Did you know that 1 in 6 individuals globally are affected by infertility? My husband and I fell into this bucket and it’s not a fun statistic to be a part of. We struggled for over four years to build our family. Infertility makes you feel as though your family building has been put on pause, meanwhile so many other parts of your life, including your career continue to move along during this tumultuous time. Most people who are experiencing infertility are also going to work, and showing up at their jobs. Having been there myself, I want to share from my experience how infertility intersects and affects the workplace. 

It’s Time Consuming  

When you are going through any kind of fertility treatment, you are being monitored very closely. This means you are going into a clinic for ultrasounds, blood draws, procedures and you are constantly waiting for results via phone calls and scheduling more and more appointments. Navigating the scheduling of these appointments around your job in a graceful way can be really challenging. I would struggle with this when I knew ahead of time that I had to take a day off for an IVF procedure. Do I tell my boss the morning of that I am sick? Do I come fully clean with my whole IVF story? Do I just shift around my calls and try to do my procedure and work as well? If I do that, am I jeopardizing all the money I am spending on this treatment in the first place? 

To Share or Not to Share?

I’ve been fortunate enough to always feel that my boss had my back when it came to my fertility journey. I chose to disclose it with the respective companies that I worked for, because I believe vulnerability fosters connection and understanding. This doesn’t mean disclosing infertility is easy, it is incredibly difficult to have such an intimate conversation in a work setting. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have moments where I regretted sharing my struggle, for fear that it would impact my career trajectory or make my employers think I was less committed to my role. 

Mentally & Physically Draining

Being on so many different cocktails of medications really can do a number on your general mood and physical state of being. I was on some kind of fertility related medication for over three years. There are days where you simply don’t feel like yourself, and for me, it got to a point where I forgot what I used to feel like. Having to pretend that all is well can add to the burden. 

So how can companies help their people when it comes to family building & fertility treatments?  Here are my thoughts: 

Fertility Treatment Coverage

If possible, providing any kind of insurance coverage for fertility treatment can have a big impact on access to fertility care. 

Sensitivity in Language 

Mother’s Day, Family Days, Father’s Day – Of course it is okay to celebrate these days, but it’s important to know that these days can be very hard for people who are in the middle of fertility treatment. I spent years on Mother’s Day feeling like I’d completed another lap around the track, with nothing to show for it. I remember hearing “Happy Mother’s Day” on a work call and wanting to run to the closet and grab my tupperware of IVF needles & failed pregnancy tests that I was painstakingly saving to track my journey to motherhood. 

Psychological Safety & Workplace CultureContinuously building and investing in workplace culture is essential to helping employees feel empowered to share their stories. This is my most important piece of advice, and probably the hardest to cultivate. I believe it begins with vulnerability from the top leadership team, which will show employees that there is safety to share their struggle, whatever it might be. 

Closing Thoughts

As mentioned at the top, 1 in 6 individuals globally are affected by infertility. This means it is likely part of the story of someone in your workplace, even if you don’t know about it. During my darkest days and hardest moments I wasn’t at a place where I felt I could share openly. I’m beginning to find my voice in this space and I want to amplify others who might be walking this lonely road. My personal take away from my journey with infertility is that I never knew my own capacity to face the unknown and continuously rise up and persevere until I was met with this challenge in my life. Be kind to one another and vulnerability is strength, even at work.