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8 advancements in reproductive health we

8 advancements in reproductive health we're grateful for

10 min read

Thanksgiving is, of course, a time to show gratitude. The Modern Fertility team owes so much to the major advancements made in reproductive health — science and technology improve our lives, and while we still have a long way to go when it comes to fertility science, the research and innovation keep getting better.

So, we chatted with some of our team members to see what products or developments in women’s health they were feeling especially thankful for. (And because we love to geek out on history and fun facts, we included a little background for your reading pleasure.)

The biggest takeaways

  • From advancements in birth control to products that make our lives easier, there’s a whole lot to be thankful for.
  • Everyone’s talking about fertility these days — thanks to new franchises like the New York Times Fertility section, important conversations are happening.
  • But this is just the beginning — with more research into fertility and investment in reproductive technology, we’ll be that much closer to being in control over our lives and timelines.

The evolution of birth control

Lillie (Design)

“When the pill was approved by the FDA in 1960, it helped spur a sexual revolution. It enabled women to have more say in the choice to have children and to choose to focus on their careers. It also helped to decouple sex from reproduction, enabling the possibility of sex for pleasure. Today, I’m thankful we have so many different types to choose between, and the efforts in place to make it available and affordable to anyone who wants or needs it.” – Lillie (Design)

Carly (Modern Fertility co-founder)

“For me, the IUD has meant peace of mind. Before my friend Claire became my IUD guide (she was ALL about it), I’d been on the pill for 10 years and was constantly forgetting to take it or taking it late – worries were getting too much mindshare. I have been fortunate to not have symptoms from the IUD (and I had a pretty easy time with insertion, I know that’s not the case for everyone). And now? I’ve become an IUD sherpa myself.” – Carly (Modern Fertility co-founder)

Keaton (Business Operations)

“I’m thankful for recent developments in male birth control that are bringing it closer to the market. Birth control has been a one-sided story for too long. I’m excited to have the peace of mind afforded by birth control and greater flexibility when it comes to birth control options with my partner.” – Keaton (Business Operations)

Did you know?
Before modern-day birth control, people had to rely on the “pull-out method” or abstinence to prevent pregnancy. In ancient times, they even used herbs or animal parts (which is equal parts gross and fascinating). Though some version of homemade sheaths were historically used, rubber condoms came on the market in 1843 after Charles Goodyear filed the patent for the vulcanization of rubber.

Other non-hormonal contraceptives, like diaphragms, vaginal condoms, and cervical caps, had their time in the sun, too, but the next major advancement in birth control was the pill. In 1950, Margaret Sanger, the woman responsible for opening the first birth-control clinic in 1916, underwrote the research needed for the first pill. (Important note: Over the past few years, Sanger's connection to the eugenics movement has come into the spotlight — and organizations like Planned Parenthood have since distanced themselves from her.) In 1960, the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, which was originally primarily prescribed for “menstrual regulation.” More than 100 million women use the pill today.

Another major win for reproductive health was the intrauterine device (IUD). Interestingly, the IUD was actually more popular back in the ‘70s. The Dalkon Shield IUD came on the market around that time, but was found to cause severe injury to a large percentage of its users. Because of high risks associated with the Dalkon Shield, the IUD declined in popularity. Thankfully, safer IUDs have entered the market.

Outside of condoms and vasectomies, the bulk of the contraceptive responsibility falls on women’s shoulders. But early research shows that a contraceptive pill and gel might be in store for men (in the somewhat distant future). Though many women are saying it’s about time men share the burden, some women are outraged at the simplicity of the gel (in comparison to painful implantations and hormone-altering pills). Whatever camp you fall in, we can all be grateful that we’re making contraceptive progress.

The powerful impact of the HPV vaccine

Adaobi (Customer Experience)

“I’m thankful for the HPV vaccine because it has the potential to decrease instances of cervical cancer.” – Adaobi (Customer Experience)

Did you know?
Every year, 1,200 women get diagnosed with cervical cancer in the US, usually as a result of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The introduction of the Pap smear in 1928 played a big role in reducing that number by screening for the virus and allowing for treatment, but that number has since plateaued. Enter Gardasil, the first HPV vaccine, which was approved by the FDA in 2006. Now, people can prevent certain types of cervical cancer before there are any signs. (Woohoo!)

C-sections save lives

Hannah (Content & Editorial) 

“I probably would have died in childbirth without access to a C-section. My daughter was in ‘occiput posterior’ position during my 28 hour labor — where her head was down, but she was facing up. (My nurses kept saying she was ‘sunny side up!’) While it’s safe to deliver a baby facing this way, it’s harder for the baby to get through the pelvis. My daughter got ‘stuck,’ and forceps did not work to pull her out. Without a C-section, I’m not sure what would have happened — both of us were at high risk during the end of my labor. I know C-section rates are at an all-time high, and that they’re risky procedures for both babies and women, but I am so grateful that the procedure exists for emergency situations.” – Hannah (Content & Editorial)

Did you know?
Way back in 1794, Elizabeth Bennett was the first woman to deliver a baby via caesarean section and survive — though the procedure has been around since ancient times. Before 1794, the chances of success and survival were very low. These days, 31% of births in the US are delivered by C-section, but critics worry that they’re being scheduled just to avoid long hours of labor instead of only when medically necessary. The World Health Organization believes that the rate should be less than half of what it is now.

