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How to Normalize The Infertility Conversation

FertileGirl's founder on how to take the shame out of your conversations.

How to Normalize The Infertility Conversation

Allison Kasirer and her husband, Jonathan, were in their late 20s when they decided to try for a baby. They were both young and healthy, so they assumed they would be pregnant within two or three months. But after seven months of disappointments, Allison knew: it was time to get some answers.

The doctor told them that, by now, 80 percent of couples their age would have conceived a child. “My naïve and sunny outlook had been dwindling over those seven months, but in one sentence—it was almost completely wiped away,” Allison said. She and her husband were diagnosed with “unexplained infertility,” a diagnosis that was ever-difficult to cope with. How could they fix a problem that they didn’t understand? And so, the treatments began.

Allison started with intrauterine insemination (IUI) -- three rounds of it. All were unsuccessful. She also was put on Clomid, a drug that made her produce and drop more than just one egg per cycle. Then came IVF, which took a toll on her body. As her health deteriorated, she learned her first egg transfer didn’t take. The second ended in an early miscarriage. The third, however, worked, and Allison welcomed a set of healthy twin boys this week!

These unanticipated challenges led Allison to create an online community -- starting with an Instagram feed -- for other women who, like her, battle infertility. To her, FertileGirl exists because infertility is way more common than society tends to let on. “The mission is to change the conversation from isolating, confusing and stressful to one that is hopeful, rewarding and empowering,” she said.

This week, FertileGirl launched a website to complement its Instagram feed and debuted a variety of nutrition bars for pre-pregnancy women. Allison hopes that she can help women support each other through the pre-pregnancy period and create a consumer brand that speaks to this community in a way that hasn’t been done before.

We asked Allison to answer a few questions about fertility and to give us tips on how to normalize the (in)fertility conversation.

What kind of a stigma did your infertility have in your own mind? How did you feel about admitting or talking about it?

For many months, I did not share. It was a really lonely and isolating place. My initial excitement of starting a family had morphed into anxiety and depression. Of course, Jonathan was extremely supportive, but what’s difficult is that women themselves typically bear the physical and social burden of infertility (even in cases of male factor infertility). I felt like something was wrong with me—something was broken.

In almost every other arena of my life, I was able to work hard, surmount obstacles, and reach my goals. This “type A” methodology was all I knew; so I decided to use it to my advantage, reading and researching everything I could get my hands on. While this eventually went on to spur some real lifestyle changes (diet, acupuncture, exercise), it also led me to stop treating fertility like a big secret. I started talking to friends, specialists and anyone that would listen. I became empowered by this support and felt my typical optimistic outlook beginning to return.

Why is having a community of women going through the same process so helpful?

Here’s the reality: one in eight couples struggle to get pregnant or to sustain a pregnancy. There are couples that fall outside of this statistic that also experience anxiety, confusion and isolation when trying to conceive. With those numbers, we know there are many people out there with similar experiences. However, it takes a community to bring people together. That’s why FertileGirl is here—because through community, we can empower and inspire. We can also give back, which is why we’ve made a philanthropic partnership with Baby Quest Foundation, which provides financial assistance to those who cannot afford the high costs of fertility treatments.

So how do you normalize the conversation about fertility struggles?

1. With your partner. Fertility issues can greatly increase the amount of stress and anxiety in a relationship. It’s really important to acknowledge the truth in that, so you can learn to best cope and support each other. While there’s never a one-fits-all solution, there are a few common themes. Open communication is crucial. You may not be ready to open up to everyone in your life, but you and your partner need to be there to lend a shoulder and an ear to each other at all times. However, allowing fertility to dominate 100% of your precious time together isn’t healthy either. So schedule a date night, a weekend away, a long walk—something that will help you both live in the present moment. Additionally, placing “blame” is never helpful—you are in this together, regardless of the diagnosis you or your partner got.

2. With your friends. This one can be tricky. Friends, even close ones, who can’t relate to your situation may not know what to say or say the “wrong” thing. But I still felt it was important to share with these people. So what did I do? I kept it brief, mentioned how they could help (“stop asking me if I’m pregnant!”), and tried to tune out inappropriate advice (“just relax and it’ll happen!”). Some people choose not to share with their friends at all, and that’s fine too. But keep in mind that you may end up surprised by how many friends can relate to your experience. For me, the talks I had with my friends who went through similar challenges (I call them my Fertility Sisters) tended to be free flowing and were the most helpful. Plus, you never know when you may need another vent session or pep talk. So try to keep the dialogue open if you can.

3. With people at work. For many people, a fertility conversation with a manager, HR partner, or colleague becomes necessary. Most of the time because the physical or psychological ramifications make their way into the workplace. For these conversations, I revert back to what I do with the friends who can’t relate -- keeping it brief and making my needs known. Scheduling separate time with HR becomes even more important if your company offers fertility benefits or support services.

4. With fertility specialists and other professionals. I found it beneficial to speak with a reproductive psychiatrist regularly (if you live in NYC, Dr. Carly Snyder is AMAZING). Understandably, this may not be for everyone; however, a professional can also help walk you through all of the above situations in a more personalized way. All too often, we focus on the physical side of fertility (egg quality, uterine lining, testing, procedures, etc.) and ignore the psychological side. It wasn’t until I learned to mother myself, both physically and emotionally, that I felt empowered in my journey—and therapy was a critical part of getting there.

Photography by Lauren Elle.

My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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