This week I had the fortune of linking with another of the #TTC Community over social media when she tweeted that she had been ‘lucky’ with her employers and how it did ‘wonders’ for her mental health and ‘loyalty’ towards them that they had treated her so well during her infertility journey. I wanted to use her story in this blog to show others that these ‘good egg’ employers do exist!
Like most people who find themselves in this situation, Katherine was deeply affected by the stigma associated with infertility especially when she found herself in a brand new role and on her 4th attempt at IVF. By this point, she was conscious about the fact her needing fertility treatment may affect her career. By admitting you want a baby can be damaging to your career on its own ( although no organisation would ever openly admit this) but then by going that extra step and saying you can’t have a child naturally then puts a whole new angle on the whole ‘career path’ conversation. Even though it is 2019 there are still employers out there who view families as an ‘inconvenience’, I mean what person can have a child and have a successful career? The very fact that this thought was firmly present in Katherine’s mind is sadly indicative of most people in her situation and one that organisations need to clearly carefully manager their culture around.
The fact that fertility treatment is viewed as ‘elective’ is another reason why employers seem to be reluctant to support employees going through treatment via a policy. This topic is a whole other blog topic but in essence people identify having a baby as a ‘choice’ and therefore not essential to life. The irony in that is that is IS essential to life. It is essential to the continuation of life.
With her original employer (A Private sector organisation), Katherine found herself keeping her treatment a secret. A common behaviour from those going through fertility treatment. Her first cycle failed and she found this out when she started spotting at work at the end of the TWW when she was about to go into a meeting with her manager which resulted in her breaking down in tears. Far from being unsupportive, her managers response was for her to go home and let herself deal with it without the added pressure of work. He then worked with her to see what she needed over the following 2 cycles. Katherine cites the willingness to ‘listen’ as being one of the key encouraging factors and felt grateful that her news was not met with any different response other than one centred around kindness. Arguably this isn’t a default corporate reaction to news like this but filled Katherine with the confidence that she didn’t have to continue carrying this burden on her own.
What followed for Katherine from this situation was a discussion about what she needed in terms of support. IVF/ICSI/IUI is not a ‘one size fits all’ and for those who have been through it know how it affects people in a multitude of ways physically, psychologically, mentally and emotionally. Having one rigid corporate policy is not the answer . It needs to be fluid and highly adaptive to differing needs each individual should be treated as such. Katherine was offered flexibility in terms of her location and was supported to work from home if things were exceptionally stressful. Having her own familiar environment around her reduced her stress and she found that this helped a great deal with the overall situation. Not having to put on a brave face was key to helping her emotional state. It also seemed to be an understanding from her employer that because she was having IVF this was not necessarily the guarantee that people perceive it to be that it would result in a baby at the end of it. Failed cycles are all very real with the chances of success ranging from 2%-30% dependent on the woman’s age. Employers need to know this and need to adapt accordingly to people’s already fragile state.
With her second employer ( this time a Third Sector organisation), the secrecy continued but the cumulative effects of several cycles of IVF in 2 years again became too much to bear and Katherine found herself having to confide in yet another manager about her situation as the next attempt failed and she knew she would be trying for a 4th time to become pregnant. Katherine was given additional flexibility around her appointments with an understanding from her employer that these appointments were not always predictable and would often result in just a days notice. Altogether she was supported with 2 months off work for her 4th attempt allowing her the much needed breathing space to prepare physically and mentally for an FET combining annual leave, sick leave and unpaid time off. There was also resource available to her for emotional support but she felt she couldn’t access it at the time due to feeling so utterly vulnerable which again is a common feeling during treatment. All this support, as positive it was, wasn’t captured in any official work policy or guidance and this is what needs to change. Sadly Katherine’s 5th attempt resulted in a chemical pregnancy but she is confident that her next attempt via egg donation will be supported just as well by her employer. Following all her experiences,Katherine is now seeking to set up peer support groups in her organisation for topics such as infertility so that others know there are people around them with lived experience that they can go to just to talk to whenever they need someone to listen.
As I research this topic, it is good to see that there are some organisations that are recognising the impact of infertility on their employees and working with them to ensure they are treated with care and compassion in what could potentially be the biggest challenge of their lives. If you have any stories to share about your employer/organisation good or bad, please get in touch with me via this blog or via any of my social media sites. Instagram: IVF@work or Twitter: @IVFWork1. Finally, a HUGE thankyou to Katherine for talking to me and for her honesty about her journey and kudos to not one but two of the organisations she has worked for that have set the bar in employee engagement with regard to something that faces millions of people every year in the UK- let’s hope others soon follow.