7 facts everyone with ovaries should know
A few months ago I started working at Grip as a 21 year old. I was almost done with my bachelor in business and international relations, and an internship at Grip seemed to be the perfect opportunity to learn more about how things work at a start-up. Even though I was super interested in what Grip does and what the company stands for from the start, I found that I know a lot less about what is going on inside my body than I thought.
The past two months at Grip have taught me so much about hormonal health and fertility. I wish I had learned this before and I feel like more people should know, especially if you have ovaries. So here goes: 7 facts for everyone with ovaries that I learned in my first months at Grip.
1. Getting pregnant is not as easy as the media makes it seem.
Most people talk about getting pregnant and starting a family like this is an option for everyone and something that happens easily. This is not the case at all. 1 in 6 couples struggle with fertility issues (ref 1). A lot of physical conditions can make getting pregnant a lot harder, for example because of PCOS or endometriosis. It should become normal to speak about the struggles of fertility and getting pregnant, without having the feeling of ‘failure’ if it doesn’t work.
2. Everyone with ovaries is born with the total amount of eggs they will ever have.
These eggs are ‘kept in the freezer’, so to say. Every month a part of these eggs are taken out of the freezer, after which one of these eggs will ovulate from the time you get your first period to the menopauze. The older you get, the lower your amount of eggs will be and less eggs will be taken out of the freezer each month. This amount of eggs taken out of the freezer, your AMH - value, can predict your ovarian reserve. Do you want to read more about AMH? Click here.
3. Two to 20% of people with ovaries have PCOS (ref 2).
PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is the most common cause of reduced fertility. I had heard of PCOS before, but had no idea what it was or that it is so common. PCOS gets diagnosed when you have at least two out of three symptoms: 1. An irregular cycle or no period at all. 2. A high testosterone level. 3. Cysts on the ovaries. At Grip we can test your testosterone levels, but cysts on the ovaries need to be checked with an echo by a doctor. If you want to read more about the ins & outs about PCOS, click here.
4. 27% of higher educated women end up not having children and 60% regret this (ref 3).
This means that one out of eight of my college girlfriends will regret not having children, because they waited too long. I did not expect such a high number of higher educated women to be involuntary childless. When I first saw these numbers I was shook. The reason behind these stats is partly due to the lack of a committed relationship or because we're pursuing a career. Of course there are plenty of other good reasons why someone would wait. Once some women decide they would like to have children after all, it might be the case that this is not physically possible anymore. One of the most important aspects of Grip is to prevent this and encourage women so we can be proactive and make informed choices with the data we provide. You simply have more possibilities when you are younger.
5. The hormones we test at Grip are exactly the same as your doctor would test.
The difference is that, in the Netherlands, your GP can only refer you for these tests after one year of trying to conceive and not succeeding. In that way, testing is more reactive than proactive and data about your own hormones cannot be taken into account when deciding on important dilemma’s like starting a family or building a career.
6. Information about your hormone levels is not only important if you are trying to conceive, but also for your total health.
As a student I am not even close to being ready to have a baby, but I do want to know what’s up with my body. Hormones keep your body in check. A disbalance as a consequence of an out of range value could be the cause of physical complaints. It is therefore always useful to check your hormones, also if you don’t want kids in the next few years.
7. Altogether, there is just not enough research done on female health (ref 4).
Does long-term use of an hormonal IUD have an effect on my fertility? Is the amount of eggs that I am born with genetically determined? These are questions that I have, and you'd think they're kind of basic. And yet, nobody (yet) has a good scientific answer. Hopefully this changes in the future, and hopefully Grip will be part of this change.
If you want to order a Grip test, click here.
Pal L. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. New York, NY: Springer New York; 2014:7.