Tampons make periods easier

Jasmine (Recruiting & Talent)

“I’m so thankful for the invention and advancement of tampons! Women have used tampons for hundreds of years. They’re often overlooked, but tampons allow women to not think twice about their periods as they go about their day to day lives!” – Jasmine (Recruiting & Talent)

Did you know?
The earliest tampons that were similar to today’s were primarily used in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries for contraception and as applicators for medicine. Menstrual absorption was the last use cited in a 552-page book by OB-GYN Dr. Paul F. Munde. (In hindsight, that feels like a bit of a missed opportunity).

Then, in 1933, the patent for the first commercial applicator was filed by what eventually became Tampax, after general practitioner Earle Cleveland Haas was inspired by the innovation of his friend’s wife, a ballerina, who used sponges to avoid the bulk of sanitary napkins.

Since then, after many redesigns (most notably the misfire of the overly absorbent Rely tampons that were linked to an outbreak of toxic shock syndrome), a decrease in the taboo of the hands-on approach of tampons, and plenty of new brands on the market, 80% of menstruating people use the product. Expect many more iterations of tampons on the future — including a vibrating one. (We don’t know whether to be excited or terrified.)

Menstrual cups are game-changers

Jen (Customer Experience)

“I’m so grateful for the leaps and bounds that period products have made since the days when tampons and pads were the only options out there. The DivaCup is a win-win-win — you only have to empty it twice a day (depending on your flow), it’s environmentally friendly, and it’s a 1-time purchase instead of shelling out for tampons every month. Amazing!” – Jen (Customer Experience)

Did you know?
Actress-turned-entrepreneur Leona W. Chalmers filed a patent for the first commercial menstrual cup back in 1935 after struggling with period-related inconveniences backstage. (First a ballerina and now an actress? Who knew so many period innovators were performers?) Chalmers’ product, the Tassette, faced issue after issue, from a wartime rubber stoppage to overwhelming costs.

But menstrual cups became fan favorites for many women, even after they left the shelves in the ‘70s. Thankfully, women’s pleads to the period goddesses were answered when the Keeper entered the market in 1987. Then, after the DivaCup came on the scene in 2003, Google searches for “menstrual cup” increased by 800 percent.

Breast pumps, a working-mom favorite

Reina (Community)

“Without breast pumps, I wouldn’t have been able to be a working mom and continue to breastfeed with my boys. I was able to continue nursing my older son until he was 18 months and I would not have been able to sustain that without my pump.” – Reina (Community)

Did you know?
The original use for breast pumps wasn’t to help working moms — they were actually invented in the mid-19th century as a medical device for when breastfeeding was difficult (inverted nipples or too-small-to-nurse infants). But it wasn’t until 1991 that they were available on the market as the electric-powered lifesavers they are today. In fact, they’re now so common that many hospitals gift them to new moms after birth.

Maternity leaves make early child care possible

Linda (Business Strategy & Operations)

“As a new mom, I’m beyond grateful for supportive parental leave policies. Thanks to Modern Fertility’s maternity leave, I’ve been able to spend the last few months with my now three-month-old baby girl (not to mention recover from childbirth!). It has been an absolute gift to be able to get to know my new baby and share the newborn phase with her. I’ll forever cherish these memories with my happy, sweet, and drooly baby. I’m lucky to be able to return to a job that I love!” – Linda (Business Strategy & Operations)

Did you know?
The Family and Medical Leave Act (which was passed back in 1993) has had an incredible impact on new parents’ ability to take off work to spend time with their children, but the nationwide policy is still unpaid. This decision sets the US behind many European countries. That said, the US at a bit of an advantage — we can look at other countries’ policies to make ours more inclusive and less gendered. Here’s to hoping 2020 sees the passing of national parental paid leave!

Fertility information is becoming more accessible

Afton (CEO and co-founder)

“I’m thankful for women asking "why" and that we are living at a time where women are demanding more information about their bodies and demanding that a new conversation about women's health happens. This force has allowed Modern Fertility to exist — and leaves me grateful to be able to love my job, our team, and what we are building.” – Afton (CEO and co-founder)

Kim (Marketing)

“I love that conversations about fertility are taking place more out in the open. Planning for it, struggling with it — none of it is easy or straightforward. For a long time, women and couples grappled with these in private and often felt like they were the only ones having a hard time and that there was some stigma attached to that. There is so much we can learn from each other, ways we can support each other. We still have a ways to go, but I am so grateful for the progress we’ve made and for all the people out there who have shared their stories and made this more okay to talk about.” – Kim (Marketing)

We’re all thankful that more and more people are openly talking about fertility. With the launch of new franchises like the New York Times Fertility section, there are more opportunities than ever to hear people’s stories and buff up on fertility knowledge.

Emily (Product)

“Many women that I meet talk about egg freezing as the only option for waiting to have kids. But that’s not true! There are tons of things you can do to keep healthy, including what we eat, exercise, and removing plastics from your lifestyle. Modern Fertility provides the option to check in on your hormones every year to see how things are going. I am grateful to have the info to make informed decisions, versus being scared and rushing into things.” – Emily (Product)

All of us here at Modern Fertility believe that having more information about fertility improves women’s lives and helps them take control of their timelines. For a deep dive into how your hormones could impact future fertility, check out the Modern Fertility test.

Original research and writing by Sarah duRivage-Jacobs

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Afton + Carly

We're the co-founders of Modern Fertility–working on making fertility information more accessible for women everywhere–and we're so glad you're here.

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