3 Ways to Support and Advocate for Those Experiencing Infertility

As someone who is personally impacted by infertility, I am reminded daily of how grateful I am for treatment. According to The World Health Organization, 1 in 6 couples are effected by infertility. Despite the large number of people suffering from this challenge, there are still many barriers to treatment and a stigma surrounding infertility. Let’s tackle this issue together, below are three ways we can support and advocate for those experiencing infertility.

Three Ways We can Support Those Experiencing Infertility

Educate Ourselves

Before I was diagnosed with infertility I knew very little about it. When I heard the term IVF, my initial thought was, wow science is so cool. I’m happy that option exists, but I won’t ever need to worry about it. Flash forward to two years of struggling to get pregnant, an IUI and two rounds of IVF and wow, have my thoughts changed. It may sound strange, but I am extremely grateful for this experience. It taught me so much about my own body, our medical system and how hard it can be to create a family. Below are some of the things I wish I had known sooner.

What’s the difference between an IUI and IVF?

Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)

This fertility treatment is sometimes recommended before IVF. It increases the chance of fertilizing an egg. During intercourse, only a few hundred sperm reach the egg under ideal conditions. But with an IUI, your doctor places millions of healthy sperm directly in the uterus, much closer to the egg. This process is short and involves two parts.
First, doctors collect a sperm sample. Second, doctors use a catheter to place the sperm directly into the uterus during ovulation. The patient is awake for this process and it typically involves little to no pain.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) 

This fertility treatment is much more complex and requires multiple steps, medication and procedures. The first step of IVF is to take injected fertility hormonal medications. The medication stimulates the ovaries to produce multiple follicles. Each follicle typically contains one egg. The hormones are injected on average of 10 to 14 days. Ultrasounds and blood work accompany the hormones to monitor a successful stimulation. The goal is to have as many follicles as possible reach 18 to 20 mm in diameter. At that point, it is time to retrieve the mature eggs from the ovaries. This procedure is performed under general anesthesia and the patient doesn’t feel any discomfort. It typically lasts between 10 to 30 minutes.
Once the eggs are retrieved, they are either incubated with sperm overnight or the sperm is injected directly into each egg to fertilize them. Once you know how many eggs properly fertilize, becoming an embryo, you move on to the transfer process. This is a simple technique where a thin catheter containing the embryo is passes through the cervix into the uterus and the embryo is released. This does not require anesthesia or sedation.
The more we know about the process, the more we can empathize.

Empathize, Don’t Try to Fix

Ask those impacted by infertility how they’d like to be supported. This is going to be different for everyone. A sample conversation could look like..

“I know there’s nothing I can do to fix this, but I’m here to go through it all with you. I want to support you, but know that looks different for everyone. How can I help you? It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to this right now. I’ll check back in tomorrow to give you time to think about it.”

It’s natural for us to hear about a problem and want to try to fix it, this is human nature. However, it’s extremely unhelpful when dealing with infertility. What someone really needs is a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear and a note of support. The sad reality when dealing with infertility is, there’s no guaranteed outcome. Someone could go through the entire IVF process and yield zero embryos. It’s extremely common for couples to need to go through two or more rounds of IVF before being able to transfer an embryo. Each transfer does not guarantee a baby.
In many cases diagnosing and treating infertility can take years, filled with many physical and emotional up’s and down’s. As family members, friends, leaders or peers we can offer support in many forms.
  1. A text check-in – “No need to respond, but I want you to know I’m thinking of you”
  2. A gift – A homemade meal, flowers or a poem to show support. This can be especially helpful during the egg retrieval process, which is exhausting.
  3. Flexibility – Provide a flexible work schedule, offer to run errands or take on tasks around the house.
If a couple chooses to keep information private, respect this. This does not mean they don’t value your love and support, it’s simply what’s best for them during this time. It can be hard to feel shut out of such a challenging part of our loved ones lives, but it’s important to trust they know what’s best for them.

Advocate for Change

Infertility coverage is expanding, but in many states it’s still not provided, which creates another added stress for those struggling. As of June 2022 20 states have passed fertility insurance coverage laws, 32% of small employers and 61% of large employers cover some type of infertility coverage. We can all get really clear on how the states we live in and organizations we work for support infertility.

We can all use our voices and stories to advocate to lower the cost, increase insurance benefits and make treatment more accessible to all.

Changes come to life because of demand. Carrot offers a robust guide that helps define the modern language of fertility care, which empowers us to communicate in an inclusive and accurate way. The first step is having a conversation with your HR team to see how they are thinking about support and benefits.
The more we all know, the better we can support and advocate for those experiencing infertility.