One of the first requests I made with the nurse at our fertility clinic was to have strictly 7:30 a.m. appointments for my IVF monitoring. I wanted to have the earliest available slot so I could still get to the office on time — and avoid anyone asking why I was late. It was stressful enough to think about the injections and ultrasounds plus all the money, hopes and dreams my husband and I were pouring into the IVF treatments in our pursuit for a baby. But somehow, in my fragile state, the thought of having to miss work — and/or (God forbid) have my co-workers find out what we were going through — seemed worse.
The reality is 1 in 8 couples will have trouble getting pregnant. But for some reason, fertility remains one of the most taboo topics, and that’s because we simply don’t talk about it enough. So even though I’m generally a private person, I let my boss and a few co-workers know what I was going through — and it was definitely the best decision.
Of course, there’s no one right approach to something as complicated as fertility. But if you too are undergoing IVF and are debating whether to speak up, sharing at work may be more valuable than you think. Here’s why.
They are going to know something is up
IVF is a big time commitment. There are constant monitoring appointments (in my case, I had to go in for blood work and ultrasounds every other day for about two weeks during the stimulation phase). I also took a day off work for the egg retrieval and another day for recovery from the procedure. Over the course of a month, that equaled a lot of shuffling around of meetings and projects at the office. Then there’s the fact that fertility clinics are always busy (remember, 1 in 8!). Despite my best intentions, I didn’t always get the 7:30 a.m. appointment spot I was after. I sometimes had to go in at 9:30 a.m. or 11:30 a.m.
After I got a calendar from our clinic, I decided to be honest and let my boss know what was going on. She completely understood — in fact, she confessed she had gone through IVF herself (and ended up pregnant with twins). If you aren’t as comfortable with your manager, you can simply say you’re going to be out for several medical treatments. Whatever you decide, it’s going to be pretty obvious when you’re gone from your desk on the regular. So it’s important to come up with a game plan that works best for your situation.
It’s actually easier to avoid office minefields
If you’re going through the emotional roller coaster of infertility, you may feel like hiding out at home in your pajamas. But for most of us, that isn’t an option. I’m not going to lie; going to the office during my IVF treatments sometimes required putting on my very best poker face.
For those of us struggling with infertility, the workplace often provides some of the toughest tests: pregnant co-workers and in-office baby showers. Oh, and the co-workers who are already parents and like to complain about their baby keeping them up at night or battling thrush. Under normal circumstances, we’d be thrilled for the preggos and commiserate with the parents. But while undergoing fertility treatments, we’re pumping our bodies with an enormous amount of hormones that are going to send us straight to the restroom bawling after a mere stroll past the nursing room (I’m speaking from experience here).
Telling a few trusted co-workers, or even your entire team if you’re close, might help make things a little less awkward if you need to step out of a meeting or quickly excuse yourself from the baby talk at the water cooler.
You might want the support
The stresses of work really pale in comparison to what many of us go through with infertility. So when it all gets to be too much, having a few trustworthy friends (or at least friendly faces) at the office can really help. You might just need to go out for a walk or get a cookie with someone who is a good listener. (I also highly recommend hanging with some 20-somethings during your two-week wait. Some gossip about Tinder dating might be just the distraction you need.)
Then there’s the fact that with all the IVF drama, staying on top of your work projects might be the last thing you want to do some days. Knowing that you have the support of your office — and co-workers who can cover for you if necessary — can really help put your mind at ease.
It helps break down stigma
Telling everyone at work what’s going on in your personal life isn’t easy. I for one was worried it would make me look less professional. But amazingly, once I started to be more open about IVF, women at my office started speaking up about their own fertility experiences.
The bottom line: Infertility is more common than you might think, and it’s absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. In order to inspire more women to share their infertility stories, we need to learn to be comfortable talking about our own — even with our bosses.