With the majority of those experiencing fertility struggles being actively employed, how is there so much silence about these issues within the workplace? I’m exploring what can be done to change this, drawing on my experiences from both sides of the fence…
From an employee perspective, I struggled to cope with the all-consuming nature of treatment and the prospect of not fulfilling my lifelong dream to start a family. The endless disappointments and devastating loss hugely affected my mental health and, whilst I desperately tried to maintain focus and still give 100%, it left me feeling like a burden to my employer and that I was struggling to be the person they initially hired.
From a Human Resources perspective, prior to my own fertility struggles, I had zero understanding of the impact fertility treatment can have on an individual. Of course, I would have shown empathy to the situation, but I most definitely wasn’t aware of the reality – the time-consuming nature of frequent short-notice appointments, the impact of hormones pumped into the body, the invasive procedures involved and the inevitable emotional turmoil. In the 12 years I’d dedicated to HR, I never once had anyone ask about time off entitlements or employer support for fertility treatment. To me, the silence speaks volumes and is no doubt caused by the lack of awareness and apparent ‘taboo’ nature of this subject. With one in six couples experiencing fertility issues (the majority within the working population), how could I have worked in an area with such focus on people whilst never coming across this all too common problem?
Using both my experiences in HR and facing infertility, I wanted to share how I believe employers could better support those going through treatment. Not only because it’s the right thing to do to be a compassionate employer, but because it would inevitably lead to a more engaged workforce, attracting and retaining top talent as an ‘employer of choice’. By getting it right, it can help to avoid losing good workers and to negate the need (plus huge cost) to replace them. It’s about facilitating and supporting short term adjustments to promote longer term engagement.
Employees are often reluctant to disclose to their employer about the need for treatment, mainly because they’re unsure whether they’ll be supported and fear discrimination for the admittance that they are actively trying to get pregnant. Having a dedicated policy in place (or an explicit mention of fertility treatment within an existing policy) allows them to firstly know that what they’re going through is valid and recognised. A policy encouraging openness with managers (whilst maintaining confidentiality) could significantly reduce stress levels for those who may otherwise feel the need to hide their struggles, fearing that they are ‘imposing’ by asking for time off for this very valid reason.
There are three elements I believe are key – awareness, flexibility and support. The starting point for each of these sits within a written policy. I’ve never been a fan of a policy for ‘policy’s sake’ – we can sometimes become too prescriptive and limit a manager’s freedom to ‘manage’, but with so many misconceptions and implications that infertility can cause, we cannot simply leave it down to the hope that each manager would make a compassionate judgment on what is considered fair and reasonable. We also need employees to know that it’s OK to disclose this information and not suffer in silence.
From my experience across a number of organisations and many HR contacts, I’ve discovered a range of approaches.
Those with no policy or mention whatsoever.
Those with a mention of fertility treatment within another policy, but classing it as an ‘elective procedure’ – ignoring the fact that infertility is classed as an illness (by World Health Organisation) and fuelling the notion that IVF bears resemblance to a cosmetic procedure, for example.
Those who mention discretionary entitlement within another policy. This tends to be within absence or flexible working policies but I’ve also heard of it being within a maternity policy (ironically a cruel reminder of what we desperately want).
Those who have a dedicated fertility policy.
In fact, in my (not so scientific) recent Instagram poll only 17% said that they believed their employer had a fertility policy.
So, from my experience, what would I suggest goes into an ‘ideal’ policy?
Firstly, recognition that fertility treatment is not a choice – it isn’t an elective procedure but something many have to go through either due to illness or social reasons – all outside of our control.
A summary of what might be typically involved in IVF treatment as a way to raise awareness with managers about the reality of what to expect e.g. numerous scan appointments and their ad-hoc nature and the need for invasive medical procedures requiring recovery time.
