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Proov Podcast: Abi Hannah, Co-founder and CEO of Fertility Circle

Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test the first and only FDA-cleared test to confirm successful ovulation at home.

Written on 7/22/21

Dr. Amy Beckley:

All right. Welcome everybody to another episode of the Proov Podcast, where we are empowering women with knowledge about fertility, access to information and resources. I am here with Abi Hannah of the Fertility Circle. It is an app that I found I’d say two or three weeks ago.

I think it’s doing exceptionally well. It’s got a great community. And so, I wanted to connect with Abi and talk about, you know, why did you develop an app, what exactly does it do, and, you know, the passion behind why you created, you know, an app, a community like this, and what you’re doing in the future. So, if you could just introduce yourself and let everybody know who we are.

Abi Hannah:

Yeah, thank you so much, Amy. Thanks for the kind intro. Really nice to be here. And yes, you’ve described Fertility Circle quite well there. So, really, I suppose, we view ourselves as the trusted fertility champion for people struggling to conceive, and we’d like to think of ourselves as kind of like your best friend with all fertility smarts. So, kind of the vibe we’re going for with the app.

And we launched about 5-6 months ago now, so October last year, and we’re really excited, actually, with our progress to date. We’re really building a kind of thriving community and it feels great to kind of get out there in the real world and, you know, connect with people who are in the fertility community really. So, yeah, we’re really excited so far. I can tell you a bit about my story. Where do you want to start?

Amy:

I guess, why did you decide to do a fertility community app?

Abi:

Yeah. Yes, so, of course, this kind of came about because of my own struggles with fertility. So, we were trying to conceive for about three years the first time, which I know is kind of short actually compared to so many people, but it was certainly a roller coaster of an experience. We were lucky in the end, and we conceived by IVF and we’ve got our daughter now, which, you know, I’m eternally grateful for.

But we’re now experiencing secondary infertility, so we’re kind of back on the roller coaster, and it’s, you know, different this time actually, and, you know, equally painful in lots of ways. But it’s a very different IVF experience actually. It’s, you know, not working out for us this time.

But, you know, even the first time when we went through it, I just found that I wasted so much time on, you know, Dr. Google trying to find the answer to everything. I’m the sort of person that wants to take control and, you know, find answers, and I can do that for the rest of my life.

And of course, as is the story with so many people, right, I couldn’t do it here, and I was struggling with that. So, I was constantly seeking answers. I wasted a ton of money on, you know, things that weren’t right for me, and, you know, stuff that I probably didn’t need, but I was desperate and I was vulnerable.

And actually, even after doing a lot of research, I made some really poor decisions and actually had surgery for something that it turns out wasn’t indicated. And that went wrong, and I ended up with, you know, a perforated bowel as a result of it, and was in the hospital for quite a long time.

So, effectively, I basically made some really poor decisions that will have lifelong health and fertility consequences for me. And I didn’t want other people to go through that same thing. So, that’s really why Fertility Circles exists, and we want to support people to make the right fertility choices for them. That’s what we’re all about really.

And so, after that experience, I obviously got distracted for a while with the kid, which is lovely. But I met my cofounder Karen through mums groups, and she’s been on her own fertility journey, which is quite incredible. She’s really been through the mill with it, and we just got to talking about our experiences and really we’d only started working on the product and building the community, and that’s what you see today.

And now, there are three of us working on it. I pulled in someone else, Jo, so the three of us are working on Fertility Circle, and I love it. I love the two other incredible women, and yeah, we’re really enjoying the ride.

Amy:

Yeah, we’ve got seven women on our team. It’s amazing what some women can do when they have some passion to change.

Abi:

Yeah.

Amy:

Yeah, no the education piece is huge. I mean, I went through my own battle with infertility and I’m a scientist, I have a PhD in pharmacology, and I’m like the most knowledgeable about hormones. Or, I should say, more knowledgeable than most women about hormones.

But, I mean, I was — I didn’t know that I shouldn’t be on birth control pills. I didn’t know that. Nobody told me that. And so, I just took it. You know, I didn’t want to get pregnant. I was, you know, building my career. I didn’t want to get pregnant.

