Working With Infertility: Talking with your boss and balancing work

 

The questions that surround when and if to tell our employer we are going through fertility treatment is a standard part of the infertility process.

For some, it may be whether to accept a promotion or new responsibilities, knowing we are in the midst of building a family. Can we meet new demands while managing our treatment process?

For others, it is more about the stress of the workplace and workload. Does that somehow negatively impact our efforts to conceive?

And for most, there’s an element of stress associated with privately juggling doctors appointments, timed medication, travel, procedures that require days off of work but can’t be scheduled in advance, and need for confidential phone calls throughout the work day.

In all of these questions, there is the emotional part of infertility that cannot be discounted. As you well know, fertility treatments can cause distraction, moodiness, and perhaps a little less cheerfulness or flexibility than usual (#understatement).

Chances are, you’ve wrestled with each of these aspects of balancing work and your fertility journey at one point or another. Read on for some suggestions and shared experiences from me and some lovely members of the Instagram TTC Community (#ttccommunity). Check out the original post and all contributions here.

 

When to tell your workplace you’re struggling with infertility

The short answer here is - when the process of fertility treatment moves into your work time.

The stress of juggling all of this without providing your boss any context as to why can make it seem worse.

Today, most of us think about “work/life balance” as pretty fluid. There are times when we may pick up work during “off hours” and times when we handle something personal - an errand, a phone call, a quick email - when we’re “at work.” We probably don’t even think about them; they are all just part of the modern workplace.

It feels different, though, - and more stressful - when multiple doctor or monitoring appointments occur during the time we would normally be at the office. Or if we travel for work, have an open office floor plan, or aren’t able to schedule or take a personal day for procedures, the need to work around these factors can feel overwhelming.

The stress of juggling all of this without providing your boss any context as to why can make it seem worse. You may worry about her questioning your commitment or productivity if your schedule starts to seem erratic, you are missing more work than usual, or you consistently step outside to take a private call. You may struggle to maintain all of your commitments at work while not knowing exactly what day you’ll be out of the office for your egg retrieval.

When this occurs, it is time to speak up. You will likely be surprised at the receptivity, compassion, and flexibility your workplace can offer. And, you’ll probably feel a great sense of relief in no longer hiding the reason for your schedule, behavior, or mood changes.

For some, it is more comfortable to just be upfront from the beginning and avoid a “stress point” that often tips people into sharing with their workplace. Trust your instincts here and do what makes you feel most comfortable, soonest.

 

How to tell your workplace your facing fertility treatment

In my experience, having a brief, direct, and honest discussion with at least one person who can impact your day to day work life - be it a boss, manager, HR representative, or teammate - can provide a huge relief.

If we aren’t comfortable sharing our infertility journey with our good friends, it can seem too big of a leap to share with our boss.

 

Keep it simple and share at a level that makes you comfortable. Your employer doesn’t need to know all of the details and you could certainly share only that you have a “medical condition”.

As @coffeed.princess puts it, “[I] just outright [told my workplace] and too bad if they didn’t like it. Plenty of laws in place to protect us.” She’s right in that employees are protected from discrimination or invasion of privacy when it comes to medical conditions. If you’re truly concerned about either of these risks, do some research into your state’s laws to ensure you fully know your rights before you embark on the discussion.

In most cases, though, the risk of discrimination or privacy infringement isn’t actually the concern. It seems to be more about a desire to keep the experience private. If we aren’t comfortable sharing our infertility journey with our good friends, it can seem too big of a leap to share with our boss.

@Coffeed.princess goes on to share that even with IVF coverage and an open office atmosphere, she was still scared at first to share, but that she feels lucky for the support she received.  

Once you’ve decided to disclose, explain the anticipated impact fertility treatment may have on your schedule or productivity. Try - as best you can - to keep the emotions out of it. Offer alternative suggestions to scheduling, project timelines, or workload balancing. Present this as a situation that you have given a great deal of thought to and, very importantly, suggest a solution.

Here’s an example of the conversation I had with my my manager:

I need to let you know I’m currently trying to have a baby through IVF. It requires a lot of morning appointments. I may be later than usual on these days. The nurses call me with test results which is why I need to step out for private phone calls. Sometime next week, I’ll be out unexpectedly for a procedure [egg retrieval] and then a few days later, again for a follow up procedure [transfer]. Unfortunately, I don’t have control over these dates.

I’ve taken a look at what is going on in my schedule and here’s the plan I’ve come up with to make sure everything is accounted for...here’s what I think will need to get pushed back...and here’s my back up plan for the scheduled meetings in the event I can’t be there...

It was awkward. But he was kind, respectful, and intent on being as helpful as possible. There were no follow up questions (I’m sure he was afraid of prying) and I could tell he appreciated knowing what was going on; the changes in my schedule and mood had not gone unnoticed.

An enormous weight - bigger than I even knew I was carrying - was lifted. Instead of coming up with yet another excuse for work disruptions, I could simply say I had a doctors appointment or a procedure.

You will likely be surprised at the receptivity, compassion, and flexibility your workplace can offer. And, you’ll probably feel a great sense of relief in no longer hiding the reason for your schedule, behavior, or mood changes.

