When it comes to family planning, it's estimated that 1 in 7 couples across the UK are affected by infertility. When infertility leads to treatment, such as IVF, then juggling work, appointments and the emotional rollercoaster can become tricky.
If you're on this journey - or planning to embark on this journey - here are some tips that you might find helpful as you navigate the way ahead:
Undergoing IVF treatment is a time-consuming endeavour. From traveling to and from blood testing appointments and ultrasounds, to managing multiple medications and allocating time for rest, IVF treatment can sometimes feel like a full-time commitment. By understanding how much time you'll need for the process, you'll be better equipped to plan your work schedule.
Each person's treatment plan is unique, so the best place to start is by asking your doctors how many visits to the clinic you'll need throughout the process, as well as how much time you'll need off work to have, and recover from, the egg retrieval and the embryo transfer. It might amount to around 8 flexible days over 4 weeks but it can vary greatly and your clinical team is best placed to advise.
Another thing to factor in is whether you might need any down time to recuperate from any emotional stress. Again, this is a personal consideration and differs from person to person.
The more you know about the exact details of your treatment plan, the better. This will allow you to factor in possible side-effects and curve balls.
The second part of your research will be on policies at work. Depending on your job and its allowances, you might need to ask for more flexible working hours or possibly cut back on physical demands like frequent travel or time spent on your feet. So, find out exactly what your company's policies are regarding time off, sick leave, flexi hours, etc. and check what administrative actions you're required to take to accommodate your needs.
Whether you'd like to tell your manager about your treatment or not is totally up to you, as well as how much you'd like to disclose about it along the way. In the same way that you're not legally obliged to tell your employer about this personal matter, they are not legally obliged to give you special time off for your treatment. However, your employer should treat your IVF treatments (and any associated sickness) in the same way as any other medical appointment or sickness.
While there are no obligations on either side, you'll want to consider how this decision might affect your process, both physically and emotionally. Ask yourself which option will allow you to plan and manage your time (and workload) more easily and avoid extra, unnecessary stress.
Some employers now have policies supporting fertility treatment and letting your manager know will give you access to potential paid or unpaid time off, for example. If there is no specific policy, you may still be able to discuss ways you can work together to make the process easier all round.
It's helpful to prepare for the conversation by having a proposed plan for how much time you'll need and how you intend to work around your treatment schedule. By having your own plan of action in place, not only will you feel more confident about the road ahead, but you'll also inspire your manager to feel the same. Transparency regarding your treatment might even give your manager the opportunity to put in place any support required such as working with you to amend your projects and duties. It will be important however, to communicate that the plan might have uncertainties built-in around dates for egg harvesting for example, as this tends to depend on individual responses to the treatment.
This option might be better suited to you if you're a more private person and would like to keep work and family separate. Of course, sharing that you are embarking on IVF is also notifying your manager that you hope to start, or expand, a family and it can all feel a bit too much, too soon. Regardless of your manager's knowledge or involvement in your treatment, you're still entitled to take time off, such as sick leave should you be unwell from the treatment or to use your annual leave allowance for the appointments and surrounding time. You can ask your clinic to provide medical paperwork stipulating your requirement for medical leave without disclosing any specifics. Have a think about the best way for you. Some people find they gain more space and support to focus on their programme when their manager is on side. Also, if you find yourself needing frequent, unexplained time off, this can raise concern in sickness absence terms so you can always decide to bring your manager on board with your situation at a later point if that turns out to be easiest.
Undergoing IVF treatment means you'll be on a cocktail of medications. As a result, you're likely to experience some of the side-effects that go along with them. It's important to ensure you're prepared and are giving yourself the best options for comfort while at work, so if you're going into an office, and you don't have uniform requirements, you might invest in some comfortable, loose-fitting outfits that aren't restrictive – particularly around the waist and abdomen. It's also helpful to be able to layer up or down as you may experience sudden changes in temperature. Another good idea is to have small, comforting snacks on hand, as it's common to experience bouts of nausea. Sipping on tart, carbonated drinks also helps with nausea and keeps you hydrated throughout the day.
Now, more than ever, your wellbeing will be supported by your work-life balance. With the highs and lows that can come with planning for pregnancy, it's important to make space for activities that you enjoy and the people who help you to feel supported. Make sure you plan on giving yourself plenty of rest between work commitments and doctor's appointments and don't bite off more than you can chew. It's normal to feel like you must overcompensate for time off work, but remember to value your own health as your priority. Give yourself this time in life and your career to focus on efforts to grow your family.
Another useful action before embarking on the programme is to revisit your work goals and make sure you are clear about the core deliverables in your role over the next few weeks. Ideally you will be able to meet those around your IVF programme which will offset any worries you have, by demonstrating your progress. If it emerges that you won't be able to meet some core goals, you might be able then to plan ahead to enlist support or delegate something, while also looking after yourself.