By Lindsay Meisel, Head of Content at Ava
Today, Ava launched something called Unlock the Clock. And to explain it, I need to get a little personal.
I was recently discussing the prospect of having kids with a close girlfriend. We’re both 31, with stable careers and relationships. For each of us, a question looms: when?
If you’re a woman, I don’t have to explain what I’m talking about. There are entire message boards devoted to the period of time leading up to having kids (see r/WaitingToTry), a period which could describe a woman’s entire adult life (assuming, of course, that she wants kids). I got married in May, so the question has felt especially pertinent lately. Ever since my wedding, people have been asking me when I’m going to make them a great aunt, a grandparent, or a great grandparent (the fact that I work at a company that helps women get pregnant only encourages them).
On the particular day in question, I told my friend that I’d like to start trying in a year or so. “After all,” I said, “I’m not getting any younger.”
My friend blanched at the mention of age. “I hate it when women talk about declining fertility as a reason to have kids now. We have plenty of time. Even if we wait until our late 30s, there are options.”
Her point—that I should not succumb to societal pressure to breed before I’m ready—is one that I wholeheartedly agree with. The notion of women’s bodies as ticking time bombs is sexist and has been used for decades to create a false image of the conflicted career woman, consumed by regret for her missed opportunity for a family.
Still, I felt something was amiss in my friend’s assumption that she could simply get pregnant whenever she felt like it. The way she framed pregnancy—like a gun you wait to fire until just the right moment—didn’t square with what I’ve experienced at Ava when I talk to women who are trying to conceive. (Not to mention that infertility treatment is invasive, expensive, and emotionally draining, and there’s no guarantee that it will work.)
What I’ve learned since I joined Ava is that assuming the process of getting pregnant is entirely under your control can make you feel less in control. I used to imagine my life trajectory as a woman as binary: before kids and after kids. Now that I work on a product that helps women who are in the process of trying to get pregnant, I realize that the time spent trying to conceive can become its own phase of life—one in which most women are unprepared to linger indefinitely (the Japanese even have a word for this time: ninkatsu).
Part of the problem is that most of us are completely in the dark about how long it usually takes to get pregnant. When you’ve spent your entire life trying to avoid pregnancy, it’s natural to expect it to happen right after you take your last birth control pill. But there are only six days per month when a woman is fertile, and those days happen at different times for different women. Even if you accurately identify the fertile window, there are so many obstacles before sperm meets egg that there is only a 25 percent chance of conceiving each month in the best case scenario. If you’re not 25 years old, don’t have a regular menstrual cycle, or don’t have time for frequent intercourse, your odds of conceiving each month are considerably lower.
Stress about trying to conceive is not different than any other kind of stress: it stems from a mismatch between expectations and reality. When you expect to get pregnant right away, every month that it doesn’t happen feels like a loss. This is the type of thing that makes for casual lunchtime conversations at Ava, and over the course of one such conversation, someone suggested that the whole ordeal of getting pregnant would be a lot less stressful if you knew ahead of time how long it would take.
“Actually,” said one of our data scientists, “it wouldn’t be so hard to create something like that.” True, it’s impossible to know with 100% certainty how long it will take to conceive. It might take a 29 year-old over a year, while a 38 year-old could conceive in her first month of trying. But anomalies aside, the truth is that we actually have quite a bit of data about the impact of age and lifestyle factors on conception probability. The only problem is that the data isn’t very easy for the average couple to parse.
So we decided to create Unlock The Clock, a fertility calculator that predicts how long it will take to conceive based on your age and lifestyle factors. Our research and data science teams reviewed over 30 scientific papers on factors impacting fertility and created an algorithm to personalize the information based on individual situations. It’s not perfect—it doesn’t take into account genetics, for example. But it’s the best tool available today to predict time to conception. And the only one that doesn’t place the burden entirely on women. It also takes into account your partner’s age and lifestyle factors, from his caffeine consumption to his exercise habits.
Unlock the Clock is a research-backed method for setting reasonable expectations about how long it will take to conceive. Trying to get pregnant doesn’t have to feel like putting your life on hold. We hope Unlock the Clock gives couples the freedom to settle into their ninkatsu.