Infertility Challenges and Options: Podcast Episode #177
Kristin talks with Dr. Amy Beckley, Founder and CEO of Proov about infertility challenges and options. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello, hello. This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am excited to chat with Amy Beckley. She is the CEO and founder of Proov, and Amy is also a PhD scientist. So welcome, Amy. I’m so excited to chat with you about both your professional journey and your personal infertility journey.
Dr. Amy: It is so good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Kristin: Share a bit about your professional background, and let our listeners know more about Proov. And then we’ll get into your personal journey.
Dr. Amy: Yeah, sure. So I am a scientist. I started off thinking I wanted to go to med school, and I volunteered in an ER. The first time I had to hold the hand of a poor man getting stitches, I about passed out. And so I decided that maybe that medical field was not right for me. But I still loved science and how things work and biology, and so I went to school to get a PhD. I studied pharmacology, so it’s like how things work. How different body systems communicate to each other, with a special focus on hormones. So I did things like stress signaling, like cortisol hormone. I did breast cancer signaling, so what happens when the breast metastasizes to the lungs and how that happens.
Dr. Amy: Yeah. So I just really love science and just wanted to kind of make an impact in the space. I always wanted to do something – they call it in the field translational, which means take something out of the lab into the world where people can actually use it. And so that was really my goal, to create something that had an effect, right, like an actual product that was actually changing lives and creating an impact. There’s so much really cool research that’s done within universities and companies that never comes to light. So I always knew that I wanted to create that impact. I couldn’t be a medical provider and do patient-facing care. I wanted to provide tools for the medical professionals to do their jobs better.
Kristin: I love it. So was Proov your first business, or did you have other concepts that you brought into the world before Proov?
Dr. Amy: No, it’s my first and only. After I got my PhD, we do what’s called a post-doc, which is like postdoctoral training, kind of like a residency for the medical field, but for science. And during that, I had gotten married, and I had moved into a nice house and a new, nice neighborhood with a good school. And we’re like, okay, let’s just have kids. How hard could it be? And we struggled and struggled. And then we got pregnant, and we lost that pregnancy. And then we got pregnant, and we lost that one again. It just became very clear to me that it wasn’t easy. Physicians were missing it. Here I was, this educated, scientific-minded person: could not get pregnant. And it was – my diagnosis was unexplained infertility, which is the most common diagnosis you can get. I was like, man, this field needs – we need to figure this out because we just don’t have the right tools and diagnostics. My personal journey was I had – my first child was an IVF child. He is now 12. It was basically like, we don’t know what’s wrong with you, Amy, and since we don’t know what’s wrong, really the only thing that’s going to work really well is IVF. It’s kind of like that medical band aid that just kind of fixes everything that could possibly be wrong. So I went through that IVF process. Then when we went to try again for our second child, I was like, I really just – I don’t want to do IVF. I’d rather figure it out. I mean, I have all these tools and knowledge, and I was connected to a really amazing reproductive endocrinologist and really talented doctors. Let’s put the science and the medicine together. Let’s figure this out. And we came up with this diagnostic where we look at the hormone called progesterone after ovulation. So progesterone is the pro-gestational hormone. It is what keeps a woman pregnant, and it prepares the uterus for implantation. And we weren’t monitoring this hormone enough in that you can’t just go and get a blood test and be like, oh, yeah, everything’s fine. Just like you can’t go get a blood test for a single glucose. It doesn’t make sense. You have to track trends, and you have to make sure that hormone remains elevated. So we created a urine-based test where we look at the metabolite in urine of progesterone across the entire implantation window, and we look, is it sustained? Is it elevated? Does it come down too early? We can really talk about this idea of a healthy ovulation, and we can look at, are there possible ovulatory disorders? Because my problem wasn’t timing. It wasn’t that I wasn’t getting pregnant. It was that I wasn’t able to stay pregnant. It was something not to do with timing. It was something to do with implantation and maintaining a pregnancy.
Kristin: It’s amazing that you have personal experience that probably just elevated your passion for this work.
Dr. Amy: Yeah. I mean, through the course of my journey, I’ve had seven losses. And I just – at the end, I kind of – I say coming out of the closet, for lack of a better word – but I just kind of – you know, you go through it, and you just don’t want to tell anybody. You feel like less of a woman. You feel ashamed. You’re like, what is wrong with me? I can’t even conceive. I mean, look at everybody else. Look at all these kids. I closed myself off. And then after my family was complete, I opened up, and I was like, this is what happened. This is what I did. And I just had so many women, friends, privately message me, like I’m going through the same thing. What did you do? What can I say? And I would just educate them one on one on questions to ask, what kinds of tests did they need, things that they could try. And then finally, one day, one of my good friends that also went through IVF, she called me, and she said, we have to do something. We have to at least try to fix this because no one else is doing this. No one else is creating these tools. Why don’t we just do it? So we did. We just bought a bunch of reagents and went down to my basement and kind of – okay, all right, so the literature says we can do this. All right, I can make some prototypes. I can get this to work. Okay. We launched a crowdfunding campaign and presented it to women, to couples. Hey, if we built this, would you buy it, and they did. And so we made it.
