When I was 18, I was completely sure that by 25 I’d be married to a man, doting on at least two children, and living in a house in Australia with a white picket fence.
Now on the cusp of 29, I’ve reassessed those goals. Marrying a man? Unlikely. Living in Australia? Maybe. Having a house? Well, hopefully, one day.
But kids — that’s always been a “for sure”.
Why I wanted to get a fertility test
With these goalposts always in a state of flux, I’m constantly aware of the ticking fertility time bomb that’s gradually getting louder and louder. Add into that a long-term same-sex relationship — and pregnancy just got a lot more complicated.
And then came coronavirus. Like many internationals, my plans of travelling and living in different countries were put on hold for almost two years while I sat in the Netherlands and baked banana bread.
Now, as we emerge blinking into the bright light of non-lockdown life, I’m ready to make up for those months spent inside. But, yet again, my plans of having a baby have been postponed. Postponed — but not cancelled.
Yet the “what ifs” never stop: what if I’m getting too old to have a baby? What if I have too few eggs? What if there are conditions hiding beneath my skin, like PCOS or endometriosis? What if when I eventually decide it’s the right time to have a child, it’s too late?
And then, the final question: What if I could ease my mind by taking a fertility test?
The red tape of fertility testing in the Netherlands
“Okay then,” I thought. “I’ll go to my doctor and request a test that will hopefully put my mind at ease.” Then, I remembered that I live in the Netherlands, a country whose hands-off approach to healthcare is famed for prescribing paracetamol.
Here’s what it takes to even be considered for a fertility test in the lowlands:
- First, you need to try to have a baby for at least 12 months. Don’t want a baby yet? Too bad.
- If you haven’t conceived after 12 months your GP (huisarts) might send you to a fertility specialist — but there’s no guarantee.
- At the fertility specialist, they might decide to run a fertility test.
You can’t skip any steps, which means if you just want information about your body and your timeline so you can plan without trying to have a baby yet — you can’t. At least not through the Dutch healthcare system.
Trying an at-home fertility test
Somewhere in the midst of my Googling and frustration, I found out that other women in the Netherlands had experienced the same roadblocks. Even better, some of those women had made a company to counteract it: Grip.
The founders (a doctor, a product manager, and an investor) recognised the challenges that women faced when trying to access information about their own bodies. So, they came up with a simple fix.
Grip promised an easy, at-home fertility test that was the same as the test a fertility specialist provides. No trying for a baby first, no GP visits, and no specialist clinics: just prick and post.
Even better? It’s all in English (or Dutch, your choice).
Ordering a fertility test online
So I decided to give it a go. Now, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all test that’s sent out in the masses. First, I needed to spend a few minutes taking a quiz and answering questions like “Are you on hormonal birth control?”.
Then, using my quiz answers, my test was customized for me: AMH, LH, testosterone, TSH, and Chlamydia IgG. I didn’t know what any of those things meant, but I did know what they could tell me:
- if I had a normal amount of eggs for my age
- at roughly what age I’ll enter menopause
- if I’m at risk of PCOS
- if I’m suitable for IVF or freezing my eggs
- if my thyroid is working well
- and if I’m at risk of having blocked tubes.
All important things that would affect my fertility. It’s important to note that it wouldn’t deliver a letter to my door saying “You are fertile and will get pregnant on your sixth try” — because no test can tell you that, even one performed at a hospital by a doctor.
So I thought “Why not?”, hit the check out button, and my test arrived on my doorstep two days later.
The first thing that struck me as I opened the cheerful yellow box was the amount of information inside. An English instruction booklet, a surprisingly cute cloth bag holding alcohol wipes, bandaids, a collection tube, lancets, a lab form and bag, a return envelope, and a few postcards with discount codes to pass on to friends. It was a lot, and I felt a little overwhelmed.
But when it actually came time to take the test — on the third day of my next period — I pulled it all out and realised it was surprisingly simple. It comes down to preparing, pricking, and sending.
Here’s what happened, in detail, so you know exactly what you might be in for:
1. Time your test
The timing matters. The test must be taken on the third day of your period (yes, specific, I know) and should be taken on an empty stomach. I did mine in the morning, right after waking up.
2. Fill out the lab form
The easiest form I’ve ever filled out: my name, my date of birth, and the date and time I was taking the test. Done! ✅
3. Get the blood flowing
This part felt kind of hilarious. Under the advice of both the trusty instruction booklet and heavily encouraged in a pre-pricking chat by the Grip team, this step shouldn’t be missed because it will help your blood start to flow — making it easier to take the test.
So, I floundered around my living room doing jumping jacks for a minute — my girlfriend had a good laugh at my expense. Next, I needed to warm my hand, so I filled a bowl of water with hot water from my electric kettle, then balanced it out with cold water until it was hot — but not scalding, obviously. I stayed there for two minutes, topping the bowl up with more hot water when necessary.
4. Prepare the goods
With a much warmer hand, I took the red mini collection tube and removed the cap, sitting the tube on my bathtub. Next, I took a lancet — a small device containing a needle that safely pricks skin — and twisted off the cap, ready to use.
