No one told me infertility would impact my career.

Or how much fertility treatment would feel like another full-time job.

Or how it could change me as a person, right down to the core.

When it came to work and infertility, I never realized...

That, with no HR policy, I'd be terrified to tell my employer for fear of how they would react.

That I'd feel guilty for openly admitting I wanted to start a family.

That I'd resent the fact I had to share this deeply personal, confidential information about our family plans.

That my thoughts would be all-consumed by my desire to have a baby.

That the feelings of failure would seep into my confidence to perform my role.

That my bosses might question my commitment to my job for wanting this so badly.

That I'd be giving myself injections in the staff bathrooms and inserting pessaries between conference calls.

That I'd feel like a burden to my employer for needing to attend the countless, unpredictable doctor’s appointments. 

That I'd fear the next pregnancy announcement and need to hide my tears on an almost daily basis.

That I'd find it impossible to plan even just a few days ahead.

That infertility would have a profound effect on my mental health, leading to stress, anxiety, and depression.

That the side-effects of the hormones would make concentration even more difficult.

That I'd feel I was being scrutinized for unavoidable absence from the office.

That for the first time in my career I'd be phoning in sick because I just couldn't get out of bed in the morning.

That I'd worry about being overlooked for opportunities because I'd made it clear that I wanted to start a family in the near future.

That I'd consider leaving a job I'd worked so hard towards for years because the stress of both was too much to handle.

That I'd sob uncontrollably on my way home as a release from keeping up the brave face all day long.

I share these statements as part of National Infertility Awareness Week because each and every one applied to me. Working while facing fertility struggles was one of the toughest parts of the entire journey, to the extent that I felt it changed my whole identity and sense of purpose. I know that I’m not alone in this.

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Infertility isn’t just a few appointments, it’s a medical condition with physical, emotional, and social impact. With one in six couples in the UK affected, and one in eight in the US, all of working age, it isn’t a ‘niche’ problem that doesn’t require attention – it’s fundamental for all employers to recognize and support what is one of life’s greatest challenges.

With many of those facing infertility suffering from depression as a result, it’s inevitable that support is needed from where we spend the majority of our waking time.

Research (Fertility Network UK) has shown that only a quarter of organizations have any sort of policy in place relating to fertility treatments, with many being very light on detail beyond how to manage the inevitable absence from work. This means that people are subject to the ‘luck of the draw’ as to whether they have an understanding manager. Still, those who haven’t experienced it themselves are often not understanding of how all-consuming it can be.  

Working in HR, I was no stranger to people requesting time off for various reasons, but what still astounds me to this day is that, during the 12 years I worked in HR, I never once had anyone ask about time off or employer support for fertility treatment. To me, this silence speaks volumes and is no doubt caused by the lack of awareness and ‘taboo’ nature of this subject. How could I have worked for so long in an area with such focus on people while never coming across this all-too-common problem? 

Using both of my experiences, in HR and facing infertility, I wanted to share how I believe employers could better support those going through treatment and how vital flexibility and emotional support is in retaining valued employees at work. I’ve joined forces with two ladies who share the same passion (Natalie Silverman and Claire Ingle) to create Fertility Matters At Work, a campaign designed to raise awareness while educating and supporting both employees and employers with dealing with fertility treatment in the workplace.

We’re almost set to go: our Instagram page is full of stories and feedback, our website launch is coming soon, training packages are in development, podcasts have been recorded, and our own survey data is being pulled together to be shared…and then COVID-19 hit!

Understandably, employers are likely to have different priorities at the moment other than their fertility policy and support, but once the COVID situation is over, we’re preparing to reach out to employers from all different sectors. We want to educate them about the reality of fertility treatment at work, to support them to put policies in place that can help both managers and employees navigate through this temporary period and, ultimately, to make them see how it can help them become a more attractive employer to engage and retain the very best talent.

We actually believe the recent pandemic has provided a unique opportunity, one that otherwise wouldn’t have been available - the chance to demonstrate to employers that flexible working can be done and is possible. Employees will now have real-life examples to show that they can work flexibly at home around treatment (where their job allows), something which in the past has often been cited as impossible for ‘business reasons.’ An unlikely precedent has been set, one that could change the whole landscape of working for those facing fertility struggles in the future.

We ask you to come and follow us @FertilityMattersAtWork on our mission to change the way fertility is viewed in the workplace, share your experiences with us, and help spread the word within your organization about the support we are offering. Together, I’m hopeful that we can at least relieve some of the stress for those going through fertility treatment because, let’s face it, when you’re dealing with infertility the last thing you want to be worrying about is the impact it’s going to have on your career.

Becky Kearns is a fertility and donor conception advocate and blogger at @DefiningMum. She is also co-founder of @FertilityMattersAtWork alongside Natalie Silverman @fertilitypoddy and Claire Ingle @IVFatwork.