Why it helps when high profile women discuss fertility issues

Model Jesinta Franklin and her footballer husband Lance Franklin are expecting their first child.
Model Jesinta Franklin and her footballer husband Lance Franklin are expecting their first child. Photo: Jesinta Franklin Official App

When Jesinta Franklin revealed her pregancy this week, cradling her baby bump in a photo posted to her app, she hinted at fertility struggles. "The journey to get here hasn't been easy and this little life is the greatest gift and we feel truly blessed and grateful that we will have a little angel of our own," she wrote.

"We have both dreamt of this for a long time and whilst the last 2.5 years have been physically and emotionally challenging, there's nothing we would change as it's brought us to this beautiful moment."

Franklin joins the likes of Anne Hathaway and Chrissie Teigen in being a high profile woman who has been open about struggling to conceive and following a challenging path to parenthood. Earlier this month Hathaway announced her second pregnancy on Instagram, revealing her baby bump and saying that it wasn't for a movie.

She added this to her caption: "For everyone going through infertility and conception hell, please know it was not a straight line to either of my pregnancies. Sending you extra love." Hathaway later expanded on these thoughts in an interview with the Daily Mail.

"Each time I was trying to get pregnant and it wasn't going my way, someone else would manage to conceive. I knew intellectually that it didn't happen just to torment me, but, to be honest, it felt a little bit like it did," she said.

"What made matters worse was that I was embarrassed to feel like that because there was no conversation to be had about it. This is something people don't talk about, and I think they should. So, when I was writing that post, I was thinking about that one follower I might reach, the woman who's in hell about this and can't figure out why it's not happening for her. She's going to see my announcement and, while I understand she will be happy for me, I also know that something about it will make her feel worse. I just wanted to say: 'Look, this wasn't as easy for me as it looks.' "

Model and businesswoman Jennifer Hawkins, who is pregnant with her first child, is another who referenced fertility issues this week. She told Stellar magazine about the pain of losing her first pregnancy when the ultrasound showed there was not heartbeat.

“As a woman and a type A personality, I’m used to planning everything. I think this will happen, then this will happen. It seemed like a lifetime as month after month people constantly asked us when we were going to have a baby.

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“I had so many years of planning, but the one thing I so dearly wanted couldn’t be planned. Everything crumbled. Women want everything to be OK. Sometimes it’s just not,” she said.

According to IVF Australia infertility, which is defined as a couple being unable to conceive within a year of trying, affects about 1 in 6 Australian couples of reproductive age. 

And yet a recent survey by women's health company Celmatix found that 60 per cent of women don't talk to their friends about fertility, more than 25 per cent of women who have frozen their eggs or are considering it haven't told anyone about it and 21 per cent haven't told their partner about a miscarriage.

As entrepreneur Laura Click wrote in a piece for Medium, infertility is something people tend to stay quiet about. Whether this is because it's an awkward, upsetting or uncomfortable topic, one which people feel shame about, one which other people tend to have a lot of unwanted opinions on or as a self-protection mechanism.

Dr Nicole Highet, founder and executive director of COPE  (Centre of Perinatal Excellence) says it's "fantastic" when high-profile women speak openly and candidly about what she calls the "lonely journey of infertility."

"Often women don’t tell family and friends they’re struggling [to fall pregnant], they feel like they’re failing, like a part of their body is failing," she says.

Dr Highet, whose organisation provides useful information for families struggling with infertility on its website, says there are a number of pressures, including relationship, financial, the emotional and physical impact of fertility treatments and not to mention the trickiness of getting to appointments when working, that make infertility a "lonely and difficult time."

It can be comforting too, as Dr Highet notes, to remember that it can happen to any woman, including the very famous and wealthy. "It has nothing to do with your success as a person, even though it can not feel like it at the time," she says.

Cath Corcoran, a consultant psychologist and conception and fertility specialist, agrees high profile women sharing their struggles to conceive has had a positive impact in removing stigma around infertility and struggling to conceive. She says she has noticed women becoming more open about sharing their experiences in the past three years.

"This kind of normalisation is really helpful, " she says. "I think people want to be more open about their experiences in life ... you don’t hide things as much or sweep them under carpet."

Ms Corcoran, who counsels women and couples through extreme highs and lows, says the important thing is that women are given the space they need to process these emotions and to know that while there is no one way to feel something, you are not alone in your experience. "It’s about people [feeling] less alone," she says.