After a season of Bachelor or Bachelorette, it's custom for contestants — winners and losers — to pick up a handful of sponcon deals to take advantage of their newfound fame. FabFitFun subscription boxes, MVMT watches, and HelloFresh meals have all been touted by Bachelor people you forgot existed. The newest entrant is Ava, a bracelet that's been called the "FitBit of Fertility."
In March, Bachelor season 19 contestant Jade Tolbert (who is married to Tanner Tolbert from Bachelor In Paradise season 2) posted a video announcing her pregnancy — in it, she credited Ava for helping her get pregnant so quickly. Then, in November, Bachelor season 17 winner Catherine Giudici (who's married to Sean Lowe) shared a video saying she also wore one before conceiving. A few days later, Bachelor season 19 contestant Carly Waddell (who's married to Evan Bass from Bachelor In Paradise season 3) posted a similar Instagram video. So, what exactly is Ava, and why are so many Bachelor alumnae using it to get pregnant?
A wearable fertility tracker first introduced in 2014, Ava is a bracelet worn during sleep that continuously measures nine specific physiological parameters (such as resting pulse rate, skin temperature, sleep, perfusion, and more). Ava CEO and founder Lea Von Bidder explains that this data is fed into a proprietary algorithm, which predicts when its wearer's fertile window — or the days when they're most likely to get pregnant — is approaching. With that information, someone trying to get pregnant can determine the best time to have sex. Though, Von Bidder says, about 15% of Ava owners just use it to track their periods.
People have attempted to identify their fertile window by tracking certain signs and symptoms (taking their temperature every morning and keeping tabs on cervical mucus, for example) for ages. Following these signs to determine when to have sex (or when not to) is called the "rhythm method" and the "fertility awareness method" of family planning, and it has come back into favor recently because it makes for a cheap, non-hormonal birth control option.
But if keeping an eagle eye on your cycle to plan — or avoid — pregnancy is old news, what's new is that wearable tech can lend an air of science-backed legitimacy to something that's otherwise murky and hard to prove as effective.
As far as birth control is concerned, these methods are somewhat controversial, because there are many external factors that go into determining someone's "fertile window," and simply looking at your own bodily changes leaves a lot of room for error, explains Kenan Omurtag, MD, an assistant professor in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Washington University St. Louis School of Medicine.
"Since many women do not have regular, predictable periods, the rhythm method is not going to be a reliable or effective contraceptive method for a large segment of women who will subsequently be at risk for an unintended pregnancy," he says. In some studies on people with regular cycles who were able to stringently adhere to the rhythm method, it's been shown to be 95% effective at preventing pregnancy. (That number is likely around 80% for the general population.)
These flaws are part of what inspired Von Bidder to create Ava in the first place. "Even if you do [the rhythm method] diligently, and go through the process, it's still really difficult for you to get to something accurate," she says. "We wanted something that's easy, precise, and allows women to know about the menstrual cycle without all the hassle."
So how much will an Ava user learn about their cycle, after sleeping with the band on every night? In a year-long clinical study published in early 2017, researchers found that Ava can detect an average of 5.3 fertile days per cycle, at 89% accuracy. Of course, a solid B+ knowledge of when you're most fertile is not good enough to protect you from getting pregnant if you don't want to — but it could help you get pregnant if you do.
The Ava website says, "couples who time intercourse accurately double their chances of conceiving in a given month." That sounds like a hefty promise, but according to Von Bidder, they're not just talking about Ava in that success rate. "[It] really references the overall promise of cycle tracking [for] increasing the chances of conceiving," she says. And most people who are trying to conceive are already intent on pinning down their fertile days — this bracelet is just one easy way to do that.
Any time a fertility app or tracker claims to "enhance one's fertility," that's a red flag, Dr. Omurtag says. Which is why Von Bidder is clear that Ava's not "improving" anyone's fertility as much as it is giving them information they can harness, and make the most of with some well-timed sex. But then come the Instagram posts full of Bachelor stars growing a crop of future-Bachelor babies, and this can certainly seem like a magical get-pregnant bracelet for anyone who wants badly enough to believe that such a thing exists.
According to Von Bidder, the Bachelor connection was somewhat organic at first: the Ava team knew Jade Tolbert's people, and they knew she was trying to get pregnant, so they sent her a bracelet to try for free. As it turned out, she got pregnant while using it, and she received a huge response from her community. Tolbert introduced the people at Ava to her crew of Bachelor pals-turned-influencers, and they were set up with bracelets and sponcon deals of their own. "Suddenly, we became this hit amongst all the Bachelor stars," Von Bidder says.
By the time Carly Waddell’s Ava-sponsored post went live in November, her fans had already known she was pregnant for three months — she announced it on the Bachelor In Paradise season 3 reunion in August.
Von Bidder is well aware of the pitfalls of touting medical products through sponsored influencer content on social media, but doesn't think it takes away from the legitimacy of what Ava offers. "We're a medical device, we're approved by the FDA, and we work with doctors," she says. "The fact that we suddenly ended up as a Bachelor product is really interesting, but it makes sense, right?"
In her opinion, it's valuable for prospective parents to hear real stories from people who've had success, as long as they're transparent that they're getting paid to use and promote a product. "In the end, it's fair that people make money, and it's fair that brands are using [sponsored posts] — but it should be clear for everyone," she says.
Ultimately, it's important to remember that just because something worked for a friend, family member, or that random reality-TV person you follow on Instagram, doesn't mean it will work for you. And even more importantly, when someone's trying to get pregnant and following all kinds of advice and tips to make it work, it can be impossible to pin down which factors actually made it happen. Most likely it was a combination of things, and also just putting in the time. For many people, even identifying an exact ovulation date wouldn't be enough to make pregnancy happen or stick, and certainly an Ava isn't going to diagnose or treat any underlying fertility difficulties.
So maybe all of these Bachelor moms did get pregnant using Ava — which is great for them and for Ava — but they also may have gotten pregnant after trying for approximately six months, which a 2003 study found to be the average time it takes to achieve a first pregnancy with timed intercourse.
Even though Ava isn't a fertility silver bullet — because that's not something that exists — using a cycle tracking device can't hurt. "We gynecologists think of the menstrual cycle as a vital sign, equally important to measuring heart rate and blood pressure," Dr. Omurtag says. Being in tune with your cycle can affect your daily life, sleep, and fertility, he says. In other words, if you're interested in picking one up, it's safe to assume that Ava is — as they say on The Bachelor — "here for the right reasons."
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