I originally wrote this for Everymum.ie for their #yourfertilitymatters series.
Infertility – its costly, stressful, time-consuming and mostly invisible. You are not technically “sick”, there are often few symptoms, yet you feel broken. This brokenness brings about feelings of shame and we need to work hard to move ourselves from shame to vulnerability.
It can put your life on hold, you think twice about leaving your company or taking that promotion because any minute now you will get pregnant
… then the years pass.
You possibly haven’t moved professionally forwards, but your body clock certainly has.
The shame and deeply personal nature of the condition mean that you don’t tell anyone – including your boss. But secrets can amplify shame, making this time even more stressful. Coming up with excuses for all those appointments is exhausting. How many dentist appointments can one person have?
So, what do you do?
Tell work and have the constant gossip of “do you think she is pregnant” while worrying that you will get passed over for opportunities.
Keep it secret, juggling appointments, pretending all is fine – which can bring a brittleness to your energy. Trying to use your precious holiday time for longer or more invasive procedures leaves little time to get away from it all.
If you open up, you tend to realise it is far more common than you may think– most people you tell will have examples of other people they know who have gone through it. This gives them a lot more context to support you.
However, telling may depend on the maturity and status of your boss. If they are young and child-free, they may not have the experience to say the right thing – in this case, go to HR or your manager, and ask for their help. If your boss has kids, chances are, they couldn’t imagine life without them, and they will do anything to help you.
Pros and cons of telling your boss
1. Secrets lay heavy on your shoulders – relief after telling! Be clear with your boss your wishes on privacy and agree in advance with them how much detail they need/ want.
2. Support from your boss, they have your back.
3. Flexibility, and no stress with treatments. To keep work sweet, try and get early or late afternoon appointments.
4. Progressive companies will not pass you over for opportunities. Great companies promote pregnant employees. Being open just means that great companies can plan.
1. Could be concerning to your boss if you have not been in that job long, or if your performance isn’t where it should be.
Solution: Your performance is mostly within your control. Try to compartmentalise your job and your fertility struggle as much as possible. Endeavour to stay in the here and now, and be brilliant where you are.
2. Preparing yourself for the response can be stressful. Thinking of all the reactions and the scenarios can be overwhelming.
Solution: Be very specific with your boss, be clear exactly what support you need and how you plan to keep performing well, regardless of treatment.
3. Your boss doesn’t react well or doesn’t react at all.
Solution: Remind your boss that female workers get pregnant all the time and that with you they have plenty of notice that hopefully, a maternity leave is on the way. Loyal employees are valuable employees, remind your boss that fertility treatment almost guarantees your loyalty!
4. They stress over the precedent giving you flexibility will cause.
Solution: Don’t let them make their problem your problem. If they have kids, gently ask them how they would feel if they could go back and struggle having those kids. Also gently suggest that complex problems sometimes need complex solutions.
What helped me
- Get emotional help, whatever that means for you – counselling helps to put words on your feelings and learn coping strategies. When you are stuck, it can help you to move forward.
- Talk about it but try to realise when you are “stuck” and you can’t seem to talk about anything else – go back to point 1 above!
- Try not to let infertility define you, you are more than this. Maybe minimise the definition a bit e.g “I was born with curly hair and crap eggs!”
- Learning to set boundaries – I would send texts like “It didn’t work this time, don’t want to speak about it today, I will let you know when I am ready to talk”
- Educate people (kindly) about what to say and not to say. But, try not to become that person that people must tiptoe around, huffing every time children are mentioned.
- Create an AMAZING Plan B – give yourself permission to create the coolest plans for what will happen to your life if kids are not an option – what amazing non-kid-friendly places you will travel to, career plans, house plans, hobbies etc
- Find a great coach to work with you on your professional and fertility journey.
- It may not feel like it now, but you will survive this. You will find a way to have a wonderful life with or without children.
For more like this follow me on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn