The first thing that really took me by surprise was the sheer volume of appointments you have when you undergo IVF. Even before you start the procedure, you have to have a couple of check-ups, then you go in for prep, then you have to go every two to three days while they stimulate your eggs and check you’re ready.
Then they extract the eggs, and for that procedure, you go under general anaesthetic. I was really ill after that – I couldn’t even stand up. But because I’d already had so much time off by this point, I felt guilty taking sick leave, so I ended up taking a few days’ holiday allowance instead.
After that, you return and have the embryo put back in you, then it’s just a case of waiting to see if it takes. During this time I had to inject myself with hormones every morning and night (I had a permanent, huge bruise), plus take a daily pessary, that you have to insert anally. Luckily I could do all this at home but I know someone who had to do it in a toilet cubicle a work, which obviously wasn’t ideal.
So, it’s a lot of appointments in a short timeframe and you really can’t miss one of them. I would try to make them first thing in the morning so that it was just a case of coming into work late, rather than disrupting the day, but the whole process is completely based around your menstrual cycle, so you have no choice but to take whatever appointment you’re given, on the exact day you need it. “If you miss it, the whole thing is void – you’ve wasted all that time and, if you’re paying for your treatment like we were, thousands of pounds.”
I was really fortunate in that I had a good relationship with my manager. Once my husband and I had decided to try IVF, I told her straight away so she knew it was coming, and she was really supportive. She, in turn, told her manager, and he was great too.
I’m required to travel abroad a lot for my job, but that had to stop once I started IVF, partly because I needed to be in the UK for the procedure but also because there are certain countries you can’t fly to if you’re undergoing fertility treatment, because of the Zika virus.
It would’ve been noticeable that I wasn’t attending overseas meetings, so I just decided it would be easier to tell my whole team, rather than try and think of elaborate excuses. It was pretty awkward - you wouldn’t normally tell that many colleagues that you’re trying for a baby, but I think it was probably the right thing to do. They were really respectful and, in a way, I liked that they knew what I was going through and knew to give me some space if I needed it, as I wasn’t sure how the whole thing would impact my moods.
As it happens, I think I was more excited than anything – it had been a year of ‘trying’ so, while I knew IVF might not work, at least something was actually happening.
“Unfortunately though, my first round failed,” I told a couple of my colleagues who I was particularly close to and sensed that the rest of the team were told. Again, it was strange having a group of people know something so personal, but they were great and I think it was probably better that they did.
Happily, my second round of IVF was successful and I now have a beautiful 10-month-old daughter.
I always assumed I’d return to work part-time after maternity leave, but I’ve actually decided not to go back at all. My husband and I know we want to grow our family and we know we’ll have to use IVF to do so and – as supportive as my manager and colleagues were – I can’t really face the prospect of balancing all those appointments with work again, particularly as this time around I’d be working reduced hours, plus have a toddler. And again, I wouldn’t be able to travel overseas, which is a pretty fundamental part of my role.
I am a little disappointed but we’re fortunate that we can live without my income, plus there’s a part of me that knows there’s a strong likelihood I won’t have another child, so I’m happy to be a stay-at-home mum and will think about returning to the workplace in a few years.
I’ve heard talk of workplaces introducing certain allowances for IVF – days off etc – and I’d be in full support of this. Not only for practical reasons, but it would also just be a really positive sign that your employer shows their support.
I also think awareness training would be a good idea. I personally had no idea that IVF was such a physically and mentally gruelling undertaking, not to mention how much it would impact my work life. But with one in seven couples affected by infertility, it seems obvious that actually, the more people that understand the process – men and women – the better.*