Ep 61: Building The Fertility Tribe with Kristyn Hodgdon
Fertility Forward Episode 61:
Everyone’s fertility journey is different. Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma around fertility issues and not a lot of support available to those who are dealing with them. Kristyn Hodgdon is on a mission to change this. The organization which Kristyn founded, The Fertility Tribe, empowers women through sharing fertility related stories and providing resources and support during all stages of the fertility journey. On today’s episode, Kristyn shares her own personal fertility story, which is filled with very high highs and very low lows, and she explains what motivated her to start the blog which turned into The Fertility Tribe. She is now the mother of twins conceived via IVF, but it took a lot of time and sacrifice to get there. Parenthood doesn’t always come easily, but The Fertility Tribe is a community which women can turn to in times of need, and that is one of the most valuable offerings imaginable.
Rena: Hi everyone! We are Rena and Dara, and welcome to Fertility Forward. We are part of the wellness team at RMA of New York, a fertility clinic affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York city. Our Fertility Forward podcast brings together advice from medical professionals, mental health specialists, wellness experts, and patients, because knowledge is power and you are your own best advocate.
Rena: We are so excited to welcome today to fertility forward, Kristin Hodgdon, the founder of The Fertility Tribe, a lifestyle brand redefining fertility, empowering women with inspiring stories, a community of support and expert resources to guide them on their unique journey to motherhood. She lives in Long Island, New York with her husband, Dan, and their twins, Brooke and Charlie who were conceived via IVF. Check out The Fertility Tribe’s free infertility support community and app, and join the conversation on Instagram @thefertilitytribe.
Rena: We're so excited to welcome you on. I love, love, love the Fertility tribe and send all my patients your way. And we’re so excited to, you know, broaden the reach and share the amazing things that you offer with our listeners. So thank you so much.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Dara: We would love, love, love to hear your story and how The Fertility Tribe started, its infancy, and also how it's evolved over the years.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Yeah. Absolutely. So to go way back to the beginning of my fertility journey. So I always sort of had irregular cycles as a teenager and went on the pill at about sixteen, maybe a little older than that and was on it for 11 years. So kind of always had in the back of my mind that I might have, you know, ovulation issues when I went off the pill, but was super excited after we got married to, to start trying to have a baby. And so I came off the pill sort of wanting to just flush it out of my system because I felt like I had been on it for so long and I never got my period back. So fast forward a couple months, I went to my OBGYN. She ran some tests and I got diagnosed with PCOS. The interesting part about my story is that we hadn't been trying for a very long if at all. We really just recognized that there was a problem while we were kind of getting ready to start trying and much to my surprise, my OB was just like, you have to go to a fertility clinic. I can't prescribe you Clomid. I don't do that here. Here's a referral. And off I went and I was sort of shell shocked because you know, I hadn't even started trying. Now I'm sitting in a fertility clinic waiting room. I don't know about, about your clinic, but my clinic was not very friendly as far as like no one makes eye contact. I think it's just such a shame. Like, you know, people feel a lot of shame about going through infertility and no one looked up from their phones and here I am like under 30 and every doctor is telling me that you're going to be fine. You just need some Clomid you just don’t ovulate and you're going to be pregnant in no time. Fast forward a year and I was starting IVF. So, I always say that like my body was going through the motions, but my brain took a really long time to catch up. Cause I was like, wait a minute, I'm young, I'm healthy. And you know, doing all the right things. I, you know, okay, I have PCOS, but they're telling me I just need Clomid and why isn't this working?
Dara: That's a lot to take in I'm sure, all at once?
Kristyn Hodgdon: Yeah. I had just had no one else who had gone through it. None of my friends were even thinking about kids and, and we had started to think about it. Weren't ready to start trying actively yet. But, but when we knew we were up against this, we sort of said to ourselves well we know we want to be parents. So if we wait, we don't know how long it'll take. So we should probably just jump right into it. And, you know, hindsight is 20/20, but I always think now looking back that, you know, I could've maybe tried some more natural remedies to try to heal my cycle. I mean, I don't, you never know. It works for some women with PCOS and not others, but I just got kind of thrown right into the fertility treatment world and what I didn't realize was that it was so time consuming. I mean I live in one part of Long Island. My clinic was about 20 to 30 minute drive away. So all those morning monitoring appointments, you know, I would have to drive to, well actually have my husband or my mom drop me off at the clinic so that I could go for monitoring. And then I would have to hop on the Long Island railroad to get to my job in the City, like three times a week. And I don't think it's talked about enough. I think there's so much talk about IVF in this community and, you know, timed intercourse and IUIs if you're being pretty closely monitored, it's just as much if not even more of a commitment time-wise and you know, and then for not as great of success rates, it can feel like you're putting in all this work. Sorry, go ahead.
