“I got all my girlfriends a fertility test for Christmas, which is a weird Christmas present, especially as a Jew,” Zoey Deutch laughs by phone from Los Angeles. The actor’s voice is bright, indefatigable—a good thing, as we are talking about the historically underserved matter of women’s health care. Deutch, who grew up in Hollywood circles (her mother is the actor-director Lea Thompson; her father is the director Howard Deutch), had a precocious start, volunteering at Planned Parenthood by age 12. “It was not my parents’ mission. That was entirely just something that I was passionate about,” recalls Deutch. She found it puzzling that women’s health wasn’t “more of a focus for more people, given that women make up more than half the population.”
Today, Deutch aims to tip that balance, with a newly announced role as an investor and adviser to Modern Fertility, a forward-thinking company that launched in 2017 with a mission to create a patient-centric model of care. The company’s offerings range from a prenatal vitamin to more affordable pregnancy and ovulation tests. The startup’s flagship product, which rolled out in 2018, is what Deutch merrily handed out to friends: an at-home hormone assessment. It’s a straightforward panel of up to seven different hormones (depending on whether a patient is on birth control); the list can include estradiol, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH), which is an indicator of ovarian reserve.
“Hormones are like fertility detectives that give us clues about our reproductive timeline,” says Deutch, describing how the check-under-the-hood readout can also illuminate other underlying conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). That, in fact, is what Modern Fertility cofounder and CEO Afton Vechery discovered after such a test at a clinic years ago. “I just thought my irregular period my entire life was just because I’m very type A and stressed,” Vechery explains in a call from San Francisco. (It’s a dispiritingly common assumption—it must just be me—given the medical industry’s historical role in dismissing women’s concerns.)
That kind of belated revelation is what planted the seed for Modern Fertility. Before this, a full hormone assessment wasn’t just something most health-curious women could ask their doctor for. “They said, ‘No—you’re not actively trying and failing to conceive,’” Vechery says of the usual barrier to entry: a demonstrated year of infertility. Together with her cofounder Carly Leahy, Vechery got to thinking, was there an opportunity to get a lay of the land earlier on?
Vechery, whose background in the financial health-care sector had her visiting infertility clinics for market research in her early 20s, knew how devastating those appointments could be on the far side of one’s reproductive window. At the same time, pitching a fertility startup for all people with ovaries—not just those speeding toward parenthood—was a puzzling idea for some. “I got so many questions from investors that said, ‘Wait, you’re creating a fertility company for people that aren’t trying to get pregnant. What is this?”
Enter Deutch, the youngest—at 26—in a group of well-connected supporters who want to shape a more equitable, accessible ecosystem for reproductive health. “When it’s something as fundamental as the thing that keeps our human race alive—like, why is that an uncomfortable topic?” Deutch says, with the refreshing incredulity that sometimes only comes when a person is newly encountering the status quo. She joins early investors Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman (whose father is a reproductive endocrinologist). Ashley Graham, another investor, tells V.F., “I’m so thankful that I became a mother when women-led resources like this were available”—doubly important, now that the model is expecting a second baby. “Women’s health can be a taboo subject, and there can often be feelings of shame around what our bodies can or can’t do, or feelings of uncertainty around asking for help.”
“Any time we can amplify a conversation—that’s when we can change things,” adds stylist Karla Welch, also an investor. She sees a kinship with her own line of sustainability-minded menstruation underwear, the Period Company, which welcomes in trans and nonbinary people as well. “It is a need to be filled in an industry that has not taken good enough care of the people who use the products,” she writes by email. “Modern Fertility is the same.”
The fact that powerhouse Hollywood women are putting their money where their passions are comes as no surprise. It’s now routine to see stylists become entrepreneurs, to see actors take up roles on the other side of the camera. (Deutch mentions that she is an executive producer on her upcoming movie, Not Okay—a “really intense satire” by Quinn Shephard, about an influencer caught in a moral quandary.)
That star power surrounding Modern Fertility is matched by its medical advisory board, chaired by Nataki Douglas, M.D., Ph.D., an NIH-funded reproductive endocrinologist and scientist. From Douglas’s vantage point in the field, not only is there a lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity among those seeking care, there is also a wholesale disconnect in fertility awareness. “Countless women feel blindsided by their infertility, and that simply isn’t an acceptable standard,” she explains. “When you consider that one in six couples struggle to conceive and the lack of data we have on the fertile timeline, we must reflect on our approach to reproductive health care—and particularly women’s reproductive health care—and ask, ‘How did we get here?’”