And so, I knew nothing about charting and nothing about ovulation tests, and temperature, and any of this stuff. And so, I can see how — you know, I can see now that women still don’t know. It’s one of those things where if we don’t want to conceive, a lot of times we just try to not think about it, and take a pill, and not educate, so that when you want to get pregnant, there’s so much education.

And now there’s so many products that do this, or that, or the other thing, and so having a platform and a way to educate about certain things   — because sometimes it's little things. You know, like there’s home sperm tests. Well, they each do something a little bit different. What exactly do you want to know about sperm?

Abi:

Yes, totally. And I think that’s what we’re all about, kind of empowering people with information really. And I don’t know about you, but everyone’s journey is different, right, so what’s right for one person isn’t gonna be right for another, and so we want to present that information and really, yeah, empower people to make the choice that’s right for them.

And yeah, I totally agree on, you know, the sex ed point. You know, I think about what I learned in school. That didn’t really serve me very well for making a baby. And, you know, I did exactly the same thing; I was on the pill for, oh, gosh, I don’t even know how many years, a really, really, really long time. And even the first time I tried, when I thought I did lots of research, I was doing that basic stuff like charting and seeing what was going on with my cycle.

And now, having done Fertility Circle, I know so much more, you know, and I kind of wish I could take all that knowledge and, you know, travel back in time and use it back then, but I can’t do that. I hope I can support some other people to do that, but yeah, all those things are so important.

Amy:

Yeah. Another thing I really like about your app, your platform, is you have like professionals and it’s almost like, you know, you have the nutritionists, or the fertility coach, or the acupuncturist, and it’s like they’re on call and people can go in and ask questions.

You know, and another thing that we’ve learned is, you know, doctors and medical professionals, they’re people and all people aren’t gonna have the same background knowledge. They’re absolutely not gonna be educated in your background. And so, you know, using products, getting the knowledge, really helps you have better conversations with your healthcare professional.

You only get, you know, 10 to 15 minutes in the COVID era, if that, and maybe it’s even via Zoom and not like an in person visit, so the more than you can know about things, you know, going on with your cycle, maybe, you know, do some bloodwork or, you know, some fertility testing at home, sperm testing at home, and get some of those initial answers and bring those to your visit is so empowering.

And a lot of times, we don’t know what to do, and so have somebody to say I’ve been there, done that; well, I’ve done this new thing, it did this, it did that, whatever, it’s just very powerful, you know, so I love the idea of women working together and educating each other to move everybody forward.

Abi:

Definitely. I think there’s some incredible products on the market, like obviously Proov and others that really help people to do that, and, you know you can just go into these meetings armed with so much more information.

And I think for the most part   — I don’t know what your experience is, but I find that, you know, doctors are welcoming that. They want to see this new information. It’s really helpful for them. They don’t have time to delve into this stuff always, and sometimes things can get missed, right, as well. These are busy fertility clinics a lot of the time.

And so, I think you doing that kind of background work yourself not only empowers you, because you’ve got the knowledge about your cycle and what’s going on with your body, but it also helps if you do end up going down that kind of clinical IVF route. It also helps with that as well. So, yeah, I think in all ways it’s really powerful to have access to these kinds of things.

And yeah, it’s interesting, you mentioned how, you know, professionals can have different opinions. And yeah, that’s very much the case. And, you know, we have some absolutely fabulous experts on our app, you know? We have more than 50 really world leading fertility experts, and, you know, a lot of them have these huge waiting lists that you can’t access otherwise.

But they have acknowledged amongst themselves that even amongst these respected professionals, they’re going to have differences of opinion. And actually, that means that if you can present those different opinions to people, people might take different routes. And, you know, that’s just a really helpful thing for people to have. It’s not about overwhelming people, but it’s about presenting options, and I think that can only be a good thing.

Amy:

Yeah, if you’ve taken the time to learn about your body, or chart things, or test things, or whatever you’re gonna do, and you walk in armed with that knowledge to your visit and they don’t acknowledge it, or want to hear it, or take that into account, I’m gonna venture to say you’re probably at the wrong place.

