As a woman in the Netherlands, if you want to find out what the state of your fertility is, you first need to have tried to conceive for at least a year. This will finally change thanks to the Grip Fertility self-test, according to CEO and founder Anne Marie Droste. “Of course, we cannot guarantee that you will become pregnant. However, we can use it to detect the most common causes of fertility problems and to draw up a risk profile.”

A smart lass is prepared for her future. A good education, a dazzling career, and economic independence: expectations of young women in the year 2020 are sky-high. But before you have all those things figured out, you’ll probably already be in your thirties. And the odds of a spontaneous pregnancy rapidly decline then.

Droste had turned 30 herself. She was living in Singapore and was fortunate to have a steady relationship and a good job at a thriving international investment company when at some point she thought: is that all there is?… All I will do for the rest of my life is work, work, work. She wanted to do so many other things. To travel, maybe build a house herself or start a business.

Unlike her boyfriend, she didn’t have an overwhelming desire for children just yet. But she didn’t want to rule out having children either. Droste: “I realized that while my boyfriend could easily have kids after the age of 40, this might become very difficult or even impossible for me as a woman. That’s why I wanted to find out what the state of my fertility was like.”

Wait one year

When she went to her doctor in Singapore for a test, after having surfed the internet for all kinds of statistics, her egg reserves turned out to be lower than average for her age. Which could be an indication of early menopause. Once back in the Netherlands, she soon found out that in order to qualify for a fertility test, you must have tried in vain to get pregnant for at least a year.

Droste: “Don’t get me wrong. I am very happy with the Dutch healthcare system. But that stipulation automatically turns you into a problem case. While many of the most common fertility issues are easy to detect and treat. For example, you can treat thyroid problems fairly easily with medication, surgically repair clogged Fallopian tubes, and regulate a disrupted cycle with customized dietary hormone therapy.”

Prevention is better than cure

So, why isn’t there such a thing as a check-up option, which allows you to filter out those anomalies? Droste likes to compare it with a six-monthly visit to the dentist. “Surely you go to a dentist for a check-up too, just so you don’t get cavities? Then why do you have to wait so long for an examination and treatment for fertility issues?”

Droste still set off on a trip around the world. After which, once back in the Netherlands, she decided to put her money where her mouth is. Together with a befriended gynecologist-in-training, whom she knew from her time studying at Cambridge, she consulted Frank Broekmans, Professor of Reproductive Medicine at the UMC Utrecht.

Droste: “I felt a bit uncomfortable about doing that. But that professor seemed to share our opinion. He said: ‘As a doctor, it’s very frustrating that you see people who are in fact just too late. I regularly have bad news conversations, when I have to tell people that they are too late, simply because they didn’t know any better. There’s nothing that can be done about that anymore.'”

Statistics

In short, the harm has already been done. Statistics show that 12.5 % of highly educated women ultimately end up unintentionally childless. This is not so surprising Droste says. In practice, having children at an early age still means a blow to their careers for women and a considerable loss of income.

If you wait too long, however, it often turns out that it is not that straightforward to become pregnant just like that. For one thing, you may find that you ovulate irregularly after years of having to take the pill on account of heavy periods. Then you’ve got to wait a whole year before you qualify for an examination. Now that’s not such a big deal when you’re 26. But if you are 10 years older when you start with this line of treatment, your chances of becoming pregnant become increasingly slimmer.

The average age at which highly-educated women have their first child is now 34 in the Netherlands. And ultimately, as many as 1 in 8 highly-educated women remain childless unintentionally. I can already see this happening around my friends my age – that having children turns out not to be such a foregone conclusion as they had previously thought.”

Finger prick test

To measure is to know, however, and it surprised Droste how simple it is to detect the most common causes of fertility issues in women. There were already studies done in the U.S. on this. We have incorporated the resultant insights into our self-test.

What does this test entail? With one simple finger prick at home, you can draw 7 to 10 drops of blood and send this into us. This blood sample is then tested in the lab for the various hormones and blood levels. This enables us to detect four things: 1) an irregular ovulation 2) a risk of clogged fallopian tubes as a result of a Chlamydia infection 3) thyroid abnormalities that make pregnancy more difficult and increase the risk of miscarriages and 4) the existing egg reserves. Once that is completed, everyone gets a follow-up consultation with one of our doctors, irrespective of the test results.

Freedom of choice

Droste and her team cannot offer a guarantee for a child. Whether or not someone can conceive invariably depends on several other factors, such as having a steady partner and the quality of his sperm. After all – it takes two to tango. Droste: “However, what we can do is provide women with a risk profile, so they are able to make a well-considered choice. What matters to me is that women have control over their own bodies. Also where their fertility is concerned.”

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About the author

Author profile picture Erzsó Alföldy is a versatile and experienced journalist with a background in science and culture. Writes about sustainability, the energy transition and equal opportunities for women in the labour market. Follows closely the developments in her native Hungary. For Innovation Origins she is currently producing a series of articles on female entrepreneurship and the funding gap'.