People trying to get pregnant turn to period tracking apps for help — and community
Five years ago, Lacey Murga and her husband decided they wanted to have a baby.
But Murga’s menstrual cycle had always been irregular – she had a hard time figuring out the best time to try to conceive. So she looked online for ways to track her fertility and increase her chances of conceiving.
A quick search led her into the world of period tracking apps and wearables that help users monitor their cycles to determine when they’re most fertile. The apps, which have become increasingly popular in recent years, predict a person’s chances of conceiving on a given day based on individual data that the user enters on a daily basis, such as: B. Temperature, ovulation test results and start of period.
Some use the apps solely for cycle tracking or as a natural contraceptive method. But especially among people trying to conceive, many say these apps open up a world of online friends whose cycles match, or who can take a second look at a pregnancy test, offer encouragement and support, or show sympathy if it takes longer than expected to get pregnant.
“It was really helpful for me to have this community to go to and we all belong together,” said Murga, 35. “With my real friends, I always felt bad about talking about it. I didn’t want to bring it up as much as I wanted to because they hadn’t gone through it.”
Although many see these online communities as a way to navigate the sometimes long journey to pregnancy, some experts worry that forums can also be a breeding ground for misinformation, whether it’s disinformation about vaccines or articles with misleading clickbait headlines.
Privacy advocates have raised concerns that after the US Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade last month, information collected by period-tracking apps could lead to liability could become if obtained by law enforcement agencies.
The health data that people enter into most period-tracking apps isn’t protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, according to experts.
“Apps follow you everywhere,” said Cynthia Sanchez, clinical assistant professor of nursing at USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. “I’m afraid they’re sending out ads claiming they can do things about infertility that they can’t.”
Sanchez said she tries to discourage her patients from using the birth control apps, mainly because she believes they give “a false sense of security.”
“I don’t think they’re reliable enough,” she said. “If your periods are irregular, you might have a hard time.”
However, she added that she supports the way apps can foster a “community of women who help each other” online.
Fertility Friend, the app used by Murga, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for another popular cycle tracking app, Glow, said in an emailed statement, “We will continue to be uncompromising in protecting our users’ privacy and personal health information. Period.”
“Our ultimate goal is to create the best products for our users, and anything that violates their trust would go against our core values,” the representative said said.
dr Yalda Afshar, a maternal fetal medicine physician at UCLA Health, said that while she doesn’t endorse any particular period-tracking app, she sees it as a tool in the broader kit of fertility awareness.
“It’s not a perfect science,” she said of apps. “But it empowers you to make a decision that’s right for you.”
Tala Rezai uses multiple fertility apps because she likes to compare her predictions to see if the different algorithms are coming to the same conclusion. Some, she said, are more accurate than others at predicting their ovulation cycle.
The 39-year-old, who lives in Los Angeles, consistently supplements the apps with information, pocketing the day her period starts and results from ovulation test strips. The apps are easy to use, she said, and help take the guesswork out of tracking her Fruitful window.
“It’s a simple process overall,” said Rezai, who has a 4-year-old daughter.
But Rezai, a lawyer, is somewhat skeptical about the community that exists on the forums.
“Are they really real? Does anyone out there really use those acronyms, or did the apps decide that?” she said.
The slang can be surprising to people who first come across abbreviations like “TTC” (trying to understand) or “DH” (dear husband). There are also terms like “line eyes” that people use when getting a second opinion on a home pregnancy test, and “TWW” — the two-week wait between ovulation and when someone can take a pregnancy test.
“If it’s possible [people] feel better about your journey, then go for it. But for me it’s weird,” she said.
For Murga, it was the sense of community that kept her coming back to the app and posting on the forums asking things like if potential signs of pregnancy she was experiencing were normal. She snapped a picture of her ovulation tests and asked others to confirm if they looked positive, which gave her the green light to “try” her husband. The answers to her questions helped give her the reassurance she was looking for.
“If you’re trying to conceive and want it so badly, read into every sign or symptom,” said Murga, who now has a 1-year-old son. “You’re trying to get that support from people who are going through this.”
At first she was confused by the jargon people use to describe their fertility journeys.
“Someone would say ‘BD’ and I would have to google, ‘What does BD mean for fertility?'” Murga said. “To this day I think, why can’t you spell it? Why is it “Baby Dance”? Just say you had sex.”
For Murga, who lives in Encino, the app also provided an opportunity to make friends both online and in person. She keeps in touch with women in Texas, Florida and Missouri whom she met because they were taking their pregnancy tests around the same time.
Conversations continued beyond comment threads, and the women felt a sense of camaraderie as they updated each other on their fertility journey – and life – outside of the app.
When a Florida woman she was friends with was visiting Los Angeles, Murga made sure to have dinner with her so they could meet in person.
Another woman, Billye Brenneisen, lived nearby and became a friend.
“It’s like a modern-day pen pal,” said Brenneisen, a photographer who first met Murga online in 2018. “It’s so wonderful to see her dream come true in terms of motherhood. It’s a super intimate journey and can be really isolating for a lot of people.”
Brenneisen downloaded the app because she wanted to accurately track her ovulation. The tracker, she said, helped her recognize that she was ovulating later in her cycle than average and allowed her and her husband to “focus our efforts.”
“The whole journey of trying to conceive took a while and there were casualties,” the 37-year-old said. “It was turbulent and there they were [ovulation predictor kits] and tracking symptoms and how often you had sex and when.
Those who don’t use apps track their cycle in other ways, such as writing down when they get their period each month (the analog version of cellphone data logging) or measuring changes in cervical mucus.
For some, the process can be isolating, especially when conception takes longer than expected or when a couple is coping with infertility. Some say they feel there is still a stigma attached to fertility struggles or a miscarriage, which can make the process harder to talk about.
Fertility apps have broken down the walls that surround the sometimes difficult and lonely journey to pregnancy, Brenneisen said.
“While your partner can support you, they’re not really going through it, so it’s been nice to see this community going through what I’ve been through,” she added. “I felt like I was losing my mind every two weeks.”
Brenneisen and Murga, who live about 15 minutes apart, first met in person about two years ago. Murga was pregnant and Brenneisen had their baby daughter. They went for walks in the neighborhood, stroller and dog in tow.
“We talked and it felt completely normal because it was like we already knew each other,” Murga said.
“It was kind of surreal,” added Brenneisen.
Although they don’t see each other regularly, the two talk a few times a week. They were part of important moments in each other’s lives.
Last month, Brenneisen photographed Murga’s son for his first birthday. It was nice, said the photographer, “to see us coming around the corner with everything.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-16/fertility-apps-community People trying to get pregnant turn to period tracking apps for help — and community