5. Clean your finger
Feeling like a real nurse, I took one of the supplied alcohol swabs and cleaned a finger on my left hand. I didn’t read the instructions properly here and chose my index finger — that’s fine, but my ring finger or middle finger would have maybe been better because they’re used less.
6. Do the prick 😬
Look, I’m not scared of needles, but I don’t particularly like them, so I was understandably nervous for this part. I promise you: it’s easier than it seems.
The lancet is made so that the tiny needle (it’s just 2mm long) pops out only when there is pressure applied. When you press it against your finger it gives you a little prick, and as soon as you release the pressure the needle disappears — you don’t even see it. And I promise, it doesn’t hurt any more than accidentally pricking yourself with a sewing needle.
7. Collect the sample
As soon as I pricked, the first blood droplet formed on my finger. I wiped it away because with my new nurse skills I automatically knew that it wasn’t good (psych, I read it in the instruction manual).
Then came the fun part — getting the blood into the collection tube. My mind had been preoccupied with the prick, but it turned out aiming my dripping finger into the collection tube should have been my concern. I quickly lost my first drop to the side of the bathtub before my girlfriend stepped in to help hold my finger in the perfect position over the collection tube.
It takes 7-10 drops of blood to fill the container (yes, it’s way less than when you go get a blood test at a clinic). After losing a few drops of blood to the side of the bathtub, I had to prick another finger to fill the tube past the minimum of five millilitres.
Tip: Iffy around blood? No worries. You can request an appointment for a nurse to take your blood sample for you (at an extra cost).
8. Um, was that really it?
Yeah, I’m including this as a step because honestly, I thought the whole test would be more complicated. But I had already done the preparation and the pricking — now I just had to send it.
I packed it all up according to the instructions, threw out my trash, and then took an easy walk to my nearest mailbox. All I had to do was throw the package in there and it would navigate the Dutch postal system to one of the largest labs in the Netherlands.
How I felt after taking the test
Anything to do with planning for the future, investigating health, or thinking about big life decisions like kids can be scary. I spoke with various friends about the test I was taking, and at least one said they wouldn’t want to know. I get it — especially if there’s an unwelcome result.
For me personally, however, this knowledge is power. If my results aren’t what I expect, that would be incredibly difficult. I’d rather find out now so I can plan, rethink, and change my expectations. That’s not for everyone, and that’s understandable.
So after taking the test, I feel empowered and excited for the results. Chances are my results will be fine. If they’re not — at least I’ll know.
With my lab results safely in the mail, I now have to put the test out of my mind for the next 7-10 business days before my results arrive in my email inbox.
However, despite my newfound nurse skills, I won’t receive a bunch of technological jargon (thank god). Instead, my report should clearly say my risk level for my egg count, fertility issues, thyroid issues, and blocked tubes.
Best of all, one of Grip’s doctors will write a nice statement explaining the results and I can choose to have a video call with a doctor (at no extra cost!) where I can ask any questions and make an action plan for my fertility future.
UPDATE: Here’s what I found out
Drumroll please…the results are in!
A little less than two weeks after taking my fertility test, an email slid into my inbox with the title “Samantha Dixon, your Grip results.” Was this the moment bad news would be delivered? Or would my worries and stresses be relieved?
With my blood pressure levels almost certainly through the roof, I followed the link in the email to my online report. There I saw:
Hallelujah, mostly green boxes!
Of course, there was that one pesky, feisty orange box for ovulation issues: possible risk. A quick click and I could see exactly what my hormone levels were on the day of the test — and was relieved to see that they were all in the normal ranges. So why the scary orange box? The results page spells it out for me:
“Your irregular cycle means that you’re at risk of a hormonal imbalance. The most common hormonal imbalance in people with ovaries is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Because your AMH, LH and total T are all within the normal range, we have no reason to assume you are at an increased risk of PCOS.”
Phew, what a relief! It doesn’t put me entirely out of the woods, but I really appreciated the clear explanation. Fertility is a really tricky topic — and as someone who is not well versed in medical lingo, frank words are golden.
Grip took this a step further too with a full overview letter from a Grip doctor explaining all of my results in plain English. Here’s the part I liked the most:
“Based on your values, I see no indication that it should be specifically difficult for you to get pregnant in the future.”
BRB, gonna frame that and hang it on my bedroom wall.
The plan from here
So what’s next? A call with the same doctor who reviewed my plan. It’s included in my Grip kit at no extra charge and gives me a chance to ask any further questions about my results and to discuss a plan for having kids later.
Babies? Here I come! (Hopefully — and in the distant future).
While I’m celebrating my results, I’m also far too aware that while mine returned the results that I hoped for, other women don’t necessarily get the same joy. A fertility test is all about knowledge being power — knowing early, taking corrective action where available, or being able to come to terms with it. That can be tricky, so it was important for me to know my results could swing either way before I committed to the process.
If you’re curious, you can see my full Grip Fertility Report for yourself.
Ready to take control of your own fertility? Order a Grip test online from anywhere in the Netherlands or the UK.
Would you take an at-home fertility test? Tell us in the comments below!
Feature Image: Grip/Supplied.