Trying to balance your personal life and your professional life is difficult at the best of times and mostly a ‘need-to-know’ approach works well. However, fertility treatment creates emotional and time pressures that will affect your work – so when is a good time to tell your boss you are having IVF? Before you start? As you’re going through the treatment? Or do you cross that bridge when you come to it?
Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules about when you should tell your manager about your fertility treatment. Francesca, a former IVF patient, would encourage you to start a form of communication early on about what you are going through following her personal experience of balancing IVF and work. IVF is time-consuming and mind-consuming, and it can make a big difference to your performance at work. She says “explaining to your manager what you’re going through before you have to take time off, or your productivity declines, is much better than trying retrospectively.”
Francesca’s story – work and IVF ‘a difficult balancing act’
Francesca went through IVF whilst working in the city in a high-pressure job. Although she tried to not let her treatment affect her performance at work, she described it as “a really difficult balancing act.”
Although she knew she needed to take a step back, as a high achiever she couldn’t cope with not doing her best. “I took some time off from work. Then, of course, there wasn’t anybody leading the team, so I felt guilty about that.”
Not only are the emotional effects of infertility a lot to deal with, when going through IVF treatment there are also logistics such as taking time for appointments and having to administer injections at set times. “When I look back now, I was doing crazy things,” Francesca says, thinking back to her first IVF cycle. “Trying to do my injections in the toilets of the commuter train. I think now, ‘just what were you doing?’ But it’s difficult in the moment to think about what the best course of action is.”
When it came to her third round of IVF Francesca set her mind on reducing stress wherever she could, plucking up the courage to challenge her manager on her workload. “I was more confident in just saying ‘no’ to her. I think that comes with experience as much as anything but also having the confidence to say ‘no, I can’t do that’ and ‘no, I’m not going to take on the extra role because I need to get home early to rest’.”
IVF is a legal grey area, and although a lot of big companies have sections in their codes of practice regarding the protocol when someone is going through fertility treatment, many organisations are unsure of the best way to support their employees. There are no rights for couples in the same way there are for maternity, paternity or adoption rights.
“I think there is a lot more that employers can and should be doing to support women going through IVF – and couples going through IVF, because it affects men too,” Francesca says, thinking of her own difficulties with getting her manager to understand what she was going through.
“It’s not just physical injections, it’s the upset and the stress that goes with it.”
Opening up about IVF treatment
Francesca noticed that once she started opening up about her fertility treatment, she realised that many more people than she thought were going through a similar thing.
During the first two treatments, Francesca says, “I chose not to talk to people about it for all my particular reasons at the time – I was too proud, embarrassed, I felt like a failure. I probably suffered a lot less during my third round where actually I’d opened up about the treatment and people at work started talking to me about it.”
She recalls a time when one of her male colleagues pulled her aside for a chat to ask her help, saying, ‘we’re going through the same and I don’t know how to support my wife.’
After she started talking openly about it she saw a big change in how she felt about the treatment. “It’s small rays of honesty that you give to other people and it’s by being bold enough and brave enough to talk about it that makes other people feel like there in a safe place to talk about it with you.”
If you’re going through fertility treatment and are worried about the implications of it on your work, or how to bring up the subject with your boss then the Bourn Hall Fertility Support Group may be a place to turn. It is an informal group of people who are going through IVF, who might be able to offer advice or share experiences.