Navigating fertility treatment when working by Natalie Silverman
Natalie is the founder of The Fertility Podcast, a collection of interviews with fertility experts and real life case studies to empower, educate and support.
When we were told we needed to have fertility treatment, it was huge blow. Firstly, we found out on December 23rd via a consultant who delivered in such a matter of fact way, we actually couldn’t believe what we were hearing. Needless to say, that Christmas was pretty tough, with my husband and I taking ourselves away from the merriment to try and process it. However, by New Year, we’d put a positive spin on the news. We were eligible for NHS funded treatment and we saw it as an opportunity, like a science experiment. We weren’t aware of the grief attached to losing the opportunity to conceive naturally, a run of emotions that we just didn’t acknowledge and to be honest, ones that I’ve only learnt more about, since making The Fertility Podcast and speaking to more people both experts and patients about this stage being a loss.
I knew we were in shock and I remember being in tears telling my parents we were going to have to have IVF, but I felt also felt excited about it to be honest. We had something to try. I had already been down the road with my best friend, who had been through three cycles so I understood ‘it’ but I had absolutely no idea about how I was going to navigate was my job.
I was hosting a breakfast radio show, so my job was to entertain. How was I going to pull this off whilst going through this science experiment where I knew it was going to affect my hormones. At this point the denial set in.
There are approximately 68,000 fertility cycles carried out in the UK each year, with 1 in 6 couples having to deal with infertility. We’re talking approximately 3.5 million people, so that’s going to be someone in pretty much every workplace. Research carried out by Fertility Network UK showed that nearly 2/3 of firms in the UK don’t have a ‘supportive fertility policy’ in place. Also, that we don’t disclose details of our treatment for fear of it affecting our career. HR folk who know how to deal with a manner of situations don’t understand fertility treatment, unless they are trained to. Here lies the issue.
Once we had more information about our treatment I started to stress. How was I going to manage all the early morning appointments, when I started work at 4.30am. We were told we needed to be flexible and that there would be some points during the treatment that were last minute. Our clinic was a one-hour drive from where we lived and from where I worked, and I needed a plan and had no idea how to create it. The good thing was I could go to appointments as soon as I finished on air, which was 10am, so I knew I could make it work, but I didn’t want to have to tell my work, it wasn’t their business.
I work as a freelancer so had never been talked through any HR policy, I didn’t know what my rights were or whether there was a company fertility policy. I knew there wasn’t any statutory rights for time off for IVF, thanks to Dr Google. I found the HR contact and called to explain my situation - which in itself was a stress. I was advised to tell my boss I was having ‘medical treatment’ and would need to get a Plan B in place as there would be times I wouldn’t be able to work, and it could be at short notice. To be honest, he didn’t probe me, which was a relief. However, in order to get the Plan B in place, I needed to be straight up with my co-presenter and producer as they were the ones I would be leaving in the lurch. They were amazing and carried me through the shows when I didn’t feel like being funny, due to the treatment.
Thank goodness we had success first time. If we hadn’t I don’t think I would have been able to continue my job. Fertility Network UK found that 1 in 5 people had to reduce their hours or quit their jobs due to the stress of treatment. Sadly, I have spoken to lots of people through my work creating my podcast who tell me the same, that the stress of managing work through treatment has just been too much. Do have a listen to their stories to help you feel less alone and know that others have been through exactly what you are feeling. Workplace support makes all the difference, which was discussed in this podcast episode and I know my experience was a positive one from telling my colleagues, despite the stress around it. So, I want to encourage you to try and speak to someone about it at work, don’t go through this alone. Ideally you want to have 6-8 flexible days to manage all the tests and scans, egg collection, transfer - it shouldn’t have to be taken as annual leave or unpaid. I also feel that Men should also be entitled to this as well, regarding their tests and also being able to support their partners at the various appointments.
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