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How to Navigate Your Fertility Journey at Work

Find the resources and support you need during this time

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Source: istock/laflor

If you’re already dealing with infertility, you know how physically, emotionally, and financially traumatic the diagnosis and treatment journey can be. But even though everyone discusses the tests, hormone changes, injections, and costs, the psychological and emotional side effects are not usually discussed—not even by those going through it! It wouldn’t be a surprise if the stress, anxiety, or depression that often goes with infertility affects your job performance and that you’re experiencing it alone.

Let’s try to change that. You need all the resources and support you can get, including those from your workplace.

Here are some suggestions on how you can address your diagnosis and any related issues arising from fertility treatment with your supervisor, your HR department, and your company overall.

Don’t go it alone. If you are reluctant to discuss your infertility problems with family, friends, or the workplace, it’s probably for a good reason: You want your medical condition to be private, you don’t want unsolicited advice or referrals from co-workers, you don’t want to hear everyone else’s fertility stories, or because you feel there is a stigma attached to infertility.

But the result is that you can feel isolated just when you need understanding and support from those you spend the most time with, including your boss and coworkers. While you may be hesitant to discuss your specific condition with anyone at work, letting them understand that you’re dealing with a medical condition with certain requirements (e.g., doctor’s appointments, medication side effects) can help alleviate the feeling that you’re dealing with infertility on your own.

Take charge and take the pressure off when you can. Rather than wait for issues to arise, being proactive with your supervisor or workplace about potential scheduling challenges, meeting attendance, or any other conflicts arising from your treatment can help the organization plan in advance, adjust as needed, and support you appropriately during your treatment cycle.

Ask for flexible hours. Since fertility treatments often require frequent visits to the clinic to monitor your progress closely, depending on the treatment type, your visits may be as frequent as several times a week, and often first thing in the morning. Asking your workplace to be understanding of your schedule during treatment, and possibly providing flexibility in your working hours, can help you during this highly stressful time.

Check out company resources. You don’t need to explain why you need counseling to ask for it. So, if you feel a serious emotional strain because of your infertility diagnosis or treatment and don’t have access to counseling services on your own, your company may have mental health resources available to you through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other mental health services. Counseling services and therapists available through an EAP are completely confidential.

Check out your company’s fertility benefits provider. Hopefully, your company provides fertility coverage as part of its overall benefits program. If so, the fertility benefits provider should have additional resources, education, and counseling available to you. The advantage of consulting with your company’s fertility benefits provider for support is they will have specific expertise in dealing with infertility and its effects, as well as familiarity with various fertility treatments, medications, and related processes.

If your company does not provide a fertility benefit, you can ask Human Resources about adding one. Employees often underestimate the influence they have over such decisions. In fact, many companies have decided to add a fertility benefit after specific, persistent requests from their employees. Here’s an article on FairyGodBoss written by Cassandra Pratt, Progyny’s VP of People, on how to ask for a fertility benefit at work.

Take a work "break." Work can actually be a great distraction from the persistent anxiety you may feel during fertility treatment. Staying busy and active with projects and co-workers not only distracts you from worrying, watching, and waiting for treatment results, but it can also give you a sense of accomplishment and help boost your self-esteem and confidence, just when you need it the most.

And what about workplace stress? Aunt Fanny may say, “Just relax, and you’ll get pregnant,” but Aunt Fanny is wrong. Infertility causes stress, but stress doesn’t cause infertility.

Infertility is a difficult challenge. Try in every way you can to make your journey easier—particularly at work, since so much of your time is spent there. Reach out for support from as many resources as possible.

Over the years, many patients have told me that they will never forget the kindness and flexibility of their employers while they were in treatment, the emotional support they received from their co-workers, and the difference their company’s fertility coverage made in their treatment options. I hope you will find a network of support, understanding, and empathy during your journey.

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