I have been mostly open with my colleagues about the infertility treatment that we are facing. I told a small number about the three IUIs, but in preparation for IVF I decided I needed to tell a few more of my colleagues in my team. In fact, my team gave me a gift card for a nice restaurant as a I was about to take four days of sick leave for the Egg retrieval and embryo transfer for our first round of IVF. But it’s not something that everyone is comfortable initiating a conversation about it all with me. They don’t know where the line is, so I try to be open about it as much as possible and help them to feel comfortable asking me whatever questions they may have.
This ‘open’ approach has mostly worked in my favour; but that doesn’t mean it has been easy. It is coming up to almost a year of treatment and my boss has known about my appointments and treatment for the majority of that time. He has been accommodating, caring and supportive to my needs. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how supportive your peers and bosses are, there is the issue of the work that still needs to be done.
I feel unreliable, I feel flaky, I feel selfish and I hate not being flexible. I feel like the weak link in the team. I hate that it is almost impossible to plan long term projects and work travel – a key part of my job. I feel helpless, sometimes I feel useless. I try to compensate by being overly proactive in areas that don’t require long term planning; I try to over achieve on short term goals and tasks. But ultimately this impacts my career. I feel like I have taken a career break.
Juggling work with infertility treatment requires meticulous planning – and yet what are you told when it comes to IVF treatment? Always expect the unexpected. So planning for the unexpected becomes an overly stressful burden to your sanity.
For me, the first time we went through IVF it was a quiet time of year for us – August. Many of my colleagues were on their summer holidays, so all was good. This time around we are expecting to start stimulation in the New Year. Things start to get a whole lot busier at work at this time of year. I have already had to say no to travelling to Europe in January because it is likely my egg retrieval will be in that week. Not attending this meeting in Europe may impact my involvement in the project overall. Or simply just add another layer of stress even if I do pick it up afterwards from playing catch-up.
Then, there is the added problem of being physically at work; suffering from pain and tiredness as a result of the hormones and your body coping with the side effects of the drugs. I tried to hide the pain. I must have gone to the toilets about 25 times a day to hide. Sometimes I just spent 5 minutes sitting there taking a timeout. And it wasn’t just the physical pain, the emotional strain plays a part in all this too. Simply put, the infertility treatment has also affected my mental focus on doing a good job. For example, I was not satisfied with my output around the time of the IVF (I had a deliverable due just before the start of the IVF cycle – this was a terrible terrible idea!), although I know I am very self-critical and set high bars for myself – no one has actually complained about my work thus far. I just hope that is because what I delivered was satisfactory, and not because people were afraid to upset me!!!
I just hate this.
And I am lucky that I do not have to lie to my colleagues. I cannot imagine having that added pressure of guilt and keeping up with lies in addition to the stress of the treatment itself. Some people need to keep their treatment a secret either for job protection or it is within their nature to keep family life private.
So what have I learned? Second time around, I will schedule in a combination of annual leave and sick leave into my diary for the start of stimulation. Fortunately it’s a new year of leave, so I will be able to do this this time around. Who knows what would happen if we have to do IVF all over again after this round. But this time, I’m going to try to focus on the treatment rather than juggling it with work.
Maybe I’ll take up some knitting or do some oil painting to keep me occupied. I’m going to need to find something to keep my mind busy!!!
As for the long term impact on my career, well, I will just have to not worry too much about it just now. Maybe if we get to summer next year and still no pregnancy, how I feel about my career is going to really influence my decisions about what we do next.