Profile: Carly Leahy Is Bringing Accessibility To Women's Reproductive Health One Fertility Test At A Time

We are living in a generation where women are putting their careers, goals and aspirations first. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be informed and ready for our possible futures. When it comes to health care, women's reproductive health is one of the most expensive areas for a person to keep up with. In a country where the cost of health care is skyrocketing, it becomes risky for one to enter the debate between their own health and their lack of resources. One team of women at Modern Fertility is trying to make a make a big and positive change in the area of accessible women's health care. We had a chat with the co-founder of Modern Fertility, Carly Leahy, and discussed more about the fertility testing kit and what it means for the future of women's health care. 

Her Campus: So to start off, how does it all work?

Carly Leahy: We at Modern Fertility are a women’s health company. We are focused on making fertility information more accessible earlier in life. The reality of the situation today is that we are waiting so much longer to have kids, we have so much stuff to do. But that also poses a very strange problem. One in six couples has trouble conceiving, which is pretty mind-boggling. We spend so much of our lives preventing pregnancy and we have all of the tools in the world for that, but when it comes to planning for it, it’s still a mysterious black box. Our modern tools and science and education have not caught up to meet our very modern needs as women today. We are starting to close that information gap with our product, which is a fertility hormone test that you can take at home before you’re ready for kids. The way that it works is you go to ModernFertility.com and you can order a test that you can take at home. It’s similar to 23 and Me where you can collect a sample at home, pop it in the lab and you get your results stating "Here’s what your hormone levels are, here’s what your hormones do in your body". It’s about personalized education. When you see your own level, it clicks in a different way than when you see it in a textbook.

HC: That’s amazing! Are there any other resources available aside from the test?

CL: Through our site, you also have access to a free one-on-one consult with a fertility nurse who can explain what everything in the test means. We also have a weekly live "Egginar" where you can get your questions answered anonymously. We have a modern women community on Slack where you connect with other women making sense of their results. That’s a long-winded way of opening up dialogue and being proactive about something that has largely been a reactive topic. I once thought that if I was thinking of baby stuff, then I must not be career driven and baby crazy and that’s not the case at all. Understanding what’s going on in your body is the most empowered thing you can do to map out the kind of life you wanna live.

HC: What college did you go to, what did you major in and did you know working with women’s reproductive health is what you’d end up doing in your life?

CL: No I did not. I have always been a  feminist and I love feminist literature. I went to Amherst College in Western Massachusetts. It’s a liberal arts school with no core curriculum. I’ve always been a writer and I wanted to find a creative application of business, so right after school I went into creative advertising. I was working my butt off with Uber at the time and Google before that. I actually met my co-founder Afton Vechery while I was at Uber, through an email intro (perhaps the most epic email intro of all time), and she was really interested in fertility. I didn't think I needed to be bothered with that information at all, but I think that your blind spots are the things you are most equipped to look into and possibly fix. So the more I started researching about fertility, the more I realized that if I'm considered an educated woman but even I have such a gap in knowledge about fertility, then that must mean a ton of other women do too! So I made it my personal mission to show my former self the value of understanding this information earlier and it felt very empowering. I should also note that I was not the type of person who was trying to start a company.

HC: What was your inspiration for creating MF?

CL: When I met my co-founder Afton, she was deep in the fertility space and had worked on a deal involving private equity for fertility clinic roll ups. We met through a friend and she explained the science as I was breaking it down into layman’s terms. She knew about people coming into fertility clinics later in their lives and finding out things they could have known a while back. Afton actually did the same hormone panel we offered and she ended up getting a bill for $1500 for just trying to be proactive. While the information she received was impactful, the prices were ridiculous.  

HC: How did you two manage to build everything from the ground up?

CL: I always get asked "How do you build a business?" It's going to sound simple but we literally had a list with everything we needed to do each day and we wouldn’t go to sleep until we crossed everything off the list and now, here we are!

HC: In a world where comprehensive sex education is severely lacking, do you feel as if Modern Fertility can work as an educator for women’s health?

CL: Yes, absolutely! The sex education thing is so fascinating. We’re still taught to prevent at all costs by using these tools. Many of the women we talk to on hormone nights are there to learn about the details to figure out how to make this thing go with reproduction since they're finally ready. But for many women, it would be the first time they’ve had a discussion about reproductive health since they had sex education years ago! That gap of knowledge isn't helping anyone. There is so much we can do and we’re excited about being that clinical neutral truth for women where they can come whenever they have a question and know that we have done all of the work. It's all about making the decisions that are right for themselves. We’re not telling them to freeze their eggs or do xyz. It’s all about getting information and being your best health advocates with your doctor and making the right decisions for you. I think Modern Fertility can play a role there as things evolve. We always say information is the fist step; it helps alleviate confusion and worry and we hope to clear things up overtime. So much of what we’re doing is focused on moving the research forward. Usually reproductive research is focused on men or infertile populations so we’re working with our clinical team to figure that out. 

HC: How is it possible that you only charge $159 for such an important test?

CL: We’re able to get many of these tests with efficiency at scale and the way I can explain that is: the more that you order, the lower the price is. Just like when you order custom T-shirts, it becomes more affordable if you order 50 rather than 10!

HC: Do you see yourself adding more docs to the team?

CL: Afton and I knew we had to surround ourselves with the smartest people. The current chair of the Modern Fertility Medical Advisory Board is Dr. Nataki Douglas. Her research focuses on better understanding how the reproductive system develops and also revolves around successful embryo implantation and pregnancy. We're also working with Dr. Julie Lamb, who is a board certified endocrinologist and infertility specialist working in Seattle.  Dr. Scott M. Nelson is the world's foremost expert on the atrial natriuretic hormone, which is a hormone that we test to see ovarian reserves. Our medical advisory board is impressive and it’s been wonderful to partner with them. We hope that it will continue to grow. 

HC: In the future, do you see Modern Fertility expanding into possibly physical locations?

CL: Our overall goal is focused on making sure women understand their reproductive health and fertility. Female fertility is really complicated and that is where we are focused now. In terms of educating women, we’re so focused on building out that modern women community where women can get answers and connect with each other and have the resources they need to feel well equipped to their future fertility. We’re focused on making it more accessible online now, and as things evolve, we’re committed to listening to what SHE needs because she’s telling us all the time everything she needs from us and we are helping to be her guide during her reproductive health.