Pregnantish debuts in Seattle to support 1 in 6 who struggle with infertility

Left to right, Jenna Miller of Cooper Genomics, Andrea Syrtash of Pregnantish, Dr. Julie Lamb of Pacific NW Fertility and Kaci Aitchison from KING 5 speak at an infertility panel at a Pregnantish event in Seattle in November. (Photo by JB Photography)

On November 18, Seattle joined the inaugural dozen of U.S. cities to debut Pregnantish, the first lifestyle website to help singles, couples and LGBT folks navigate infertility and fertility treatments. Pregnantish was founded by its editor-in-chief, Andrea Syrtash, a New York-based relationships expert and influencer who has authored five books, co-hosted web and TV series for the likes of NBC and OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, and made hundreds of national media appearances on shows like “Good Morning America,” “CBS This Morning,” “The Today Show,” and “The View.”

“Seattle was on my radar from the very start. It was just a matter of time,” said Syrtash, who has hosted over 15 sold-out live events since Pregnantish launched in April 2017. She knew about the flourishing support group network built by Puget Sound volunteers for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. She was also acquainted with some Seattle doctors who are active on social media and said that multiple Instagram followers of Pregnantish had requested a Seattle visit.

Pregnantish publishes the work of more than 50 professional writers on lifestyle topics around infertility. While infertility bloggers are prolific on the Internet and many books exist (Syrtash originally planned to write one herself), she noticed a void she could fill with her relationship expertise and media connections. Before Pregnantish, much of the existing literature on infertility was clinical. Syrtash wanted to produce non-medical “real talk” focusing on people’s relationships with their partners, jobs, friends and family, and with infertility itself.

During her time in Seattle, Syrtash appeared on KING 5 and Q13 FOX News to advise viewers on how to address awkward holiday questions, especially those about having kids. She knows the struggle well. She and her husband Michael’s path to parenthood included 18 fertility treatments, miscarriages, and the backing out of two potential surrogate matches.

After seven years of infertility, Syrtash found an answer within her family: Her first cousin Elana Syrtash-Ochs — already a mother of two — offered to be the gestational carrier for the couple’s embryo produced through IVF. Infertility isn’t often discussed in Elana’s world of Orthodox Judaism, a dynamic similar to many cultures and religions where infertility is stigmatized and often taboo. The symbolism of having each other’s back is not lost on the two women, as Elana’s father rode on the back of Syrtash’s father when they escaped from Budapest during the 1957 Communist uprising. They lost many relatives in the Holocaust. Syrtash’s father was actually born in hiding during World War II.

After Syrtash posted their infertility story on her Facebook fan page in January 2017, sharing her plan to launch Pregnantish, New York Magazine called the next day and invited her to be a guest on its “Sex Lives” podcast. The segment was titled “What It’s Like to Be a Little Bit Pregnant,” a nuance to the “pregnant-ish” world of fertility treatment.

As the first to claim the lifestyle media space for infertility, Syrtash and Pregnantish have garnered attention from the likes of Bravo and Forbes. People magazine detailed her family-building journey in an online article that went viral in September, touching on the lives of the 1 in 6 couples that suffer from infertility, designated as a disease by the World Health Organization.

Though it is primarily a media destination, Pregnantish has been committed to its live events.

“When [fertility] clinics [in other cities] have hosted ‘nights in,’ attendance wasn’t very high,” Syrtash  said. “One way I could encourage people to come is to literally show them they are not alone. We get them out of the clinic. We pamper them with gifts. Everything is underwritten by our sponsors, partners in the community, so we can spoil them.”

In creating community for those with infertility, online and in person, Syrtash noticed a synergy with Seattle’s support groups. Washington state does not have a state insurance mandate for infertility coverage but will start allowing compensated surrogacy in January 2019.

“This area has a very active community of support groups — 16 groups in 3 years shows momentum, a sign that this support is needed and that people are rising up to provide it,” Syrtash said. “We had a room full of people who were very present, open, mindful and thoughtful. I think that really speaks to what Seattle is. We felt that energy through our live event here… I was really touched by it.”

The Seattle gathering at Be Luminous Yoga centered around fertility wellness. It included a gratitude meditation by local fertility yoga teacher Lynn Jensen and a panel discussion with Syrtash, Dr. Julie Lamb from Pacific Northwest Fertility, and Jenna Miller from CooperGenomics. KING 5’s Kaci Aitchison, a new mother who has gone public about her years of fertility struggles, moderated the discussion.

Syrtash was energized by the chemistry of the panelists, saying, “When you speak about a medical issue, you don’t always see a panel of women.”

Jensen approached Syrtash after the event, suggesting that Pregnantish’s sponsors on the panel could have included a representative from complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), perhaps an acupuncturist or naturopath. Seattle typically embraces CAM, which includes products and practices that are not part of standard medical care. The impact of stress on fertility has long been debated, with members of Western and Eastern medicine often in different camps.

Syrtash told The Seattle Globalist that she wanted to be sensitive to her audience, who are primarily fertility patients pursuing medical treatment, and that it’s a faux pas to tell people struggling to conceive to “just relax.”

At the same time, Syrtash said, “We really try to produce a program that aligns with the local culture. Jensen’s meditation was that piece.” She said the Pregnantish event in Los Angeles also included a meditation segment. The San Francisco event included wine because it was in wine country, and in New York, Pregnantish hosted a film screening and a panel moderated by a New York Times film critic.

She observed that the age of Seattle attendees skewed a bit younger than her audiences in San Francisco and New York City.

“We had a woman in the audience who was 30 and had struggled for a couple years,” Syrtash said. “This is important because infertility doesn’t discriminate across race, age, or class, as we’ve seen in Michelle Obama’s recent disclosure about IVF.”

Syrtash, who came alone to host the Seattle event, said it was the next to last event she would host for awhile. She’s really “leaned in” over the past year and a half to develop a strong foundation for the start-up. The final live event before motherhood begins is December 2 in New York City.

“In the future, we plan to keep doing what we’re doing — high quality content for a premium audience — through articles, live events, video series, and a TV series,” she said. “We have a lot of great media partnerships in development through iTV and Buzzfeed.”

The Buzzfeed video, coming in 2019, is a filmed podcast on navigating relationships through infertility.

Syrtash is well-positioned to address how infertility and parenthood changes relationships. At long last, she and her husband will be parents in the New Year.  Their much-wanted baby is expected to arrive around January 2.