As an employer, you’ll sometimes encounter employees who are struggling with infertility or pregnancy issues. The issue is stressful for everyone, but it can help to understand their perspective.
Infertility is a stressful and isolating experience even in “normal” times, let alone in the midst of a pandemic. If you or one of your employees is one of the many struggling to grow their family during this global crisis, know that you are not alone in feeling frustrated, defeated, and sad. Fortunately, despite the challenges that lie ahead, there is hope on the horizon. With a newly available vaccine in the early stages of distribution, there is optimism that this year will bring about positive change.
One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been an opportunity for reflection, which, for many, has resulted in a reevaluation of priorities. In my role as a reproductive endocrinologist, I’ve had the privilege of hearing many patient perspectives throughout the pandemic. As my fertility patients look toward the future and plan for pregnancy, a few common themes have emerged. I hope that sharing these pearls of wisdom and goals for this year will help employers understand their employees who are also struggling to grow their families.
Control the Things You Can, and Make Peace with What You Cannot
Uncertainty and lack of control are two of the most challenging aspects of infertility. There are many facets of health that can be optimized when trying to conceive, and there are benefits to being conscientious and proactive when attempting to build a family. However, it is very easy for feelings of frustration and despair to creep in even when they are doing everything “right” and yet are faced with month after month of negative pregnancy tests.
Employers that encourage healthy employees are helping those with fertility issues. Any effort (like eating well, exercising, and focusing on health and stress reduction) is great for general health and fertility, too! And while the journey is not the same for everyone, there are many tools to help employees achieve their dream of having a family. Understanding that they need to find a balance between patience and persistence, which can build resilience and help them cope during their fertility journey.
If you want to learn more about fertility benefits and how they drive down costs and increase employee health, join us on January 13th for a special webinar.
Prioritize What Is Important to You, and Seize the Moment
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we never know exactly what the future holds. The pandemic has forced all of us to contend with unanticipated life changes and circumstances. These challenges have served as a reminder to appreciate some of the simplest things in life, which we may have previously taken for granted. For many people, it has reinforced the importance of family and the value of time spent with loved ones. Some have realized they are ready to start their own families and plan to make this a priority in the coming year. I have also seen many patients find a renewed focus on their passions and interests and discover new creative outlets during their time at home. The increased solitude and time for contemplation in 2020 have caused a reframing of priorities that will influence life choices in 2021 and beyond.
Support Employee Mental, Physical, and Emotional Health
Employers need to understand that during stressful times, it is easy for employees struggling with fertility to put their own needs last. Habits have been a mixed bag in 2020 in the setting of disrupted routines and schedules. Some have found that the extra time at home has made it easier to engage in healthy activities such as exercise. Others have found it harder to focus on self-care, given the stresses and unpredictability of the pandemic. I have seen patients struggle and self-medicate with food, alcohol, or drugs as a negative coping mechanism in the face of stress.
Some of your employees are likely having a hard time taking care of themselves during this unprecedented year. They are not alone. Hopefully this year can provide a fresh start for setting positive routines and focusing on healthy habits. Employers are in a position to help employees quit smoking, eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet, and exercise. These classic New Year’s resolutions may be more relevant than ever during this pandemic. Consider optimizing the benefits you provide to your employees for everyone’s sake, especially those suffering from fertility difficulties.
Take the Time to Connect with Others
Remember life in 2019? Attending a party, grabbing dinner with a friend, and traveling to visit family were commonplace activities, and many of us never conceived of a time when these routine rituals would be difficult or even impossible. It is no surprise that many people have suffered from feelings of isolation in 2020. Infertility, in and of itself, can also be an isolating experience, adding to the difficulty of struggling to conceive during this particular year.
It is all the more important when facing hardship to find time to connect with your loved ones. In 2020, that has often meant phone calls, Zoom chats, and FaceTimes. Hopefully, in 2021, there will be more opportunities for safe in-person visits. Emotional support and connection are important for both health and happiness, and seeking these out may take additional effort until the pandemic is under better control. Finally, make sure you have services and benefits that can help employees in a safe and confidential way if they are struggling or suffering from depression. Let them know they don’t need to hesitate to ask for help.
Offering benefits like access to or coverage for a fertility specialist can be a great resource for connecting employees with a mental health professional.
It feels like a great time to reset the basics: Focus on our relationships with others and ourselves, and try to freshen our mind-sets as best we can with the turning of the year.
Dr. Laura Meyer is a Reproductive Endocrinologist at RMA of Connecticut.