IVF and Your Job
By Susie Wilkins, Psychologist/IVF Counsellor
Deciding whether or not to continue a regular work schedule during fertility treatment is a very personal decision which can vary depending on a number of factors, including your financial and work situation, how you experience treatments and any potential side effects, your privacy preferences, and a potential desire to continue life as per normal (or not). As a general rule, there are usually no medical reasons why you could not continue with your work as per usual.
Ideally, IVF treatment should only require a few hours off work here and there for appointments, blood tests, ultrasounds and a full day off for egg collection. However, treatments do not always go to plan and your commitment to the process can sometimes feel like you’re handling a part-time job on top of the rest of your busy life. It can make balancing your treatment and actual livelihood tricky, and that’s even before you throw in curveballs like hormonal surges and unexpected outcomes. So how do you go about fitting fertility treatment into a busy work schedule?
Figure out how much time you’ll need
By the time you have met with your fertility specialist and the team overseeing your care, you should have a good idea as to exactly what your individual treatment plan involves, from how many early-morning clinic visits you’ll have to how much time you’ll need off work after egg retrieval and embryo transfer. Ask your care team for recommendations that are specific to you—you might need to take more time off or ask for modified duties at work if you have a very physical job. How you cope with physical and emotional stressors is another consideration. For instance, some women find it helpful to take some time off in case they don’t become pregnant and require some time and space to grieve.
Develop a plan before talking to your boss or HR
For some patients, whether to even disclose to the boss about fertility treatment can be a dilemma for fear of discrimination, job security or lack of privacy. Whilst it is against the law for an employer to treat you less favourably because of your intention to become pregnant, this is understandably still a concern for some. If you choose not to disclose, it can be tricky to manage time off and can be emotionally draining, especially if you work in an environment where absence is always noticed.
Check with your clinic if they are able to provide medical certificates for your appointments. If you limit the disclosure to your boss or HR team that you are dealing with health issues, reassure them the issue you are dealing with is serious, and one that you would rather keep private. As an example, you could tell your boss you are starting a new medication that would require close monitoring and, potentially, time off to deal with side effects while you adjust.
If you do decide to advise your boss of the reasons of your absences, it can be helpful to come up with some ideas about how you might make up for lost time if early-morning appointments run over and you’re late for work. Can you stay later? Offer to complete certain tasks at home? Get a co-worker to cover for you? Having a workable plan can help you feel calmer and more confident when you talk to your boss and as your treatment progresses.
Self-care and physical comfort at work
In addition to sapping your energy, fertility treatments put your body through major changes. You need to put your needs and comfort first. Often the side effects of the medications can mimic pregnancy symptoms or give uncomfortable side effects. To deal with the physical discomfort, invest in some flattering but forgiving work wear such as flowing tunics, wrap dresses and comfy flats, and stow away those pencil skirts, tight-waisted pants and heels for now. Small, frequent meals and snacks can help relieve nausea and keep you energised, so bring your favourite comfort foods for lunch and stash away some nibbles, such as crackers and nuts, in your purse or desk drawer. This is the time to be a little self-indulgent!
Leave and fertility treatment
Facing fertility treatment during your holidays or when you have a vacation planned can also be tough. Should you cancel the vacation you planned months ago, even before you were scheduled for treatment? Do you have to schedule appointments around family get-togethers and celebrations?
Before you take medical leave, cancel any plans, or decide not to make new plans, talk to your fertility specialist or nurse. You may be able to postpone the start of your treatment or adjust your treatment schedule so you can continue working or have the freedom to enjoy vacations and holidays.
How counselling can help
It’s normal to experience feelings of loss, confusion and frustration when going through fertility treatment, but counselling services aim to assist you in normalizing your feelings, identifying coping strategies and building support networks. Some other areas of discussion in counselling sessions may include:
- Providing independent and confidential support
- Emotional experience of infertility
- Constant preoccupation with treatment
- Pregnancy loss
- Couple relationships and IVF
- Social isolation
- Exploring and coping with very real and powerful grief
- Coping with other people’s pregnancies and births and discussing reactions of families, friends and work colleagues
- Pregnancy and parenting after fertility and IVF treatment
- Self-help for managing emotions
- Available resources
If you’re experiencing anxiety related to fitting in fertility treatments around work and life, or any other aspects of your treatment, you can contact our experienced team of counsellors to find out how they can help.