Monday, June 29, 2015

The Infertile Academic

June is worldwide infertility month. Infertility is a topic not often discussed, and it warrants more attention and less stigma - after all, it affects approximately 1 in 10 couples attempting to procreate. A healthy slice of the pie, you might say.

If you are an academic and you are infertile, you may occasionally google “infertile academic” or “infertile professor” or “why is everything so @!*# hard”, as I have done. You may find what I have found: almost nothing. Almost no one. A pseudononymous blogger. A lot of silence.

Social media in the academic world is chalk-full of conversations on 1) the funding climate, 2) challenges facing women and underrepresented minorities, and 3) achieving work-life balance. The latter is my personal favorite (where is my sarcasm font?).

Is it possible to do it all?

The dearth of daycare at universities in America

How to have a family AND a killer scientific career in sixty-four simple steps

It’s not that these topics are not important or legitimate- they are. They affect many of us as academics and as human beings. But I suspect that I am not the only one to feel twinges of sadness (or anger, depending on the day) when such headlines fill my Twitter feed. You see, I haven’t gotten to the point where I can even consider such issues in my own life. Some of the articles that I’d write instead include:

How to do work when you’re sad

Coping with simultaneous grant rejection and IVF failure

Five responses to people who blame your infertility on your career

But today is not the day for those scintillating would-be articles. Today is simply a day for me to raise my hand in the crowd and to say to anyone else who may be looking: I am here. I have been living this reality every day for four years, and I am a real person with a real research group and a real CV. You are not alone.

I don’t have any answers. I move forward because that’s the only thing I can do. Sometimes, I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I know that I shouldn’t give up. Neither should you.


*For more information on what to say and what not to say to your infertile friends, please visit this article. A synopsis: DO offer hugs and a listening ear. DON'T try to solve the problem or avoid the people involved.


  1. Katie, these are important almost never said words. This sucks and it's not fair. ARGH, what can one say when the only slight of comfort is statistics and that you are not alone. No one ever talks about this: the infertility, or the other kind of nasty called fertility followed by loss. Over and over. (I can say a few words on the latter). It is a lonely pain and that we often take ourselves to blame. But it is possible, it happens, and sometimes things work. It will!

  2. Ummm... if we can get to the 'root' of the problems in science, is it possible to have a family AND a killer scientific career in 8 simple steps rather than 64? Keep your head up champ. Sometimes experiments work and we have no idea why, even when we've kept all the conditions the same; that's science and life. Here's to hoping you experience that scientific phenomena in your personal life :)

  3. It's a completely brutal experience, and it can be very lonely. Because it does affect a lot of people, I've found it can be helpful to acknowledge what I'm going through--sometimes I have been very surprised to hear who responds, "Oh me too." As a postdoc I blogged about our run of IVF, if you're curious, but I'll warn you that it ends in success. Since I've also gone through unsuccessful cycles since then, I know that's not always the easiest to read about.