What You Need to Know When You’re Working During Fertility Treatment

Anyone who has ever tried to conceive knows that there are countless highs and lows during the process. To say you may be a little stressed during this period is a bit of an understatement.

While trying to conceive (TTC) can be an emotional roller coaster on its own, the experience can be even more emotionally charged for people who rely on fertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

How do you go about everyday life while undergoing treatments? In particular, many people undergoing fertility treatment still work full-time. Understanding how to manage that stress and finding positive outlets for encouragement and support can help you manage it.

Experiencing fertility problems can be an isolating experience, but the reality is that they are incredibly common. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), about 10 to 15 percent of American couples experience infertility.

Fertility concerns can also affect the sperm-donating partner. Male and female infertility each contribute to one-third of infertility cases, according to ASRM. The remaining third is a combination of both male and female infertility.

If you are going to continue working during fertility treatment, certain factors can make the experience more complicated. Insurance coverage can vary widely by company, and family leave policies can depend on both your employer and the state in which you live.

Before you can begin to figure out how to work through fertility treatments, you need to determine your rights, and what benefits—if any—you have access to.

Depending on your employer and how long you have worked with them, you may qualify for FMLA. While FMLA only guarantees unpaid leave, you can get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. You can use this leave for parental leave.

By strict definition, FMLA is not designed to cover infertility treatments. However, if your healthcare professional can confirm that your fertility treatments are medically necessary for you to conceive, you may be able to apply FMLA leave for treatments or even medically required bed rest during pregnancy.

Many companies not governed by FMLA do offer generous parental leave and health policies — including covered health expenses. If in doubt, talk to your company’s human resources or benefits manager to fully understand what leave — if any — you can use. They can also tell you if your insurance will cover any treatments.

In theory, your medical situation is nobody’s business, and you have the right to privacy. But depending on the type of fertility treatments you use, it may be unrealistic to keep this process to yourself.

For example, IVF is managed in cycles that usually coincide with your menstrual cycle. This means that a full IVF cycle can take several weeks, and many couples need more than one cycle to achieve success. You will need to consider several appointments, including procedures such as egg retrieval and embryo transfer.

Also, keep in mind that some treatments require fertility medication. This can create unexpected reactions physically and emotionally. Many fertility specialists recommend taking 1 or 2 days off work for the egg retrieval procedure, and some doctors recommend taking a few days off after the embryo transfer as well.

Only you know how pleasant your workplace would be for you to take regular time off throughout the month to manage fertility treatments. At the very least, be prepared to speak with direct managers or your human resources point of contact, as you will need their approval to take time off or coordinate benefits.

But you will also need to consider other factors.

If you are considering a hybrid work approach, where you are primarily in the office but work remotely during critical points in an IVF cycle, other people may also need to know why you are out of the office. Anyone who is considered critical to ensuring your work runs smoothly should realistically be kept informed.

Additionally, if you have close work friends who you trust and believe will provide much-needed support, you may want to tell them. We cannot stress enough that fertility treatments can be exhausting – both emotionally and physically.

ASRM’s Mental Health Professional Group (MHPG) agrees on this psychological impact. So, having a solid support system in all aspects of your life can be very helpful.

But you don’t have to be an open book

Remember that you control the narrative. You can provide general information without sharing all the details. Fertility issues are a sensitive topic that not everyone is comfortable talking about.

In addition, there is the added reality that while legal protections against workplace gender discrimination exist, some people have reported that their work ethics or abilities have been questioned once they have disclosed that they are undergoing fertility treatments.

So, if you’re only comfortable saying that you need to undergo medically necessary procedures, leave it at that — and don’t feel pressured to share more. If necessary, get documented support from your healthcare professional.

The TTC process is a rigorous one, but even more so when you also struggle with infertility. While it’s important to cover your bases professionally, you also need to be kind to yourself as you navigate treatment.

Cut obligations

Between the physical side effects of fertility drugs and the shifting emotions, you may not be up to maintaining your usual schedule. This is especially true if you’re juggling a full-time job, multiple fertility appointments and procedures, and remembering to take medication.

Don’t feel pressured to maintain your pre-fertility treatment schedule if it’s going to leave you weak and exhausted. Taking care of yourself is priority number one!

Strengthen your support network

No matter how you conceive, anyone who has ever tried to conceive will tell you that having a sympathetic and supportive network can help make the experience more manageable.

You can choose to gather friends and family in your social network who can help you get through this time. It’s also good to connect with fertility treatment support groups so you can talk to someone who knows what you’re going through.

Engage in self-care

You’re going through a rough time, so feel free to pamper yourself just a little more. Whether self-care looks like booking a massage or having a reality show marathon, you deserve to spend a few moments not preoccupied with your fertility.

Don’t fall down the digital rabbit hole

If you are undergoing fertility treatments, you are already taking one of the most proactive steps possible to achieve your ultimate goal of conceiving.

It can be tempting to spend time online looking up details about fertility treatment success rates, plus what early pregnancy symptoms to expect and how to spot them. But it can ruminate and encourage thoughts, which can make an already stressful situation feel worse.

If you have questions about fertility or fertility treatments, talk to your healthcare professional instead. After all, they are the pro!

Consider therapy

Don’t underestimate the importance of spending time talking to someone outside of your social circle who can serve as a neutral sounding board. Again, concerns about fertility — and, by extension, fertility treatments — can throw you for a lot of emotional loops.

Countless studies have shown that living with infertility can have a serious and long-term impact on your mental health, according to a 2008 research review. It is important to have a safe space to talk through what is bothering you, as well as to learn other effective coping methods.

Not everyone can take time off work to accommodate fertility treatments. If you can, work with your company’s human resources or benefits director to determine what leave or medical coverage can be applied to your treatments.

While you may need to tell key stakeholders at work what’s going on, don’t feel pressured to share every little detail or tell every single person. It is important to take care of yourself and make sure you have a strong support system around you during treatment.

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