Rena: I was gonna say, I think I'm emotionally too. I always tell my patients. I actually think IUIs are more emotionally taxing than IVF because as you said, the statistics don’t bump you up that much and it's super scary because it feels very invasive. You know, there are still doctors involved, sometimes medications, and I think it's, it's really scary. I think once you jump to IVF, you actually tend to feel a little bit more in control. And so I think, as you said, people don't talk that much about timed intercourse or IUI being just as tough.
Dara: So I have a quick question. Were you also, in terms of Clomid, was that something that you did before your cycles?
Kristyn Hodgdon: So my OBGYN said she couldn't prescribe Clomid. So she sent me right to the fertility doctor and I started timed intercourse with Clomid and then when that didn't work, I started IUI with Clomid. But I ended up getting really bad mood swings and side effects from Clomid. So I always say that I would take IVF any day over Clomid and IUIs, like, I found it to be awful. I was like a different person.
Dara: It's so interesting. I had a similar experience, but my OB, my old OB actually put me on Clomid. There was a part of me that kind of wishes that he didn't, sent me to a fertility clinic and I was, you know, what they ended up doing when they realized Clomid wasn't working was I ended up taking that HSG test to look at my uterus, my cervix and the tubes, and that's where the issue was. But it's so interesting. It's such a strong medicine and it often doesn't make people feel great. It can be very helpful, but I've, I know it's not great for everyone.
Kristyn Hodgdon: I call it the devil's drug. I despised it. And when I, and when I told my doctor that I was having really bad side effects and mood swings, she ended up taking me off of it and putting me on Letrozole and that didn't work for me at all. And so I had this monster of a cycle where I went from Letrozole, I had zero response and then they put me on injectables, which at that point, and this was my last IUI cycle, and they put me on injectables and then I was over-responding. So then they had to put the dosage way down so that I wouldn't produce a ton of follicles for an IUI. And that's when I hit my breaking point. I said, why are we not just doing IVF at this point? And I was so frustrated. I was at my wit's end. It was a six week or something cycle? And at the end of it, I think I had two or three follicles. And they were like, do you want to take the chance and do the IUI? And I said, well, at this point, I guess, and so I did it and it didn't work. And then I, I was crying in my doctor's office, just begging to let me start IVF. And the thing that makes me angry is that no one had told me that I had coverage for IVF all along.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Yeah. So I'm forever grateful to my employer at the time they had amazing IVF coverage and fertility coverage and even egg freezing coverage. And, but no one had even like sat me down and looked to tell me what my coverage was in the event that I needed IVF in the, in the event that I wanted to pursue IVF. So I'm like sitting here, you know, going through pretty much almost a year of failed cycles, when all along…and I know that a lot of times want to do the IUI is first and I get that. And some insurance providers even require that you do X amount of IUIs, but I was just so disheartened by the whole process. And then I actually switched doctors when I started IVF and between the doctors switch and the just overall, I think having more control over, I think IVF gave me more of a sense of control. Like, okay, the work I'm putting in here is yielding eggs at the end of this, you know, and possibly embryos. Whereas the IUI, I felt like every time it failed, I had nothing to show for any of it. So IVF was like a welcome change for me on my journey. And then, because I have PCOS, I actually yielded really nice results on my retrieval. I did go into slight hyperstimulation, but I ended up getting 12 embryos. So it was like a big weight off my shoulders when I got that call.
Dara: Which is always, it's so ironic. Cause it's quite invasive. But if, you know, I'm sure it's such a relief getting the good results. Did you switch clinics or did you stay at the same clinic and just switch doctors?
Kristyn Hodgdon: I just switched doctors, which is something that I talk about a lot because I had never really been comfortable with my first doctor. She kind of just kept saying, you're going to be fine. We're gonna get you pregnant. And I kind of took that as she's a straight shooter and it's, and I like that and she's confident and it's going to work. And then she never really got the emotional aspect of the failures. And you know, every time I had a negative test, a different person called me. It was never my physician. And so I, I think I just, I personally need more of like a comforting bedside manner and going into IVF I also think that pursuing IVF, they took me more seriously as a patient because you're spending more money with them or, or what. I think they definitely took me more seriously as a patient, but I loved my doctor who, who I went through IVF with and she ultimately got me pregnant. So!
Rena: Good for you for advocating for yourself.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Yeah. I mean, I had spent too many months kind of just going through the motions and I was finally like, what is going to give me the highest success rate and who is going to get me there? You know?
Rena: Yeah. Well, and it seems like, you know, you're so lucky you got your beautiful children. But then tell us how The Fertility Tribe was born too.
