ITV News Presenter Andrea Byrne has opened up about the ‘infertility taboo‘ and ‘isolation’ she felt while trying for a baby
Our daughter, Jemima, is about to turn one. “Everything is put on hold”. As I write this, Jemima is napping in her nursery.
When it is discussed in the press, infertility headlines are often about the number of cycles couples endure or the amount of money they’ve spent.
My message to everyone is this. Yes, infertility is awkward. Yes, it is complicated.
Thank you to everyone who reached out to us and for the unwavering support behind the scenes from ITV, which was invaluable on so many levels.
I chased my child. I fought for him with everything I had. I put my life, my physical health, my mental health on the line because I wanted a baby so badly.
Surrogacy is not something you take lightly. There are several countries that allow it, but the laws can change overnight. There are pros and cons to each country’s laws, but none of the options are perfect.
If you haven’t been through it yourself, you know someone who has.
Fertility treatment for men and women
The inability to conceive naturally is most commonly a result of specific medical conditions.
Rewriting the medical textbook for fertility experts
Moreover, such gendered language places undue emphasis on the woman. “As a society, we haven’t ditched the age-old stereotype of ‘the barren old maid’,” argues Sarah Heywood, founder of The Journey, a platform set up to provide more evidence-based information about fertility.
Enshrining gender-neutral language in the context of fertility
This serves to illustrate the scale of the task when it comes to removing gendered language from the fertility journey and reducing infertility stigma as a whole.
Creating community online
Much like Casey, Mairin Wheland, an Irish infertility patient, felt she had no one to turn to for support when she was going through IVF.
Regina Townsend, founder of The Broken Brown Egg, says she felt particularly lonely when she and her husband embarked on their own infertility journey.
Tackling the fertility information gap
Digital infertility support groups don’t just provide community; as Wheland discovered, they also are a real educational resource for many people. Research shows that the average person has very little understanding of the basics of fertility, no matter their income or education level.
Highlighting individual journeys and struggles
Knowledge is power, and it’s by sharing knowledge and creating connections that these online groups are succeeding in breaking down stigmas associated with infertility, especially in communities where the topic is especially taboo.
“There are a lot of conversations in the Black community about what we ‘don’t’ do,” Townsend says. “We don’t go to therapy, we pray. We don’t ‘give our kids away’ or adopt. Phrases like that are really damaging.
When Men Are Infertile
Am I a terrible person? When our first IVF doc came back with the results of our diagnostic tests and didn’t find anything wrong with my husband Solomon, I was disappointed.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the male partner, because the woman is saying, ‘We can’t wait, my eggs are going to expire!'” Dr. Davidson says.
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
In a chapter in Conceiving Masculinity called “Masculinity and Virility in the Social Milieu,” she writes about idioms like “shooting blanks.” “Compare the idea of ‘shooting blanks’ to other colloquial jargon such as ‘grow a pair’ and ‘that takes balls.’ These fragments of language illustrate the prevailing cultural belief that healthy testicles producing potent sperm are a symbol of strength, courage, power, manliness and masculinity,” she writes.
Adam spent many hours online reading every study. He also underwent three biopsies to extract sperm for IVF with ICSI . “The worst part is that everything always looked great-so there was always a reason to try again,” he says.
What’s important to Jeffries, regardless of the method, is that those dealing with infertility find a way to open up about their struggles.
An ‘oasis in a desert’
It’s that tight sense of community that makes infertility-related content such an oasis in a desert of internet trolls. “Infertility, if that’s what you’re suffering from, it’s a disease – something is wrong with your body,” says Prato, who also runs Infertile AF’s Instagram , which as she says, has “snowballed” into its own support network. “I always call the worst club with the best members,” she says. Jeffries echoes that sentiment: “It is a very positive community. Very seldom do I have to tell people in my comments to chill out.
Pregnancy discrimination has been illegal since 1978, but there are plenty of other topics surrounding family planning and fertility that many employees may hesitate to bring up in the workplace.
Fortunately, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report, that’s starting to change as more women begin feeling more comfortable opening up to their colleagues and employers about everything from miscarriages to fertility treatments.
Experts say being open about formerly taboo reproductive topics could help benefit an employee’s personal and professional life, as well as help fight workplace stigma against reproductive health.
Workplace fertility policies can help ease experience for employees
Although human resources professionals are equipped to tackle many personal issues, understanding the far-reaching impact of fertility problems is often outside their skillset.
Supporting employees with fertility issues is good for everyone
Employers may not realise infertility is an illness, as defined by the World Health Organization, and that fertility treatment is not a choice; it is the recommended medical treatment for a recognised disease. However, in the UK, pre-conception care is not a statutory right, so employees do not have a right to absences for fertility treatment or the right to request flexible working, like they do for pre-natal and post-natal care.
Consequently, when businesses do not have a workplace fertility policy, employees resort to using annual leave, unpaid leave, working part-time or ending their employment to accommodate IVF appointments.
Other unacceptable conversations include drugs, sex and parenting techniques, with Brits going as far as to say discussing these ‘taboo’ subjects leaves them feeling ‘anxious’ and ‘nervous’.
Clinical and counselling psychologist Tamara Licht Musso said: “Not talking can seem the best short term strategy, but is a negative coping mechanism and at some point it cracks.
What is Cervical Mucus?
CM is exactly what it sounds like. What’s the Big Deal? Fertility awareness-based methods like the Creighton Model have, for more than 30 years of scientific study, defined CM as a biological marker for charting monthly cycles.
Turning the Tide
Unfortunately, CM and its role in feminine health awareness isn’t typically addressed by medical school curriculum and thus the larger healthcare community.
The path to more open discussions on cervical mucus, however, is not without its obstacles. Posts and photos of CM have recently been receiving scrutiny by the “Instagram police,” who have reported and banned multiple images. Certified FABM educator Megan McNamara of @famtasticfertility recently shared a message from Instagram saying her post showing CM was deleted because it didn’t follow their “Community Guidelines on nudity or pornography” and that her account may be restricted or disabled if she violates these guidelines again.
“I know what one feels like,” Reddit employee Cookie Arader quips.
A conversation like this might not have happened even five years ago. In the workplace, many women delay, even dread, sharing their plans to start a family, partly because of the penalty on motherhood, what’s known as the “maternal wall.” A landmark study from Cornell a decade ago showed that mothers are less likely to be recommended for jobs, and are seen as less competent, than childless women. In 2014, an analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found men often see a bump in pay after the birth of their first child, while women’s wages shrink with each kid.
And there’s often hesitation about sharing fertility and pregnancy plans because many women experience miscarriages or have trouble conceiving.
But a growing number of women, especially in tech, are bringing the discussion about family planning out of the gynecologist’s office and into the workplace — sometimes even when applying for jobs.
When a couple are experiencing fertility issues, their GP will most likely suggest a variety of tests for the woman and possibly a semen test for the man. They will then be recommended IVF treatment.
Avradeep and Emma opted for IVF using donor sperm. “I felt bad for Emma because I was the reason she could not conceive naturally, and why we needed to go down this route,” he says. “She would have to undergo various uncomfortable procedures and blood tests, whereas my lack of sperm ruled me out immediately.” Sometimes, on the drive back from work, he would cry.
The Next Generation
Last year, scientists at the Francis Crick Institute announced they had created healthy offspring from genetically infertile male mice. It was a ground-breaking result, pointing to a potential new approach to tackling infertility.
The text of this article was generated by the Breaking The Silence system that collected 17 news articles posted on the web from January 2019 to September 2020 and clustered for the taboo subject of fertility