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Allison Kasirer on Why We Should Talk More About Fertility at Work

August 30, 2018 | Filed in: Your Brain

Allison Kasirer started her career in finance, but the journey she took to become pregnant took her down a different professional path altogether. She is now the founder of FertileGirl, a website and online community whose mission is to change the conversation around fertility. We recently sat down with her to talk to her about coping with fertility challenges while balancing a full workload, her wish for workplaces to discuss fertility more openly, and how we can be more compassionate to ourselves and others who are struggling. 

On coming up with the idea for FertileGirl: 

I had been working in finance for eight years with no intention of leaving. I was very passionate about the work I was doing there: I wanted to break the glass ceiling and become a manager one day. Then I started having trouble getting pregnant and it felt like my whole world turned upside down. I decided to take a personal leave from work, and really spend some time mothering myself, stepping away from work-related stress and focusing on things that I was always putting off until tomorrow, like nutrition, exercise, and treatments like acupuncture. I also started seeing a fertility specialist.

The biggest change in my personal journey came when I started sharing about what I was going through. I stopped treating it like a secret, and started talking to friends, other specialists—anyone who would listen. It led me to create FertileGirl as a platform where all women could share their own journeys. I think in a social media world that’s invested in always being super glossy and perfect, we stand out for being very raw and real and honest. Over the past year we’ve highlighted over 70 women, all with different kinds of experiences trying to conceive. As for me, I did end up getting pregnant, and I gave birth to my twin boys in April of 2017, right as I was launching the company.

On her mission: 

We created a video called “#FlipTheScript” that we released during Infertility Awareness Week this past April. What the video is meant to highlight is this phenomenon that I discovered, where the second that I opened up and shared my story, other women were coming out of the woodwork to share their own.

The other feeling we were trying to capture is that when you’re trying to get pregnant, it feels like everybody’s pregnant. But at the same time, if we can be mindful that we don’t really know what that person has gone through to get there, it’s easier to find support, build a community, and know that you’re not alone.

Of course, we’re not saying everybody should post their personal fertility journey on social media. It is a very personal topic, and there are reasons that you may not want to talk about it. But I think when you’re going through this, and you are feeling very alone and isolated, that community can be such a pillar of strength.

On balancing these challenges with a full workload: 

It can be extremely challenging to go through all this while working full time. It certainly was for me as a person who was working in finance, spending 13-hour days on the trading floor, and traveling at least one day a week. When you start seeing a fertility specialist, you might be going every day, or every other day, between the hours of 6:00 A.M and 8:00 A.M. for morning monitoring, which is typically a blood draw, an ultrasound, and a quick chat with either your nurse or your doctor. Those waiting rooms are packed. And unless you’re the first person there at 5:59, you may be there for a good chunk of time, which can be really hard for women who have demanding jobs.

The other part is that you’re going through something that it is very physically invasive, and should be treated as a serious medical condition, which it sometimes isn’t in some workplaces. And then the third piece of it is really the emotional and mental burden. The physical side I could get over, because it felt like I was doing something proactive. I had never really struggled with anxiety or depression before. And here I was confronting those feelings as well. I think that the modern workplace really needs to take a lot of things into account: the flexibility needed for these treatments, and the physical and emotional toll that it takes. Workplaces should also consider what they’re offering in terms of benefits, because it can become really financially burdensome if you don’t have good insurance coverage. Many people, even if they’re just going through fertility preservation, trying to freeze their eggs, are spending $10,000 to $15,000 in some instances.

On creating a supportive company culture: 

I think if you want to create a modern workplace, you have to willing to break certain stigmas, and talk about things that might feel uncomfortable to talk about between a boss and an employee. I think many women would view that really positively. I’ve been to a lot of maternity panels, and maternity leave is talked about so much at work. I think it would be helpful for workplaces to really expand the conversation to be more around other life events, including planning for a family. I think if the culture is there, then greater flexibility and understanding are going to come naturally.

On remembering to take care of yourself: 

I think that more people need to recognize that self care or mothering yourself pre-pregnancy is really important. The idea that it takes a village to raise a kid also extends into pregnancy and pre-pregnancy. Finding the support and help that you need, whether it’s going to see a reproductive therapist to get through the emotional struggle, or going to acupuncture, or seeing a nutritionist, can be really helpful. Everything else is going to suffer, whether it’s your work, or your family life, if you don’t take care of yourself first.

On being a compassionate friend or coworker to someone struggling: 

I think it’s hard because sometimes people just don’t know what to say. I think the biggest pitfall is going right to giving advice. Many people think, I should tell them to to relax, or take a vacation, or try to adopt. But the best thing you can do for somebody who’s going through this is just to listen. If it’s a close friend or coworker it’s so valuable to hear “I’m here for you, I’ll be a shoulder for you to lean on, I’m not going to pry—but when you need me, please tell me how I can help.” To me, that is the biggest conversation changer that can happen amongst people who are trying to be supportive and helpful, whether it’s in the workplace, or just a friend in your social circle who you know is going through it.