Why one company is encouraging women to say the “F” word: Fertility

For many, talking about fertility can seem terrifying. Though there are many apps that claim to make tracking fertility a breeze, they don’t necessarily make it easier for people to talk openly about their questions, concerns, and fears surrounding reproductive health.

A recent survey conducted by Celmatix, a company that uses genomics and data to help women better understand fertility as it pertains to their bodies, found that 39% of women don’t speak to their partners about fertility. Additionally, approximately 60% reported that they haven’t talked to their mothers about their family’s reproductive health history and that they won’t broach the subject even with their close friends.

Of course, these findings aren’t too surprising considering that, for centuries, talking about sex and reproductive health has been taboo, creating a culture in which women are unfamiliar with their own bodies. According to Vice, a 2016 survey in Britain found that 44% of women couldn’t locate the vagina and 60% couldn’t locate the vulva on an illustration. This isn’t to say that women are in any way stupid; rather, this highlights the need for more educational resources and conversations — which is exactly why Celmatix launched the #SaytheFword campaign.

The campaign’s mission is to empower women and other folks with vaginas to break the stigma surrounding the topic of fertility.

“It’s crazy that at a time when we have progressed so far in breaking down stigma around gender identity, sexual preference, and other centuries-old taboos, there’s still so much about fertility and the path to motherhood that’s off-limits,”said Piraye Yurttas Beim, PhD, founder and CEO of Celmatix, in a statement to HelloGiggles. “It’s time for women to feel comfortable talking about their health — starting with their reproductive health. We’re challenging the status quo that keeps women silent because we believe strongly in the power of open dialogue, and because we believe that women have been kept silent by stigma for far too long.”

It’s that very stigma, Yurttas Beim argues, that has driven one-fifth of women who have had miscarriages to keep it a secret from a partner.

Though there are many reasons someone may not want to talk about fertility, Dr. Georgia Witkin, Director of Patient Services Development at Progyny, a company dedicated to making fertility benefits more accessible, said that she’s found there are three main reasons people keep their lips locked about reproductive health: a lack of information, fear of rejection and embarrassment, and a fear of losing control over their bodies.

“A lot of women say, ‘The moment I go public with my concerns about fertility, I lose control over it.’ That increases stress,” said Dr. Witkin. “All of my research suggests that when your sense of control goes down, your stress goes up.”

Dr. Marra Francis, board certified OB-GYN and Director at EverlyWell, a company that sells at-home fertility tests that make it easier for women to check their hormone levels, added that another reason women may be hesitant to discuss fertility is because of relationship dynamics.

“There’s something about the fear of infertility or the fact that [women] are already suspecting infertility because they’ve been trying and haven’t gotten pregnant [that causes] relationship-dynamic issues,” said Dr. Francis. “So, some women are apprehensive. They don’t want to find out that it’s them, or they don’t want to find out that it’s their husband.”

Instead of speaking with a professional, Dr. Witkin said some people are working themselves up by reading misinformation about fertility on the internet. Some myths, she said, claim that stress or mental health issues cause infertility (they don’t) and that adopting a child will make it easier for you to conceive down the road (also, not based on fact). Additionally, because we’re so attuned to celebrity news where stars get pregnant in their 40s, it can be easy to assume that getting pregnant at that age is feasible for everyone.

“I would say that the majority [of people] have no idea about the fertility bell curve,” said Dr. Witkin, who is also an Assistant Professor of OB-GYN and Reproductive Sciences and psychiatry at Mount Sinai. “By the time you’re 35, fertility is on the decline.”

Of course, the bell curve doesn’t necessarily impact everyone the same way. Some women experience fertility issues in their 20s while others experience none past the age of 35.

It’s important to remember there’s absolutely nothing “wrong” with your body if you are infertile or struggle with fertility.

For those who want additional help at any age, both Dr. Witkin and Dr. Francis stressed the many helpful options that exist thanks to advancements in medicine and technology, like IVF (in-vitro fertilization) treatments, egg freezing, embryo freezing, and surrogacy. And of course, there are the options of adoption or foster parenting. All of these services are more readily available and equally beautiful ways of growing a family.

The best way to find out what’s right for you? Talk to a doctor or OB-GYN.

“I think probably a universal statement for OB-GYNs is, ‘There’s not much we haven’t heard before.’” said Dr. Francis. “So, while so many women may think that their personal situation is unique, chances are we’ve [helped] a woman with the exact same situation or something similar…I think that if women have an open discussion with their OB-GYN about fertility, most of the time we’re going to alleviate fears rather than cause fears.”

Donate to the campaign or pledge to #SaytheFword here.

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