You want to see an example of how different people are – even for all we have in common? Put a dozen women undergoing fertility treatment in a room and ask them whether they share their trials and tribulations with others, or whether they keep their infertility diagnosis or fertility treatment pursuits a secret. Whew! Everyone’s perspectives are so different.
Who and How Many People Should You Tell About Your Infertility Journey?
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Here are some of the most common ones we hear from both camps here at RRC.
Points from the “Tell The World” Camp
First, we’ll share perspectives from women who have chosen to be pretty open about their fertility treatment experience.
- They feel supported. Battling infertility and/or dealing with failed infertility treatments can feel fairly isolating, and this isolation gets some women and couples down. Choosing to share with friends and family can provide a certain amount of support, even if it means having to choke down retorts upon receiving misguided advice or a lack of real sympathy.
- They don’t seem crazy. Year one and two may not be so bad, but after that, failed fertility treatments – and the ever-present invitations for baby showers and christenings – can begin to affect you emotionally or cause you to be pretty darn cranky to the ones you love. When family, friends and co-workers understand why you can be moody or do not want to participate in certain events, you are typically granted a wider buffer zone.
- It spreads the word. Because fertility and the invasive nature of fertility treatments is such a personal topic – it can make it seem like you are one of the very few. In fact, about 1 in 8 couples struggles to get pregnant – that’s more than 10% of the population. Infertility isn’t as uncommon as you would think and many couples feel their openness about their struggle will help to educate others about the topic, increasing the public’s understanding and ability to be supportive.
- It’s cathartic. For many women and men, sharing infertility struggles is cathartic, helping to release steam from a pot that is perpetually boiling over. If speaking out loud isn’t your best mode of communication, reading, writing, and/or commenting on infertility blogs can be a wonderful way to connect with others who understand what you are going through. Plus, it provides a quieter platform to express yourself.
- It paves the way for time off at work. Being open about your fertility struggles with key players at work may help you when you need extra time off from your job for consultations and/or treatments. Bosses may be a bit more lenient and co-workers may be more apt to cover shifts if they know the real reason you need the time, rather than thinking you are always “headed out of town” for long weekends and enviable getaways.
Points From the” We Keep It To Ourselves” Camp
Then, there are those who prefer to keep it all to themselves. Here are some of their reasons:
- It’s too personal. Sharing your infertility diagnosis can often result in sharing a whole lot of personal information you’d rather not. And it can also solicit a wealth of advice and invasive questions you’d rather not even hear, let alone answer.
- It’s too painful. While fertility treatment and IVF success rates continue to improve, most couples have to undergo more than one treatment before they are successful – and some couples undergo many more than a single treatment before they get pregnant. Knowing this, couples may opt to keep mum so they don’t have to field the, “Did it work? Are you pregnant yet?” questions until it did, and they are.
- It’s isolating. While some women choose to share information to keep from being isolated, others can feel more isolated when they share information with others who seem to have no real understanding – and, sometimes, very little interest – in the information being shared.
- Time to talk about something else. After a while, even the people involved in the treatments become bored with the same story over and over. Telling others about it, or fielding half-interested queries, is almost like sharing what you had for breakfast that morning – it just doesn’t seem worth it. Instead, this camp would rather just talk about everything in life BUT what they are dealing with fertility-wise, waiting until they can finally announce, “we’re pregnant!”
Which camp do you belong to? Do you share your journey with the world-at-large, or do you prefer to keep your infertility path close to your heart? Please share your thoughts (anonymous entries are fine!) with the RRC community.
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Depending on where you work, finding the balance between work and fertility treatment can be a bit tricky. Depending on who you are, striking that balance can be even trickier. Some of our clients have no problem sharing their infertility woes with the world, writing infertility blogs and filling their co-workers and managers in on every little detail. Others remain very private, often making up excuses because they don’t want to have to fill in all the details.
Some companies are incredibly strict about time off policies, which can make it even more stressful and energetically trying, especially if you feel your job status is at risk.
It certainly makes navigating the world of work schedules, IVF schedules, traveling to consultations, etc. a bit complicated.
Tips For Striking the Balance Between Work and Infertility
Here are some of our tips for striking the balance between your work life and the often demanding world of fertility treatments.
- Find a managerial confidant. Is there anyone at the managerial level you can be honest with? The first round of IVF might be easy to fudge using a combination of sick and vacation days. If you require a second or third round, things will get a little sticky. If there is a manager, boss or maybe even a company owner who you feel at all safe in confiding in – swearing them to secrecy – this is the smoothest way towards getting time off when you need it.
- Talk to HR. Review your HR policies and see how much time you are allowed to take off, and if that time rolls-over to the next calendar year. If so, it may be worth it to forgo a vacation this year to gain more days off next year when you plan to undergo treatment. You can also discuss other options with them – like more flexible working hours, banking work time now for the future or work-from-home options that can keep your hours coming in even if you need time off during business hours.
- Be up front with your fertility clinic. If your workplace is playing hardball, let your fertility clinic know. We are in this business to help people become parents and we will do all we can to make that happen – being as flexible as we can, when we can.
- Know the law is on your side. Since fertility treatments and IVF are relatively new, the legal system is just now playing catch up. There have been several legal cases where women wanted to sue employers who fired them, or threatened to fire them, due to the time they needed to take from work to attend consultations and treatment appointments. While the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not yet provide any recourse for couples seeking fertility treatments, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does. According to their 2014 Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination:
Because surgical impregnation is intrinsically tied to a woman’s childbearing capacity, an inference of unlawful sex discrimination may be raised if, for example, an employee is penalized for taking time off from work to undergo such a procedure. (See example 5 in EEOC’s Guidance). Employees terminated for taking time off to undergo IVF—just like those terminated for taking time off to give birth or receive other pregnancy-related care—will always be women. This is necessarily so; IVF is one of several assisted reproductive technologies that involves a surgical impregnation procedure . . . Thus, contrary to the district court’s conclusion, Hall was terminated not for the gender-neutral condition of infertility, but rather for the gender-specific quality of childbearing capacity.
Knowing a little bit more about where the U.S. Government is coming from, and how IVF treatments are being woven into gender issues, can help to give you a bigger boost of confidence.
- Make work changes earlier than planned. What are your work plans after you become a mother? If you are planning on staying home for a while, or shifting to part-time work, now might be a good time to make that switch. If you have a condition that may require assisted reproductive technology down the road, budgeting for an extra several months or a year off- or with reduced pay – may be the best move to ensure you can enjoy more stress-free treatment cycles. Obviously, this is not an option for everyone and we realize the cost of fertility and IVF treatments already stretch the average couple’s budget. However, some of our clients have found a way to make it work – even if it meant making small career changes or finding a way to work from home.
What have your experiences been when it comes to taking time off work for fertility treatments? What have you found works best for you? Please share your input in our comment box below.
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