Another example from @heyfertility demonstrates how well these conversations can go - in ways we may not even expect. She shares, “I just blurted it out one day. I was so nervous. She was super understanding as she went through the same thing and ended up giving us her leftover Gonal and saving us $1000. I feel very lucky.”

One helpful tip comes from @preparing_for_our_lil1. She suggests, “I think you have to "know your audience", just like with any of this TTC stuff. My boss is a woman and a Christian, so I felt comfortable letting her know I was going to have appointments during the month of our retrieval and after that. It was scary and took a lot to step out and tell her but I'm glad I did. We hadn't told a lot of people at that point but I trusted that I could tell her and I would get the support I needed. When I had my miscarriage and needed to take time off, she was amazing and so supportive then, too, letting me know she and her husband pray for our journey. I am so lucky to have a compassionate manager and I know not everyone does or is able to talk with their boss the way I have been able to through all of this.”

It certainly helps if you have a close relationship with your boss already. @teebee85 shared her story as, "I am fortunate that I’m extremely close with my boss and share an office with her. I just closed the door one day and explained what was going on. She has been very supportive and understanding if I arrive a little late or need to take a half day. I even told her when I started my hormones in case I started acting crazy(I didn’t)."

Knowing your audience can also mean knowing your workplace. As @essie_holmes explains, “I work in early childhood education. So I feel like there is more compassion and understanding. I told my boss partly due to possible health risks (breakouts of chickenpox, risk of CMV etc). But mostly because in my sector we all obviously love and care about children, but also love and support each other. My boss gives me time off for appointments and treatments and such.”

You may not even need to tell your boss what’s going on, if you feel you can lessen the stress of balancing your workload and treatment with your teammates. One story from @michelle.daughenbaugh illustrates this:

I am a high school band director. I never told my principal but I did tell the other 2 directors I work with since we all share an office and work practically side by side each other. I was hesitant at first because they are men (I know sounds sexist) and I just didn’t know how they would react to me having to go get an ultrasound every few days when there wasn’t a baby. They never had to go through this with their wives so how would they truly understand? Fortunately they have been extremely supportive throughout this whole process. And! We are 14w with triplets!

This option to share with a teammate or manager rather than a boss is echoed in @mjj60660’s experience. She shares, “I didn't [tell my boss]. The manager I worked with knew and was supportive during the process.”

If these stories demonstrate anything, it is that there is no one right way to go about disclosing your fertility treatment to your workplace. But, I think most co-workers, managers, and bosses are understanding that their teammate or employees may face medical conditions and treatments. They are often willing to, minimally, accommodate your needs. And, you may even be pleasantly surprised by the amount of support you receive from them.

 

When to adjust your workload or schedule:

I hear a lot about stressful workloads, schedules, and workplaces. There’s often a concern that the stress of work will negatively impact the outcome of a fertility treatment. (It will not.)

Reducing stress from all outlets as much as possible during infertility, however, can only improve the process.

If you can, schedule or prioritize projects you can become immersed in during the waiting times. For the active times, look for ways to reduce unknowns, stressful situations, and deadlines.

I recommend finding a work balance that will work for you at this time. This probably will take some thought and a pen and paper. On a calendar, map out your fertility treatment timeline and then layer in your work commitments for the same time period. Your treatment timeline is (relatively) short-term. How can you shift work so that it fits with the treatment timeline and is part of a regular flow rather than a harsh interruptor? Writing it down, looking at a calendar, and making a plan can help us see opportunities and anticipate potential stress points.

If you can, schedule or prioritize projects you can become immersed in during the waiting times. For the active times, look for ways to reduce unknowns, stressful situations, and deadlines.

If you have personal time off available, try to anticipate what - if any - usage of it will help you feel confident that you gave this cycle your best effort. Maybe it is an afternoon or day, or a series of afternoons or days, off for self care. Maybe you have a good guess of your procedure timing and can schedule days out of the office in advance. Maybe you can negotiate a reduced-hour work week for a short time period to allow for you to feel less rushed getting to the office in the mornings.

One thing I’m often asked about my thoughts on taking extended time off of work - a few weeks or a month - for fertility treatment. My general advice is to think carefully about what you expect to gain by doing so. If the answer here is only “baby” - you may be setting yourself up for larger disappointment. As we all know, family planning is very rarely on our timeframe and even under the most “perfect” of circumstances we can still end up with a negative. If your goal for time off includes other, achievable, outcomes that are solidly within your control - then yes, maybe the time off will be well spent. Make sure you have goals that will leave you feeling accomplished and more confident at the end of the time off - with or without a pregnancy.

In sum, you will feel a sense of relief by sharing at least a minimal part of your struggle with your employer. You can take back some control of the process by managing and getting in front of potential work stressors when it comes to fertility treatment. And, you’re not alone in having these questions or balancing work and family building.

What about you? Have you shared your fertility treatment process with your workplace? How did you manage the conversation? If not, are these suggestions helpful? What is holding you back?

Additional reading:

 
Erin McDanielComment