Why I #SaytheFword - From Celmatix's Founder and CEO, Piraye Yurttas Beim
WHY I #SAYTHEFWORD
When it comes to your fertility journey, it’s time to reject the guilt and take back control.
I originally started my company because I believed that in the era of big data and genomics, women deserve to have more control over their fertility. It wasn’t until I started building my own family that I fully understood just how pervasive the guilt and confusion surrounding female fertility really is.
For some people, love grows slowly. My husband Nick and I fell hard and fast.
We met, got engaged, and were married within a year. We knew we wanted to start a family right away, so it wasn’t a total surprise when, shortly after our honeymoon, I found out I was pregnant. We immediately told our parents, who spread the news to our extended family. We sent pictures of the positive pregnancy test to close friends, who shared in our joy. We gave the baby a nickname.
I had never been pregnant before, so I didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t long, however, before I began to suspect that something was wrong. I was experiencing severe abdominal cramps, and though I’d experienced similar symptoms before — I’d been diagnosed with endometriosis as a teenager — I knew this was different.
Soon, my fears were confirmed: I was having a miscarriage.
I’d already started Celmatix, a women’s health company focused on fertility and reproductive health, so I knew that 15%-20% of all known pregnanciesend in miscarriage. I also knew that, as an older mother, my chances were even higher. Despite knowing the numbers, however, I still felt a deep sense of guilt that I must have done something wrong. I tried to make sense of something I felt powerless to change. Could it have been the night I went out without a warm enough coat? Could it be the new toothpaste I’d started using? I stayed up late one night researching all the ingredients online.
Compounding the guilt was the confusion about how I was supposed to feel and respond.
Was it ok to miss a work meeting over a miscarriage?
Was it ok to tell a few people what I was going through, only to feel angry when their well-intentioned responses made me feel even worse?
And what about the jealousy I felt when my friends announced pregnancies on Facebook?
Was it ok to burst into tears at the cinema during the pre-movie Google commercial showing the beautiful baby with the adorable, chubby folds that was no longer on the horizon for me?
What I learned was that mourning a miscarriage is similar to mourning the unexpected loss of a loved one, but in isolation and compounded with a deep sense of guilt and unanswered questions.
And while every culture and religion has a ritual for mourning death, few have a similar ritual for miscarriage. With all this guilt and confusion, it’s perhaps not surprising that almost half of women who experience a miscarriage don’t tell their friends, and one in five don’t even tell their partners.
The result is that, as women, we’ve been left to figure out our feelings on our own.
Isolation makes the guilt grow stronger, and I soon learned that the feeling of guilt extends far beyond miscarriage. I felt guilt when, after a year of trying, I still wasn’t pregnant again. It got worse when fertility testing revealed that my body might be the reason. Then, when I did conceive naturally, I felt bad about how the timing might impact my business. I felt guilt over my friends who were still struggling to conceive. Guilt that my son had to be delivered early because I developed preeclampsia. Then guilt that, as a new mom, I always felt I like I was letting someone down at work or at home. I get asked a lot about how I manage to “do it all,” and the reality is that no one can do it all. What I have learned how to do is tolerate the guilt.
Now, several years into building and running a company focused on fertility and women’s health, I’ve heard hundreds of people’s stories. Each one is unique, but this guilt is universal. For women, in particular, guilt too often defines their fertility journeys. Women feel guilty for waiting too long to have kids, or not waiting long enough. They feel guilty for gaining too much weight during pregnancy, or gaining too little; for delivering prematurely, or not going into labor until 42 weeks; for working too much during and after pregnancy, or for taking too much time off; for delivering via C-section, or delivering vaginally and feeling like it’s impacted their sex life; for not wanting to breastfeed at all, or wanting to breastfeed for longer than is socially “acceptable.”
It seems like it never ends, but we know where it begins. Guilt, shame, and stigma — and the silence that reinforces all of it — starts as soon as women start thinking about their future families. Two-thirds of millennial women have concerns about their fertility, but few talk about those concerns with their families, friends, or even their doctors. One-in-eight women have trouble getting pregnant, but three quarters of those who undergo treatment or consider doing so don’t even tell their closest friends.
These conversations are more important than ever, because with new technology comes new opportunities to understand, optimize, and extend female fertility potential. In my case, thanks to the genetic test that I helped developed at Celmatix, I now know that I was born with alterations in two keys genes in my DNA that make it harder for my body to regulate inflammation, which is important for an embryo to be able to implant correctly in the uterine lining. One of those gene alterations significantly increased my odds of having endometriosis, which is associated with infertility. The other significantly increased my odds of having a miscarriage.
These results helped me resolve the guilty feelings and trauma from my miscarriage. It wasn’t my “fault.” It was my biology. The same biology that makes me uniquely me also made me more prone to having difficulties on the path to building my family.
No one should feel shame or guilt about who they are, reproductively, or otherwise.
I learned more about my biology late in my journey, and it helped me heal. A big part of my mission as a scientist, entrepreneur, and mother of a baby girl is to help empower women even earlier in their journeys, so they can be proactive about their fertility and reproductive health from a young age.
And that’s why I am committing to #SaytheFword in 2018. The more we talk about fertility the more we empower women to drop the guilt, move past the fear, and, ultimately, take more control. We need to understand and destigmatize our fertility differences and, in doing so, bring awareness to the reality that the “perfect” path to motherhood is a myth.
When you #SaytheFword to your family, you start a conversation that could reveal important medical history — information you can use to better plan for your future.
When you say it to your friends, you make clear that the topic is not off-limits, and set up a support system that will benefit you all, come what may.
When you say it to your doctor, you open the door to learning more about your body, and using that information to make more-informed decisions about your future — or to better understand your present.
When you say it at work, you create a more equitable future for everyone.
It’s remarkable that at a time when fluidity and openness have evolved around gender identity, sexual preference, and other centuries-old taboos, there’s still so much about fertility and motherhood that’s off-limits. At Celmatix, we believe that the days of stigmatizing any aspect of a woman’s body are over.