Fertility, Mamazine Moment, The Journey, Wellness

National Infertility Awareness Week Highlight: How Fertility Specialist Dr. Cynthia Murdock Supports Efforts to Build Families

Bintou Diarra | Editorial Lead | MS1: Alpert Medical School of Brown University | April 21, 2024

There is no shortage of conversation and transparency about the pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting experiences in the United States. Whether it is in the form of an article, blog post, or TikTok video, information about the journey is widely accessible. However, in the hushed corners of our lives, behind closed doors and whispered conversations, exists a silent struggle that touches millions—infertility. 

Infertility is typically defined as the inability to conceive after twelve months of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse for couples under the age of 35, and after 6 months for couples over 35. Criteria is not limited to these circumstances, however. Infertility can also refer to the inability to carry a pregnancy to full term. April 21st marks the start of National Infertility Awareness Week, and in addition to informing ourselves, heightening awareness is about breaking the silence.

A widely misunderstood phenomenon that is often shrouded in stigma, infertility is intimately known by those who trudge through the uncertain journey. Luckily, even along a path that breeds feelings of isolation, there exist a few shepherds along the way. Among them are the United States’ indispensable workforce of fertility specialists, such as Dr. Cynthia Murdock. We spoke with Dr. Cynthia Murdock about her work as a partner and reproductive endocrinologist at Illume Fertility. 

While Murdock is board-certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, it is not her robust training alone that uniquely positions her to assist people in growing their families. Her empathetic approach, along with her consideration of a slew of issues facing those struggling to conceive, likely heightens her success. Her love for the unique interplay between technological advancement and personal agency led her to her career.

“I was drawn to the combination of patient care and basic science that exists in the field of reproductive endocrinology,” says Murdock. “There is no other medical specialty where you are able to have close relationships with patients while also being exposed to constant medical and technological innovations which can be directly applied to help build families.”

While technological innovation has been a transformative and virtually omnipresent tool in the world of medicine and family building, Murdock understands that it remains inaccessible to many. In a retrospective cohort study involving 554,995 live births associated with fertility treatment, Black and Hispanic women were approximately 70% less likely to receive any form of infertility treatment when compared with White women. A general lack of information and stigma about fertility issues partially set the framework for this inaccessibility. To Murdock, broadening the conversation through intentional storytelling is likely to put the option of treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) on the radars of people of all backgrounds. 

“Everyone deserves to have access to family building. In some communities, infertility is still quite stigmatized, which often prevents people of color from seeking care. Individuals struggling with fertility often feel alone, which makes it all the more important that others share our experiences – particularly Black women. Not all patients feel comfortable opening up about their fertility journey, but those that do, like Shiraine, help to break that stigma and broaden the conversation.”

Shiraine is a Black woman of Caribbean background who worked closely with Dr. Cynthia Murdock after learning that her fallopian tubes were damaged. Murdock suggested that Shiraine try IVF, and was able to conceive after a single round. She and her husband Barry welcomed their baby boy Leland in 2022, and worked to share their story on social media, despite their fears regarding fertility as a taboo topic. 

In addition to a general lack of information, the cost of IVF treatment thwarts efforts at family building for many people. As a resident of Connecticut, Dr. Cynthia Murdock works in a region where the procedure is more accessible. However, she understands that it is not enough for this precious resource to be confined within isolated spheres. “We are lucky in Connecticut to have a state mandate for fertility coverage, so care is more accessible to all socioeconomic groups. For those in other states with no fertility coverage mandate, I encourage you to use your voice to push for change. Vote for leaders who support family building. More companies are also recognizing the importance of providing fertility benefits.”

Equally as important as using our voices to push for change is creating a reality where it is detrimental for employers to disregard the needs of women and birthing people facing this unique plight. “When you interview for a job, always ask about potential family-building benefits and policies. As companies start to recognize they will not attract the best new employees, or will even lose existing employees because of their lack of fertility benefits, they begin to understand how important this is.”

When it comes to heightening the agency of those struggling with infertility, the United States has a long way to go. As Murdock aptly mentions during our interview, intentional policymaking that renders these resources available to people in need is of utmost importance. In the meantime, we must welcome the stories of those navigating the journey, and prop up the efforts of those working to usher people to the other side.

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Dr. Cynthia M. Murdock is a Partner and fertility specialist at Illume Fertility. Dr. Murdock is board-certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.

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