Guidance as to what might be covered as paid / unpaid leave and how it would be recorded, with reassurance that this type of absence (with proof if required) wouldn’t count towards attendance ‘trigger points’. Employees are only ‘protected’ by maternity legislation once they have had an embryo transferred, and so often employees can feel particularly vulnerable throughout fertility treatment. Workplaces will need to consider what is reasonable, but by giving employees an idea of what might be provided they can go a long way in removing the stress of the unknown.
Allowances for flexible working, enabling the employee to still perform their role working around their treatment. For example, temporary adjustments such as working from home, lighter duties, adjustment to start / finish times to accommodate appointments – all around treatment cycles.
The rights and potential flexibility for partners to attend appointments.
Any reasonable adjustments that might be considered for a role if it is physically demanding during treatment and post embryo transfer.
Recognition of the link to mental health – with suggestions of emotional support to consider such as Occupational Health and access to counselling services through Employee Assistance Programmes.
Recognising miscarriage as an experience that qualifies for compassionate leave and emotional support – another taboo subject that can leave employees unsure of their entitlements in a hugely sensitive situation.
The absolute ideal would be the introduction of initiatives to support the written policy, raising awareness and starting some conversations within the workplace. The only way we can make positive change is to open up the dialogue, encouraging education and understanding.
I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts – through the power of sharing we can help others feel less alone and encourage positive change!
I’ve had a bee in my bonnet recently, ever since reading some highly insensitive, misinformed comments. The first in response to a fellow blogger’s IVF update post, followed by some ignorant comments in response to a celebrity couple announcing the start of their IVF journey. Reading them left me speechless, but have now inspired this post which (as it’s mostly a lack of understanding that can cause hurtful comments) will hopefully educate a few people along the way!
Some say IVF is a choice…we can choose whether or not we have treatment, that we could “just adopt” or live a life without children. Unbelievably, some even say that there is some divine intervention at play, meaning we weren’t actually meant to be parents. What utter bull🤬!! Sadly, there is no rhyme or reason, we are just unlucky.
IVF is NOT simply a choice. Not a luxury. Not an opportunity to try for a ‘designer baby’. IVF is a treatment for infertility – a disease of the reproductive system recognised by the WHO. It isn’t just an ‘elective procedure’ as some workplaces consider it. As many as 1 in 6 couples are dealing with infertility in the UK, often in silence.
What people with this view haven’t considered is that this implied ‘choice’ becomes impossible as the drive to become a parent cannot just be ‘switched off’. We’ve evolved to have a primal instinct to reproduce, a driver engrained so deeply within our brains and society that our emotions don’t allow us to simply “just move on”. When we are told we aren’t able to reproduce naturally, it’s devastating, and so we look for something…anything… that can help. Thank goodness we live in a generation where we are able to have a chance at treatment to overcome infertility.
When a couple undergoes IVF or other medical treatments to help them get pregnant, it needs to be understood that this isn’t entered into happily or by ‘choice’. We are simply doing whatever we can to become parents, something that can sometimes sadly be taken for granted by those who have no trouble conceiving.
Some have no idea how much we wish we could just have sex (at no cost!) and conceive without the emotional, physical and financial turmoil that infertility can bring often with a detrimental impact on our mental health.
The celebrity couple slated for sharing their story I would guess aren’t doing IVF “just for a publicity stunt”, they’re most likely (like many of us) devastated that they can’t conceive naturally. They aren’t airing their dirty laundry in public…we should be grateful to them for speaking out, as by doing so they help many of us feel less alone.
Please THINK about your words and how they might impact others. Those experiencing infertility shouldn’t have to face the comments I read in complete horror this past week. Empathy is so important in all aspects of life – put yourself in others shoes, and if you still can’t understand, maybe it’s better to just say nothing at all.
Infertility grief IS real. It wasn’t until I listened to @janarupnowlpc that I truly acknowledged this – it validated everything I’d felt.
