Meet Dr Helen O’Neill: molecular geneticist, lecturer at UCL and CEO of Hertility Health, the company on a mission to de-mystify the bewildering world of female reproductive health and put women in charge of their own biology.
It was a Saturday morning in late August when I found myself slightly hungover at a one-year-old’s birthday party in Regent’s Park. Clutching a miniature bagel and glass of champagne, I was feeling about as bemused as the birthday girl herself when I came across Helen O’Neill. With a beatific smile and honey-hued hair, she emanated a “Who’s that girl?” glow that no one at the affair could miss. After speaking to her husband, I learnt that Helen had intellect and drive to match her breath-taking beauty. He told me that in the last year, alongside having a baby, Helen had founded Hertility Health, a company which encourages women to be proactive about their reproductive future.
Inspiring as Helen and Hertility sounded, I was unsure what particular relevance a fertility company had to me as a 22-year-old university student. This was until Helen approached me herself and began to ask questions about my own reproductive health, such as whether I’d ever suffered from hormonal issues or side-effects relating to my menstrual cycle. I proffered a litany of grievances from a nasty contraceptive pill I’d taken when I was 15 to rotten PMS. Not surprisingly, Helen informed me that many women share similar experiences. What I was unaware of, however, was that these symptoms were not necessarily normal and should not be ignored. Helen proceeded to explain how Hertility can inform and, based on personalised testing, advise women about their hormones, enabling them to manage their reproductive issues, rather than mask them. She even offered to send me a complimentary test so that I could investigate my symptoms further.
The genesis of Hertility was Helen and co-founder Natalie Getreu’s fundamental belief that monitoring a women’s reproductive health is key to her overall wellbeing. As leading experts in reproductive genetics and fertility preservation, they were frustrated by their lack of knowledge about their own reproductive health and inability to advise women outside of their own laboratories. Having successful yet demanding careers, they also battled with the question faced by many women today – whether to prioritise career aspirations over family ones.
There are more opportunities for women than ever before, which comes with unprecedented demands and expectations that do not coincide particularly well with fertility timelines. While we may long to live in a world free from the constraints of mother nature’s “ticking time bomb”, the reality is that she isn’t quite on our side when it comes to fertility. Consequently, many women spend their 20s trying not to get pregnant and their 30s doing the opposite, meaning some only discover issues when it is already too late. It is this ubiquitous problem which sent Helen and Natalie in search of a solution. Extensive research led them to the conclusion that women need a fast and affordable method to access information about their own biology. And so Hertility was born: an at-home test which provides information not just about fertility, but reproductive health in general, empowering women to make informed decisions when it matters, not when it’s too late.
The process begins with an online questionnaire in which Hertility asks personal questions such as what brought you to the test – are you concerned, suffering symptoms or simply curious? – and whether you are taking a contraceptive pill. Based on the responses, Hertility produces a test which is tailored to suit your physiology and desired outcomes and delivered directly to your door. The finger-prick blood test can then be completed from the comfort of your own home and returned using the label and packaging provided. Hertility compiles the test results into a digital report, which explains your hormone levels and how they relate to your reproductive health. It includes information about ovulation and egg count, highlighting any red flags that you may wish to prepare for in the future through, for example, egg freezing. Finally, you are given the option discuss your report with a licensed specialist who can provide further guidance.
At £125, the Hertility test is significantly more affordable than the average clinic check-up and consultation, which can cost anywhere between £600 and £1,800. The option of cheaper private care is particularly significant for same-sex couples, who are not currently offered fertility testing by the NHS. The speed at which Hertility delivers results is another major advantage over the NHS, which can take up to a year to provide results, leading to delayed treatment and missed opportunities. The at-home aspect of the Hertility test is particularly attractive in light of Covid-19, removing the need for unnecessary travel and risk.
Given Hertility’s founding principle that reproductive health is key to general health, testing is relevant to women beyond those interested in fertility. Every women’s menstrual cycle is unique and the experiences that come with this are often ignored, meaning women can spend years suffering without knowing that their symptoms are abnormal. GPs frequently adopt a band-aid approach to these issues by prescribing an assortment of contraceptive methods which may incur further unwanted symptoms. Hertility believes that women should understand their monthly cycle and, crucially, not be in pain. By taking one of their personalised tests, women can find the answers they deserve, bringing an end to the vicious cycle of uncertainty and discomfort.
Hertility is a revolutionary step forward in female reproductive health. By informing women about their own biology, Hertility is empowering women to take charge of their future in a way that has never been seen before. For more information about Hertility and the services they provide, visit https://hertilityhealth.com.
By Amberli Ferszt
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