Building a family can be a complicated and emotionally challenging ordeal. Each journey to parenthood brings with it a unique set of challenges: research shows one in five people face obstacles in their fertility or family-building journeys. However, the family-building journey can be further impacted by the anxiety and misinformation surrounding the experience. A recent study by Maven found the majority of women feel some form of anxiety about their ability to build a family—and that for most, this anxiety is only increasing.
What is reproductive anxiety?
Reproductive anxiety is the feeling of stress and tension triggered by thoughts of fertility and a potential inability to get or stay pregnant. The pressure to build a family is still intense for many, meaning that difficulty with fertility may prompt existential questions about what it means to be a woman without kids—research shows challenges in fertility often engender feelings of shame, brokenness, and self-blame.
To understand how we can address reproductive anxiety and better support women and families, Maven conducted a survey of 1,500 women ages 28-38 living in five large U.S. cities to understand their concerns and perceptions around fertility. Our findings make it clear that a new approach is needed—one that meets people where they are, prioritizes emotional support and education, and guides them to the care they require. By understanding the gaps in healthcare for people managing their fertility, employers can better support their employees and drive positive outcomes. Here are the top takeaways from Maven’s fertility study.
Key findings from the survey
1. Anxiety about fertility starts early
While obstacles to pregnancy are common, it’s easy to get preemptively stressed about fertility, even before starting to try. Women typically begin to think about their fertility when they’re between 19 to 21 years old, and at least four in five women experience some level of anxiety when thinking about their ability to get pregnant. These anxieties can be triggered by a variety of sources, from ads on social media to invasive questions from family members or friends about when they’ll get pregnant.
The fertility journey is full of uncertainty, and 40% of women with infertility experience mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Anxiety around fertility is also growing—more than 3 in 4 women surveyed have experienced an increase in their anxiety regarding their ability to get pregnant in the last several years.
At least four in five women experience some level of anxiety when thinking about their ability to get pregnant, and more than a quarter are very or extremely anxious.
2. Reproductive anxiety increases as people get older
Unfortunately, it’s normal to feel a sense of pressure around fertility as we age, with 59% of women citing age as one of the top contributors to their anxiety. "From a young age, women are told the clock is ticking and made to feel vulnerable about their ability to have children," says Kate Ryder, founder and CEO of Maven Clinic. "This culture of reproductive anxiety is deeply embedded in our society and demands a new approach to reproductive healthcare rooted in compassion, empathy, and facts." With at least a third of women starting to think about their fertility at age 18 or earlier, this stress is long-term and pervasive for many people.
3. Reproductive anxiety is compounded by a lack of access to reliable sources
People facing infertility need compassionate guidance more than ever. Fertility can affect every aspect of someone’s life, from health and well-being to family, work, and romantic relationships. That’s why a strong support system is so important—but may be more difficult to find than it should be. Nearly one in three women say social media, advertising, and the news are the most influential factors regarding their feelings about fertility. OB-GYNs and female friends were listed as other influential sources.
What is even more concerning is that at least three in four women believe more than three falsehoods about their fertility, ranging from perceptions of how long-term birth control impacts fertility to the need for regular fertility testing over a certain age. The path to pregnancy is rife with anxiety-provoking misinformation, which is why communication around fertility should lead with empathy and education, rather than treatments or fear-based messaging.
Taking action on reproductive anxiety in the workplace
Employer-sponsored benefits play a crucial role in how people build their families, as it often determines what services they can access and afford. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for the intensely personal fertility journey—and can actually be damaging to people who are taking advice that may not apply to them. While many are adding fertility benefits to better cover and support employees seeking fertility treatments, there’s both an opportunity and an abundant need for inclusive, evidence-based educational resources.
Steering people to the right care for their needs
Fertility exists on a continuum: there are mild, moderate and severe cases of infertility, with different options to go forward—but the reality is that not everyone struggling with fertility needs to rush into costly and invasive treatments like IVF. Employees need options for the many pathways to parenthood, like access to surrogacy for same-sex couples, LGBTQIA+ people, and single parents. Individuals should be treated with a personalized care plan that considers their health from a whole-person perspective because in many cases, changes to lifestyle factors like nutrition and exercise can improve fertility.
Providing access to mental health support
Fertility struggles can cause many different kinds of loss, from grief over not getting pregnant to low self-esteem and financial stress. These interconnected and complicated emotions are new to many people on this journey—which is why it’s crucial to offer continuous access to mental health support. For people on their fertility journey, virtual counseling can provide unprecedented access to a range of specialists in the moments they need support.
Offering credible resources and a supportive community
Because employees may be exposed to misinformation online and lack reliable sources, employers need to ensure access to comprehensive and straightforward clinically-vetted materials. These resources range from articles about fertility written by experts to appointments with fertility specialists who can guide them and refer them to credible, quality fertility clinics.
The evidence-based approach to fertility
Looking for a whole-person, inclusive approach to helping employees on their fertility journey? Maven partners with employers to help them design and administer best-in-class fertility benefits that provide fertility education, programs for adoption and surrogacy, and financial support and reimbursement. Families have access to Maven's digital platform which connects members with on-demand providers, including fertility awareness educators, mental health counselors, and reproductive endocrinologists, as well as personalized care pathways to help each individual achieve their family-building goals. Contact us today to learn more about how to provide the best fertility benefit for your organization today.
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