Many of us have come across someone (usually someone lucky enough not to have experienced infertility) who shows a complete lack of understanding and empathy. They’re unable to recognise the magnitude of what you are feeling because the loss isn’t visible & tangible. It made me feel as though my feelings were an over-reaction, that I wasn’t normal for hurting as deeply as I did.
But my feelings were real. It is something Jana calls “compounded grief”, layers of grief, often not dealt with as we plough on through another month of TTC, another IVF cycle, another early miscarriage without taking time to heal. We don’t stop to properly grieve and heal because, by standing still, we are getting no closer to the one thing that could begin to heal our broken hearts.
I’ve shared in the images above some of the losses I’d felt. I know there are many more – so please open up & share with me. There’s nothing tangible to show for these losses, no designated time to grieve. Layer upon layer, each devastation shaped my infertility – a significant period of my life dominated by the emotion of #grief. It was only recently I recognised this. I now know that I wasn’t overreacting when I was sobbing uncontrollably, feeling disconnected from the world around me or re-evaluating the meaning of my life – I was grieving for a child that never was.
I wanted to share this to show you that it’s ok to feel this way – to help you recognise it & begin to process it. Ask for help if you need to, talk it out – doing so certainly isn’t weak.
Don’t let someone who tells you to “just relax” or says “at least you can get pregnant” belittle any feelings you have. You can acknowledge it, feel it, and don’t beat yourself up for having days where you struggle – you are experiencing grief…but you can get through this. In Jana’s words “You have to feel it to heal it. Give yourself permission to grieve, to feel the loss, talk about it with others, and cry out the pain.” #youarenotalone
I understand just how hard Mother’s Day is; without a doubt it’s one of the most difficult times of the year for those experiencing fertility struggles and suffering loss. So much emphasis is put on the one thing that we want more than anything – it is literally EVERYWHERE! Even now, I still wince at the adverts, knowing how I’d felt a few years ago, as they talk about the sacrifices that Mum’s make and how special all Mums truly are. It’s right that Mums are celebrated – they are wonderful – but don’t forget that YOU are also all of these things.
Whilst the world is celebrating Mothers on this day, and you may be honouring your own, you must also not forget that YOU should be commended too. As we celebrate the unconditional love and the sacrifices Mothers make, remember that you are already making countless sacrifices every day, just to bring life into the world. Physical sacrifices, financial, lifestyle changes, and so many complex emotions – you are already showing the very meaning of unconditional love and selflessness. YOU are Mums-in-the-making, something that should also be recognised – this post is a reminder of just how special YOU are on this day too. Just think how lucky these future children are going to be…having parents who sacrificed so much just to bring them into the world.
It may not happen in the way you originally thought, but don’t lose hope – it can happen. I’d never considered that my children wouldn’t be genetically related to me and I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t matter one bit – not sharing DNA doesn’t make me any less of a Mother to my girls. Genetics are irrelevant when it comes to being a Mum, there is SO much more to it and I know that I am just as special and important as all the other Mums out there.
So, instead of posting ‘survival tips’ I wanted to show maybe how you could approach the day with a different mindset and perspective. Look after yourself – go for a long walk with a loved one, avoid triggering social media, do things that make you happy. Ultimately, remember not to lose hope and praise yourself on this day – you are already sacrificing yourself for your child, you’re already mothering… and that is special.
