What a difficult fertility journey taught me about being a better communicator

The hardest journeys have lessons to teach.

A photo of a onesie surrounded by IVF needles

As I reflect on the journey to get where I am today, which is eight months pregnant and looking a bit like a cream puff, there are a number of lessons learned on the way that have helped me to become a better communicator.

Before I dive in, I want to take a moment to acknowledge my baby in the making is due to science — my husband and I were lucky to have great insurance coverage and the financial means to go through IVF. I share this because at least one in eight couples have difficulty conceiving, but you would never know it from the polished, filtered pregnancy announcements you see on the internet. Every fertility journey is unique, and every family experiences a different set of challenges. So from the get-go, please know if you are reading this and have been trying for three months, six months, or six years to get pregnant, you are not alone.

With that said, here’s a few ways that this journey has actually made me a better communicator, and a few tips I suggest for any PR or communications professional going through a similar experience.

The best laid plans often go awry

A few years ago when my husband and I started trying to conceive naturally, I created a spreadsheet mapping out all major weddings, work conflicts and family gatherings. My goal was to outline travel plans and get ahead of which events would be tricky based on what month a baby materialized. It turns out that planning for a baby is very different from placing an order on Amazon Prime. There is no way to know how long it will take you to get pregnant, or how fortunate you will be in carrying a healthy baby to term. And there are also no emails sharing how delayed your order truly is that offer an update on your updated delivery date.

Here’s what I learned: If you’re writing a comms plan, it’s hard to predict what outside factors such as a pandemic, a recession, a major shift in your industry, or even a leadership shakeup can have on your comms plan. It’s okay to write down goals and have a vision of where you want to be in a year, but spend more energy on the short-term gains, and the items you will spend time on during the next six months. Keep your plans actionable and flexible, knowing that a campaign can be paused or delayed due to many factors outside of your control. Yes, the big, pretty comms plans are nice. But keep 90% of your focus on what needs to be done today, next week and next month to keep moving forward.

There is no shame in asking for help

As communicators, we want to believe we can do it all, and handle any obstacle that gets in our way. The reality is that there are challenges where you need an extra hand. In my fertility journey, that included friends to cheer me up after low-yield retrieval cycles, a therapist to help me work through super elevated anxiety, and a partner to sign me out after medical procedures. At first, I tried to keep our journey more private, but I quickly learned that when you are open, people want to help and will jump in if you give them the ability to do so.

Since applying the same logic to work and comms projects, I have realized that asking for help is a blessing. It is much better to flag a project where something is going wrong and get timely advice on how to get back on track, instead of keeping that a secret until the last minute. If you are getting stuck, reach out to someone in your network or on your team and ask for help.

It’s also better to be upfront with your physical needs. Having a rough day and not feeling 100 percent? It’s okay to share that you are going offline to rest for a few hours without needing to share too many details about why you are under the weather. You need to advocate for your health and your needs in the workplace.

Celebrate milestones on the way to your end goal

One of the best pieces of advice I received early on from a friend who works at Progyny, a fertility benefits provider, is to give yourself rewards along the way. In my IVF journey, that meant celebrating day five with delivery of a favorite meal or celebrating the end of a cycle by buying a piece of jewelry I had been eyeing that I usually wouldn’t splurge on. These moments helped give me something to look forward to and made me feel like my accomplishments on the way were worth celebrating.

I now apply the same logic to communications. Yes, it feels great to celebrate a placement in the New York Times. But what about those smaller, sometimes more impactful wins like landing a story in a publication who has never covered your brand, hitting an unusually high engagement rate on a company social media post, or getting a wonderful open and click-through rate on a launch email? Determine your metrics and your mini goals for the quarter, and then assign fun treats for each. Here’s a few ways you could celebrate with your team when a new milestone is accomplished:

  • In-office cupcakes
  • Handwritten thank you cards
  • A department-wide day off (that doesn’t cut into PTO)
  • Team shoutouts on a relevant company Slack channel
  • An end-of-day champagne toast (can also be done remotely)

Honesty is refreshing and builds connection with your audience

One of the most important discoveries of my journey was realizing that people don’t talk about fertility struggles enough. It is so common for couples to go through, and yet you really have to seek out special groups online and particular influencers to find guidance. I decided from the get-go that if we were successful in conceiving with the help of scientists and doctors, that I would own our journey and become a resource for those with questions. The response to our pregnancy announcement, which included 170+ used needles around a onesie, was huge. I had friends from college, high school and even friends of friends reaching out with questions and thanking me for my honesty. I even had an old internship colleague reach out to let me know she had undergone a similar journey years prior, before it was something people would share more openly.

The comms lesson here is that while owning challenges or tough moments as a brand can be difficult, honesty also leads to compassion, connection and understanding from your customers and fans. If a product fails to meet expectations, own that. If there is a major delay, it’s OK to share why. If your company works with a celebrity who is getting dragged, be transparent in how you are handling that conversation internally and any potential steps you will take as a brand. People crave honesty and want to engage with those who embrace it.

Give yourself permission to take breaks

The most difficult part of the last few years has been learning to take breaks. As someone who prefers to be always on and reachable at all times, I have had to slow down and learn that sometimes I need to put myself first in order to be my best self at work. That included completely unplugging during a babymoon trip I was able to take in December and taking Slack and email off my phone. When I came back, I was rested and had a fresh outlook on my projects.

No matter what is happening in your life, medical or otherwise, learning to create work life balance is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Try taking your work email off your phone or turning your phone to silent in the evenings and putting it in a different room. If that’s not doable, at least carve out 20 minutes a few times a week where you can take a walk and leave your cell phone home. You will be a better communicator, a better manager, a better parent if you give yourself time to rest and recharge.

So…anything I missed? Would love to know about your own journey and what you have learned on the way.

Mandy Menaker is director of communications at Orchard.

Topics: PR


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