Statistics on infertility can, at times, feel staggering. According to recent studies, between 12% and 15% of couples in the United States are unable to conceive after one year of unprotected sex. Globally, 48.5 million couples experience infertility.
Statistics like these feel so overwhelming because of the stigmas often associated with infertility, which create feelings of shame and failure. Those stigmas have several roots. Because many cultures view starting and raising a family as a societal norm, the inability to do so can create feelings of inadequacy. In the worst instances, some dealing with fertility issues can become the victims of discrimination. Not surprisingly, rather than face those stigmas, many choose to keep their struggles secret, which leads to further feelings of isolation.
Infertility affects both men and women equally, with approximately one-third of the causes stemming from male issues, one-third from female issues, and one-third from a combination of both. Women, however, more often feel the impact of infertility more acutely, either through social or self-stigmas that leave them feeling devalued.
The situation becomes even more critical for women of color, particularly Black women. Studies show they’re twice as likely to experience infertility as White women, but almost half as likely to seek treatment, in part because of more difficulty accessing fertility care. Infertility also presents critical challenges for the LGBTQIA+ community. Many are denied coverage for IVF treatments, for example, because health plans often require a medical diagnosis of infertility, which is defined in heterosexual terms, to prove that the individual or couple cannot conceive children through sexual intercourse. As a result, many have felt excluded from conversations not only about the stigmas of infertility but also the available treatments.
Fortunately, leading companies have begun to offer help—emotional, physical, and financial—to those dealing with infertility. In this blog, we’ll not only cover some infertility basics, but also look at ways that you can help your employees navigate this very personal journey by destigmatizing infertility in the workplace. Below, we’ll discuss:
- What is infertility?
- How common is infertility?
- What impact does infertility have in the workplace?
- How to destigmatize infertility in the workplace
What is infertility?
As we mentioned above, infertility is the inability to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sex. The definition differs slightly for women aged 35 and over, because fertility steadily decreases with age. For these women, infertility is the inability to conceive after six months of unprotected sex.
How common is infertility?
If the statistics below seem shocking, it’s because the stigma and secrecy surrounding infertility often obscure just how common it is:
0 births: 19.4%
1 or more births: 6%
About 9% of men and about 11% of women of reproductive age in the United States have experienced fertility problems.
Percent of women aged 15-49 who have ever used infertility services: 12.2%.
33% of American adults report that they or someone they know has used some type of fertility treatment in order to try to have a baby.
U.S births via assisted reproductive technology more than tripled between 1996 and 2016.
What impact does infertility have in the workplace?
The secrecy around infertility also extends to the workplace. While childbirth often leads to a celebration in the office, the same can’t be said for those who suffer from infertility. As a result, fertility shame gets compounded in the workplace. A recent survey showed that 50% of women in the UK hid their infertility treatment from their employer out of fear their employer would think less of them. In addition, 40% voiced concerns about the negative effects of their infertility on their careers.
The impact of infertility on birthing parents often shows up in myriad ways at work. Among them:
Emotional, physical, and financial strain
First and foremost, infertility can have a devastating emotional impact, not to mention the physical and financial strain of treatment. IVF, for example, can cost upwards of $23,000 per cycle, with most couples requiring two or more cycles before achieving a successful pregnancy. A 2016 Fertility Network study found that 90% of people with fertility problems or undergoing treatment were depressed and 42% had thoughts of suicide. The combined emotional, physical, and financial strain of infertility treatments often results in the need for time off.
Work/life balance presents challenges for everyone, but the problems become even more acute for those seeking treatment for infertility. In addition to hectic work schedules, those seeking infertility treatments need to find the time to keep those appointments—not an easy task given the time-consuming and unpredictable nature of fertility treatments. Many patients need more than one cycle of fertility treatments, potentially leading to months, if not years, of appointments.
Maintaining this schedule without proper support leads to a host of understandable issues in the workplace, including a loss of concentration, energy, and engagement. That combination can ultimately result in sharp drops in productivity. In the worst cases, highly productive employees may simply decide to leave rather than deal with the strain of work/life balance.
As mentioned earlier, studies show women don’t discuss their fertility issues with employers for fear of the possible negative impact on their careers. Whether that fear is real or perceived, it still has consequences. Specifically, those dealing with the emotional, physical, and financial strain of fertility problems may ultimately choose to handle that stress in ways that inhibit their career paths. In other words, their fear of career repercussions may ultimately become a self-fulfilling prophecy as they shy away from actively seeking career advancement.
Four ways to destigmatize infertility in the workplace
The simplest way to help employees through the strain of infertility involves destigmatizing the issue in your workplace. Here are four ways to do that:
Educating your entire organization about infertility and its consequences for all employees—regardless of their paths to parenthood—can have a huge impact on your employees. They’ll feel much less inclined to stay silent if they feel confident you understand and support their journey. Education can take the form of specific manager training for managers. You could also develop resource materials outlining how your company can assist those seeking assistance with fertility issues. Take every opportunity to acknowledge those who may be dealing with infertility. Doing so can have tangible results. In the Fertility Network study above, those employees who said they received more employer support also reported lower levels of distress and less frequent suicidal feelings.
Providing a supportive community
Providing support for those dealing with fertility issues can take multiple forms. Establishing support groups helps employees contend with feelings of isolation. You can offer those support groups by creating a Slack channel for affected employees, for example, or pointing them to public Slack channels. You could also point employees to highly regarded public networks—Resolve: The National Infertility Association is an excellent example—that provide peer-led groups for those struggling with fertility issues.
Infertility support programs also must include support for all employees, regardless of their paths to parenthood. That not only includes men but support for LGBTQIA+ employees. More than 60% of LGBTQIA+ people planning families expect to use assisted reproductive technology and other alternative means of becoming parents.
Reproductive health benefits
Perhaps nothing issues more of a statement about your company’s commitment to those dealing with infertility than offering comprehensive reproductive health benefits that cover employees’ costs. More companies than ever now offer fertility support, and for good reason. The right fertility benefits plan can offer a host of benefits that address many of the issues described above, including:
- Providing physical, emotional, and financial support
- Building employee loyalty
- Attracting top talent
- Advancing inclusivity
- Improving productivity
Perhaps best of all, despite what some may think, offering fertility benefits often doesn’t involve any significant increase in cost for employers.
In addition to family health benefits that cover costs for employees, offering virtual telehealth options also helps destigmatize infertility by addressing some of the critical work/life balance and mental health issues described above. Not only do telehealth options help employees feel less isolated, but they also reinforce your company’s commitment to addressing employee needs in ways that best fit their busy lifestyles.
Telehealth makes providers available as needed to answer questions, provide guidance, and offer educational resources. It can increase the number of touchpoints patients have with providers and inspire early interventions for various high-risk factors.
Maven’s inclusive approach to fertility
Maven is the world’s largest virtual clinic for women’s and family health. Our comprehensive fertility and maternity program includes ongoing assessments, proactive check-ins, and human touchpoints, helping members identify risks early and prevent costly complications.
Maven’s care model is also proven to reduce healthcare spending. In addition to a 2:1 clinical ROI, our offerings reduce the need for costly services like C-Sections and NICU admissions, saving patients and employers thousands in healthcare costs upfront and long term. Our goal is to help couples conceive in the way that’s best for them—that’s why 17% of members who join our fertility track don’t end up needing or receiving treatment. Taking care of your people was always the right thing to do—and now doing so saves your business thousands in healthcare expenses, too. Schedule a call with our team to see how Maven supports working families, retains talent, and reduces costs.
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