Methods: Data were collected via a descriptive, cross-sectional, national online survey of women in doctoral education (Authors, in press). This analysis includes only participants (N=328) from that larger data set with pregnancy loss and/or infertility.
Results: Participants (n=328) experienced pregnancy loss (47.9%) and/or infertility (67.1%). For pregnancy loss and infertility respectively, participants reported decreased productivity (40.1% and 28.6%) and conference travel (21.7% and 15.0%). After a pregnancy loss, participants had access to few programmatic supports. Some desired medical leave (25.3%), class accommodations (17.0%), support from a mentor (33.6%) or faculty member (32.3%), flexibility from their program (30%), and formal policies that included pregnancy loss (35.9%). Participants with infertility wanted financial support (29.9%), healthcare (24.2%), flexibility (27.4%), and support from faculty (23.6%) and mentors (21.7%). Pregnancy loss was more likely to have a long-term impact on career for women in the social sciences than those in other fields. Additionally, themes emerged about self-care, finding support, and careful consideration about disclosing these experiences. Participants shared ways their experiences impacted opportunities for professional development. For those who felt this experience impacted their careers long-term, they identified changed priorities, goals, and professional relationships.
Conclusions and Implications: This study highlights the experiences and needs of doctoral students who experience infertility and pregnancy loss. Some women’s career trajectories are impacted by the invisible experiences of infertility and pregnancy loss, perhaps due to the impact on productivity and professional development opportunities like conference travel. Programs should consider ways in which formal policies about pregnancy can also include pregnancy loss and infertility, and encourage the provision of flexibility during these crises, providing critical support to women doctoral students, facilitating their progress in their programs and academic careers.