Women often undergo fertility treatment at the most demanding stage of their careers, and concerns about whether IVF or other treatments will affect their work are a real consideration. Finding the time to go to all of the necessary appointments and schedule recovery time after procedures can be a challenge.
At the same time, patients are dealing with an intense physical and emotional process which requires a lot of energy. Here’s how to ensure that you’re taking good care of yourself through fertility treatment while fulfilling your obligations at work.
How much time off do you need for fertility treatments?
If you have no serious side effects from the fertility medication you’re taking, and if your clinic location is conveniently placed near your home or place of employment and offers early morning appointments, it may be possible to just take off the day of your egg retrieval procedure and fit the rest of your appointments before you go to work and around your lunch breaks. That ideal situation isn’t the case for everyone, however. The amount of time you take off is a personal decision, and there are several factors which can impact the answer.
Side effects: Some patients are more sensitive to some of the fertility medications used in their treatment and may find they don’t feel at their best on certain days. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard. If you need to take it easy at certain points in your cycle, give yourself the gift of rest and take the day off work.
Egg retrieval: Everyone needs to take a day off for this procedure, which is done under a mild anesthetic. You shouldn’t go back to work the same day, but after that the amount of time you take off for recovery is up to you. Many women feel well enough to go back to work the day after their egg retrieval, while others give themselves a bit more time to rest.
Embryo transfer: This is a very simple and quick procedure, and doesn’t usually require time off. There is no medical reason to stay in bed after your embryo transfer: studies have shown it doesn’t help. With that said, this can be a particularly emotional and high-tension experience for many patients. Taking a day or two off to be kind to yourself can be a powerful self-care move.
Travel: If you are attending a clinic in a different city or state, you’ll obviously need to take more time off to allow for travel at key points of your treatment.
How should you approach your employer?
If you do feel comfortable confiding in your manager or HR person, it can make life easier. You can ask them to treat the information confidentially if you don’t want the whole office to know. With a good relationship of this type at work, being open can provide you with support and peace of mind. An understanding and supportive employer is worth their weight in gold as you go through fertility treatment.
However, there are many reasons why you might not want to share that you are undergoing fertility treatment at work. Dealing with gossip and speculation, misguided advice or misplaced emotions from coworkers can be an additional source of stress at this important time. You may simply value your privacy. You are not under any obligation to disclose your treatment to your employer: you can be as vague as you like regarding the reason for sick days and medical leave.
If your employer requires a doctor’s note or certificate for absences and you do not want your employer to know that you are undergoing fertility treatment, talk to your doctor about your options for discretion. You also may have the option to just take personal days or vacation time if you want to avoid the issue altogether.
If you do disclose and your employer is not being cooperative, it is important to know your rights. Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a guidance statement regarding time off for IVF and other fertility treatments:
“Employment decisions related to infertility treatments implicate Title VII under limited circumstances. Because surgical impregnation is intrinsically tied to a woman’s childbearing capacity, an inference of unlawful sex discrimination may be raised if, for example, an employee is penalized for taking time off from work to undergo such a procedure.”
How can you balance work and treatment?
No matter what, there is likely to be some sense of juggling as you try to deal with the demands of work and treatment at the same time. There can be a lot of pressure (especially from yourself) to keep up your work performance no matter what you are going through. It is important to be realistic about how much dealing with treatment may affect you, both physically and emotionally, and to put yourself first. There are some things you can do to try to give yourself some stability throughout the process.
- Plan ahead. If you know you’re hoping to start IVF treatment, take a good look at your upcoming responsibilities and see where you might be able to schedule in some breathing room. If your HR department allows you to roll over sick days or other paid time off from one year to the next, you may want to try to “bank” that extra time ahead of treatment. If you tend to travel a lot for your job, you’ll need to take a hard look at your schedule for the next year. This is not a time to volunteer for extra projects or take on additional commitments, at home or at work.
- Try to be flexible. Fertility treatment can be a rollercoaster. The human body is complex and can be unpredictable, and you never know for sure how you might react to a medication or procedure. Be gentle with yourself if you are finding things difficult. Look for other options beyond “pushing through” tough days. Can you work from home from time to time? Can you change an in-person meeting to a Skype call to reduce your need for travel?
- Ask for help. You may be limited in how much you can reduce your responsibilities and time pressure at work, but let other people help you lighten the load in other areas of your life. See where you can give yourself some slack. Hire out chores, say no to burdensome invitations, and clear space in your schedule for downtime wherever possible. Freeing up time and energy around domestic tasks and social obligations in this way allows you to focus your resources on your priorities: your fertility treatment and your job.
Taking time off from your job to undergo treatment for infertility is as valid as taking time off for any other medical reason, but it can be a more sensitive topic for some people. With some cooperation from your workplace and your clinic, the disruption to your work life should be fairly minimal, so don’t put added stress on yourself by feeling that you should not take days off when you need them. Everyone’s employment situation is different, but prioritize your own well-being as much as possible.