The next morning I was called by Bravo, ABC News, New York Magazine, Toronto Star and more.
Shoenthal: What obstacles did you encounter during the construction of the platform? How did you overcome them?
Syrtash: We started long before we were ready. When I first announced I was pregnant, it was to say the platform was coming during National Infertility Awareness Week in April, but we got so much attention I had to hire people to answer the question. I had done a little pre-seed round of $50,000 in 2016 just to create the beta version of the site (with video content and premium content that I had promised the public.) My goal was to collect more a time we would know more about what the public needed.
But we never ended up collecting more because we were operational and had positive cash flow right away. My approach has been to hire the best part-time talent on contracts. Now I’m considering a selection round to build a full-time superstar team.
Shoenthal: What was the biggest surprise during these five years spent pregnant?
Syrtash: As we look back five years, we are still navigating relationships. I never expected to educate health care providers or use my relationship expertise to contribute to population growth.
With an educational grant from EMD Serono and CooperSurgical, we conducted a survey in 2019 to find out why people were leaving their fertility clinics. Reason #1? The relationship. As a long-time fertility treatment patient and relationship writer, this didn’t surprise me at all.
We worked with data scientists and a team of top fertility specialists as advisors, who helped us publish relationship guidelines and co-create a free educational workshop for healthcare providers. We have united around a common goal to use this data to improve the patient-provider relationship and ultimately improve patient retention.
I am now working with Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany on a larger global initiative to support patients and providers worldwide. There is a global fertility crisis in industrialized countries, which is essentially a demographic crisis. In many of these countries with declining population rates, governments are now funding fertility treatments, and yet people continue to give up. The pain point is so high. We know that infertility is an extremely stressful experience and if people don’t feel supported they will give up or move on to another provider.
With our extensive network and knowledge of patients and providers, my professional experience in relationships, and my personal experience with infertility, I believe pregnancy can advocate for fertility treatment patients to feel more seen. , heard and valued so they are more likely to stay with a supplier and for suppliers to get the necessary support they need, as they are also under tremendous stress. I am so honored that the Merck team co-wrote the summary with us and saw this opportunity to help bridge the gap.
I also hope that this research will also help suppliers. The problem is not just with the people who provide this care. Fertility clinics are big business and patients feel it. Fertility visits have been reported as one of the most stressful events in their lives. The lesson (password: big head) that we created contains scripts and a whole toolkit that offers ways to build better relationships with their patients.
Shoenthal: Is it different from when you were going through your infertility experience?
Syrtash: Not really. When I was told I was about to lose my pregnancy, the first place a clinic sent me was billing. Again, I don’t want to throw the doctors under the bus, they are overloaded with demand. Everyone has the same goal. The ecosystem of what happens when you try to create a science baby is fragile. If you don’t have the emotional and relational support during this incredibly stressful time, it’s going to fail.
Shoenthal: What is your hope for the future of the pregnancy?
Syrtash: When I started it, it was so disturbing. Everyone thought it was a niche. But there’s nothing niche about the 1 in 4 people who experience pregnancy loss.
It is predicted that by 2100, hundreds of millions of people (some say 3% of the total population!) could owe their lives to IVF or fertility treatments. The European Congress publishes this research which shows how this is a real global problem. If we do this right, we connect globally so more patients can achieve their goals and providers can better connect with patients so they don’t quit prematurely.
I don’t think we’ll solve a population crisis on our own, but I do think our work here can ultimately support population growth.
I’ve always thought if you don’t want to have a kid or kids, that’s perfectly fine. But, if you’re trying to start your family with the help of ART (assisted reproductive technology), having a child is literally one of your highest goals and values.
If we can help these people feel more supported through this process, I think that’s a win for all.