Kristin: I love it. So you’re getting a response before you’re fully to market. I love crowdfunding, especially for women-owned businesses because it’s so hard to raise capital.
Dr. Amy: Yeah, definitely.
Kristin: So as far as – I mean, obviously, the IVF process is not only expensive, but there are disappointments, the hormone fluctuations. There are just so many issues when taking that on, and so it sounds like your solution is not only simpler, but more economical for families who are trying to conceive.
Dr. Amy: Yeah, absolutely. So as part of IVF, you retrieve the eggs, and then you transfer the fertilized embryo back in, and then you support the luteal phase with progesterone. It’s usually a big, fat needle, straight to the butt. It’s not fun. It’s really painful.
Kristin: That’s what I hear, yes.
Dr. Amy: But I asked my doctor – I was like, let’s just skip the IVF part, and I would just like to support my luteal phase with progesterone because I just don’t think I’m making enough of it after ovulation to really support that pregnancy. And so that’s what I did for my daughter, who’s now nine. I monitored ovulation. I timed intercourse. And I started the progesterone, and I just kept taking it, and then I got a positive pregnancy test, and I continued taking it throughout the entire first trimester, and that was it. That’s all I did was just add progesterone. It was like that missing piece because there was no diagnostic out there to tell you that somebody didn’t have enough progesterone to support pregnancy.
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Kristin: So what does the investment look like for a family? At what point should they be reaching out to you?
Dr. Amy: I really like making fertility diagnostics affordable and accessible. So we are actually FDA-cleared for home use, and so these women can buy these on their own. They’re on Amazon. They’re on our website. We’re launching in a major retailer in a couple months.
Kristin: That’s so exciting. I saw you could get them from your website, but yeah, it’s very accessible.
Dr. Amy: I mean, what’s more accessible than the Amazon truck?
Dr. Amy: I’ve seen it, some women, they get it the same day. Two hours later, they show up on their doorstep. It’s really cool. Our base kits are $29, so we try to make them really affordable, as well. And then if you do find an issue and you need a treatment, the medications that typically come in order to treat these types of issues are, like the ones that are covered under your $10 copays through insurance.
Dr. Amy: Yeah.
Kristin: That’s so affordable and accessible and simple.
Dr. Amy: Yeah. It’s just – we didn’t know that this was an option, so it goes from trying ourselves straight to IVF, and we really want to create that kind of middle ground where it’s like, all right, we’ve been trying a while. It just hasn’t happened. Before we go see and RE or think about IVF, why don’t we try Proov, see if we can identify any issues. And then you’re kind of armed with that knowledge, that if you do identify an issue, your OB can treat you. You don’t have to go to an RE. And it really just cuts down that time. Also, absolutely hated these arbitrary time limits where it was like, you’ve got to try 12 months or have 3 losses to go seek care. And I was like, what? Come on. That’s ridiculous.
Kristin: And some people if they are delayed, they don’t have that much of a window to conceive, if they’re older.
Dr. Amy: Yeah. If we arm them with that knowledge, and it’s like they come in there with, hey, I’ve identified this issue, that speeds up that clock. You don’t have to do these arbitrary time limits.
Kristin: I love it. And so you’re bringing information, then, to your OB. So tell us a bit more about why it’s important to be self-empowered when managing your own personal healthcare journey, especially with, obviously, pre-conception and conception.
Dr. Amy: I mean, I just – I think it’s really important to self-advocate for yourself and do what you feel is right. There is no right or wrong answer. It’s what right for you and what’s right for your family. Like, we have a traditional health system that tells you, you have to wait 12 months, and then you have to go to an OB, and then you have to deliver in a hospital. And like, all these different things. It’s like, no, you don’t. If that’s not right for your family, then you don’t have to do that. Just knowing that there are these resources. The other thing I like to say is you’re hiring these people to be your care providers. And if you go in to a medical provider, a doctor’s office, whatever, and you’re not getting the support that you need, you’re getting brushed off, they’re telling you things that you’re like, eh, I don’t know if that’s right for me – fire them. Go find somebody else. The best care that you can get is when you have an active conversation between yourself and your medical provider, and it’s a two-way street because you are the expert on you, and that medical provider is an expert in medicine. And when you put the two minds together, that’s when you see the best treatment outcomes, the fastest, cheapest, best thing for you. And so if you can’t have that open dialogue and that open conversation with them, you’re going to struggle. You’re either going to spend too much money or you’ll be going around in circles. You’re not going to have a good experience.
Kristin: Agreed. Trust is everything. We relay that to our doula clients all the time. Wonderful advice. Do you have any other tips for our listeners who are silently struggling with infertility?
