Progyny Webinar: It Takes a Village: Support on Your Family Building Journey

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In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, April 24-30, 2022, Progyny hosted a special webinar to discuss the ways members can build and lean on their support networks – or villages – as they go through fertility treatment.

They say it takes a village to grow a family. Everyone’s village can look different and may provide different types of support. That’s why we offered a free webinar exploring what this type of support might look like and why your “village” is so important during the family building journey.

Featuring:

  • Amanda Lesesne, VP, Sales, Progyny
  • Arielle Spiegel, CoFertility 
  • Elizabeth Marshall, Creating Arizona Families
  • Carolyn Berger, LCSW  

Identifying Your Village

It is common saying to say “it takes a village to grow a family” or build your family. In reality, it takes a village to tackle any type of challenge – not just family building. Your village could look like be your partner, immediate family, friends, colleagues, Progyny Patient Care Advocate, or clinical care team. Everyone’s village is going to look different and there might be some people who are in your village without you officially labeling them as “part of your village.” Whether or not you know who you want, looking for some of the following qualities can help you get started.

  • Someone who is empathetic
  • Someone who can help keep you balanced
  • Someone who can be available and responsive when you need them to be

When building your village, it is helpful to have individuals who are able to fill a range of support. For example, a partner can offer support that looks different than a parent, close relative, or friend. Similarly, a coworker or manager will also offer different support. Creating a close network that can meet your different needs is a great step in setting up your support system.

Some characteristics you might want to avoid when building your village are flakiness, disrespect for boundaries, poor listening skills, or strong opinions that make you feel judged.

To build your village, you will need to communicate to others that you are facing fertility challenges. If you do not feel comfortable opening up to your family and friends, you can always look to join a support group. These groups can act as an immediate village, ready to validate and support you in your journey, and provide a safe and positive place to share your experiences in whatever detail you feel comfortable. You can also look to work with grief counselors, sex therapists, and fertility advocates to continue getting the support you need across areas. At the end of the day, when you look at the village you’ve built, you want to make sure you feel:

  • Comfortable
  • Safe
  • Supported
  • Heard

Fertility is isolating, and knowing you have a group who will listen to you, offer you support, or give you solutions can be empowering. It can also give you the chance to empower others, especially if you’re part of a support group. Finally, your village can always change. If someone you initially brought in is not making you feel supported or heard, it is okay to limit your contact with them.

Expressing Needs and Asking for Support

Once you’ve created your village – consciously or not – the next phase is about how open you want to be, which is something that can change over time. Regardless of how much you want to share, being clear about communication and boundaries is essential.

Learning how to advocate for yourself both in and out of your physician’s office can seem like a lot, but knowing you are entitled to comprehensive care can help remind you to continue asking questions and handling your emotions lightly. If you are facing fertility with a partner and having a hard time addressing your emotions or needs, try sitting down for 10 minutes. For five of those minutes, talk to your partner about what you need and how you’re feeling. Your partner should sit and listen quietly. Then you can switch, and your partner will share with you for five minutes. This way the discussion is direct, uninterrupted, and both parties can express their feelings and needs.

On the other hand, sometimes people check in too often and the expectation on you to update them all the time can be overwhelming. Although this comes from a place of love, it can sometimes feel suffocating and like more work. Some ways to handle this can be:

  • Set expectations by telling your supporter if you want to vent or hear advice
  • Tell them explicitly how to support you
    • For example, approaching a manager and sharing about your journey, explaining you are looking for flexibility in your work schedule for the next couple of weeks (or the desired time frame).
  • Readdress boundaries based on how the relationship is going
    • If friends or family members aren’t respecting the boundaries, lean on others more and take some space from those members.
      • For example you can say: It really helps when you talk with me. If you called once a week to call me, that would be helpful.
    • Remember you can always reopen or close doors based on if someone is being helpful or not
  • Recognize their intention is good, but their delivery and your reception is triggering or adding to your emotional difficulty.

Setting boundaries at work can look different than personal relationships. Keeping this circle closer can be a really good idea — you need to feel safe with whoever you tell at work. Ideally, coworkers and managers would be empathetic but at a minimum they just need to understand why you might need more flexibility in hours or expectations.  Communicating clearly what you need (“I need more work from home flexibility”, “I need x”) and the level of privacy you’d like to retain within the workplace (“I would appreciate this not getting around. Do you mind keeping this between the two of us?”) is helpful for both you and your employer. Outside of communicating with your manager, you can also look for employee resource groups or other existing support in place for individuals struggling to build their families.

Keeping Your Village Close

There will be ups and downs throughout your family building journey. There can be wins, losses, and everything in between. Processing these experiences and keeping your village can be challenging, but part of the purpose of having a close support network is to be able to have others to rely on and make life easier.

After recognizing this, it can be helpful to remind yourself that things change, and that’s okay. Some friends might turn out for you more than you expect, while others might not be as great at supporting you in the ways you ask. Different people come into your life at different phases for different reasons and trying to embrace what you can from those around you might be helpful. Finding groups that have experience some of, if not all of, what you are experiencing can also be helpful in validating your experience and emotional processing. Groups like RESOLVE and other national support organizations and help lines can be a great resource outside of your village as well.

Q&A

  1. I needed to take a break from treatment. How can I work to keep my support system intact even if I’m not actively in the family building process?
    • Be honest. Saying something like “I’m taking a break, I’m a little overwhelmed. I hope you’ll be there for me when I’m back on the road to building my family” or “You’ve been really helpful for me, and I really appreciate knowing your support is there” can remind your friend how much they mean to you and also give them the sign you’ll reach back out when you need more support.  
  1. My partner and I are struggling with the emotional effort of updating loved ones. It’s sweet everyone wants to support us and be involved but it ends up feeling draining. Do you have any advice on navigating this?
    • This depends on your comfort zone. Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone act as a messenger so you and your significant other do not have to. That way you can just focus on making it through the days instead of feeling like you need to make sure everyone else is also making it through.You can also always shut down questions if you find yourself overdoing it. It might be rude to be blunt, but if someone wants to ask a question, they should be ready and want to know the answer. For example, if someone asks, “Are you guys looking to have kids? How is that going?” You can always say, “We’ve actually been trying for a while, and it’s been really hard.”
  1. Can you talk a little more about navigating the balance between keeping your journey private but also advocating for yourself at work?
    • Although what you need might change, trying to identify what would make your life easier in a work sense is a good place to start. Just because you shared once and asked for what you need doesn’t mean you have to keep those communication lines open past the points you feel comfortable. Feel confident in your asks and needs. You know yourself the best and how to set yourself up for success.

We hope this was helpful and informative and check out additional resources at progyny.com/education. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to education@progyny.com. Progyny is committed to helping you on your family building journey and is always here to support you.