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How I Balance Work, Family and Infertility

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

The truth is: I have absolutely no idea sometimes. But I can tell you a few things I experienced along my journey that might help you decide whether or not this infertility road is the right path for you.

I worked full time, in an office, 40-50 hours a week while I started battling infertility last year. When I got sick after my egg retrieval in September—I suffered from Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome from producing a fairly large amount of eggs (33 follicles; 14 blastocysts)—I ended up having to take a lot more time off than expected. I worked as much as I could from home, but all in all I probably missed almost an entire month of work. Working in daily publishing, a month is a lifetime in my world.

No one at work knew I was going through this at the time—not even my female co-workers whom I count as friends. I had friends outside of work that didn’t know either—it was something I wasn’t ready to talk about, much less make public at my place of business, for very obvious reasons.

Forget the fact that I worked at Playboy—which is (no surprise) a male-dominated company—infertility isn’t exactly the kind of thing you talk about with co-workers, especially while you’re going through it. Without having to say what I was going through, I was in constant communication with my boss and he was aware that I was having some “personal health issues.” I think any time a woman says that, it’s a signal not to ask any further questions. But I would've told my boss, of course, whom I trusted implicitly—I think he understood what I was getting at and never wanted to pry. 

It’s a tough topic to broach in a work environment; hell, it’s a tough topic to broach in any environment. Especially an environment that’s not exactly conducive to talking about parenting issues, much less infertility. But sex! We talked all day long about sex!

I’m pretty sure a few of my co-workers knew something was going on in the fertility department, too, but for the most part people left me alone about it. There’s always the inevitable question, especially if you already have a child: “Are you guys trying again?” “Are you pregnant?" I dodged a few of those bullets by basically having to flat-out lie, which I hated doing. I’m the world’s worst liar.

It’s not like I was able to skate by with unnoticed absences: I was a manager with a fairly large team of editors who reported to me. I sat in a centrally located office, so my door being closed was a pretty big sign that something was wrong. People knew I was “sick” but they didn’t know with what. The hardest part was coming back to work after being gone for a couple of weeks, before I was really ready—I remember sitting in meetings in physical pain and discomfort, trying to act like everything was fine. The emotional distraction was exactly what I needed—I actually missed my work life, which was a lot easier than what I was going through at home—but there are physical side effects you can’t ignore. And did I mention how bloated I was from all the drugs? No wonder people thought I was pregnant.

Being a full-time working mom is difficult: You’re pulled in 15 different directions and there’s so much mom guilt that comes along with it. Being a full-time working mom who’s also going through infertility? I’m lucky I had already been with my company for a significant period of time (almost 10 years) and they gave me the understanding and space I needed to do what I had to in order take care of myself, in privacy.

I will always be eternally grateful to my former boss for that. 

I guess that’s not really advice, but it is something for working women to think about who are trying to conceive. Whether you have a child at home or not, have you thought about how you’re going to balance your work schedule with your doctor appointments, and everything else that comes with the whole fertility process? It’s a major undertaking, and you need to be prepared for all the variables. Everyone's experience is different, and I know many women who worked through it and didn't get sick the way I did, but it's something to be aware of.

Here’s one piece of advice I can pass along: Schedule your doctor appointments early (I always had mine at 7 or 8 a.m. so I could get to work on time). And try to schedule egg retrievals, embryo transfers, or any surgeries for a Friday or Saturday to give yourself ample time to recover over the weekend. (And make sure you have backup childcare if you have a little one at home already—and a very hands-on hubby.)


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