Dr. Amy: Yeah. One thing I’ve learned is that, like, a mother’s intuition is very, very real and correct a lot of times. And so if you feel like there’s something wrong, if you feel like they’re missing it, they’re not listening, you should follow that and you should again kind of search for that and think about it because a lot of times, it’s true, right? People go, oh, well, I don’t know if that’s right. Maybe I’m just crazy. It’s like, no, you have those thoughts because there’s a reason. And so bring them up to your provider. Think about them. Try to get solutions based off of that.
Kristin: I think planning is everything with the appointments being as short as they are. Just having some talking points written down to make sure you cover everything during your appointment.
Dr. Amy: Yes, that is a big one, too. Every time I go into those appointments, I would just get nervous and then they’d say something, and I’m like, okay, and I’d leave. And I’m like, darn it. There’s all these things I wanted to ask. Another really big tip was I had a little post-it note, and I think now we could probably do, like, notes on your phone or something, where as soon as you get a question, you just write it down. And then when you’re sitting there face to face with your provider and they say, anything else, you go yeah, and you bring out your post-it note or your phone notes, and you go through the questions, and you make sure everything is addressed because you do get – you forget in the moment, and then you don’t ask, or you feel nervous or whatever. So if you write them down and just read them out, you can get a lot of those answers.
Kristin: Great tip. So any other trusted resources to share with our listeners as they’re either struggling with infertility or planning future babies and they’re in that early stage of just talking about wanting to get pregnant?
Dr. Amy: Yeah, I would say getting involved sooner than later has always been better. So, for example, the couples that are like, okay, I’m struggling, but I’m just going to wait – they tend to spend more money on fertility treatments than the ones that are more kind of proactive. I call them the Type Aers. Like, teachers are huge Type A. They’re like, all right, I have to get pregnant in this month because then that coincides with summer break. They’re planning everything out. So that I suggest. We at Proov have a lot of information about fertility and resources and testing. We don’t just do the female side. We do a male side, as well, so we have a test for looking at modal sperm to make sure he is also functioning correctly because a lot of infertility is the male, as well, and we as females kind of put it all on our shoulders. We’re the one tracking and using the apps and all this stuff. And a lot of times, we just forget that it does take a sperm, too. It’s an egg and a sperm to conceive. There’s a lot of miseducation out there, as well. The biggest one is ovulation test. This is incorrect. It’s not an ovulation test. It’s not telling you if you’re ovulating. It’s telling you, do you have this hormone that spikes before you ovulate, but it’s not actually telling you that you are ovulating and you have a healthy ovulation and you can support implantation. And so there’s as lot of just misinformation out there that can be very frustrating to women. Period tracker apps is another one that’s kind of a love-hate relationship where they use calendars, and they don’t know your unique body. We have couples come in where they’re like, yeah, I’ve been timing intercourse off of my period tracker app for 12 months. I’m so frustrated it’s not working. I’m like, well, yeah, because it’s missing your ovulation. It’s missing the fact that you’re not having intercourse on the right days. Maybe you’re not even ovulating. Like, your app doesn’t know your hormones. It’s impossible to know. And so I get frustrated with the lack of information or wrong information, but we just – it’s not helpful. It’s actually harmful sometimes because people think, oh, it’s fine, and then they go straight to IVF because they’ve done everything they can possible do, and they timed intercourse, where it’s just the tools that you were using are just not as accurate as you thought they were.
Kristin: Yeah. And their friend may have used IVF with success, so it’s the only option that they know of. So with this information, I mean, the more options you have, the better.
Dr. Amy: Yes.
Kristin: So how do our listeners and doula clients find you? I know you have a website. You’re on a lot of different social media channels. What are the best ways to learn more, to connect, to order?
Dr. Amy: Yes. The best place is our website. There, you can sign up for emails. We have a bunch of educational content. There’s a bunch of blogs. All that stuff is free. You can do a quiz to see what kind of tests are available that might be right for you. We have a lot of educational content on Instagram @proovtest. It’s a great place where there’s scientific tidbits of information. We really try to educate women and couples to understand these ins and outs of fertility because it can be quite confusing. We have a really amazing group of users on Facebook. We have a user and support group on Facebook. It’s about 10,000 women right now. You go in, you learn about the products. You can go in there. You can talk about the products, what it means. You can get support. And then we have – once you graduate, we have a pregnancy group where women who’ve used Proov to get pregnant can talk about their pregnancies in a safe spot. Those are both on Facebook. You can also buy it on Amazon, so if you just search Proov Test on Amazon, there’s a variety of different tests and kits that we offer. We don’t just do fertility testing, but we also have products that support a healthy cycle. And so we have a couple of supplements that we offer that can really promote healthy hormones and a healthy cycle. Those are the best places to find us.
Kristin: Excellent. Thank you so much, Amy. It was lovely to chat with you, and I look forward to hearing some success stories from our clients and listeners.
Dr. Amy: Awesome. Well, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
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