A fertility app can’t get you pregnant, but might drive you crazy

Getting there isn’t necessarily the happiest of processes.
Getting there isn’t necessarily the happiest of processes.
Image: Reuters/Enrique Castro-Mendivil
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This week, the Apple App Store is scheduled to release an innovative baby-making program called Glow. Developed in part by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, Glow promises women a better chance of getting pregnant naturally by applying their version of data science.

At first glance, the app is a data junkie’s dream. Think you were ahead of the curve by checking out your cervical mucus? With Glow, you can track every possible part of your life that could conceivably affect your chances of conceiving. “It gives its users daily prompts to enter data on everything from temperature to the sexual positions they’ve used,” writes Rachel Feltman for Quartz.

Asking women to report such detailed information for fertility purposes isn’t new. An online program known as Ovuline asks users to enter their emotions, weight fluctuations, blood pressure, exercise routines, sleep patterns and food diaries, in addiction to the usual culprits, such as sex frequency and menstrual cycle.

Yet such detail can be dangerous because it gives women the illusion that each factor of her existence carries that much weight in her attempt to conceive. Of course, lifestyle factors matter, and women are routinely counseled to maintain a healthy body weight and refrain from smoking, drinking, over-exercising, over-eating carbs and over-stressing (although the last one is largely up for debate and arguably impossible). But the maddening reality is that no matter how much you do everything right, getting pregnant is largely out of your control. Tracking apps make people feel in charge of their lives and are helpful to see the cause and effect of many behaviors, such as eating fewer calories and losing weight. But so many data points can’t compensate for old eggs, slacker sperm, an uncooperative uterus or the unexplained reasons that account for one-third of infertility cases. Women who are having trouble getting pregnant often feel bad enough without piling on more ways she could have screwed up.

In many ways, paying attention to more data, such as basal body temperature and cervical mucus, represents a big improvement over the notoriously inaccurate ovulation calendars than rely on the date of your last period to determine when you should be having sex. But the most beleaguered couples will tell you that’s already TMI in the bedroom and makes scheduled fertility nookie even more mechanical than it already is. Punching into your smart phone whether your last romp was “reverse cowgirl” probably isn’t going to be the make-or-break factor that makes your family dreams come true. Still, if it makes the process a little more titillating and fun, maybe that’s something to be downloaded.