Kristyn Hodgdon: I had always sort of had in the back of my head when I was going through it, like the whole, I mentioned it before, but the whole, no one makes eye contact at the fertility clinic waiting room. And there was such a lack of understanding. I mean, my mom and my husband were amazing, but my friends didn't really get it because they had never been through it. Never even thought about trying to conceive. My one friend who had kids had gotten pregnant immediately and was pregnant with her second at that point. So I just felt really, you know, isolated, like I was the only one and I felt like there had to be something better out there, stories, support resources. So I basically started writing, my, my background is publishing and I just started writing down what I wish I had known on my journey, kind of like the things that I mentioned before. Like I wish I knew the time commitment that went into it. I wish I knew the toll it took on your marriage. I wish I knew everything I wish I knew I was, there was no handbook, you know, when I was going through it. But at least I figured if, if I started blogging about it and posting about it, maybe others wouldn't feel so alone. So it started as a personal blog and then when I got pregnant and a few months into my pregnancy with twins, I said, if I don't really turn this into like what I've envisioned, I'm going to have twins and have no time. So I realized also at that point that I was only one person with one story and I held a little bit of imposter syndrome to be totally honest, like I'm pregnant now. What do people want to hear from me? I made it to the other side and I had a fairly successful IVF journey. You know, the brunt of my heartbreak was the IUIs and the timed intercourse which I think is valid and, and all that. But I kept seeing these women who kept having failed IVF cycles and I thought to myself, like I don't have that kind of story. So I stepped away a little bit. And then I realized that just maybe I just need to be sharing all sorts of journeys, everything from donor conception to adoption, to show people that, you know, not only does this affect one in eight couples in the US but it's not just IVF and not IUI, it's surrogacy, it's adoption, it's donor sperm. And so started sharing stories and, and kind of created like, without even meaning to like, a digital publishing platform surrounding all things fertility, which ties really well into what is actually my background, which is publishing. So it's been really fun. There is no shortage of topics to talk about when it comes to fertility and just spreading that education. Cause I think it all stems from like, we're taught at a young age that you have sex and you get pregnant and kind of de-stigmatizing and kind of un-shrouding it in mystery that there's not always a super easy route to parenthood.
Rena: I love that. And so tell us some of the things, you know, that your site offers to people who come in. I know you have an app. I know it's a whole community. I always send people your way, but I'd love for you to share.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Yep. So our site is broken down by topic. So whatever stage the journey you're at, whether you're just looking for like TTC tips, there's a page for that. If your doctor tells you, you might want to consider donor eggs, there's a section for that, which I think is really important because that can be such a devastating time for women. Like they feel like they're broken. They feel like why can't my own eggs, you know, work in this situation and reading these stories on our site from other women who are like, I could not picture having a different child than the one I have that is donor conceived. Not to say that those feelings aren't valid cause, but normalizing those feelings. I think it helps people realize that, you know, these are all normal emotions like grieving your biological tie to your child. So stuff like that, like surrogacy tips, we just posted an article about that last week. Male infertility is a topic that I'm learning so much more about. I didn’t realize how many intricacies there were in that department. And then, you know, Instagram is our biggest platform and we share all sorts of content. We have a bunch of clinic partners and we do Instagram lives about various topics related to fertility. And then we have our free infertility support community and app, which is on a platform called mighty networks. And there's a downloadable app version as well. And that is where there's about 4,500 women on there all time. Like the, what, what stage of the journey they're at, so it's a great way to find people who are kind of cycling with you or have been down the same path and people are really connecting on there. And it's really nice to see. It's kind of like what I wish I had had when I was going through it.
Dara: It's nice to see that you have something for everyone. And I was actually going to ask in terms of, if you have any information for male infertility because I do feel like that is somewhat of an untapped area that I think is really needed. So it's wonderful to see that you also cater to men.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Yeah. We read an article recently about sperm DNA fragmentation, which I had never heard of before. I had heard of like motility morphology and all those characteristics, but DNA fragmentation is a whole other thing to worry about, I guess.
Rena: So you're really like a one stop shop. You know, I always tell people, just check it out. You're going to find things and I love that you're reputable. So you're not getting lost in like the whole of the internet or Dr. Google, you post reputable things. It's a really wonderful community. I think, I mean, it's incredible! You've created and you know, Dara and I always talk about, it's so amazing to meet other women in this space who got into this because of your own experience and seeing a lack in, you know, the care. And so it's amazing that you made this, you know?
