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