National Infertility Awareness Week (April 21-27, infertilityawareness.org) is a time to recognize that “anyone can be challenged to have a family.” For me, the stigma, trials, and tribulations of infertility were heaped on top of the stresses of a tenure track job as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. While I have been with my partner since 2002 (and wife as of 2010), we did not pursue starting our family until 2012, when I was 33 years old. While I convinced myself during graduate school that I was simply “too focused” to have time for a family, I realize upon reflection years later that perhaps it was the lack of representation, benefits, and cultural support that played the chief role in postponing motherhood.
My postdoc years hardly seemed like a better time to start a family: Not only was my employment a temporary position, with a hard expiration date and uncertain future, but I also went through a serious illness during that time. By 2012, although I was still working to establish myself in my new position as an Assistant Professor, we felt ready to move forward, and eagerly made some medical appointments to discuss options. Given that my mother was in her thirties when I was born, and both grandmothers in their thirties when my parents were born, I went into my own process with no real concerns. However, that all quickly changed at my very first appointment, and ultimately we were only able to build a family after I went through IVF… a deceivingly simple acronym for what is in actuality an involved process that pushed me to my mental, physical, and emotional limits. For many, it is also cost prohibitive.
I have previously shared some aspects of my infertility treatment and experiences. Most notably, I recently had the chance to reflect on my experiences by contributing a chapter to Mom the Chemistry Professor,1 a project of the Women Chemists Committee of the American Chemical Society (WCC). The book is a collection of personal accounts of the rewards and challenges of combining motherhood with an academic career in chemistry, and was the first time I so openly shared that I am queer and married to another woman.
Now, as an Associate Professor of Chemistry, I have two kids and tenure! Much of my energy is spent on advancing my career, because in doing so I can provide better opportunities to my graduate students, and better financial support to my family. But alongside my professional aspirations, I also work to provide representation as a mom and as a queer person in science. I am open and honest with my students about the demands of family, from how they sometimes affect decisions about work travel to the day-to-day grind of keeping my household afloat and functioning. While infertility treatment is now in my past, it forever changed my life. This year’s theme for National Infertility Awareness Week is #InfertilityUncovered, and it has reminded me of the value of using my position to continue to speak more openly about my experiences as an infertility patient. My hope is that reduced stigma and increased awareness and compassion will empower more peopled impacted by infertility.
- Mason, S.E. On our Own Terms. In Mom the Chemistry Professor: Personal Accounts and Advice from Chemistry Professors who are Mothers. Woznack, K., et al. (Eds.), 2018. Springer International Publishing. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-78972-9_23