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Business as usual? How I managed work while going through IVF

Balancing fertility treatment and work can be physically and emotionally demanding. Some women continue in their usual job throughout treatment, while others scale back their hours to cope. In this Q&A, Lily* shares the ups and downs of her IVF journey while working.

Can you describe your IVF experience? What led you to seek fertility treatment?

After coming off the Pill, I was struggling to conceive. Tests showed that my husband had low sperm count and I had polycystic ovary syndrome, so we moved to IVF. Over about seven months, I had five cycles of IVF to have my first child while working full-time. For my second child, it took two cycles over about two months.

IVF is a rollercoaster. I was petrified of what the hormones would do to me. I had a miscarriage after one of the cycles, and stints in hospital after other complications.

By the end, I was depleted.

Legally, employees don’t have to tell their boss about their fertility treatment, but you did. What made you open up to your manager?

After learning about the IVF process and possible side effects, I felt an obligation to tell my manager. Ironically, she later went on maternity leave, so I ended up telling her replacement as well.

How did you feel walking into those conversations?

Anxious and teary. I didn’t feel empowered or know what to expect. I felt I was showing my cards before I’d even gotten pregnant.

My first manager was a matter-of-fact sort of person and I didn’t want her to look at me as ‘damaged’ in my role, so I practised the conversation with my husband first.

How did your managers respond?

Very differently, but they were both supportive. My first boss gave me space to speak and didn’t pry. When I told my second boss, I was in the throes of treatment and had put on what felt like a hundred kilos. I was tired and down, so I was pleasantly surprised when she reacted with excitement. She said it was wonderful news.

Did you tell any other colleagues?

Just one. IVF touches almost every corner of your life, and work was my safe place to be normal, so I told as few colleagues as possible.

I didn’t want people to look at me with sad, sorry eyes, or to be overlooked for future opportunities. I also didn’t like everyone I worked with, so didn’t feel the need to share my private issues.

How did IVF impact you physically?

It was rough. I was in so much pain from the injections and egg collections that I’d take days off. It felt like my stomach was going to explode.

I remember at work one day hearing a joke. It was hilarious but I couldn’t laugh because I was in that much pain. I pretended to laugh so nobody would notice.

What about the logistical challenges of managing work alongside IVF?

I did have to use more sick and annual leave than I would have liked, even though absenteeism was frowned upon. Being able to occasionally work from home helped. I’d also make appointments at the start and end of the workday so they’d have minimal impact on the business.

On the days I was at work and exhausted, I’d lie down in my car during my lunchbreak.

As for the injections, I did them mostly at home. There was just one I had to do at a work function. I’ll never forget discreetly going to the bathroom, giving myself an injection and then returning as if nothing had happened.

I’m sure the whole process affected my productivity but I tried to make up for it by working after hours.

How did you protect your mental health at work?

Work was a healthy distraction. I’d block things out and try not focus on my body and every twitch down there. Then I’d cry on the drive home. My husband, mum and best friend were an incredible support.

What’s your advice to other working women going through what you experienced?

Understand the end-to-end process of your treatment so you have some idea of what to expect.

Be selective with who you tell, and use people you trust as a sounding board before having those hard conversations at work.

Also, do something that brings you joy during those months that treatment isn’t successful. For me it was getting a massage. It’s important to find ways to relax, because IVF is extremely stressful.

*Name changed.

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: 
16 January 2024
Last reviewed: 
24 June 2024