With world-class clinics, a host of progressive new practices and a nurturing ethos, The Golden State offers numerous possibilities
Words by CHRISTINE LENNON
Illustration by JOSH McKENNA
Nothing combines science and soul, technology and ancient wisdom quite like the path to modern parenthood. As more women postpone motherhood, as more same-sex couples explore their options for creating families, and as our healthcare system becomes more complicated and harder to navigate, businesses around fertility and pre- and postnatal support are burgeoning. And in typical pioneering fashion, The Golden State is leading the way on all fronts, rallying the startup spirit of Silicon Valley, the politically progressive atmosphere and gurus in the alternative wellness space to the cause.
“In California, people like to take a nontraditional approach to everything,” says Cheryl Lister, a fertility journey coach who also works for Family Match Consulting, a premier search service that assists intended parents in finding egg donors and surrogates based in Woodland Hills. “Women still feel some secrecy and shame around assisted reproduction, but that’s starting to shift. I do feel the gay community in California has helped that, because they can’t hide that they’re using donor eggs or sperm. Then there are the folks who are using egg donors and surrogates, and companies like Facebook and Google are supporting employees financially [to receive treatments]. Celebrities are talking about it, too, so that shame is beginning to melt a little bit.”
Typically, the recommendation for women hoping to get pregnant is to start prenatal vitamins prior to conception, but now more resources are available for preconception counseling. Many Californians may start with a visit to a doctor of functional medicine or an endocrinologist to run a series of blood tests to check for viruses, hormone levels, thyroid issues, anemia and even potentially harmful levels of mercury or arsenic, in both male and female partners, as well as a screening for genetic diseases.
Robin Berzin, MD — the founding physician and CEO of Parsley Health, which recently opened a flagship location in West Hollywood — aims to help women optimize their own natural fertility before resorting to services such as egg freezing, IVF and IUI. “Too often we see that women are referred directly to reproductive endocrinologists (think IVF), without anyone taking the time to ask why they are having trouble getting pregnant,” she says.
Loom, a women’s health center in Los Angeles since 2016, offers “fertility coaching” to help patients combat stress and understand their cycles in order to conceive, and they offer support for those who have experienced a loss of a pregnancy, among other services. In Pasadena, the Del Mar Birth Center is run by midwives who also offer fertility counseling and guidance for strengthening and conditioning the body for optimal birth. Mama Lounge in San Francisco employs a team of licensed acupuncturists, herbalists, massage therapists and a counselor in a relaxed spa-like space.
For same-sex partners, single parents and hetero-couples who are experiencing fertility challenges, another level of assistance is required, and there are exciting new platforms in place to help guide them. San Francisco-based FertilityIQ, founded by Santa Barbara native and UC Berkeley Law graduate Deborah Anderson-Bialis and her husband, Jake, has been dubbed the Yelp of assisted reproductive treatments (ART), rating and evaluating fertility specialists to help couples understand their options and choose the best clinic and doctors for them.
Future Family, which was also founded in the Bay Area by tech entrepreneur Claire Tomkins, is a digital coaching platform to guide users through their medical options — whether that’s egg freezing, IVF or using a donor egg — and then match them with some of the country’s top fertility nurses, who are on call to explain procedures and walk couples through complicated prescription protocols, like follicle-stimulating injections. They also offer financing packages. (The average total cost for one IVF cycle in America is around $22,000, while egg freezing will cost around $30,000 to $40,000 out of pocket for treatment and storage.)
“We’re now treating new mothers in their early 40s with a lot of success”
Dr. Richard Marrs
The good news for Californians is that some of the most successful fertility centers nationwide are located in this state, according to the most recent data collected by the Center for Disease Control. It may be because demand is high. The average age of first-time mothers in San Francisco is now 31, which is well above the national average of 26, and fertility rates decline with age. It may also be because the business was practically born here. Dr. Richard Marrs founded California Fertility Partners, the first IVF center in California, in Los Angeles in 1982.
Back in the early ’80s, Marrs was unable to treat women over the age of 35 with the fertility protocols. Nearly four decades later, Marrs says, “We’re now treating new mothers in their early 40s with a lot of success. It’s remarkable how things have changed.” When the science was new, there was only a 10 or 11 percent chance of having a successful birth from an embryo transfer, he notes. Today, the HRC fertility centers, with locations across Southern California, report as high as up to 62 live births per 100 transfers, depending on the age of the patient and whether the embryos were previously frozen.
While it was once taboo to discuss infertility, parents are now more willing to share their journeys. Thanks in part to celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian West and Anne Hathaway — who have all been very vocal about their fertility highs and lows — the state has been attracting more than its share of international attention. After China retracted its one-child policy, many postreproductive-age couples have flocked to California to have more children — drawn by the new technology and also the promise of dual citizenship for offspring born in the U.S. California also has some unique laws delineating protection for every party involved. For instance, in the case of surrogacies, the “intended parents” can be considered legal guardians upon conception, before the child is even born.
“Trans, gay, straight, single or married, California will help you become a parent,” says Molly O’Brien, a Los Angeles County-based lawyer for the International Fertility Law Group, who works primarily with gay dads-to-be from Europe, where surrogacy is still illegal in many countries.
“Trans, gay, straight, single or married, California will help you become a parent”
Once a successful pregnancy is established and it comes time for delivery, there is a vast network of professionals statewide devoted to making the birth experience more comfortable. The Bini Birth center in Sherman Oaks, founded by the nationally recognized childbirth expert and birth doula Ana Paula Markel, has trained a fleet of doulas for the last 15 years, including Carson Meyer, daughter of Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal. Meyer was an actor and a student of alternative medicine at NYU when she first saw The Business of Being Born, the influential documentary produced by Ricki Lake, and was moved by the raw and honest look at childbirth.
“Ana Paula and my mentor, Lori Bregman [whose clients include Molly Sims and Kristen Bell], really showed me how to guide mothers through the process, with prenatal visits talking about a birth plan, and hopes and fears, comfort measures, and then a postnatal plan,” Meyer says. She is part of a vast network of professionals in California devoted to birth support, which includes Dr. Elliot Berlin, an L.A.-based, award-winning prenatal chiropractor, childbirth educator and labor support doula who hosts a popular podcast, Dr. Berlin’s Informed Pregnancy, where he interviews experts (Meyer recently helmed the mic), new and expectant parents, and celebrities (actors like Kate Mara, Hilary Duff and Amanda Seyfried), and a YouTube show, The Real Midwives of Los Angeles.
“No matter what you are looking for around the birth experience, whether it’s a natural birth center, an obstetrician, a midwife or someone to encapsulate your placenta, you will find it here in California,” Meyer says. “Without judgment.”
This story originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of C Magazine.
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