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How to Handle Infertility in the Work Place

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

When I started my fertility treatments last May, I had no idea what I was in for—and I certainly had no idea the toll it would take on me, or my job. I didn’t think for one second that it would take me this long to get pregnant again. We tried Clomid in May (fail); IUI in July (fail); IVF in September (we canceled the transfer after I got sick post-egg retrieval); our first frozen embryo transfer was scheduled for November but, that, too, got canceled.

We had our first frozen embryo transfer happen in December, two weeks after I lost my job at Playboy (great timing, and another fail). We wasted no time in starting another cycle as soon as I got my period, and had yet another frozen embryo transfer in January (and yet another fail).

If you’re tired just hearing about it, imagine how I feel rehashing it.

Throughout my entire ordeal last year—even when I had to miss a month of work (a couple of weeks here, a couple weeks there)—I didn’t tell my manager exactly what I was going through. All I said was that I was “dealing with some personal health issues.” My boss knew enough not to pry any further. He’s someone I’d worked with for 10 years, and I trusted him implicitly, and vice versa. It was one of those don’t ask, don’t tell scenarios. I wasn’t deliberately holding the information back, but I think he was being respectful of my situation by not asking me to tell him exactly what I was going through—it's a rather personal thing to talk about with your boss, after all. I did make sure to let him know that it wasn’t “life or death,” so neither he nor my team would worry too much. I was awfully sick, which was apparent; and he respectfully gave me the time and space to feel better and return to work.

It probably didn’t hurt that I had already been with the company for nearly 10 years, and had a certain level of trust there.

Though I’m still undecided about whether I’m going to move forward with more treatments, I wonder if this is something I’d need to discuss with my current employer? I guess it depends on the impact it'll have. If I can get through the treatments without missing any work, why tell anyone? But if I get sick and need to take some time off, for doctor appointments or procedures, I’ll have no choice but to address it with my manager and maybe even my team. But how do you do that and keep some shred of privacy?

Though I started a new job recently, nowhere in my new-hire orientation did it discuss the process around infertility treatments (obviously). But it’s a very family-friendly company (there’s a private "Mom's Room" in the office for nursing moms, how awesome is that?). There are a lot of working moms (and dads) my age at this company, which is very refreshing—especially since I came from a male-dominated company that seemed to breed single dudes. I had very few parent friends at my last place of employment—four I can think of off the top of my head. 

We may not start trying for a little while, but if I decide to embark on another round of treatments, I have a lot to consider. I’m a hard-working, dedicated employee—frankly, I’ve always put my career first (which may be what got me into this infertility mess in the first place). If and when I decide I’m ready to start another round of fertility treatments, I want to make sure I handle everything correctly, on all fronts. And believe me, I won’t be cavalier about it. My career is very important to me, but so is my family—I made a promise to myself before I took this job that I wouldn't let my career get in the way of our plans to grow our family. I truly, honestly, from the deepest part of my heart believe it’s possible to have both a career and a family, and even go through infertility while working full time. As hard as it's going to be, if it's what I have to do I will make it work somehow. When I get to that point, I will be all in. But I'm determined to figure out how to do this some semblance of a healthy balance—I think it comes down to time management, and putting my health at the forefront. And working for a company that supports working moms is obviously a huge bonus.

How would you handle going through infertility treatments in the work place? Would you tell your boss and/or team, or is this something you'd keep to yourself, since it's such a personal health issue? A lot of IVF protocols call for drugs that need to be administered during the workday (like daily suppositories), but they also call for frequent doctor appointments. You need to go into this with eyes WIDE open. Having been through it, I will tell you from experience balancing a corporate job while going through infertility isn't easy—but it is possible.

I'd like to think my company will be supportive of something like this, and the fact that their insurance has infertility coverage gives me hope that it will be. 

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