Dara: And it's also so nice to see that in some ways the, the, the blog, the site, the app in some ways has been quite cathartic to you, a way of healing, because, you know, even though you've kind of downplayed your experience, but it's still, I'm sure was quite an emotional experience. And it's nice to see that you've been able to hopefully heal through that as well.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Yeah. And I, and I will say that we also focus on pregnancy and motherhood after infertility. I mean, we're not posting baby bumps and stuff like that, but, you know, I think it's important to share with women that infertility doesn't just end when you get a positive pregnancy test because, you know, it didn't for me. And especially when you go through, you know, loss and miscarriage, it can be traumatic in its own way. And I think as a mom, you know, women who go through IVF have a higher rate of postpartum anxiety and depression and, and, and even now like that, I'm on the other side, I still think about like, I still have embryos. And that's something that my friends who didn't do IVF have to think about, like, do I use them? Do I not use them? If I don't use them, what do I do with them? Like, I'm kind of in that boat right now where I would love another one, but I'm terrified. My embryos are not genetically tested. So that's a whole other decision. And then financially, and you know, right now my new insurance through my husband's company doesn't cover anything at my clinic where I got pregnant. So if I want to go back and have it covered, I'm going to have to transfer my embryos to another clinic, which just like the superstitious person in me is like, what I had success there. I don't want to go somewhere else. So it's just like, I'm realizing that there's all of these things that women who are infertile have to think about that maybe others kind of get a pass on.
Rena: Sure. And I think you pointed out something really good, which is, you know, we've passed so many laws for insurance coverage in New York, but there are still so many loopholes and inconsistencies and it's still super difficult to navigate the system.
Kristyn Hodgdon: I'm very lucky that this is like my first experience with having to deal with insurance companies and all that stuff to figure out what's covered, what's not what… but it shouldn't be like, okay, at this clinic, you get coverage and at this clinic, you don't, it doesn't really make sense to me, but hopefully we're with advocacy we're moving in that direction.
Dara: Let’s hope. So where do you see The Fertility Tribe going down the road a couple of years time? Five years time? what are your hopes and dreams?
Kristyn Hodgdon: So we may or may not have something in the, in the works right now to become way more tech-enabled. I would love to have our own app. Like right now we're on a third-party platform. I would love to have sort of like our website and community all integrated into one. So it's tough because right now it's only me. So I'd love to grow and expand. And yeah, I mean, I think unfortunately or fortunately there's like no shortage of people going through this and that need the information and need the resources. And I can only hope that I provide some sort of solace during a very difficult time.
Rena: Well, good for you, really excited to see, you know, where you go and so happy to have you as a resource and inspiration. I think, you know, what you've created is incredible. And I already see it making a difference to so many.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Yay. Thank you. I appreciate you recommending The Fertility Tribe to your patients. I think some people just don't even know where to look.
Rena: Yeah. And there's some out there. And so that's a, you know, again, you're a one-stop shop and I know you guys have support groups also.
Kristyn Hodgdon: We do. Oh yes. I forgot to mention that. Every other Thursday night we do free zoom support groups.
Dara: Oh wow.
Kristyn Hodgdon: And it's super casual, you know, we just kinda, kinda like a giant zoom event session.
Rena: Well, I think that's great. So thank you so much for coming on and sharing and you know, so excited to see how you continue to grow and build. And hopefully people listening will be new, new community members who can benefit from everything you have to offer.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Well, thank you ladies for having me. I appreciate you.
Dara: Of course. And so how we always end is we discuss gratitude, what we're grateful for today. So what are you grateful for at this very moment? It could be anything.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Well, always my children, but also daycare. I went a whole year of COVID without any childcare. So they just started and it's, it's been bittersweet because I loved the time with them, but also I'm able to have a lot more time to work on The Fertility Tribe.
Dara: That's a good one.
Rena: I've been like waiting for people to kind of walk by and wondering how is your house so quiet?
Kristyn Hodgdon: Yes, three days a week, I get to work, which is nice.
Rena: So necessary. Dara, what about you?
Dara: I actually will piggyback. I'm definitely grateful for childcare, for teachers. I feel like teachers are pretty amazing, especially this past year with, with everything that they've had to go through. But I was just thinking I'm like, I'm basic, basic today. I'm excited. I'm very happy that there's sunshine. That I feel like the, the weather's changing. I'm grateful for sun,for nature. What about you, Rena?
Rena: I always love nature. I was lucky to get to go out in the woods this weekend and just reconnect. So, yeah. And I guess it was just earth day. So I'm gonna, jump on that. I love trees. It's so important to just ground ourselves and disconnect and unplugged so grateful for that. And then, you know, a plug to everyone to just disconnect to reconnect cause it's so important.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Absolutely.
Dara: Beautiful. Thanks again for coming on and everyone check out The Fertility Tribe.
Kristyn Hodgdon: Thank you ladies.
Dara: Thank you so much for listening today and always remember: practice gratitude, give a little love to someone else and yourself, and remember - you are not alone. Find us on Instagram @fertility_forward. And if you're looking for more support, visit at www.rmany.com and tune in next week for more Fertility Forward.