Infertility taboo: breaking the big taboos from periods to fertility
25th November 2018
This week I was on a panel at the GIANT health event with three other inspiring female entrepreneurs. Here I blog on my three main takeaways. First, that there’s lot’s more to do to break the big taboos (from the “infertility taboo” to taboos about periods). Second, that we need to treat physical and mental health equally. And finally, that we need diversity of thought to build better services .
It was brilliant to be on a panel with other female entrepreneurs dedicated to improving women’s health:
- Billie Quinlan, Co-Founder of Leika – a personal coach to improve women’s sexual wellbeing.
- Valentina Milanova – Founder of Dayes – the first pain relieving tampon.
- Shardi Nahavandi, Founder of Pexxi – making contraceptive prescribing personal.
We spoke about how to break the taboo that persists around women’s health, from the taboo that surrounds infertility to periods. But it’s not just breaking the taboo that’s important, we also need to innovate and build better products and services that serve women’s needs.
Lot’s more to do to break the infertility taboo
Women’s health – from periods to infertility – remains taboo. There has of course been progress over recent years – but the many examples I could list here, for me, show that not enough progress has been made.
Why is it a social norm for women to only announce their pregnancy after the first trimester? The first trimester that is likely to be the most difficult physically and emotionally and when loss is most likely. This normalises the silence around fertility and pregnancy complications and ignores the emotional health implications.
Why is that women feel the need to conceal their sanitary products en route to the bathroom in the work place? Why should women feel embarrassed about telling their boss about crippling period pain?
The lack of open conversations about women’s health has certainly contributed to poor outcomes for women. Endometriosis UK finds that on average it takes 7.5 years to get a formal diagnosis of endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition that can cause crippling period pains.
Recent research finds that period pains can be as painful as a heart attack. It is clear that female pain is not taken seriously. We also know there is a link between endometriosis and infertility, but the cause has not been fully established. A reflection on the fact that we still have a lot to learn about women’s health.
Infertility is not a taboo word
The “infertility taboo” is still pervasive. I’ve spoken to so many women who have experienced fertility problems who feel ashamed, unable to speak to friends and family members about their experiences and who still face insensitive questions (like, when are you going to have kids?).
Women are still expected to endure three miscarriages before speaking to a specialist, and there is a lack of emotional support. Despite the fact that research finds that 4 in 10 women experience PTSD symptoms following miscarriage. Contraception is still prescribed on a trial and error basis despite the many side effects women report. The list could go on.
Treating physical and mental health equally
And in all of this, the emotional health implications are clear. We need to treat physical and mental health equally and at the same time. At the GIANT health event the Founder of Moody Month spoke about how she was inspired to take action after high levels of stress impacted her period and health.
Women are also much more likely to experience poor mental health. One in five women experience a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) compared to one in eight men. Emotional heath and infertility are strongly linked. 50% of women coping with infertility found it the most upsetting experience of their lives. We can no longer treat physical and mental health in silos.
Diversity of thought
We also spoke about the challenges of pitching to investors who are mostly male. Valentina had faced questions such as whether periods were really well suited to a monthly subscription business (sigh). Billie had to break down perceptions that solutions for women’s sexual wellbeing is a ‘niche’ market. The amount of funding being provided to female founded companies also remains stubbornly, and depressingly, low. Female founders received just $1.9 billion of the $85 billion total invested by venture capitalists last year.
What’s clear, is that we need diversity of thought across the whole industry. This means having diverse entrepreneurs, investors and businesses – only then will we develop services that are really grounded in what people need – that’s a world that I’m excited for.