Infertility impacts a large number of people, with 1 in 6 couples experiencing difficulty conceiving. Due to people often trying for a family later, IVF is on the rise – and the good news is that fertility treatment is more successful than ever before.
Over 1.3 million IVF cycles and more than 260,000 donor insemination (DI) cycles have been performed in the UK since 1991, resulting in the birth of 390,000 babies, figures from the Human Fertilisation & Embryo Authority show. Advances in technology and treatment over the past three decades have resulted in more successful outcomes. Birth rates for all patients under 43 are improving year on year.
But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy process.
For many people, until they are undergoing IVF treatment, they don’t actually know what it involves, or how it will impact their life – including their work life. Francesca Steyn, Peppy’s Director of Fertility Services and Chair of the Royal College of Nursing Fertility Nurses’ Forum says:
“Fertility issues affect so many couples and it pays to be the kind of company that is flexible and offers them support”.
Whether you’re going through IVF yourself, considering fertility treatment or working with a colleague who is, this article is for you.
What the IVF process involves
- The whole process can take months.
“It’s quite a lengthy process from referral to getting to a clinic to actually seeing a fertility doctor, especially if you go down the NHS route,” says Fran.
“When you’re ready to start the process, from start to finish it’s about a 6-week process”.
Once the process starts, you take medication to manipulate your cycle – essentially, down-regulation “turns off” the ovaries to better control ovulation and egg maturation during treatment. Once your period comes you take stimulation drugs for about two weeks.
- Scans and monitoring
During that two-week period, you’re going to be in and out of clinic four or five times to have scans, monitoring and blood tests to check that you’re responding to the medication.
- Egg collection
Next comes egg collection, which is a surgical procedure. Once the egg’s been fertilised using sperm collected from your the donor, an embryo transfer takes place. This part, which includes the surgical process, the embryo transfer and all the scans and blood tests, involves 6 or 7 appointments.
How IVF impacts on your work
The physical, mental and emotional side effects of IVF have a huge impact on your concentration and performance at work.
- Fertility treatment is physically tough to endure, involving:
- self-injected hormonal treatments,
- surgical egg collection
- and embryo transplant.
Side effects can include swollen ovaries, PMT symptoms, migraines, cramping and bleeding.
There’s also the stress and worry involved in trying to conceive. And costs can be huge with standard IVF treatment costing between £4,000 and £8,000 per cycle (HEFA). Says Francesca:
“Fertility treatment is all-consuming, causing a lot of anxiety and depression”.
Having to put in a good day’s work while all this is happening to you can be a struggle, to say the very least. Especially if you can’t tell your boss why you have to take time off for appointments.
“And while you’re going through IVF you’ve got one eye on the ball and one on what’s happening medically,” says Francesca.
But employees often feel they can’t say why, for fear of the judgement attached to it, and fears about impact on career progression.
“While working in IVF clinics I’ve been in situations where people have asked me to write a sick note for their employers without being specific about what’s going on, just that it’s a gynaecological procedure,” says Francesca.
85% of people feel fertility treatment has a negative impact on their work and 19% have to reduce hours or leave the workplace altogether. In fact, 8.7 days is the average number of days’ absence taken per IVF cycle.
Offering company support can really make a difference – in fact 96% of employee said they would feel more positive about their employer if they were offered specialist fertility support, following a pilot of Peppy Fertility support (2020). Says Francesca:
“Peppy provides an opportunity to support people on the fertility journey and fill the information gap once they’re outside of the clinic”.
Getting support at work
Tell your line manager
“Be open about what you are going through if you feel you can, or if not tell your HR department. Being able to say: ‘I’m going to start IVF treatment and will need time off’ is a huge relief for someone going through it,” says Francesca.
Look for the right support
Find out about the support pathway for employees going through fertility treatment. Many companies have a fertility policy and some even extend private medical insurance to cover fertility. You can also get specialist support and advice via the Peppy app from a team of fertility practitioners.
Time off – what to expect
Fertility treatment involves a lot of absences from work to attend appointments – scans, tests and monitoring as well as surgical procedures. And it really is best to tell your company why you need so much time off – because the alternative could potentially mean being seen as being seen as flaky and uncommitted for having so much unexplained time off.
Asking for help
Being clear about the treatment you’re receiving will ultimately mean getting the help and support you need. And if it’s your partner who’s having treatment don’t forget that IVF can take its toll on you too. Your employer should be made aware.
Whatever the outcome of the treatment, don’t ask more of yourself than you can cope with. Have the time off needed and the wellbeing of you both the priority as you manage your work-life balance while undergoing IVF.
IVF is a journey that will impact you and your partner in both your personal life and at work. Remember, everyone’s journey is different. With the right preparation and by talking openly with your workplace, we hope you will be able to juggle IVF and your career, whatever the outcome.
Be honest. IVF is challenging enough without having to lie to your boss.
Be realistic. You need to take the time off in order to recover from procedures.
Ask for flexibility. Knowing that you have the support of your company as you go through this treatment will make the whole process far easier to get through.