Courtesy of Jennifer Hintzsche
- Jennifer Hintzsche invented an at-home intracervical-insemination kit.
- Twenty-eight babies have been conceived using the kit, she said, which is now patented.
- This is Hintzsche’s story, as told to Kelly Burch.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jennifer Hintzsche. It has been edited for length and clarity.
As someone with a doctorate in biology and computer science, I love data. So when my husband and I started trying to have a baby, I tracked everything.
After eight months of negative pregnancy tests, I made an appointment with my OB-GYN and brought in all the data I’d collected. I knew something wasn’t right. But she told me that since I was under 35, I needed to wait a year before getting fertility help.
Exactly 365 days after we started trying, my husband and I hopped, skipped, and jumped off to the reproductive endocrinologist. I was excited to finally have answers. It was awkward having several tests done and shuffling half naked room to room, but I knew I was close to more information.
I never prepared for not getting an answer. Yet at the end of the day, my husband and I were diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Our tests were all normal, so doctors couldn’t say why I hadn’t gotten pregnant.
The doctor made a plan: We would try three months of intrauterine insemination — or IUI — before discussing in vitro fertilization. Then he handed me an application for a $10,000 personal loan to start the process. That’s when my scientific background kicked in and overrode my emotions. I didn’t want to take on a financial burden when doctors couldn’t identify a problem, let alone a solution.
I started researching to see whether the treatments were worth the cost
My husband thought I would be relieved to have a plan. Instead, I was determined to understand why doctors were recommending an IUI and asking us to fork over big bucks to pay for it. I dived into research, and that’s when I discovered intracervical insemination, or ICI.
Unlike an IUI, which must be done at the doctor office, an ICI can be done at home. Put bluntly, it’s the more-evolved cousin of the turkey-baster method, where sperm is inserted into the vagina close to the cervix. Members of LGBTQ communities have been using ICI for decades and pioneered a lot of the technology.
When I saw a study that found ICI had similar live-birth rates to that of IUI, my interest was piqued. Why hadn’t the doctors mentioned ICI before referring me to more-expensive and -invasive options?
I turned my marriage into a science experiment
That’s when my marriage became a science experiment. I told my husband we could make our own ICI kit. This was an extremely awkward conversation, but at that point, we would have done anything to have a baby. Luckily, my husband is science-minded, too, and works as a mechanical engineer.
Since I studied microbiology, I knew there were risks to inserting anything that wasn’t sterile into the vagina. And I wanted plastics that proved safe for sperm. We gathered materials and made a prototype. Then we gave ourselves a three-month deadline. During my fertile window, we wouldn’t have sex but would use the ICI kit.
The second month, I took a pregnancy test and fell to the floor. I called my husband, who had left for work already, and managed to get out two words: “It worked.”
I started sharing my fertility struggles
I hadn’t talked to many people about our fertility struggles. Once I finally believed I was having a baby, I started to open up. I would ask people, “Do you want to hear our conception story?” while my husband reminded me that this was not polite dinner conversation. Still, I realized how many people infertility affected.
After my daughter was born, I received another shock: I became pregnant when she was only 3 months old. My children are 380 days apart. We started joking that our product, PherDal, was so good that it worked twice. While my son was a surprise, because of my infertility, I knew what it was like to think I would never have him.
Even through the exhaustion of having two babies back-to-back, I felt a calling to help other people. There’s no Food and Drug Administration-approved at-home ICI kit — the kits that are sold aren’t approved or sterile. So I set out to create the first. Last year, we crowdfunded more than $600,000 and patented our kit. We’re undergoing FDA testing and hope to have approval this year.
I’m done growing my family, but I’m not done helping other people grow theirs. To date, I know of 28 babies conceived using PherDal. I don’t guarantee pregnancy — no one can do that — but I know that PherDal can empower couples by giving them another tool in the fight against infertility.