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From IVF nurse to patient: How I managed the role reversal

Your stories

Nicole was an IVF nurse for five years before undergoing the fertility treatment herself – at her own workplace. In this Q&A, the 44-year-old details the ups, downs and logistics of her journey, including how she juggled patients on the same IVF rollercoaster.

Ten years ago, after difficulty conceiving naturally and various health appointments, you and your husband decided to embark on IVF. What made you choose your workplace for treatment?

Nicole: I’d been working there a few years so had good relationships with the staff and felt safe. I had confidence in the lab, the embryologists [specialised scientists], my team, my manager and doctor, I just knew I wasn’t going anywhere else.

Did you tell many colleagues at the time, and how did you protect your privacy?

Nicole: I told my manager who was very supportive. I wasn’t the first and I wouldn’t be the last staff member to need treatment, so she knew what to do. She helped me arrange appointments, talked me through the financials and kept my name off lists that would get circulated so that I could go undetected.

I’d sometimes have blood tests offsite and my doctor’s room was separate to work so I could sneak in and out of appointments.

Admitting that we’d been struggling to fall pregnant was emotional; not many colleagues knew. But of those that did, it was a huge comfort.

Once you started IVF, was it a relatively smooth or difficult process falling pregnant?

Nicole: The first time around was easier. I fell pregnant with my first child on my first IVF cycle, so the whole experience was quite positive.

A few years later, when we went back to IVF for our second child, it was completely different. I was terrified that something would go wrong having been so lucky the first time. I think I ended up having about eight IVF cycles. By the time I achieved pregnancy, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.

This nurse who was also my friend would ring me to say ‘I’m really sorry Nik, you’re not pregnant’. I started feeling guilty.

Was it difficult, awkward or comforting being treated by staff you knew well?

Nicole: It’s a little awkward getting undressed in front of someone you know, but my doctor was so professional that it was never a concern.

What I did become more aware of when struggling to conceive my second child, was as time went by it got harder for me and the nurses. This nurse who was also my friend would ring me to say ‘I’m really sorry Nik, you’re not pregnant’. I started feeling guilty.

It’s hard enough when I ring someone I don’t have a relationship with and deliver bad news and they cry and you support them, but when it’s your friend …

How did you get through those phone calls and that next work shift?

Nicole: I was always honest. My boss had been clear that if I needed help, I could talk to her. I knew that I could take time off, but I didn’t want to be a liability or for people to feel sorry for me.

But there did come a point I realised I wasn’t coping. IVF and infertility can really wear you down and once I acknowledged that, I got extra support.

What kind of support?

Nicole: I linked in with a psychologist, had a beautiful female GP and just created a little buffer around myself.

How did having IVF affect your interactions with patients? Did their experience ever trigger difficult emotions in you?

Nicole: Yeah I think so. I never disclosed to a patient that I was doing IVF; I didn’t think it would help them as it was their journey, not mine. But I do think having IVF gave me a different level of empathy.

The psychologist really helped me separate my journey from theirs so while I never broke down in front of a patient, I did feel things more deeply.

Being so immersed in IVF, it mustn’t have been easy to switch off. Do you think your job made treatment easier or harder?

Nicole: Both. It was hard not to focus on what could go wrong. I hate the saying but sometimes ignorance is bliss. But I know I was also privileged to have access to all of that support and knowledge.

Once I had my first baby, I was busy so it became a little easier to disconnect. I also tried to do nice things for myself like seeing friends and walking the dog. At work, I had my colleagues to bounce off when I was overwhelmed or worried.

IVF and infertility can really wear you down and once I acknowledged that, I got extra support.

As a nurse and later a patient, what do you want others to know about IVF?

Nicole: IVF gave me two children but it can be really traumatic so don’t be afraid to admit when you’re struggling. Ask for help if you need it.

Speaking to a doctor, counsellor or psychologist can be helpful if you are struggling. For more information and support, visit the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) website.

All rea­son­able steps have been tak­en to ensure the infor­ma­tion cre­at­ed by Jean Hailes Foun­da­tion, and pub­lished on this web­site is accu­rate as at the time of its creation. 

Last updated: 
21 December 2023
Last reviewed: 
23 April 2024