Robyn Ross is the CEO & co-founder of onfertility, a web-based service focused on making family-building more accessible in Canada by providing a modern patient experience. In parallel, Robyn is on her own multi-year fertility journey with 7 attempted rounds of IVF & a medicated menopause under her belt as she works to build her family with her husband, Sam.
What’s the story behind onfertility? What got you interested in fertility and prompted you to start this business?
In mid-2021, Sam and I started our own fertility journey. At each step it felt like we were turning to each other and saying “does this really need to be this hard?”. We had both worked at Wealthsimple where our job was to take every complex aspect of investing into something simple & delightful. The fertility space was the complete opposite, no one seemed to be focused on the patient experience. It was challenging to navigate. I decided I had to try to make it easier.
When I met my co-founder Mindy Loverin, it was clear that we shared the same passion; onfertility started shortly afterwards! In addition to educational content, we offer patients support throughout their family building journeys with a dedicated Care Advocate as well as a network of specialized experts and resources to support them at each step. We are not a replacement for their fertility clinics. Instead, we are a support system that helps navigate the process and enables patients to confidently advocate for themselves every step of the way.
Explain the Canadian fertility system. How can someone who is considering visiting a clinic understand how to navigate it?
When you’re considering visiting a fertility clinic in Canada, one of the most important things to know is that there is a shortage of Reproductive Endocrinologists (REIs aka. Fertility doctors) in Canada. It’s a role that takes 16 YEARS of education to achieve and they’re ultimately a lynchpin in helping Canadians like us overcome infertility.
From a patient perspective, this brings a few challenges:
- Most provinces have too few clinics which means you may need to travel to get the support you need
- Many clinics have multi-month waitlists to get in. This wait can be gruelling; once you realize you need help to build your family, you want that help as soon as possible
- Prices vary a lot between clinics. The fertility industry in Canada is semi-private and clinics have the flexibility to set their own prices, when supply is low and demand is high, they’re more likely to charge more to each patient.
There is no “best” clinic, but there may be a “best” clinic for you. My advice to onfertility patients is to think through what’s important to them in a clinic experience. Besides expert medical care & lab quality which are critical, here are a few examples of trade-offs you may want to consider:
- How important is a strong personal relationship with your doctor and medical team? Do you want to see them at each appointment or are you comfortable not knowing them personally?
- How important is the ease of the day-to-day clinic experience? Do you want to be in and out of your cycle monitoring appointments in less than 30 minutes and onto the rest of your day or are you comfortable spending more time at the clinic if it enables other benefits (e.g. the personal relationship).
- Do you want access to 24/7 support?
- How important is timing - do you have benefits that run out on a certain date that you’re hoping to leverage?
- How important is the cost? There’s a large price difference between clinics and there isn’t evidence to prove that more expensive means higher quality. Is there a budget that you need to work within?
What are some surprising statistics about access to fertility treatments and clinics in Canada that people should be aware of?
There are three stats that blew me away when I learned of them:
- 1 in 6 heterosexual Canadian couples experience infertility and this is understated given that it doesn’t include the 2SLGBTQ+ community. The fertility journey can feel incredibly lonely, but there are so many other Canadians facing similar struggles.
- 80% of people struggling with infertility don’t seek medical help. This was one of the stats that motivated Mindy & me to focus on improving accessibility in the space. The road to working with a fertility clinic can be daunting (emotionally, physically & financially). We’re building products to help more Canadians get the access and support that they deserve.
- On average it takes 3.6 rounds of IVF to result in a live birth. Like most people, I thought IVF was one and done. We had no idea that it was normal to need to go through multiple rounds in order to build our family. Knowing this upfront would have helped us budget and better manage our own expectations along the way.
What can someone do while they wait if they are on the waitlist for a Canadian fertility clinic?
While the wait can feel gruelling, there are steps you can take in those months outside of the clinic to help ensure you’re set-up for success once you get in.
Monitor your cycle - most clinics will ask you questions about your cycle during your intake. How many days is your cycle? Does it vary month to month? What day of your cycle does your Luteinizing Hormone (LH) spike? What day do you ovulate? Knowing what’s normal for your body will not only help them get started, but it will give you more confidence to advocate for yourself throughout the process if you start seeing changes month to month.
Start taking supplements to improve your reproductive health - Did you know that most supplements take a minimum of 3 months to have an impact on your body? I didn’t! My clinic put me on them to improve my egg quality and then did a round of IVF within the first month - unsurprisingly, our results got better in later cycles as the supplements took effect. Using the waitlist time to fine tune your body can have a meaningful impact on the outcomes you experience, especially if egg or sperm quality are potential challenges. You can buy fertility-focused vitamin packs or if you have the means to work with a fertility-focused naturopath they’ll be able to build a customized set of supplements based on your specific needs & bloodwork.
Build a budget - The cost of fertility treatment can be daunting and it can take time to determine what you can afford. Understanding the potential costs and putting together a plan that takes into account your own savings, potential provincial/employer benefits, loans, tax credits, etc. will help you move faster once you’re in the clinic doors. If it would be helpful to talk to a financial advisor that specializes in the fertility space, onfertility can introduce you to one.
If you want to learn more, check out our article “What to do while you wait” for more detail to help you get started.
How can an individual who is going through infertility or is interested in visiting a fertility clinic work with onfertility?
If you’re looking for support at any point throughout your journey, you can find us at onfertility.fyi. As part of signing up you will be asked to complete an intake form and select a time that works best for you for a video call with one of our Care Advocates. The 30 minute call is $45 and personalized to you, addressing any questions you have, providing advice, and making introductions to specialists from financial advisors to naturopaths. Our goal is to help you define a path forward that gives you the confidence and strength to navigate your journey.