Should you tell your work colleagues about your infertility?

Oct 12, 2020

Infertility is such a sensitive subject.  Just as miscarriage is.

It’s the quickest way to clear a room.  Just answer “we’ve been struggling and undergoing IVF after having several miscarriages” to the person asking “when are you going to have children” and you’ll witness the definition of awkward.

My opinion on this is very clear.....if you're going to ask that stupid ass, insensitive question, you deserve more than feeling uncomfortable.  You deserve a punch in the throat.  But that's a whole different story.

Even now, when I tell people I'm a Fertility Coach, they smile politely and change the conversation.  But back in the day, when I used to tell people I worked at Australia Zoo, their eyes lit up, and they were genuinely interested.

I was speaking to a fellow colleague the other day about a book she had written on miscarriage, and how you can reduce the risk associated with it.  She said she’d had to rename the book because social media wouldn’t let her advertise on their channels because their advertising is meant to make people feel good, not bad.  They wouldn’t allow her to promote a book on minimising the risk of miscarriage.  This book would give those who have suffered one, comfort.  It still pisses me off.

No wonder it's such a taboo subject - we’re being censored and avoided.

And then we have our careers.  I was a chartered accountant and manager at a global accounting firm when we started trying to conceive. It was a stressful and demanding job, but they had a paid maternity leave program, so I was keen to take advantage of it. But it was taking too long to conceive, so I moved on and got "a much more exciting" job as the Chief Financial Officer at Australia Zoo. I prided myself on being professional.  So when we started struggling to have a baby, I fought hard to keep work and fertility separate. 

Sometimes it didn’t work.  I’m going to share with you a small snippet from my book, The Injustice of Infertility.  Where my two worlds collided in the IVF waiting room…….

When I went for my egg retrieval operation, I had no idea what to expect. It was my first time. We walked into the waiting area and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, sitting in a chair in the corner of the room, reading a magazine, was a woman that I worked closely with every single day. I had hidden this entire journey from the people I worked with because I was trying to separate my two worlds. I was also embarrassed, and I didn’t want any unsolicited advice. And here it was, my secret double life completely exposed. It was pretty hard not to acknowledge each other, given the fact that we were the only two people in the waiting room. And awkward? Holy crap!

So, we exchanged stories. She was here donating eggs for a friend who was struggling to conceive - an amazingly heroic act. And I was here because we couldn’t do this by ourselves. I begged her not to tell anyone at work, knowing that it would probably get back to them eventually.

Whether you keep your fertility journey a secret from work or not, there is always a struggle.  The longer you’re on this journey, the more it consumes your every waking thought.  And if you’re doing IVF it’s a double whammy.  

IVF is a full-time job in itself. The appointments, the drugs, the paperwork - it’s overwhelming at the best of times, but then trying to maintain a life outside of it is a challenge. I remember having to inject myself in the stomach at work some days, and trying to organise scans on my lunch break. 

And one of the huge problems is that you can’t “schedule in IVF” - your egg retrieval and transfer are all dependent on your body and how quickly or slowly it’s reacting to the medication.  It can lead to a high level of anxiety and guilt over taking time off.  

I had a client who thought she was doing the right thing by telling her employer that she was undergoing IVF treatment and would need a day off for her egg retrieval.  Instead of being supportive, her boss told her that not only is it not considered a sick day under the employment standards (her boss was kind enough to show her the legislation), but she would need to know in advance so she could schedule someone else on that day.  Of course, we can’t expect everyone to know that you can’t plan these things, but a level of compassion would be nice.  

This is really heartbreaking. But it’s a reality for a lot of us.  Do we come clean with our employers and tell them what we’re doing at the risk of losing our jobs or our entitlements?  Or do we keep it a secret?

I kept my journey a secret (well as best I could) from my employer and my work colleagues. Every time I had a procedure I’d either call in sick (I had a range of excuses I would use), or take annual leave around the time I thought my procedure would be.

I chose to keep it a secret for a few reasons - 

  1. I was desperate to keep my personal life and my work life separate.  Every time I went to work, I knew that no one would ask me when my next cycle was or how the last one went.  It was an escape (well, there really is no escape from infertility - but it was the best way I knew how).
  2. I was a little ashamed.  My body wasn’t working the way it should, and for a long time that made me feel a little inferior.  At work I was the Chief Financial Officer and I managed a team of people. I was proud of how hard I had worked to get to that level in my career.  At work, I was successful, but at making a baby, I was a failure.  
  3. I didn’t want my work colleagues to feel sorry for me or look at me with pity in their eyes. And I certainly didn't want it being a topic of discussion in the lunchroom at work either.

So we kept it a secret and I lived a double life for at least 5 years.

On the down side.  They had no idea of the ups and downs I was going through.  So if I reacted badly in a meeting or conversation, they just thought I was a bitch and unprofessional.  There was no support or compassion, because they had no idea that I was so doped up on hormones that I had zero control of my emotions. Or they had no idea that we had just had a miscarriage.

At the end of the day - there is no right or wrong way.

You need to do what feels comfortable for you.

 

p.s. If you’d like to hear more from my book, AND be one of the first to get your hands on a copy of it, I'm running a book club....yep!!  All you have to do is put your details in the link below.  

I’ll be choosing 10 women from this list who will receive a free electronic copy of my book before it’s released.  PLUS over 6 weeks, I’ll be holding weekly video group sessions where I’ll be reading snippets from the book and providing you with the opportunity to discuss / ask questions / and receive coaching on your own journey. 

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Would you like to know more about how you can work with me, so you can get back control of your life and start moving forward?  My 1:1 coaching program is packed with information, tools and support. Find out how you can get on the wait list now.  

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