We are the lucky ones, or as I used to call it, the lucky unlucky ones. Our infertility struggles had a happy ending. We have two beautiful children, from two separate rounds of IVF, but it was fraught with failures along the way. After countless trips to doctors and specialists on both sides of the country, failed intrauterine inseminations (IUIs) and a miscarriage, we had a successful frozen embryo transfer, which resulted in our almost-5-year-old son.
Fast forward to this year, and I can hear our more recent IVF 11-month-old success squealing at her daddy outside the door to our office nook. My son has already asked me how he got in my tummy, and I have yet to fully explain how the birds and the bees didn't quite work for mommy and daddy. Given he's the science nut in the house who's convinced he's going to bring back dinosaurs, I imagine he'll think it's pretty cool how he came about. Someday I'll tell him, and someday I'll share with him and his sister our journey to find them.
Today ends National Infertility Awareness Week. As someone on the flip side of infertility, I wondered what I could contribute to the conversation that I haven't already said. I wrote about the shock of it all back in 2015 and then the mindf*** of it all in 2017. And I wrote about experiencing secondary infertility when trying for our second. We lost two back-to-back embryos — our final two from our initial IVF round — and thought that was it. Our ship had sailed. But friends, family and others in our "trying-to-conceive" community encouraged us to try a new doctor. Lastly, I wrote about how to support others who may be a part of this lonely, isolating and, at times, tortuous infertility club.
I now work for LinkedIn. The social network connecting professionals, which inspired me to write something for the moms and dads who may be coping with this intense trauma at home, all while trying to put on a brave face with colleagues. First of all, you are not alone. I will link to some resources below in case you find yourself just beginning this journey. I will also tell you that I truly believe deep down if you want a family, you will build it, however humanly possible. Whether it's through IVF, surrogacy, egg donors, adoption — I've seen it all. Some may find work a nice distraction, while some may feel like a shell of their true selves during this time. I know I did. Here are a few of my thoughts on how to cope with infertility in the workplace.
- Come up with a game plan on what and how much you want to disclose to your manager(s). When you begin treatment for infertility, expect to be in and out of doctor's offices all the time. This is not an exaggeration. You will probably, god-willing, never spend as much time at the doctor's again until you reach your 80s. Knowing how frequently I would be needing to take time to go to said doctor's appointments for blood draws and tests, I decided I was going to be totally honest about what I was doing. For me, it was just easier. Every single manager I've opened up to was extremely receptive and understanding. This may not always be the case, but I'd hope, in this day and age, it would be. Some may not feel comfortable telling their bosses and that's OK, too. I know friends whose family members don't even know they did IVF. Just have a plan on what you will be saying and stick to it.
- When you have more of a calendar/protocol in place with your doctors, i.e. you know when you'll be having egg retrievals and embryo transfers, plan on giving yourself time off around these procedures. They may not seem like it at the time, but they're a big deal. And you deserve some time to recover, both physically and mentally.
- Have someone from your team in your corner. Whether it's your boss, your work husband or a work bestie, I found it hugely helpful to have one or two coworkers/buddies who were "in the know." That way they will check in on you and/or they can fill you in on stuff you may have missed while out for appointments and procedures. It's also just good to be able to vent to someone other than a partner. There are therapists who specialize in fertility trauma, so that's another route you could take, as well.
- Don't be afraid to say no. Maybe your boss asked you to give a presentation on the day you're supposed to find out results of your first pregnancy test post-transfer. News can go either of two ways, and do you really want to be presenting to a group of people if things don't work out? Your boss should want you to be at your best and, having received countless very bad news phone calls from nurses, I can attest that your best may take off for a little while. And that's OK. I thank god I worked remote throughout our journey. I'm not sure I would have been able to function being at an office during the emotional rollercoaster that is infertility.
- Apart from scheduling out all of your doctor's appointments, make sure you set aside time to do the things that fill you up, make you happy, give you balance. It could be going for a walk, hopping on your Peloton or going for a SUP ride. Depending on your COVID comfort, it could be getting a massage, acupuncture (many fertility doctors recommend you do acupuncture in tandem with your fertility treatments) or a trip to the hair or nail salon, safely and masked, of course. If your company offers personal days, don't be shy about taking them. Your mental state is as important as what's going on physically with all the hormone injections, so feed your heart and mind with as much goodness and light as you can.
- Have a talk with someone on your benefits team as soon as you decide you're going to start fertility treatments. If you're like me, you won't know until you ask what your company's policies are regarding fertility benefits. You may get lucky, and they may cover some stuff.
I have a sign my mom gave us in our bedroom: "Never never never give up." It helped us keep our mind on the future, of what could be, after many a devastating phone call, and we are living proof that persistence is key when struggling with infertility. You can do this and you are not alone.
- NIAW2021: The homepage for National Infertility Awareness Week, with articles and other resources.
- Resolve.org: RESOLVE provides free infertility support groups in more than 200 communities.
- Fertility IQ: A great database of doctors and relative news, founded by a couple who struggled with infertility.
- There are countless forums available for women trying to conceive. Just search "TTC forums" for options.
- Bundle of Joy fund, founded by Samantha and Kyle Busch, is just one example of a nonprofit that offers families grants to help fund fertility treatments.