“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person” Mother Teresa
Creating a fertility network is a great way to provide support to both male and female colleagues going through baby loss, infertility and other fertility struggles. It is also a step closer to starting a conversation with senior leaders about introducing a fertility policy.
Hortense Thorpe of Centrica and Paul Breach from Natwest set up fertility networks within their workplace and spoke about this during a webinar hosted by Fertifa.
Who can create a fertility network
Run the idea past your Headteacher first. Take the opportunity to share statistics on infertility and baby loss, such as: one in six heterosexual couples are infertile; male fertility is the cause of infertility 50% of the time; baby loss (one in four pregnancies end in loss) in your pitch.
Including statistics can add a persuasive and quantifiable value to your request.
Where to start
Contact Fertility Network UK for information and guidance on how to run a support group at your school. They have a team ready to offer help with this.
Make staff aware of the network you are creating and how you intend to help your colleagues. If you feel in a position to be able to do so you could share how this issue personally affects you.
As part of this message consider inviting others to join you in offering support to their colleagues. It might make staff more willing to come forward for guidance if there is a colleague they feel more comfortable disclosing their personal information to in the school fertility network.
Making it manageable
The support group should not be adding to your workload.
Sending out an email once a term to raise awareness and reminding colleagues that you (and any other volunteers) are there to listen.
These emails could mark and coincide with awareness weeks where possible. Baby loss awareness week is in October and fertility awareness week in November. Other dates include endometriosis awareness month in march and mental health awareness in May, as well as Mothering Sunday and Fathers Day.
The type of Support you could offer
Make colleagues aware of how and when they can approach you and the rest of the network for support. Below are a few ideas of how you could offer support:
Consider offering a Zoom meeting once a month where colleagues can join anonymously if they prefer. These meetings can be held out of hours on an evening.
Could you meet for drinks (post covid times) after work somewhere away from school as a group? At Centrica Hortense made an effort to meet up with members of the fertility network in a pub for a more relaxed chat.
Natwest have a ‘fertility buddies’ system where they assign someone from within the network to support their colleague in a one-on-one approach. A more intimate approach for those who prefer a pal rather than a group intervention.
Fertility Support Circles
Fertility Support Circles (FSC) were also mentioned during the Fertifa webinar. This approach is where every few weeks a different topic is addressed, perhaps miscarriage one week and PCOS another.
Topics for the FSC are decided upon after learning what support is needed within the group- reiterating the importance of knowing what your members need support with.
One of two people facilitate the meeting and invite colleagues present to share their experiences.
They would also invite a guest along to the FSC to talk about the topic addressed.
During the hour long FSC questions such as ‘how is this impacting you at work?’ would be raised. Posing this question leaves room for leaders of the fertility network to consider how they could feed back to senior leaders in discussion for making improvement.
Paul Breach of Natwest said to take some time to think about what you would call the support group. Paul also suggested seeking additional training from specific charities where needed; for example SANDS offer bereavement training.
Discuss within your fertility support network what you would like to achieve over the next year. Some ideas you could work towards are:
Why have a Fertility Network in your School
It’s a tick in the right direction for teacher wellbeing and staff recruitment and retention. Hortense Thorpe said she believed that having the Fertility Network ‘increases appeal and brand image… attracting diversity and talent’ to the business.
A supportive work environment can create productivity. Hortense was able to take on additional projects during her fertility treatment and to this she gives credit to her considerate and cooperative employer.
A supportive fertility network is a way to overcome cultural taboos. Staff will see the school as a safe, nurturing and caring place to be. A school that supports their desire to have a family as well as a career.
Teacher wellbeing is about so much more than managing workload and free tea and biscuits, although this would certainly help.