Infertility, for many women can be a painful experience, and one that can be difficult to share even with close friends and family. Coping at home is bad enough, discussing it at work can be even worse.
According to fertility specialist, Dr. Abayomi Ajayi, revealing your infertility challenge at work can feel like a non-starter given that it requires opening yourself up to questions about your body, family plans, health, sex life, and career path.
As a woman struggling with infertility, you could often be faced with a barrage of stereotypes and judgments. You could be misunderstood, and there might be misconceptions that you caused your own issues either with the lifestyle or career choices you’ve made.
It may even be assumed that it is as a result of the education choices you’ve made, or the stress in your life, so the reality of what you’re going through is not appreciated.
Infertility can impact your work life, relationships, finances, faith, and health.
If you are an employee and struggling with infertility, you may have concerns that sharing your infertility issues with your employer could jeopardise your job, or lead your boss to think less of you. It is not out of place if you feel threatened that you could become a victim of pregnancy-based discrimination.
Pregnancy discrimination and infertility bias in the workplace isn’t uncommon. Telling your boss that you are actively trying to become pregnant and may need to take time off for treatments could make you feel vulnerable as an employee.
As a woman, it could be more worrisome to think about how sharing your infertility could impact you professionally, particularly if you are in a male-dominated field. You could be worried that, because you are struggling to conceive, people might think maybe you are not as committed to work as necessary.
Coping with infertility as an employee could be tougher for you as a woman when it comes to navigating job responsibilities while balancing the demanding treatment schedule that a procedure like IVF sometimes requires.
Unlike maternity leave, which can be arranged for a set period of time in advance, infertility treatments are not always fixed and don’t always have a known end date. You can’t always predict the physical and emotional needs that result from the process.
Fertility treatments can require intense, mood-altering hormone injections on a strict schedule. Egg retrieval and implantation must happen precisely when your body is ready, with no regard for meeting schedules or work trips.
And if you need a procedure that requires sedation, it can lead to time-off requests on short notice. A miscarriage or attempts to get pregnant that don’t work can be emotionally devastating, making it difficult for you to return to your work like nothing has happened.
Infertility is still largely seen as a private medical matter and not the subject of robust public policy discussion or consideration from employers.
The awareness about the importance of infertility treatments and the legal and workplace questions that surround them remain largely unresolved. Individuals and couples who suffer from infertility are often left isolated, facing negative career implications and financial challenges.
A big misconception about infertility is that it’s a niche issue. It’s not, and this is the truth. In Nigeria, an average of one in four couples of reproductive age may face problems when trying to have a child, which makes infertility quite common.
The number of infertile couples seeking Assisted Reproductive Technologies is fast increasing and the most common of these technologies is invitro fertilisation.
There is little or no discussion about employee benefits that help you get access to prescribed, medically necessary treatments when you are struggling to start a family. If you are employed and need medical help to have a child, it is entirely your personal responsibility.
If you are a woman who is dealing with infertility, you can find yourself caught in a maze of challenges. Even though male factor infertility is at the root of about half of infertility cases, it’s often necessary for you as a woman to undergo much more extensive evaluations, medications, and medical procedures in order to become pregnant.
The process can be quite taxing and involve short-notice doctor appointments early in the morning, physically invasive procedures that may require sedation, blood draws, self-injections of hormones, and the emotional roller coaster of waiting to find out if a procedure was successful.
Except you are self-employed, fertility treatment falls, in terms of official workplace policy, at the intersection between medical treatment, disability, and pregnancy, but most employers lack clear policies on dealing with issues regarding infertility.
The lack of clarity around workplaces and infertility has presented a challenge for employers, too. There are no widely established best practices for how exactly to support women who are dealing with fertility treatments. There are hardly specific training programmes or guidance for managers around this issue.
Often, infertility issues can be categorised under general company guidelines. Apart from granting limited sick leave, there is no specific workplace support for women dealing with infertility. It also depends on the discretion of individual managers.
While you may not feel comfortable sharing information about your infertility with your boss, It’s tricky for mangers, too. Without knowing why you are repeatedly coming in late or declining important business trips, your boss can make wrong assumptions about your commitment to your job.
Dealing with an infertility diagnosis at work is tricky, but don’t give up on yourself. You are not alone and help is available. Seek appropriate counselling and join a good support group where you can receive empathy and support socially, culturally, and professionally.
While it’s undeniably difficult to publicly discuss your infertility, keep in mind that sharing your story can be a powerful tool for change. It can help to dispel the social stigma and set you on the path to success in a bid to become a parent.