Why starting a conversation with your employer about fertility shouldn’t be ‘hard work’

Recurrent pregnancy loss is a grief that few employers understand, however Kelly says that having a ‘safe space’ to talk would have helped her stay in her job. 

Kelly had kept working through lockdown and two losses from ectopic pregnancies, which can be life-threatening, but after her third loss the stress of coping became too much.  

She says: “Employers don’t always know when people are struggling with infertility or loss because some people keep it to themselves and outside the workplace. But when an employer does knows that something is going on, it is important for them to listen.  

“When I had my third loss I felt as though I was being pressured to go back to work, as though the loss didn’t ‘matter’. Obviously some people might find getting back to work is a distraction, but others need time to process the grief, so it is different for each person. 

“So, instead of having a meeting about pushing them back into work, it would be better for everyone to have a meeting about how they can support the employee back into work. And have a ‘safe space’ where you can discuss things with your boss without it going any further.” 

Kelly and Harlan
Kelly and Harlan

Kelly was one of the first to have NHS IVF treatment at Bourn Hall when it was reinstated by the regional health authority. In her campaigning she met many others struggling with infertility. 

“Infertility is a medical condition and people forget that,” she says. “You don’t choose it. It causes no end of stress, it can boggle your brain.” 

1 in 6 people have difficulties conceiving and Kelly thinks there are many ways that employers can be ‘fertility friendly’ and remove the ‘manager lottery’. 

“Many people having fertility treatment are made to feel as though they are a ‘full on’ inconvenience to their work unless someone higher up in the company has been through it and is more sympathetic,” she says. 

“There are simple things that employers can do such as allowing time off for an appointment and encouraging people with new babies to give a heads-up before they come in.” 

To create awareness of how to support work colleagues cope with the stress of infertility, Bourn Hall has partnered with Fertility in The Workplace (delivered by Fertility Network UK). This initiative is part funded through the government’s Women’s Health Strategy and aims to provide practical advice and training for SMEs to help them retain their staff by helping them navigate the challenges of work and treatment. 

Inclusion of fertility within policies and enabling flexibility to attend appointments would make an immediate improvement and reduce stress for employees.  

“Any awareness that can be raised amongst employers is a good thing,” says Kelly. “And it is being supportive of the logistics so for example a woman cannot drive for 24 hours after egg collection and shouldn’t be left on their own so it is factoring that in that they wouldn’t be able to drive to their office the next day and that their partner might need to work from home or be off work to be with them.” 

Kelly felt so pressured to prioritise work over her recovery from her third loss that ultimately, she took the drastic step to resign before embarking on IVF. 

“I thought there is no way I can go through IVF feeling this level of pressure from work,” she says. “We were entitled to one NHS-funded round, we had got this one chance and I needed to focus on getting as many eggs and embryos as we could, so in the end me and my husband just agreed to ‘take the hit’ financially and I quit my job.  

“I was just so glad that the treatment was all I had to think about, not the fact that I ‘should’ be at work and whether my boss was going to ring me.” 

The Fertility in the Workplace initiative provides support to employees so that they understand their workplace rights and how to approach their employer – as well as offering education and support packages to employers.  

“I think what Fertility Network are doing to raise awareness of fertility in the workplace and supporting both employers and employees is fantastic,” says Kelly. “I didn’t know about it at the time and it would have been really handy to give my boss some information so that he understood the process more and what support I might need.” 

Fertility in the Workplace

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