Abi:

Definitely. Yeah, I think it’s about doing things in tandem, right, and hand in hand, and actually many doctors are now taking a more holistic approach and, you know, using all of this extra information to help them form care, and that’s a great thing. But yeah, it helps you to choose between doctors potentially and clinics.

Amy:

That’s right, that’s right, that’s right. So, you launched what, last year? Is that right?           

Abi:

Yeah, we launched in October last year, so we’re kind of 5 to 6 months in. I think we’ve got almost 7000 people in the app now, which is great. We’re happy with that, you know, just as an initial start. And we   — yeah, we’ve got in there   — we’ve got education, so lots of articles, lots of kinds of videos and playbacks of events that we run, the mini tutorials hosted by experts, which are kind of, you know, 5 to 10 minute pieces about very specific bits of fertility.

We’ve got “Ask the Experts,” which you mentioned, which is super useful. So, people can go in and ask   — we have a rotating duty for the experts that we’ve got working with us. And people can go in and ask any kind of question. We’ll often have — we’ll have a clinician on there, we’ll have a nutritionist, and we’ll have a coach, the whole range of different things that people can go in and ask questions about.

We spotlight different areas of fertility. We’ve got some planning tools in there to help with, you know, your IVF journey or with your kind of fertility wellness, planning around that, so loads of brilliant things to explore. We’ve also got a shop featuring the best in class fertility products. Proov is in there, of course.

People can go in there and just find the very best of fertility products that we selected for them. So, a whole range of different things to explore. And we’re always developing, ‘cause we’re new, right? So, we’re working based on feedback to see what people like and, you know, trying to do more of that. So, it’s really great to hear from our community, to hear what they’re using and what they like, and we really enjoy the aspect of it. So, yeah, lots more to come, but we’re really happy with where we’ve got to so far.

Amy:

Yeah, that’s incredible. And I mean, I have it on my phone and I mean, it took me — I don’t even think I’m done exploring all the different aspects. You’re right, there’s a lot of different education. It’s like built out for different goals, right, so maybe I’m not interested in IVF, and so I’m gonna do you know, not the IVF modules but the other things. Maybe I really want to learn about how a fertility coach can help me or acupuncture could help me, and you can like, you know, point out different areas.

Abi:

Yeah.                   

Amy:

And the thing that I loved about it, it’s completely free. Honestly, I have no idea how you’re doing that, but the fact that all these resources are just free, it’s crazy. It’s insane.

Abi:

Yeah. Well, what we’ve been blown away by is actually the generosity and spirit of our experts. So, of course, you know, we want to make sure that all the information in there is really high quality, reliable information. That’s obviously super important.

But our experts, you know, have worked with us to create all of this content for people. So, it’s really thanks to them. And, you know, in the future, we will have a subscription model. We can’t be free forever, so we will in the future have a subscription model, but for now it’s totally free. You can definitely get on there, download it, see what you think.

We’d love to hear from you, and really to take advantage of, you know, asking our experts questions or attending some of the free events we’ve got. We’re running some really nice wellness events at the moment, so every other week, you can go to fertility yoga or meditation or visualization. So, that’s really something nice to take advantage of. I would really encourage people to do it.

That holistic piece was actually a huge part of my journey, and I’m actually a trained meditation teacher as well. So, I might actually be there doing meditation in the future. It’s something I’m thinking about doing. But, you know, it was really important to me to marry both those clinical and holistic parts of fertility, and so that’s what we’re trying to really do with Fertility Circle, and, you know, show people what’s really on offer and what’s out there.

Amy:

Awesome, awesome. Yeah, I mean, I love it. I love that, you know, you took something that was hard and that you struggled with and you partnered with two other amazing women and put together such a valuable resource. I mean, lack of education, it’s so, so — it’s incredible.

There’s other apps that are just, you know, trying to conceive forums, so it’s just like a whole bunch of uneducated women getting together and talking to also uneducated women, and it’s like the things that they’re talking about, I’m like if you could just get a good expert in there to help guide the conversation, it would be so much value to that.

