The Delicate Balance of Infertility Treatment and Work

a worried woman at work

One of the toughest challenges women experiencing infertility have to face is how to manage treatment and not let it impact upon their work lives. Infertility treatment is physically and emotionally demanding and requires medical testing which cannot always be regularly scheduled around office hours. When I was having my treatment, many years ago, I had to sneak out of the office to go across the street to use a phone there, in order to speak with my doctor and nurse about test results and scheduling new appointments. I didn't want anyone to know I was getting infertility treatment. I was concerned about my boss's reaction and fearful there might be some retribution or risk to my job, if she learned about it.

Those of us who have undergone infertility treatment understand that the stress associated with it can cause emotions to rise up. The medications used can also cause mood swings. I recall getting the phone call from my clinic while I was at work, telling me my lab results showed that I was not pregnant again. I wanted to burst into tears, yet had to remain stoic and continue to do my job.

One of the early decisions you need to make, is deciding if there is anyone in your workplace you will share information with, about your infertility and the treatment you are undergoing. Think about the relationships you have with your boss and your co-workers. Consider the following issues:

  • What are you prepared to reveal about your individual situation?
  • How will you cope with questions and comments that inevitably arise?
  • Think about identifying a close colleague you can rely upon if you need support.
  • Does your treatment impact upon your ability to perform your job?
  • Will The rigors of infertility treatment create limitations on how you do your job? If so, can you plan for this and present solutions ahead of time?
  • Talk to your doctor about the type of employment you have, to ensure that nothing about your job description can jeopardize your potential pregnancy. Remember to mention chemicals you come into contact with and physical labor you are required to perform.
  • If you do need to leave your workplace unexpectedly, or you anticipate that your job performance might be impacted upon by your treatment, it may make sense for you to discuss your situation with your employer, supervisor or human resources department, to determine a plan you can mutually agree upon.

You can be proactive in terms of developing a plan to walk this tightrope balancing your workplace and infertility treatment. Speak with your human resources person to understand what your work allows in terms of time off, medical leave, and other pertinent policies. It is also a good idea to contact your insurance carrier to see what coverage you have and where. I learned that I could get treatment at a satellite clinic right near my office instead of where I was going which was far away. I was able to arrange tests and appointments before and after work and during lunch hours since it was so close and I learned my insurance covered it all.

Work is a place where people can have baby showers. That can be really tough to cope with in the midst of infertility treatment. If you know something like that is scheduled you may want to plan to be out of the office. It is normal to feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable helping someone celebrate when you are struggling with your own ability to have a child. Sometimes planning a separate time to honor that person individually feels more manageable.

I found it helpful to identify a work colleague that I could honestly talk with during my treatment. She was there to help me through the ups and downs of my infertility journey and her support was invaluable.

If you do choose to share your situation with several people in the office think about what boundaries you want to set with them about sharing information or questions they might want to ask. For example, you can tell them as you get information you will share it and you prefer they don't ask you additional questions. Think about what feels right for you. Simply saying you would rather not talk about that right now is an acceptable response.

Your boss or supervisor may need to be informed regarding your situation because of the unpredictability that is inherent with infertility treatment. See if you can discuss options like flex time, using sick days if necessary, or planning coverage in the event you do have to suddenly leave work. Try to be as flexible as you can and try to reassure your employer you will do everything you can to continue to do your work to the best of your ability.

Remember that in many instances, infertility treatment may have no impact on your workplace. It directly relates to the nature of your work. If you have to travel all the time or lift heavy objects your situation is very different than someone who works from a computer at home. Spend time carefully considering your individual circumstances and plan accordingly, consulting the necessary healthcare team and staff at work. Do what you can to feel you have as much control as possible and that your plan helps to manage the potential stress that will occur at different stages of your treatment.

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW is the author of the award winning Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles. She has a Master's Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility

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