With about one in eight U.S. couples affected by infertility, it’s no surprise employers are taking action. To support the path to parenthood—and compete in the battle to attract and retain talent—the vast majority of Best Workplaces for Parents (81%) have incorporated fertility coverage into their employee benefits plan. The most common fertility benefit offered? Reimbursement for in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments and other expensive procedures. It’s a straightforward, data-driven benefits solution to lessen the hefty financial burden of fertility care and the stress that comes with it.
But it’s just a start. To meet the needs of members facing fertility challenges, HR benefits leaders need to address not just the cost of fertility care but the model of care itself.
“We strongly believe the best fertility benefits put the patient at the center, providing holistic, emotional and specialty support through the ups and downs of this very uncertain time,” said Maven founder and CEO Kate Ryder in a recent Conference Board webinar.
The value of holistic care in the path to parenthood is best illuminated not by data but by stories. Toward that end, we brought together voices from the frontlines of fertility. Joining Kate in the webinar to share their experiences and perspectives were Mo Johannsen, fertility patient, Maven fertility member and senior HR business partner with Zynga; and Dr. Brian Levine, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, and founding partner and practice director of CCRM.
Here are some of the insights they shared and key takeaways from the discussion.
- Preconception care is vital and too often a missing link.
The most important first step a woman can take in the path to parenthood is preconception care, but 86% of women are not receiving preconception counseling from their OB-GYN.. Told throughout adolescence and early adulthood that getting pregnant is all too easy, Dr. Levine explained, most women won’t seek preconception counseling. “No one ever goes to the doctor and says ‘I’m thinking about getting pregnant—what needs to be checked?’,” he said.
Without that unbiased guidance and dialogue early in the journey, patients can wind up confused and in emotional distress when pregnancy doesn’t happen quickly. Worse, they can jump prematurely to costly IVF treatments, using their employer-offered fertility benefit without first understanding the basics of their ovulation cycle or what their options are.
He sees Maven filling this gap in the journey. “Most people don’t even know how to discuss when they’re ovulating or even to figure out when they’re trying. Maven is a place where they can start the dialogue today.”
Reflecting on some of her early fertility challenges prior to having access to Maven, Mo echoed the importance of offering people a place to go for emotional support and answers.
“Where I struggled was that I just didn’t even know the right questions to ask. I didn’t know where to start, what to do, how to even approach my doctor with it. So it was a lot of research and learning, but I wished I had more information to arm myself so I could advocate for myself in a much more effective way.”
Preconception care is important in helping both women and men understand all the different pathways in the family-building process, Kate added, noting that 17% of Maven members end up not needing or receiving fertility treatments “either because they were counseled and decided to adopt instead, or they got pregnant naturally.”
- Holistic care is critical to enable employees to bring their whole selves to work during their fertility journey.
The fertility journey can be one of the most stressful experiences in life, making it difficult to focus on anything else. Mo shared the significant impact of infertility in her life:
“With infertility, when you’re going through it, it’s a full-time job. It’s a ton of pressure. It’s always a huge distraction,” Mo shared. “I felt like I couldn’t show up a hundred percent to anything, let alone my job. It just took a toll on me emotionally, physically, mentally, financially, and I got to a point where I was just sick all the time and thought something had to be seriously wrong. Then I found out it was a lot of just stress-related sickness.”
Dr. Levine sees this same stress in his patients. “The two stresses that people really talk about all the time are the financial stress and the emotional stress of going through fertility treatment,” he said. “Sometimes it's a rocky road. There are wins, there are losses...some people are not prepared for that.” He said patients often don’t know what they’re getting into and turn to Google for answers about their challenges, which can add more worry and stress.
“They’re worried about their diagnosis,” Dr. Levine explained. “They don’t know where to go. People can hop on the Maven platform, make an appointment and speak to a health provider. When people are plugged in and have a doctor to go to, they feel like they have better experiences overall. Most important, their stress levels are lower, and they’re probably a better employee and a better person.”
That peace of mind is what Mo found. “When I joined Zynga and started using Maven, I just saw all of these different doors open up, and my fertility journey took a turn to be so much more productive. I started getting answers and felt like I had the tools and resources to effectively advocate for myself and my family planning dreams we were trying to build. Having that full support from such a holistic approach completely removed a huge portion of stress from my life, and it impacted me in so many different ways. I was able to show up to work better. I was able to be a better wire. I was able to be a better friend.”
Through Maven, Mo accessed a comprehensive care team: a Maven Care Advocate to help guide her and answer questions, a mental health provider, a nutritionist, and a reproductive endocrinologist. Through the pandemic, she consulted the mental health provider often, and during treatments, contacted her nutritionist and Care Advocate to learn about other resources available to her. Reading articles on the Maven platform about the experiences of others helped Mo feel less alone in her journey, and also helped her support other Zynga employees more effectively in her role as HR business partner.
She also found the Maven Wallet simple to use for reimbursements from Zynga: “I just uploaded my receipts, took a picture, and that was it,” she said. “We could really get some traction to building our family, because we didn’t have to worry about all these other factors,” she added.
- There are many pathways to parenthood. Your people need support to pursue them.
People are typically unaware of the options available to them when they learn that their chances of getting pregnant on their own are low, explained Dr. Levine. It doesn’t mean their chance of giving birth is low, he stressed, but instead that he needs to discuss alternative routes to pregnancy with them, like using the egg from another woman or sperm from another man.
Similarly, Dr. Levine says same-sex couples and single people who have decided to reproduce on their own without a partner often aren’t aware of their options and steps to take. “I always tell people ‘Reach out to a fertility doctor first. You can do it on the Maven platform. You can do it in person. Help us point you in the right direction.’”
In her role as HR business partner at Zynga, Mo sees employees taking advantage of the Maven platform to support many pathways to parenthood. “We have about 20 percent that are using it for egg freezing, and then about another 35%, they’re using it for fertility or fertility partners support.” Others are using Maven for support with adoption and returning to work, she said.
“Our employees are so happy with the platform and how they can use it. It's a huge reason why I joined the company, and I hear that from so many other people that they hadn't seen a benefit like this at any other company. It’s just such a great way for us to get that talent in and then also keep them here.”
- Holistic care shouldn’t end with conception. Continuity of care is critical.
After battling infertility, many patients are not mentally prepared to be told they’re pregnant, explained Dr. Levine. For many, hearing they’re pregnant can be incredibly stressful because they’re waiting for the next shoe to drop. Needing high intervention to get there, they often assume they will be high risk.
He also finds many patients don’t know what their next steps are. After having weekly fertility appointments, they’re suddenly in a model where they may have only two or three ultrasounds throughout the entire pregnancy, one monthly visit and one delivery and one post-partum visit. “That becomes very anxiety-inducing for many patients,” he said.
As part of his guidance to patients, Dr. Levine suggests they seek support from the resources available through Maven. Doctor visits in the first and second trimester are often very short and far apart, he explains. Through Maven, they can get answers, emotional support, and also help to prepare for those in-person visits. This support is particularly helpful during COVID, he noted, when patients are uncertain about what delivery involves. “Can I have a doula? Can I have a birth coach? That’s where Maven comes in.”
Mo also commented on the value of Maven’s continuous support from preconception to pregnancy to postpartum and pediatrics: “It is so full cycle, and I think our employees really just appreciate that, and it's been a huge tool for us in terms of our attraction of top talent, our retention of top talent.”
Read more about Mo’s story.
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