By Dr. Karen Wasserstein

“Essential services” has become one of the new phrases of 2020.  It has good company—“social distancing”, “six feet away”, “stay home orders”,  and “flattening the curve.”  We are all using the same phrases and meaning the same thing—these phrases have entered our vocabulary and changed us.

States have different definitions of “essential services.”  I read that one state was determined to have hairdressers and golf courses considered essential services, while I know in my home state of Maryland  hair care is not considered essential.  The joke I saw on social media was that in six weeks we will know everyone’s true hair color!

But what is no laughing matter is the experience of those who were undergoing fertility treatments and are now being told their family building is not “essential.”  This varies depending on your particular state, fertility clinic, and by time.  Often the answer last week is no longer the answer this week.  And the reasons behind those decisions (is it for patient safety? Is it for staff safety? Is it to preserve the availability of PPE?) also vary.

Most patients I have spoken have not been given the choice whether to continue treatment or not.  They have a range of emotions on this “pause” on their family building, including (but not limited to) anger, sadness, anxiety and hopelessness.

But aside from all of that, what I think they are really hearing when they are told that their treatment is an “elective procedure” or not an “essential service” is that they were not chosen and that they are not essential.

There is no such thing as a person who is not essential.  Each and everyone’s feelings and experiences is important and each and every person’s path is individual.  We, as neighbors and friends can choose to listen to those in our world who are struggling.  We can choose to check on those in our networks who may be having an unusually hard time.  We can choose to value each person and their story of what this experience means to them on a personal level.   We can be a society that makes knows that every person is essential.