IVF treatment requires a significant time commitment, and many women find it tough fitting it in with full-time or inflexible work schedules. Deciding whether or not to tell your employer is a very personal decision—on one hand you might receive much-needed emotional support at work, but do you want to be fielding fertility questions around the coffee machine?
Isabel’s* IVF journey involved two cycles of IVF which she chose to manage in two very different ways. Sadly, Isabel is adjusting to life without her own child. Nevertheless, she found it helpful during her experience to talk about it with loved ones and those working closely with her. She gives us the lowdown on how she approached balancing full-time working with treatment, and offers her tips for workplaces in supporting women and men on their IVF journey.
Can you tell us about your career journey so far?
I started working in travel, and moved into marketing where I am now. I found I climbed to middle management quickly but since then have stagnated, and regardless of how much I educate myself, change behaviors, do as I’m told, don’t do as I’m told, show initiative, be a leader, be a follower, etc, I end up unable to break through. In fact, at times I feel like I have gone backwards.
You went through IVF. What was this experience like for you?
Overall, I actually didn’t find it to be that bad an experience. The doctors were great at setting expectations and they follow a military-precision process which is outlined in advance. As I knew what to expect (or not expect), managing the process and my expectations was easy.
The worst part was the discomfort of the bruising around my middle caused by the injections. But I kept a sense of humour about it—making my partner’s initials out of the needle bruising so that bubs would know who his father was! My spirits were really lifted throughout the process by an in-joke between family and friends who were in the know. I was super energetic, and the trivialities of life didn’t matter to me.
I found that no one really asks how the men who experience IVF are feeling. My partner found the experience more emotionally difficult than I did, saying he felt ‘useless’ throughout the process.
Going through IVF can be quite stressful and tricky to manage with your workplace. How did you approach this with your work?
I underwent two rounds of IVF, and the first time I kept quiet and only told a couple of close friends. I scheduled early morning appointments, but I had a long commute to work so I was late for work every second day by about 20 minutes. As such, I made up excuses about why I was late. The issue with managing it this way was that my colleagues could tell I wasn’t disclosing the full story. They thought I was going for job interviews, and the situation got a little awkward and created extra stress for me.
The second time, I refused to add unnecessary stress to the process so I told my managers. This took a lot of pressure off—meetings were not scheduled for 8.30AM and the awkward corporate dance went away. I must say, both my managers were amazing throughout that period.
Did you feel you could tell your colleagues about what you were going through?
Only my close colleagues. I found I needed someone else other than my partner to talk to about it. It’s such an intriguing process.
If you take the emotion out of it, it’s super interesting and quite miraculous so it’s exciting to talk about. It’s also very much a learning experience, not only from a science and biology perspective, but also about yourself.
Your manager was very understanding and supportive throughout the whole process. What is your advice for other managers who have someone in their team going through IVF?
Try not to make it into a ‘big deal’. Normalising it helps to take away any unconscious stigma. Also, provide flexibility.
What more can workplaces do to help support women going through IVF?
Be flexible. This goes for supporting men as well. The process can be physically tiring so allow work from home days.
What are your top tips for other women going through IVF and trying to navigate it?
There is no shame in IVF, nor if there is the unfortunate event of miscarriage.
Also, do the acupuncture! While it’s not scientifically proven to help, many people support its use and I urge you not to walk away from the experience with any, ‘Should have; could have; what if I…?’ doubts.
* Due to the sensitivity of this article, the writer has requested to remain confidential. Isabel is not the writer’s real name.