When I did my first IVF cycle, I realised half-way through that I was actually more worried about coping with work than I was about the treatment itself. At the time, I was employed as a television news producer and often had to start my working day away from the office, out doing some filming or an interview. I was forever making excuses about where I was when I was sitting in the clinic waiting room hoping I’d be called for my scan next, or inventing reasons to be out of the loop when I suddenly needed time off at short notice for an appointment. I didn’t want anyone at work to know what I was doing as I couldn’t talk about it without bursting into tears, and it felt too personal and difficult to begin to explain. When I did my second cycle, I realiseed I was going to have to tell my boss who was incredibly helpful and sympathetic – but it’s not that way for everyone. We did some research a few years back on work and fertility treatment at Infertility Network UK, and around a third of fertility patients hadn’t told anyone at work – often because they were concerned about the consequences.
For those who had been able to be open about it, the situation wasn’t always any clearer. There is no legal right to time off work for fertility treatment and although some employers now have very enlightened policies on fertility leave, others may expect you to take time off as annual leave or unpaid leave. What’s worse, some of the fertility patients who had told their employers felt that they had been discriminated against afterwards – in terms of missed opportunities, promotions and even in one case redundancy.
What’s always worth remembering if you are getting into a pickle trying to cope with work and treatment is that your GP can be helpful here. Most GPs are all too aware of the impact fertility treatment can have, and are usually happy to sign you off work sick – which can make the situation far easier as you certainly are entitled to time off when you are not well enough to work.
Often, what fertility patients really want isn’t unlimited time off work but rather a little flexibility in the system to allow them to go to their appointments without feeling worried or anxious, and which may let them work later if they have taken time off earlier. The ability to swap shifts during treatment can also be really helpful as that degree of flexibility can make all the difference. Not all jobs lend themselves to this, but when employers are able to be understanding, this can make all the difference to their employees.