I was in college when I was diagnosed with endometriosis — a moment that was as confusing as it was isolating. I had no idea what that six-syllable word meant, physically or otherwise, and I certainly didn’t know anyone else in my life who was experiencing it, too. That same feeling of confusion and isolation revisited me two years and three miscarriages after my first son was born — when I was diagnosed with secondary infertility.
While we are often told to lean on our partners, there’s an unmistakable and unmatched sense of support we can and deserve to feel from people who just get it. In most situations, our partners can’t fully understand what we’re going through — and when they can’t, we deserve to have a community that can. This is one reason why Modern Fertility launched the Modern Community, a digital space for anyone with ovaries to connect with people across the country and have unfiltered conversations about reproductive health.
“Having a supportive cadre of people to lean on whilst navigating reproductive health stress can be a potent salve,” Dr. Jessica Zucker, PhD, an LA-based psychologist specializing in women's reproductive and maternal mental health, says. “The ups and downs that often accompany the fertility roller coaster require community — people to turn to — to vent, commiserate, and find compassion. Braving this kind of stress all on your own is not ideal, as it can already feel like a fairly isolating experience as it is.”
If you’re facing fertility and/or reproductive health stress and uncertainty, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. A reported 10 in every 100 women in the US, ages 15 to 44, have difficulty becoming and/or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Roughly 5 million women in the US have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), 1 in 10 women are diagnosed with endometriosis, and that’s to say nothing of the trans men, nonbinary people, and other uterus- and ovary-owning folx who can experience a wide variety of stressful, painful, and disappointing reproductive health outcomes.
You are far and away not the only person to feel defeated, overwhelmed, or stressed about your reproductive health. So, find your people, confide in your people, and allow your people to ground you and lift you up as you continue to care for yourself. Because a community of people who know exactly what you’re going through can help you in the following ways and for the following reasons:
1. A community provides validation
“There is a powerful kind of validation that takes place when we hear other people’s stories — especially stories that are similar to our own,” Zucker says. “It gives us the lived sense that we are not alone. It's one thing to hear the phrase, ‘You are not alone,’ but it's another thing entirely to actually feel less alone through witnessing someone else's vulnerability. Through it, we might feel invigorated, hopeful, understood, or, at the very least, comforted.”
2. A community means you don’t have to rely 100% on your partner
“Partners tend to have very different corporeal experiences throughout the fertility process,” Zucker explains. “As a result, it is vital that people find alternative friends, family, community, and/or a therapist to speak with, if and when possible, in an effort to feel understood.”
Liz Reynolds is a member of the Modern Community. She explains that speaking to people other than her partner was incredibly helpful. “[My partner] has so much going on with her transition and she also doesn’t have a lot of knowledge about pregnancy or trying to conceive,” she says. “So it’s been amazing to talk to people who get it and share similar concerns.”
Zucker says that reproductive health stress can “affect relationships in a variety of ways, sometimes morphing into resentment, communication difficulties, or emotional distance.” She explains that leaning on community can help: “Having additional outlets to air fears or grievances, and to get alternate perspectives, can pave the way for more fluid and honest conversations with your partner.”
3. A community can give and receive real, genuine empathy
“A community of supportive people will engender a sense of connection and bi-directional empathy,” Zucker says. “A supportive community has the capacity to hold your fears and your hopes, your sadness and your complexity. A supportive community shouldn't make you feel threatened, competitive, less than, or insecure. These deleterious feelings are antithetical to true and enduring healthy connection.”
4. A community busts reproductive health-related stigma
“When we surround ourselves with people who get it — and get us — we help shift the stale cultural stigma surrounding reproductive health issues through changing the narrative, together,” Zucker says. While conversations surrounding PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, secondary infertility, and the general messiness of trying to conceive, much work is to be done before these discussions can exist out in the open without the added weight of shame and judgment.
5. A community protects your mental health
Meredith Shamrock, another member of the Modern Community, says when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, reaching out to other cancer fighters and survivors was necessary in terms of maintaining her mental health.
“Having those women to talk to eased my anxieties and I was, later on, able to help the newbies,” she says. “When I found [the Modern Community], I quickly connected with another cancer survivor who has gone through so much more than I did.”
Research shows that feeling alone can actually negatively impact both your mental and your physical health: A 2013 study found that loneliness can raise the stress and hormone levels in our bodies and lead to an increased risk of serious health issues, including heart disease and dementia.
6. A community provides inclusivity
For LGBTQ+ people in particular, who have to navigate reproductive health stress and fertility issues while also being excluded from the larger, cultural narrative, a community of other LGBTQ+ people experiencing the same stressors is paramount. (In fact, in Modern Fertility’s Modern State of LGBTQ+ Fertility survey, four out of five of the most-listed sources of information for fertility and family planning were free online resources.)
“There is so much information out there, including tips and tricks to improve our chances,” explains Shamrock. “It is not as easy for us, compared to straight couples. They already have a ‘home advantage.’” It’s especially important if you don’t have people who get it in your offline support system. “Crazy as it sounds, we do not have very many lesbian friends. Most of our couple friends are straight. We can not confide in them or ask them certain questions,” Shamrock says. “Having an online community, similar to us, helps keep our secrets and answers our questions.”
Reynolds feels the same. “It is so important to have LGBTQ+ stories, perspectives, and voices during the TTC (trying to conceive) process,” she says. “Our goals are all the same, but so many of our circumstances are different. I so needed someone to hear and understand that my partner and I feel rushed to have a baby because who knows… the government could decide we don’t have the right to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI) in the future, or we may not be able to find a clinic where we are that is queer and/or trans friendly. There are all sorts of things to consider in terms of the TTC process that are so different from heteronormative couples.”
7. A community can provide you with new information
You should always discuss your reproductive health with your doctor prior to undergoing any additional treatment or trying any kind of at-home “remedy,” but a community of people going through the same experiences you are attempting to navigate can be a source of information that only people who’ve “been there, done that” can provide.
“It is so relieving to know I’m not the only person out there who analyzes everything or who doesn’t quite know what they’re doing,” Reynolds says. “Even if I’m just lurking and reading other people’s messages, it’s comforting to know what others go through and I don’t feel so alone.”
8. A community won’t judge, shame, or rush you
Unlike even the most well-intentioned of family members, a community of people experiencing reproductive health stress is less likely to ask you intrusive, stressful, and otherwise inappropriate questions.
“I’ve so appreciated being able to share my unfiltered story here,” Reynolds says. “My partner and I were the first in our social circle to get married and most of our friends are still looking to settle down, so they’re not in a place to empathize or understand what it’s like to have all the stress around trying to conceive. Friends who do know about the transition have asked why we don’t just wait, adopt, etc., and friends who don’t say we’re too young, not in the right place, and why rush it? It’s really nice to have a place online where I can just let all my anxieties and fears out.”
The right community, according to Zucker, will make you “feel genuinely understood, listened to, and supported. People who are thoughtful, reflective, solid communicators, and those who are honest are the types of people who we benefit from surrounding ourselves with as we navigate reproductive health issues. When we can truly be ourselves, and let down our guard, we've found community.”
Going through your own fertility stress and eager to find a supportive community? Join the Modern Community to connect with people across the country who are going through the same things. (You can also get all of your Q’s answered by medical experts in weekly virtual sessions!)