Abi:

Yeah, totally. And you know, there’s so much interesting advice out there, isn’t there, that — some of it harmless, and potentially some of it not quite so harmless actually. So, I think you’re right. And one of the things we do have on there is we do have chat walls.

And originally, we weren’t going not build those in, and it’s not something — I’m not, you know, someone that’s on social media and doing that kind of thing, so I hadn’t thought of it as super important, but of course we did research with people to find out like what is it that you really want from a fertility platform and a fertility community. And actually chat walls were really high up on the list, so we were like, okay, we’re gonna build chat walls.

So, we’ve got chat walls in there, but we try and encourage our experts to go in and just sort of monitor what’s going on and kind of guide people, signpost people. And we also, you know, pop in there and signpost people to resources and try and guide that conversation a little bit. But I think it’s also really valuable to connect with your peers, right, because one of the other things we’re really about is that support piece. And I think it’s missing. I definitely experienced that. You felt like, well, it is the case that all of my friends are like the most fertile women on the planet it fills, and so, you know, I always felt very alone in my fertility experience. Less so now. But when I was first going through it, I really felt that.

Amy:

Oh, yeah. We’re women, and the most frustrating thing is to not be able to conceive because that’s   — it makes us less of a partner, or a woman, and it is, you don’t want to admit that to other people. You don’t want to tell people this is happening. And so, you are, you’re very isolated, and alone, and frustrated.

Abi:

Yeah,

Amy:

Yeah, the community is huge.

Abi:

Yeah. It’s the same with so many things, right, I mean, you know, with lots of mental health issues. So many things. You can’t understand it unless you’ve been through it, and I think it’s the same with fertility. Unless you’ve experienced it   — you know, you can try and put yourself in someone else's shoes, but it’s really hard to understand that pain, right, that kind of constant pain that you’re living with.

And, of course, the monthly cycle of, you know, hope, and disappointment, and all of that kind of stuff that goes along with it. So, yeah, when I got off the kind of fertility wagon for a while, it was so refreshing. And now I’m back on again. I’m just reminded about, you know, how all-consuming it is.

Amy:

It is. And somebody on social media was like what are your hobbies, and she’s like, well, trying to conceive is my hobby. That’s literally all I think about.      

Abi:

Yeah.

Amy:

I do this and I do this, you know, it’s like you don’t realize it while you’re in it that’s literally the only thing that you’re doing is — that’s your goal, and like all their hobbies are just, you know, pushed out the door.

Abi:

Yeah. And I think you know even though you can only actually conceive in that small window, you think it shouldn’t take over your whole life, but it just does, doesn’t it? Yeah. Everything does go out the window. And yeah, I definitely wasn’t up for socializing in the same way, and yeah, just a lot going on with me emotionally as I went through it, so that’s a big part of what we want to do really in terms of supporting people. Yeah.

Amy:

Awesome. Well, I thank you for everything that you’re doing. I think it’s fabulous. I love learning about things. We love to educate our consumers. So, looking forward to everything you guys have up your sleeves, and, you know, hopefully we can collaborate more and, you know, get the resource into the hands of women.

Abi:

Yeah, we’re really excited to collaborate with you guys. We love what you’re doing as well and kind of your mission, an ethos, and the story behind your company too, right? A lot of these things — so many people that are working in this space, they have a similar story, right, and the reason for being, I suppose. And I think it means that we’re all really passionate and we really care about what we’re doing.

Amy:

Absolutely. So, please tell everybody where they can find you.

Abi:

Yes, so head to your app store and just search for Fertility Circle, and you will find us the app store. You can also visit our website, which is thefertilitycircle.com or head over to Instagram where Karen, who is our other co-founder, is often on there kind of engaging with the community, so you can always catch up with her and connect with us there too. But yes, I definitely encourage you to download the app, because it’s free, so take advantage now while you can. And we’d love to hear from you any feedback, of course.

Amy:

Awesome. Yeah, I mean, it’s such a great resource, so.

Abi:

Thank you.

Amy:

Thank you very much for sharing with us, and congratulations on the progress. It’s amazing.

Abi:

Thank you. Thanks for having us. Really nice to chat with you, Amy.