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Coping with Fertility Challenges in the Workplace

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

Having a full-time job can be stressful, but adding family planning to the mix can have some of us working overtime.

In our early 20s, most of us are in a self-discovery phase, adjusting to the transition from full-time student to full-time worker. As we near our late 20s and early 30s, conversations around career advancement start to arise. And for many of us, career planning is coupled with conversations at home around family planning.

Starting a family doesn’t look the same for everyone. For some, it can pose quite a challenge, and that challenge can be compounded if you’re trying to advance your career at the same time. People get pregnant and have families all the time, and increasingly they can be open about their family concerns in the workplace. However, fertility treatments and miscarriages continue to be taboo for discussion.

Women’s History Month feels like the perfect time for me to open up about my struggles with family planning and infertility challenges in the workplace. 2018–2019 was a tough year for me personally. During that year, I finally gave up on having a child naturally on my own and turned to IVF (in-vitro fertilization) for help.

During this time, I was also starting to transition from an executive assistant role at Xandr to a new role in project management. My new job came with a lot of new expectations, and I wanted to show up with my best foot forward, impressing my new teammates and manager. However, this became more and more challenging. Because IVF requires a lot of doctor’s appointments and involved quite a few unexpected surprises, it was harder and harder to commit to meetings, and to establish goals for my new career path.

Infertility treatments involve daily injections, surgeries, and lots of bloodwork. For some, these treatments can span 3–4 weeks, and for others years. Sometimes I wouldn’t know when I would have to come in for an appointment until 24 hours before. The unpredictability made it hard to say yes to any new opportunities that came my way.

Woman sitting in a doctor’s office in a hospital gown

My confidence in succeeding at work began to slowly fall. It was hard for me to share what I was going through. This was such an intimate private topic in my personal life — how was I going to share this with my new manager? I wanted to have the same opportunities as everyone else on my team, but the idea of sharing what I was going through made me fearful of losing the chance for a promotion, or to be considered to lead a new and exciting project.

Once I was able to come clean to my manager about what I was experiencing in my personal life, he was able to educate himself about the process. It became much easier to show up at work and feel supported and understood without sacrificing professional opportunities.

How can we do better in the workplace?

Policies that directly address infertility can make a big impact on supporting families with these challenges. It’s hard to be open about what you’re going through when most company policies around parenthood focus on the success of having a child, rather than the struggle. Xandr recently crafted a policy around miscarriages that made it easier for me to let my current boss know about my pregnancy loss when it happened, since I knew there was an understood process for supporting workers who experience a loss.

I would love to see more manager trainings, education, and policies around infertility, so anyone who’s affected has an easier time being open with their managers, rather than feeling they’re going to be punished in the long term by having to take a step back on work responsibilities while they undergo treatment.

I feel thankful to work for a company that continues to improve and adopt policies to help women feel supported in the workplace. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to experience this kind of support. Women should not have to choose between growing a family and growing their careers. More workplaces need to adopt policies to make us feel supported, no matter what our family planning process looks like.



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