My journey to motherhood was a 4 year roller coaster, full of heartache, tears and loss. My husband, Zach and I had always talked about having children, even before we got engaged. We both knew we wanted at least two and were on the same page that we would start trying for a baby when we really felt ready. Well, after we had been married for two years, both had great jobs, and bought our first house, we finally felt like the time was right to start our family. The first few months of trying were carefree and, well, fun! Then, after we hit month six, and I still wasn’t pregnant, I started to get nervous. What if there was something wrong with me? Was I even ovulating? Maybe our timing was just off? I went out and bought a handful of ovulation tests and sure enough, I was definitely ovulating. So, we kept trying. We tried for a little over a year before I decided that we needed help. I contacted my doctor for a physical and blood work and Zach went to get tested as well. Everything came back normal for both of us. It was relieving, but also incredibly frustrating because we still didn’t know why we weren’t getting pregnant. A few months into all of our testing, I was feeling a little off and realized that it was around the time I should be getting my period. On a whim (and because I owned every pregnancy test known to man), I decided to take a pregnancy test and just like that, I was pregnant! I was shocked! After almost a year and half, there were the two pink lines I had been dreaming about for so long! I took about 40 more tests over the course of two days and planned a cute way to tell Zach. I bought the book “Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad”, wrapped it up and anxiously waited for him to get home to give it to him. At first, he was confused, but then realized what was happening, and was so excited. We were both on just so overjoyed that it was finally happening for us!
It was two weeks later when I knew something was wrong. We were at my cousin’s wedding and I had been cramping all day. I went to the bathroom and started spotting. By the next day, I was officially miscarrying. I felt numb. How could this be happening to me? I remember going to Zach, sobbing, and just saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again. I felt like my body had let us both down. I felt like I had let him down as a partner. It was one of the hardest moments of my life. He or she was my first baby. He or she made me a mom.
We were devastated, but we also had hope. We had gotten pregnant on our own! So, we kept trying. Well, after a few more months, we still weren’t pregnant and I knew that it was time to find a fertility doctor to help us. I found New Direction Fertility Centers online, was inspired by their reviews and loved the fact that the doctor there, Dr. Amols, had gone through infertility treatments with his wife to conceive his own children. I called and got an appointment for the next month, which was the earliest they could get me in. Our appointment with Dr. Amols was amazing. He sat with us for almost an hour and really listened to our concerns, learned about us as people and made suggestions based on what worked best for us. The best part of our meeting was that we were able to start a fertility treatment that same day! We signed the paperwork for an IUI, I started medication, and away we went! We also found out at that meeting that we were 100% out of pocket for all fertility treatments and medicine, as neither of our insurance companies covered anything. It was a huge blow to us, but we knew how important it was for us to have children, so we started saving every penny, just in case.
The IUI ramp up and procedure was straightforward and pretty painless, minus the needles! Two weeks post IUI, just like that, I was pregnant again! It had worked! This was it! I just KNEW that this was going to be our take home baby! We had just needed some assistance to get pregnant. We went to our first ultrasound with so much hope. We couldn’t wait to see our wiggly little guy or girl. But…there was nothing. No baby. Just an empty sac. It was a blighted ovum. The fertilized egg attached, but the embryo never developed. We were defeated. Dr. Amols, on the other hand, was still very optimistic and assured us that this was just a fluke and many couples miscarry, so we trudged forward with another IUI. This one would be different we thought. This would get us our rainbow baby. IUI number two was also seamless and easy. Zach was out of town, so I went alone. I remember thinking to myself, my husband isn’t even going to be in the room when I get pregnant! How funny is that?! And then, two weeks later, I saw those two little pink lines yet again.
We went into our ultrasound appointment holding our breath. And again…no heartbeat. What was going on? We sat down with Dr. Amols and made a game plan. He had a suspicion that there was an issue with the quality of my eggs (due to our miscarriages), but there isn’t any type of test they can run specifically for that. He advised, since we were paying out of pocket, to forgo the cost of another IUI and go straight to IVF with PGS testing. PGS testing is when they biopsy the embryos and test to see if they are compatible with life. If I did have an egg quality issue, this type of testing would be imperative to be able to implant a healthy baby. We started the retrieval preparation just after Christmas. I remember getting my huge box of medication ($3,000 worth of medication to be specific) and thinking, it’s like a late Christmas gift! IVF comes with daily shots, multiple weekly doctors’ appointments, and crazy hormones. It was intense, but I was progressing nicely and Dr. Amols was estimating that we would get over 20 eggs! Well, after my retrieval, we found out that we got 33 eggs, 28 were mature, and 24 fertilized. We were ecstatic with these numbers! Then, the wait began. You have to wait to see how the embryos develop for five days. Some of them will stop developing/splitting, others will split incorrectly, and then some will become perfect little embabies. After five days our babies were cut in half and we were left with twelve to send off for PGS testing. We were optimistic, but also were terrified that we would end up with no embryos left. After an incredibly long ten days, we found out we had six healthy embryos! We were so incredibly happy! Six was an amazing number. Dr. Amols also informed us that due to the drastic decrease in our embryos during the process that he was positive that our fertility issues were due to egg quality. Over 75% of my eggs were faulty in some way and if we had not done PGS testing, I possibly would had to miscarry six more times to get one good, quality embryo, even with IVF.
We decided to transfer two embryos in April. We had so much hope that this time would be different and we would get rainbow twins! The transfer went smoothly and I cried as I watched my babies be placed back in their home on the monitor. I knew I was pregnant after a few days. This was my fourth pregnancy and I was pretty good about knowing my early symptoms. We went into our ultrasound with guarded hearts. We had never had a good outcome after an ultrasound appointment. This time, it was different. There, on the screen, was not only one beating heart, but two! I had waited almost 4 years to see those little hearts flickering away. It was surreal and magical and everything I had hoped for. They told us then that they had implanted a boy and girl. Boy/Girl twins! God is good! We were so happy and were so excited to see our little ones again at our 8 week appointment. We had a blissful two weeks of nursery planning and thinking of names for our girl and boy.
Our 8 week appointment is a day that I will never forget. We started the ultrasound and before Dr. Amols could say anything, I saw it. A third heartbeat. One of our embryos had split and we had identical twins, as well as our third singleton! Triplets! Dr. Amols was automatically concerned about baby C’s heartbeat and was not optimistic that he, or she, was going to make it. So, we decided to just enjoy our time with the our big three and dream about life as a family of five. We drove home giggling and imaging how we’d fit three car seats in our cars!
We went into our 9 week ultrasound optimistic, but also apprehensive, knowing that, most likely, we would only see two heartbeats on the screen. We started the ultrasound and there, flickering away on the screen, was only one little heart. Our twins, our two girls, were gone. Dr. Amols was almost positive that they were conjoined, so when baby C’s heart stopped, it affected baby B. We were pretty devastated, as we had expected to at least have two babies, but were also so joyous to still have our little, healthy rainbow. How do you stay happy for your surviving triplet, when you’re miscarrying your other two precious babes.
The rest of my pregnancy was easy, uneventful and wonderful! I loved being pregnant and tried to soak up every single second with our little man. I had dreamed about carrying a baby for so long and was just so grateful for the opportunity. I loved every moment of heartburn, pimples, cellulite, backaches and food aversions!
On January 11th, 2018, Jaxsen Jayce was brought into the world and he was perfect. His first name means “God has been gracious” and his middle name means “a healing”. Our rainbow baby is only here because of God’s grace and he has healed our hearts after years of disappointment, heartbreak and the loss of our five other babies. I truly believe the verse: “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while”. Our miracle baby boy is that joy and I would go through every trial over and over again for the chance to be his Mama. I am also happy to report that after 8 months with our baby boy, we decided to add to our family! We did another embryo transfer in September (this time with only one embryo!) and got pregnant again. Our baby girl is due in May of this year and we are so ecstatic and grateful for the chance to soon be a family of four! NEVER, EVER give up!
Not only did I get Jaxsen out of the trial of infertility and miscarriage, but I also found an amazing Instagram community of women who were facing the same struggles that I was. This network of women inspired me to create an online community that could connect women who were dealing with infertility, miscarriage, or adoption, so that they would feel less alone and isolated during their journey to motherhood. The TTC Tribe was created and we now are able to connect thousands of women every day that are dealing with infertility and share their stories.