Worried about the impact that fertility treatment might have on your work? It’s time we started talking about it.
Trying for a baby can be a hugely challenging time. Especially when you’re having to do it alongside managing career and job expectations.
But add to that the unique stresses – both physical and mental – that come with IVF and it can be an extremely difficult situation to navigate, especially as it is often something you feel you can’t, or shouldn’t, talk about.
According to Fertility Network UK, without any allocated fertility leave in place, employees often have to use up annual leave or take sick leave to cover appointments and treatment time, which can impact on wellbeing and encroach on their staff benefits.
Sara Redwood, corporate partnerships lead at Peppy, knows this juggle all too well, having been through it herself.
‘It was one of the most difficult experiences that I’ve been through in my life – not just the experience of the actual cycle, but the two-year build-up as well and the impact it had on my ability to perform at work.
‘I definitely didn’t feel able to talk about my experience very openly to begin with,’ she explains. ‘I didn’t feel comfortable disclosing what I was going through. I had this huge weight on me psychologically.’
Sara shares more about her experience here:
You’re not alone
If you’re navigating your fertility journey, the thought of telling your manager and colleagues about your treatment can cause a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty.
Do you share what you’re going through, bend the truth or keep it a secret? You may be worried about the negative impacts on your future career prospects. The decision to tell your employer is often a conflict between feeling the need for support and it being a personal life event.
But guess what? So many people are going through it.
According to the Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority (HFEA), there are around 69,000 assisted fertility cycles carried out each year – affecting around 3.5 million people.
Despite this, the vast majority of employers do not have fertility workplace policies in place to help support employees going through fertility treatment.
Fertility Network UK’s research in 2016 found that 58% of employees reported there being no fertility workplace policy in place. The absence of fertility workplace policies is associated with higher levels of emotional distress.
You might be feeling uncertain and worried about how your manager or workplace might respond. You end up going through the fertility journey alone and without support.
Flexible working is needed to fit around scans, appointments, blood tests and procedures. If you don’t inform your manager that you’re going through treatment, you’ll be missing out on allocated rest periods, which is likely to have a negative impact on your mental and physical health.
With much of the fertility process feeling like it is out of your control, focusing on the things that you can control in this situation may help.
Find out if your workplace has a fertility policy. It can be reassuring to get the facts about what you are entitled to before you disclose what you are going through to your employers.
You may be able to access this via the internal intranet, so you may not need to contact HR straight away. Having this information will enable you to plan your journey moving forward.
Plan your treatment
If it is your first time going through a fertility treatment cycle, it can be useful to speak to your fertility clinic and find out what your treatment will involve.
Fertility clinics can usually provide a timeline so you have a rough idea when scans and procedures may take place. This can help put your mind at ease and allow you to schedule your workload.
Connect with others
It can be reassuring to speak to others going through a similar fertility journey. Some workplaces have fertility support groups or try online support groups.
The UK’s national fertility charity, Fertility Network UK, offers free monthly regional and fertility-specific support.
Decide if you want to talk about it
Your decision to talk about fertility treatment or not is a personal choice and depends on how comfortable you feel.
While most people who choose to disclose their fertility journey do so as a result of needing to ask for time off to attend appointments, it can be a worry not knowing what kind of reaction you may receive.
Do whatever feels right for you. If you do choose to share with your employer, it can help your manager with planning for absences. Try giving them as much information about timings for your treatment cycle as you can. Be honest about the need for flexibility around appointments.
Work together and looking at different options for attending appointments. For example, using flexi-time or working from home. Your levels of anxiety can be lessened in what can be an emotionally challenging time.
Manage your stress levels
Many people report how stressful and emotionally challenging their fertility journey can be.
It can be useful to schedule in some time for yourself each week to participate in activities that help to improve your sense of wellbeing. Meditation, yoga, walking in nature, journalling and time to be creative. These are all examples of simple actions of self-care you can plan into your schedule.
Undertaking any form of fertility treatment can feel like an all-consuming and overwhelming experience.
Remember that this ‘life event’ is about you achieving your dreams of having your own family. Work does play an important part of your life, but it is vital that you take the time you need to process your emotions and the journey ahead.
Please feel free to contact your Peppy practitioner if you have any questions – we are here to help.